‘The Wrestling Hipster’ is a column dedicated to a deeper, enlightened perspective on professional wrestling for people who think having an opinion about pro wrestling makes you deeper and enlightened. If you’re one of those people who reads the italicized disclaimer, the column is unnecessarily confrontational on purpose to make people who don’t read italicized disclaimers mad. Do not take his seriously, but obey every word I type.
Second Disclaimer You Might Actually Read: Support independent wrestling. End of story. Go to a show, buy t-shirts from guys who need that money for gas and food, have fun. Independent wrestling is great, even when it’s hacky and run by jerks. None of this is meant specifically toward anybody I know or work with. Or for. If I know you, I’ve probably already complained about this in real life and it’s cool.
I go to a lot of shows.
In May, I went to 7 independent wrestling shows in 3 different states in the span of 14 days. I helped run one of them and performed on two. That doesn’t give me the right to say what does and doesn’t work in independent pro wrestling or pro wrestling as a whole, but it’s the Internet so I’m gonna do it anyway.
Some stuff just doesn’t work. The problem is that the way fandom works these days, you can’t like something and view it as imperfect. You have to go all-in, give yourself a fun fan club name and just blindly HOO-RAH any and every decision the promotion you’ve chosen to like makes. The reality is that EVERY wrestling promotion can improve, and that every wrestling promotion does a handful of things it shouldn’t. Why? Because “it’s wrestling,” and most folks are okay making a small amount of money doing “what works,” when what works is why only 40 people showed up, and why they’re all missing teeth.
Pro wrestling may never evolve (even when somebody names a pro wrestling company “Evolve”), but as someone with a blog I know what is best and can instruct you on how to take that next step. Here are five things your independent wrestling promotion should never do again.
1. Beard gimmicks
The big one.
A general rule of thumb for independent wrestling gimmicks should be, “if somebody’s done it on TV, don’t do it.” Wrestling fans don’t love to pay attention, but if something’s been on the USA Network they’re sorta forced to. Still, though, you’ll have guys at your local show walking out to ‘Walk’ by Pantera or that dubstep song they briefly used to sell WWE Network like nobody’s gonna notice. It’s unfortunate when the Fed yanks your good idea — especially when it ends up in NXT on “The Last Of A Dying Breed” Bull Dempsey — but it’s something you have to deal with. They win.
The worst of these is I HAVE A GREAT BEARD gimmicks. There were a few (hundred) (thousand) before Daniel Bryan started doing it on WWE TV, but now there are even more, all of them asking you to “fear the beard.” Some of them come with Daniel Bryan parody shirts. Zero of them should exist.
We live in a bearded world now, guys. Back in the 80s you could rationalize that only mountain men and badasses rocked monster beards, but now beards are so ubiquitous that even hipsters (actual ones, not wrestling ones) are starting to shave as an act of rebellion. Objectively, beards are just a thing people have. Lots of people can grow beards. It takes some of us six months, and some of us only grow them to hide our weak jawlines, but if your gimmick is HERE IS A THING ANYBODY CAN DO AND ALSO I HAVE DONE IT, try harder. FEAR THE BEARD is basically I BOUGHT A NICE HAT, but less hilarious.
2. Ladder matches with regular, home-use ladders
Ladder matches are fun and exciting. And hey, don’t get me wrong, independent promotions can put on good ones. Inspire Pro had a killer one back in May. The problem I have (and the problem I had before the May event, in the interest of full disclosure) is that many indie promotions don’t have access to WWE-style ladders, and that eradicates one of the simplest, most necessary building blocks of a ladder match.
See, WWE manufactures their own ladders. Has them made, whatever. They’re gimmicked to fit the match’s needs … some of them are reinforced to fit heavy guys, some are taller, some are made of wood and painted silver so guys can “break” them. The key, though, is that they’ve got rungs on both sides.
