The fun of going to indie wrestling shows is seeing the local, up and coming wrestlers, as well as seeing former Superstars who no longer work with the WWE/WCW/ECW. While a lot of the time I complain that we don't get a lot of wrestling shows in Maine, in late winter into early spring, the state comes alive with indie shows. I'm usually lucky enough to see my friends The Scufflin' Hillbilly Cousin Larry and The Roadblock, but at each show there's always the question about Tony Atlas and a number of other former Superstars appearing to entertain.
One of my favorite parts of indie shows is the ability to meet and talk to the wrestlers before and sometimes after the shows. I've met a number of wrestlers who have left me in awe over the years, specifically Mick Foley, Bret Hart and Kevin Nash. I've also met Lanny Poffo, Beth Phoenix, Tommy Dreamer, Rikishi, Hacksaw, John Cena Sr., Finlay, and Jerry Saggs, who touched me in different ways, because of how sweet they are. And then there's Tony Atlas who I've met a number of times, and hung out with while a ring was being built around us. He is one of the sweetest and funniest of the big name wrestlers I've ever met, and he's been lovely to everyone I've ever seen him meet. Just this past weekend I was blown away by Zach Gowen's smile, and what a warm person he was with everyone he met.
I could complain about what an ass Shane Douglas has been every time I've seen him, or how annoying Nasty Knobbs was, how drunk Flair was, or how Reby Sky carried the conversations because Matt Hardy seemed to be a space cadet (he couldn't seem to remember that Jeff was starting as Willow), but I won't. I won't because while I'm a fan, I'm not a fan who thinks that all wrestlers are fantastic people because they've been on TV. We're all human, and I think that just makes meeting these wrestlers that much more interesting.
Watching the wrestlers we grew up watching while they are getting out and meeting the fans, as well as getting in the ring with local wrestlers to put on fantastic matches is sometimes more enjoyable than the huge WWE shows. Sitting closer to the ring while The Patriot stalks around the ring to make sure that Cousin Larry's match is fair, then counting the three after the ref bump. Seeing Rikishi, Atlas, and Cousin Larry give stink faces to three people at the same time. Watching Dreamer in a hardcore match fighting right up next to me in the stands. They might not be making the money they made in the WWE, but they're also not being held back by the WWE. These wrestlers continue to do what they love, have closer contact with the fans, and get paid to do so.
A lot of these wrestlers are aging, or not exactly what the WWE would think of as prime Superstars, but they still have a lot in them – a lot of heart, which just shows how much they care about the industry and the fans. It's that heart, that humor, that zest for the industry that makes these shows so great. While I love the WWE, things are shined up to a high gloss these days. You never see a 245lb man try to play luchador and fly off the top rope to hit a flying headbutt, only to end up in surgery for a broken orbital bone. We haven't seen Naomi in weeks, but the Roadblock was in the ring within the week.
I will admit that sometimes it hurts to see certain wrestlers who are not as spry as they used to be. Vader is a great man, and he's really trimmed down, but seeing him move around the ring was almost physically painful. Seeing Foley before he was expecting the fans to see him, he looked like he was struggling to walk, but pulled it together in front of the fans. And then there's Flair who I'm most worried about because he seems inebriated more often than not. Luckily it seems as though the bar is shifting in the opposite direction and many of the older wrestlers seem to be doing more, really spending time with the fans.
There have been a few things that jumped out at me recently. The first being that Reby Sky's ring work has improved by leaps and bounds this past year. She could be a great Diva, if not for being held back by her husband. She looked stronger in the ring than a number of the Divas, and was working against a guy. She threw some serious moves and looked great doing it.
The most interesting former Superstar I've seen recently was Zach Gowen. I enjoyed him in the WWE, and rooted for him as the underdog and thought he had a great story, but also wasn't shocked he didn't last very long because the WWE thought of him as a novelty. I saw his leg across the crowded gym and knew it was him. I made a bee-line for him, then stood back and listened while he spoke to other fans. He was quite congenial and charismatic, but it was Gowen in the ring that really impressed me. When in the WWE he was a cute kid, now he's a well seasoned performer who knows how to work the crowd and truly understands ring psychology. The way he moves, his facial expressions, and his overall demeanor has matured him into an exciting and well rounded wrestler.
If you've seen indie shows advertised, but haven't gone because you don't think it will be a great show because it's not the WWE, please check out a show. You never know who might be there, or which wrestlers could someday end up in the WWE. You could be saying, "I saw them well before they became big stars."
Queen of WNW