The Problem with “Indie Wrestling” (hint: it’s not the wrestling)

Works-In-Process

For the last couple decades, wrestling fans have been used to a wrestling universe divided into two categories of promotions: (1) the so-called “indies” (or “independent wrestling” or the “indie circuit”); and (2) the nameless other category, which is not really a category at all since it only includes a single promotion, the WWE.

So that’s the wrestling universe: every wrestling promotion that exists – minus one – versus that single exception. Now, if the former category consisted solely of those generally well-known, kind-of-WWE-competitors – New Japan, Ring of Honor, Impact, Lucha Underground, and now All Elite – then maybe it would make sense to divide the wrestling universe this way.

This classification system would be a way of setting apart the most well-known, biggest revenue-generating (by far) wrestling mega-corporation from the handful of rival wrestling companies, which, if you combined them all into one might in some ways be a more-or-less competitor to the WWE for global wrestling predominance.

You could even include in this latter, non-WWE category the next-level-down wrestling promotions – what I’ll call for now the WrestleMania week promotions. These are wrestling companies beloved by wrestling aficionados; they have some degree national exposure, but they operate on smaller scale than the previously mentioned kind-of-WWE-rivals. Examples of such WrestleMania week promotions include CHIKARA, Combat Zone, SHIMMER, EVOLVE, Shine, Full Impact Pro, wXw, and so on – any promotion whose show is listed in the schedule of WrestleMania week events. In this way of dividing the wrestling universe, “the indies” would be shorthand for the 30ish most prominent wrestling companies not named “WWE.”

The problem with this method of divvying up the wrestling universe is that the indie side of the divide has vastly more than 30ish promotions in it. In actuality, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of indies – a reality that became especially apparent to me when I moved to North Carolina about 15 years ago, and stumbled upon a prevalent form of small-time, small town, extremely local professional wrestling I hadn’t really known existed prior to that point. This type of indie wrestling generally features local, completely normal-sized wrestlers with modest levels of skill, who perform in periodic shows for extremely small audiences in rented spaces like church gyms or National Guard Armories, or in outdoor locations like parking lots or state fairgrounds. These promotions tend to have a minimal online presence – perhaps a Facebook page – and therefore almost no national or even regional exposure. In fact, local indie promotions are barely known outside of the town in which they operate.

Over the last fifteen years, I have made a concerted effort to identify the local indie promotions that operate within a two-hour drive (roughly) of my home in Charlotte, NC. I have come across dozens. Most of them pop up suddenly in a small town, run periodic shows for a couple of years, and then disappear as quickly as they emerged (promotions like New Life Wrestling, Lynx Wrestling Alliance, New Millennial Championship Wrestling, Wrestling for a Reason, and so forth). Others have longer staying power – like Eastern Wrestling Federation, American Pro Wrestling, and perhaps Xtreme World Wrestling (it disappeared for a few years, but has now come back).

The dozens and dozens of local indie promotions in my area aren’t all equal, however; they’re organized in a kind of informal hierarchy. The most short-lived of the promotions also tend to be the smallest – smallest crowds, smallest venues, smallest wrestlers, lowest ticket prices, smallest payouts to wrestlers, and so forth. The best wrestlers of these short-lived promotions get bookings in the next level up – at the local indies with more staying power – while the best wrestlers at these more stable local indies hope to get bookings in the top promotions in the region: Palmetto Championship Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Turbo, and especially AML Wrestling and Premiere Wrestling Xperience. The latter two sit at the top of the pyramid of indie promotions in the geographic region that includes western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina.

From the top of this local pyramid, the best wrestlers hope to get bookings at top-of-the-pyramid promotions in other Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states, or, even better, at the next level up – the WrestleMania week promotions. And from the WrestleMania week promotions, the top talent sometimes make it to the next rung — Ring of Honor, Impact, Lucha Underground – and then from there, a precious few might make it to WWE NXT, and then maybe, finally, to the WWE.

For most wrestlers, however, the journey from local wrestling to the wrestling big time is not as linear as I’m making it sound. Most bounce up and down between levels for many years. A smaller number ascend quickly, skipping levels along the way. A precious few begin their wrestling careers at the top, as fully-formed superstars in the WWE, with little time toiling in the indies (Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey).

The overwhelming majority of professional wrestlers, however, never leave the local level. They have neither the talent nor the desire to do so. Most are content to stay where they are, performing periodically in small-time productions for tiny crowds of appreciative locals.