Normal ladders don’t have rungs on both sides. Only one person is meant to be climbing the ladder at any given time, so one side has rungs and one doesn’t. It just has that one thin metal bar in the middle. You’re left trying to create the drama of two guys racing to the top of the ladder with one guy ascending ladder rungs and the other trying to Donkey Kong Jr. his ass up two vertical slats of metal. It’s always awkward, and it makes the guy who has steps look like the biggest goober in the world for not being able to outrace the guy navigating up the Double Dare Sundae Slide. It’s even worse when you’re supposed to be hurt and selling fatigue late in the match.
“For only ONE DOLLAR, folks, we will give you NOTHING.”
Indie show raffles are the Wheel Of Fish of professional wrestling. At the better independents, the raffle will be for something special. I’ve seen Chikara raffle off a poster signed by every wrestler at the show, for example. At lower-level indies you’re basically paying a dollar (or several) for a chance to win whatever vaguely wrestling-related thing the promoter found at the grocery store. Or a flea market. WANT TO WIN THIS RANDY ORTON ACTION FIGURE MY SON DOESN’T PLAY WITH ANYMORE? ONLY ONE DOLLAR.
You’ve gotta make money wherever you can, and I get that. If you’re doing it during intermission or whatever, that’s fine. But if you’re raffling off a dusty old broken John Cena alarm clock and you’re pausing before your main to make sure everybody looks at their tickets? Stop that.
4. Intergender matches where the woman has to “prove herself” to the man
Aka “every promotion in the Northeast and Midwest for the past year and a half.”
On paper, intergender wrestling makes sense. A woman is wrestling a man because they’re both human beings and shouldn’t be treated differently. On the independent circuit a lot of guys (even top-level guys) are the size of average women, so there isn’t a huge difference … and if there is, it’s just like a smaller wrestler wrestling a big one. If a woman is talented in the ring, she should and can and will do everything a man can.
In reality, intergender wrestling is a fetish. Have you ever noticed how promotions like Beyond Wrestling put a lot of their matches up for free, but charge for the intergender ones? It’s because the weirder sorts can’t jerk it to guy vs. guy. Far too often they’re customs matches for guys too scared to order customs, one step ahead of those creepy videos where burglars break into a nearly naked lady’s house and put her in a sleeper.
If you know me, you know how much I hate typing that. I live in Austin, TX, where Rachel Summerlyn and Portia Perez and a ton of talented women worked very hard for a very long time to promote in-ring equality, and to confirm that a women’s division can not only be the equal of a men’s heavyweight, it can compete nose to nose. The problem is that when the people working hard to make that happen leave, the people who’d rather yell “kill the bitch” and do zoom-in photos of crotches during German suplexes take over.
In the Northeast, one very specific man vs. woman match reigns: a cocky, sauntering heel guy gets into a match with a plucky, thinks-she’s-tough woman. She has to “prove” herself to him. It starts with the guy not taking her seriously and shoving her in the face, maybe stretching her out and kicking her in the face while the crowd yells “oooooh” and laughs about domestic violence or kitchens. But WAIT A MINUTE, she starts to come back! She gets in a bunch of offense and some hot nearfalls before she gets cut off, and then she either loses and “earns respect” or wins with a flash pin. The guy gets mad about it and attacks her to set up a rematch or shakes her hand to let her know she did a good job, and this would all be perfect if the next time they fought the exact same goddamn thing didn’t happen. The woman doesn’t keep the respect when she wins … she must repeatedly earn it, over and over, against whatever man decides he needs it. She can be the most decorated, storied female champion in the area, but as soon as COCKY HEEL shows up her value defaults to zero. It’s an endless, lazy cycle of pretentious garbage.
So: either stop doing these kinds of matches, or let the woman who has proven herself keep that proof when it’s over. And maybe don’t teach wrestling crowds that a woman has to accomplish something fantastic to be treated like a human being?
5. Colt Cabana
Even CM Punk is tired of waving at this guy.