There was a time when wrestling fans were treated to a variety of content on TV. There was WCW, which offered a hard-hitting “southern” style; ECW, which gave fans an “alternative;” and, of course, the WWE. Now that the former two were bought by the latter, the WWE has dominated as the largest wrestling promotion in the world, and many wouldn’t fault fans for believing they’re the only promotion in North America - but that isn’t the case.
In fact, there is a vibrant independent culture around the world, and it’s the hottest it’s been in a long time. Odds are, there is a promotion in your town or close to you, and it’s a great way to see wrestlers who will one day become household names. If you’re not a fan of going to live events, independent wrestling has never been easier to access.
The most recognizable promotion in that regard is Ring Of Honor (ROH), and if you go through the history of the promotion, you’ll notice some familiar faces. Whether that’s CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, and countless others, a lot of names were putting on unparalleled performances well before they broke through to more a more “mainstream” promotion.
Now, ROH’s roster features names like Cody Rhodes, Dalton Castle, The Young Buck, and more. While the names have changed, the mandate to provide an alternate style of wrestling that isn’t available anywhere else has remained the same.
“It’s the difference between this $800 million produced movie, which would be the WWE, and this really amazing, gritty $2 million independant film that just blows your mind where you can see all the work went into it... you can see that the actors are wearing their own clothes...and people are working long hours,” says wrestling veteran and ROH color commentator Colt Cabana. “It’s those kinds of fans that appreciate that kind of artistry that would really appreciate the independent scene and Ring of Honor.”
Cabana started his career in 1999, eventually quitting his day job to dedicate himself to his trade that he’s applied in almost any city you can think of around the world. He had a brief stint in the WWE from 2007 until 2009, but he’s only been more successful since his departure from Vince McMahon’s company.
Now, makes his own schedule, and has ventured into a bunch of different mediums when he’s not wrestling. He’s produced three documentaries Wrestling Road Diaries that chronicle the lives of independent wrestlers, he hosts his own podcast The Art Of Wrestling, and he’s even written a wrestling-themed children's book Wrestling Dream.
He describes indie wrestling and Ring of Honor as more interactive than you’d normally see at a more mainstream show. The crowds are smaller, sure, but that gives fans a more intimate experience with the wrestlers, creating a subculture full of inside jokes, strange chants, t-shirts bought from prowrestlingtees.com, and most importantly a love for wrestling.
“It’s this underground secret handshake,” says Cabana, “you can be part of it, and it’s accessible.”
Cabana says there's a different feeling of going to a "punk rock wrestling show" compared to "arena wrestling" that many fans are used to, and he's certain if a casual fan goes to an indie event, they'd fall in love with it.
It's easier to do that now more than ever too as ROH has been breaking into the mainstream more and more recently. The Bullet Club will be getting their own line of Funko Figures, a lot of ROH merchandise is available at Hot Topic, and just recently, the promotion announced Arrow’s Stephen Amell will make an appearance at their show in San Antonio.
In reality, the independent scene in wrestling, and more specifically Ring of Honor, is thriving now more than ever. And now that it’s as accessible as ever, anyone can join that “secret handshake.”