But for those who do ascend through ranks of indies, the journey can be both thrilling and grueling. In my own little part of the Carolinas, I witnessed my friend Josh Powers become a star about a decade ago in American Pro Wrestling – a level above the smallest of the small-time promotions. He’s now a fixture in the area’s top promotions and, over the last couple of years, has begun to break in to Premiere Wrestling Xperience, the top of pyramid in this region.

I have also witnessed JD Drake (previously known as James Drake…until that became confusing) ascend from the smallest of the small-time promotions (like New Millennium Championship Wrestling), through next-level-up promotions like APW, through regional promotions like PWX, eventually ascending to the WrestleMania week level and becoming EVOLVE’s WWN Champion.

Another local example I’ve seen is Cedric Alexander, who followed a similar trajectory as JD Drake, though Alexander he has reached a higher level, WWE main roster, in a shorter amount of time. 

What I’m describing here is what wrestling fans know as the “indie circuit,” a term that both designates all the wrestling promotions that fall on the indie side of the of the indie-vs.-WWE ledger, and the circuitous path through the indies that most wrestlers take as they attempt to ascend to the wrestling bigtime.

The term, “indie circuit,” however, is incredibly imprecise. The two words that make up the phrase don’t have obvious referents. First of all, “indie,” short for “independent,” begs the question: independent from what, exactly? The WWE? Is that it? Nothing more? Again, we’re back to the problem of divvying up the wrestling universe into two stupendously lopsided categories.

Now, the term “independent” may have had meaning in the 1990s and early 2000s as a few small promotions began to pop up in the wrestling vacuum created when several aspiring wrestling monopolies began consolidating the old wrestling territories. Would-be monopolies included the AWA, UWF, Jim Crockett Promotions (NWA), WCW, and the WWF, which eventually emerged the winner.

Independent promotions that emerged during this time period included Eastern/Extreme Championship Wrestling, Xcitement Wrestling Federation, World Wrestling Allstars, and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Though these indies were few in number, they certainly were independent of the emerging wrestling behemoths – though their independence was neither as radical nor as dangerous as was the independence of the so-called “outlaw” promotions during the Territory Era.

Setting apart the handful of 1990s-era indie promotions from the handful of aspiring wrestling monopolies, and distinguishing these two categories of promotions from the handful of promotions clinging to the moribund NWA – this was a sensible way of dividing up the wrestling landscape at the end of the last century. It is a less sensible way today when “indie” means everything minus one.

The “circuit” part of “indie circuit” is equally puzzling – if “circuit” is meant to suggest a kind of order or pattern or established relationship. No such circuit of indies exists beyond the informal hierarchy I described earlier — with certain small exceptions like the WWNLive and maybe the remnant of the old National Wrestling Alliance (though, truthfully, I’m not entirely sure I understand what the NWA consists of anymore).

Another kind of semi-formal relationship in today’s pro wrestling is the parallel agreement where indies of the same tier enter into agreements to share talent and co-promote shows (so, for example, ROH and New Japan, or PWX and Fest Wrestling, or the general cooperation during WrestleMania week).

Aside from these few examples, indie wrestling promotions are solo entities — private, autonomous companies, each pursuing its own path.

Wrestling’s indie circuit is not at all comparable to baseball’s minor league system, though that analogy is often made. In contrast to wrestling, baseball actually does have a formal minor league circuit. Or, rather, it has a series of circuits, or leagues, that are hierarchically organized, with formal relationships between clubs at different levels, all of which are grooming and filtering talent from the lower levels to the highest level (Triple-A), and from there to Major League Baseball. The only such formal organizational ties in today’s world of pro wrestling that I’m aware of are the developmental promotions that sometimes attach themselves to a next-level-up promotions: WWE NXT to WWE, for example (though that’s an in-house developmental promotion); or, from a few years back, Ohio Valley to WWE or to TNA. Perhaps EVOLVE is developing this kind of formal relationship with the WWE right now.

The pro wrestling world parallels the world of live theatre much more so than it does the world of organized sports. Broadway, of course, is the pinnacle of live theatre, but there are numerous tiers underneath – from Off Broadway all the way down to small town community theatre and local high school theatre. Live theatre, like wrestling, varies by venue size; talent of the performers; whether or not the performers are paid, and if so, how much; production value; ticket price; and so forth. Moreover, the vast majority of actors, like the vast majority of wresters, work other non-theatre/wrestling jobs to support themselves, and only small percentage actively pursue acting or wrestling as a full-time career.

So what, in the end, is wrong with “indie wrestling” and “the indie circuit”? They are terms that do not adequately reflect the on-the-ground reality of professional wrestling at the end of the second decade of the 21st Century. In the place of a binary method of categorizing all of contemporary wrestling promotions – indies vs. WWE – I propose a five-tiered system that more adequately represents the complicated hierarchy of wrestling promotions discussed above. A few points about the tiers before I list them.

