Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Ranking the 2010's Indies

The last five years have seen seismic changes in my life. And while I’ve surfed the ebbs and flows, losing a parent suddenly, a divorce, surviving a bad case of Covid-19, etc. wrestling has remained. Sometimes in the background. Other times more present. Most often as a late night vice to sort of decompress from the events of the day: the office job, fatherhood, time with my girlfriend, to slip into the world of my youth … wrestling.

Lately, I’ve daydreamed of writing, podcasting, just doing something constructive and creative as a response to all the matches that unspool in-front of my eyes while the other houses in my neighborhood are darkened by slumber. But maybe that’d rob my late night escapism pleasure of its richness and reward? So, I haven’t found my “in” yet. To return to this blog full-time. But, for the first time in over a decade, the thoughts keep reoccurring of finding my way back.

Until the inspiration strikes – here’s a little piece on me ranking the early-2010’s American indies (in terms of my own personal enjoyment). I’ve been watching a metric ton of footage from the 2010’s (approx. ’07-’12, and then some stuff from ’14-’17) all new to me.

CZW – I’ve watched more CZW the last year than any other company. What I really like is their shows have a variety. Obviously, you’ve got Tournament of Death on the calendar, but their month-to-month regular events usually consist of a smorgasbord feat. high-flying juniors, less serious fare with Greg Excellent, some low-tier regulars like Sozio, John Dahmer, etc., whatever program DJ Hyde was in (and his bad mic work), deep tag division feat. The Best Around, Team AnDrew, BLKOUT, etc., and different types of hardcore inc. more workrate-driven stuff with Drake Younger, Scotty Vortekz, etc. mixed with the more traditional ultraviolence of Necro Butcher, Toby Klein, Brain Damage, Matt Tremont, etc. It makes the event more fun and better-paced when there’s different types of acts and talent getting opportunities.

PWG – I get many of the criticisms aimed at PWG, but kudos where its due, I exhausted my supply of their footage faster than any other company I’d stockpiled, and really wish I had more to delve into. While the high-octane, rarely stopping to catch a breath, style can certainly be tiresome to some – I love the how insanely talented that locker room was and how seemingly dedicated they were to always outdo the last show. Makes for splendid viewing from the comfort of the couch.

ROH – So, this era isn’t prime ROH, its mostly tags (World’s Greatest, Briscoes, Kings of Wrestling, Future Shock, American Wolves, All-Night Express, Bravado Bros.), and Davey Richards atop the cards taking himself too seriously, but despite myself I still enjoy the uniformity and solidness of the shows. I realize this sounds like a backhanded compliment. But dependability is a net positive. I can always toss a Ring of Honor event on and know I’m going to get some physical in-ring stuff, and will always respect what it takes to work that style.

EVOLVE – This has probably been the biggest surprise of my last few months’ binging. I think a lot of people think of EVOLVE as I did, only seeing their early shows which were always built on a big marquee indie dream match, then undercards that smelled suspiciously like Gabe (aka FIP, DG USA, ROH lite) that were dimly lit and sparsely attended. Then, there’s the latter day EVOLVE, when it was essentially an NXT/WWE feeder farm league. But what I watched recently was over a dozen shows from EVOLVE 47-75 era. And it’s an entirely different beast. While not quite an American cousin to Battlearts, it is very, very focused on limb work, grappling, and technical acumen. The regular crew featured guys like Tracy Williams, Zack Sabre Jr., Matt Riddle, Drew Gulak, Fred Yehi, and Timothy Thatcher. Then some other indie favorites like Chris Hero, Drew McIntyre, Gargano, Ricochet, etc. I don’t think it’d be for everyone’s tastes but I quickly fell down the rabbit hole and glad I finally discovered this lost era.

Chikara – I don’t know all the particulars of the controversies and the co. closing its doors. I don’t want to trudge out the old “separating the art from the artist” adage cinephiles use when screening the latest from Roman Polanski or Woody Allen, but in this case, I’ve tried doing just that and simply watching the events as they’re presented, in all their comic book shop nerdy glory. Former NHO staffers Geo & Adam were more on the Chikara train back then than NHO co-founder Jessie or I. But the shows are consistently fun. The aesthetic isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s like your high school band kids, theater clique, and D&D geeks decided to put on a wrestling show – complete with bad acoustic rock to open the card, Sunday School level wardrobe, and more comic ideas than James Gunn is channeling for his Chapter 1 – Gods & Monsters saga for the new DCU. Underneath the masks and the face paint is lots of talented folks.