  1. Tiers are distinguished by the scope of a promotion’s reach; the size of its fan base; the size, quality, and frequency of live shows; overall revenue generated; and so forth
  2. As one descends from top to bottom, the tiers become vastly larger. In other words, there are precious few promotions at the top, and an enormously large number at the bottom
  3. Within a given tier, there are often sub-tiers (based on the criteria articulated above)
  4. Promotions can ascend or descend levels over time
  5. Casual wrestling fans will likely have only heard of the promotions on the top two tiers
  6. Ardent wrestling fans will have heard of the promotions on the first three tiers; they will likely only know a handful of promotions on the fourth tier
  7. The only people who know of the existence of promotions on the bottom tier are the ardent wrestling fans who comprise that promotion’s local fanbase
  8. Even though I just invented the five-tier system (below), I don’t know where to put several well-known promotions (New Japan, CMLL). I also don’t really know which promotions outside of my own region ought to populate the bottom two tiers

Tier 1: International Promotions (1 or 2)

WWE, New Japan(?)

Tier 2: National Promotions (5-6?)

New Japan (?), All-Elite, Ring of Honor, Impact, Lucha Underground, CMLL(?)

Tier 3: Trans-Regional Promotions (20ish?)

CMLL(?), EVOLVE, Combat Zone, CHIKARA, Dragon Gate, Full Impact-Pro, SHIMMER, Shine, Westside Xtreme, International Pro (UK), Game Changer, Absolute Intense, or any other promotion that appears on the WrestleMania week schedule

Tier 4: Regional Promotions (75-100ish?)

In Western North Carolina & Upstate South Carolina: Premiere Wrestling Xperience, AML

Tier 5: Local Promotions (multiple 100s)

In Charlotte, NC and surrounding area (up to 20): Xtreme World Wrestling, American Pro Wrestling, Eastern Wrestling Federation, Pro Wrestling Turbo, Palmetto Championship, Exodus Wrestling Alliance, Ring Wars, United Christian Championship, Classic Pro, etc.

Call for Proposals: PCA 2020 in Philly

Calls

From Paul Heyman to Mike Quackenbush, Philadelphia has given birth to some pretty amazing professional wrestling promotions. In the late 1990s, ECW brought a hardcore, grunge aesthetic to sports entertainment. Since 2002, CHIKARA has been bringing more focus to storylines, characters, and amazing matches.

Cue Joey Styles: OH MY GOD!
The Fun-Filled Super Lucha Show!

Because the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association is holding the annual conference in Philadelphia in 2020, we here at PWSA would like to put a panel together looking at ECW, CHIKARA, AEW, and other non-WWE promotions for how they have shaped professional wrestling and popular culture.

But let’s not stop there!

We’ve got the third season of Netflix’s GLOW out, and we are seeing more attention paid to women’s wrestling from AEW to NXT. Also, given the interest displayed on our Twitter account about a GLOW anthology, this panel may be a good place to start that conversation!

So let’s also think about proposing a panel on GLOW: the original series, the Netflix series, and what it has meant for women’s wrestling since the 1980s.

If you are interested in being on either panel, please send to CarrieLynn D. Reinhard (creinhard@dom.edu) a proposal for what you would present. Please send a 250-500 word proposal, a title, and your contact information. These proposals should be sent by October 1st to be considered for the panel. If you have any questions, please contact CarrieLynn at the email above.

Special Edition for PCSJ on Pro Wrestling

Journal Publication

The editors for the Professional Wrestling Studies Association are happy to celebrate this year’s Wrestlemania week with the new special edition of the Popular Culture Studies Journal on professional wrestling.

PCSJ-V6N1-Cover-Final.jpg

This special edition can be accessed for free here. The essays contain work from a variety of scholars on numerous topics related to professional wrestling studies. All academic discussions were written to be accessible for the widest possible audience.

Along with the scholarly work, the collection contains an essay from a fan on New Japan Pro Wrestling, reviews for various pro-wrestling media (from a documentary to a podcast), and interviews with pro-wrestling indie stars on how they view social media in their profession.

You can see the full list of articles and contributors below.

TOC

PWSA would like to thank editors Garret Castleberry, CarrieLynn D. Reinhard, and Christopher J. Olson for overseeing this special edition, as well as reviewers David Beard, Matt Foy, Charles L. Hughes, Jack Karlis, Dan Mathewson, and Catherine Salmon.