The rest of the list are companies I had a much smaller sampling size at my disposal:

IWA M-S & IWA EC & GCW – I lumped the hardcore sleaze together. Saw Mid-South’s King of the Death Match ’16, East Coast’s Masters of Pain ’15 (and a few random events in a gymnasium), and a GCW Zandig Tournament of Survival (not sure the year offhand). Garbage wrestling is like convenience store junk food. You wouldn’t want to subsist on it but it can be a guilty pleasure. I’m going to reveal my hippie upbringing bonafides here but there is a part of me, conflicted isn’t the right word, but that does genuinely feel for a lot of these guys. I know that’s the antithesis of hardcore. One guy in particular, Danny Havok, shined so brightly on CZW shows, and when he’d pop up in other death match circuits, and to see him die so young is tragic. Alright, off my soapbox, if Insane Lane and Freakshow want to wallop the brain cells out of each other than who am I to interfere? Bring it on!

AIW & AAW – I virtually only knew both by name until this past year. And now I wish had been a fan for much longer. Representing Cleveland and Chicago I’ve lumped these two together because they share many similarities in terms of presentation and also roster. I won’t rifle through all the shows I saw, but some highlights were (AIW Don’t Feed Us After Midnight, Blood Sport, and They Live .. notice a cinematic theme there? And AAW’s Killers Among Us ’16 & Hell Hath No Fury ’15). A revolving door of familiar faces and regulars like Rhyno, Dan Severn, Sami Callihan, AR Fox, Josh Alexander, Silas Young, Eddie Kingston, Louis Lyndon, and Ethan Page.

HoH – This one is a bit of a cheat as it was actually a year or two ago I caught up on a few early House of Hardcore shows. Cards on the table, I’d really love it if anyone can hook me up with info on where I can purchase more HoH discs, or tips to available links, etc. as I kind of want to binge their entire run for the blog as a possible potential project. The mix of old ECW vibes with Northeast indie talent, and cameos from high-profile indy stars like Young Bucks, Austin Aries & other TNA contracted stars, etc. make for an uncanny hybrid that hits a sweet spot for yours truly. I’ve maybe seen 7-8 shows of theirs max though. Really want to see the one where Great Muta & Tommy Dreamer team up in the main event.

DG USA – When they first came upon the scene, an American offshoot of the popular Dragon Gate league in Japan, my friends of that time were gobbling up the DVDs like Baltimore baddies snorting up all the alley cocaine. I think looking back there’s some flaws that are harder to overlook. The events as filmed for DVD are often very poorly lit. The lack of storylines leads to a lot of the in-ring work feeling rote and mechanical. There’s def. a lack of spark or sizzle. Not just most but ALL of the roster felt like they were holding back as the DG talent were keeping their A game for their own fed, and the American indie talent were shining bigger elsewhere. There’s still some satisfaction to be had from tossing in an old Uprising, Enter the Dragon, or Untouchable card but adjust your expectations accordingly.

Beyond Wrestling – I don’t think back then any of my peers and pals were into Beyond or really even knew their shtick. And I can’t say I’m any authority either. To sum up what I’d heard back then was that these were oddity indie shows with stacked rosters, often with little to no fans invited, by the wrestlers for the wrestlers. In a very tight, cramped warehouse space that makes the APW Gym Wars look like Cowboys Stadium, a ring is crammed into a corner where an odd overhead angle records the action nondescriptly. But the shows I sampled (Party Animals, Battle of Who Would Care Less, and Beyond Flesh .. sounds like a Cronenberg film) were distinct and pretty entertaining. There were tiny crowds smooshed right up against the ring – couple dozen people max. I need to see more to say I really have a feel for what they’re going for but I’m intrigued.

TNA UWF – I’m running out of steam so will keep this short. This is race driver Hermie Sadler’s offshoot of TNA. Same roster. But working their matches like mid-90’s Memphis minus Jamie Dundee. So you’ll seeing very little bumps. Mostly just riling up the rubes in the crowd and getting the old ladies’ ire going. Lots of snot-nosed kids eating Kahn’s hot dogs in the front row with stains on their gently worn Nike shirts from Goodwill. I mean … they’ve got Maven working the stick for 9 minutes pre-match. So if you ain’t into territorial or fairground wrestling this isn’t going to move the needle. But if you want to watch Diamonds in the Rough versus The Naturals then this is your jam.

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