Over the summer of 2018, we at PWSA will be working to organize our own open access, free journal to coincide with each year’s Wrestlemania. If you are interested in this journal, then please contact us at prowrestlingstudies@gmail.com.

CFP MPCA 2018 Wrestling Studies

Calls

UPDATED: PROPOSALS NOW DUE MAY 15, 2018

Midwest PCA/ACA 2018

Area: Wrestling Studies
Area Co-Chairs: CarrieLynn D. Reinhard and Christopher J. Olson

The 2018 Midwest PCA/ACA conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis in Indianapolis from Wednesday-Sunday, October 4-7. 

Call: Indie Wrestling

Since this year’s conference is in Indie-apolis, we are looking for papers and presentations that focus specifically on some aspect of indie pro-wrestling. Along with other submissions about any and all aspects of professional wrestling, we are particularly interested in having at least one panel that addresses indie promoters and wrestlers. Some topics to consider for such a panel would be, but are not limited to:

  • History of independent pro wrestling
  • Identity politics of the indies
  • Business practices of the indies
  • Transcultural, transnational nature of the indies
  • Power and agency of indie wrestlers
  • Critical focus on a particular indie promotion, wrestler

If you have any questions, contact CarrieLynn D. Reinhard at creinhard@dom.edu.

Submit paper, abstract, or panel proposals (including the title of the presentation) to the Wrestling Studies Area on the Submissions website (http://submissions.mpcaaca.org). Individuals may only submit one paper, and please do not submit the same item to more than one Area.

Please include name, affiliation, and e-mail address of each author/participant. A preliminary version of the schedule will be posted on our website around July 2018. The final version will be distributed in hard copy at the conference.

For more information on the general CFP for this conference, please see: http://mpcaaca.org/indy-2018/2017-cfp/

SummerSlam Part One: Preparations

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

This SummerSlam article got away from me. It’s about eight times longer than I intended, so I’m releasing it in two parts.

Part One is about my pre-SummerSlam preparations, including my reengagement with WWE after many years away. Part Two has my actual SummerSlam review, including my grades for each match, which, when tallied, will yield SummerSlam’s cumulative G.P.A.

Before I get going, I need to confess that, prior to writing it, I didn’t know what kind of review this (now) two-part article was going be. I didn’t know what tone I was shooting for, nor what voice I was writing in – in other words, what side of the “acafan” continuum I’d be leaning toward. Now that it’s all written, let me warn you that it leans sharply toward the fan side than it does the aca side. Or more precisely, it leans sharply toward the 1980s-era-smark-fan side.

Part One: Preparations (Or: I’m Writing a SummerSlam Review? Remind me: What’s SummerSlam again?)

summerslam2017

Just kidding! I know what SummerSlam is…it’s just that I don’t watch WWE all that much anymore. In fact, I haven’t seriously watched WWE since before SummerSlam even existed!

Now, if I’m channel surfing on a Monday night, and I happen to land on the USA Network, I’ll pause to see what’s going on, hoping to take in some good in-ring action – something that will remind me why WWE is the flagship company, why every wrestler in the universe hopes to make it there.

Here’s how my experience checking in with WWE inevitably goes (or, at least, this is what it feels like):

  • 5 minutes in – Lots of talking, no wrestling.
  • 10 minutes in – More talking, no wrestling.
  • 15 minutes in – Yay! Wrestling! FINALLY!
  • 15 minutes and 30 seconds in – They’re cutting to commercial in the middle of the match? WTF???

Back to channel surfing.

I used to be a fan of the WWE. Actually, let me be more precise: I used to be a fan of the WWF. I mean, a huge fan. I collected WWF trading cards and action figures; I watched Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling on Saturday mornings; I could sing the lyrics to every song on The Wrestling Album, which I owned on vinyl; I watched the first WrestleMania, via closed-circuit TV at the Toronto International Centre; and I even remember somehow scoring tickets to the Toronto premiere of that gawd-awful Hulk Hogan movie No Holds Barred, which played in the teeniest, tiniest of the Eaton Centre’s mind-blowingly huge (at the time) 18 screens.

Hulk_Hogan's_Rock_'n'_Wrestling

And I watched a ton of wrestling. It came on TV three or four times per week, as far as I remember. We’d get Stu Hart’s Calgary Stampede Wrestling and Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. From time to time we’d also get Jim Crockett Jr.’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. But above all else, we’d get a healthy dosage of Maple Leaf Wrestling. Back in the day, MLW was my home territory with weekly TV tapings shot in the old Maple Leaf Gardens, which wrestling buffs will remember for having that giant ramp that led from the backstage area up to the ring apron.

Iron-SheikVince McMahon took over MLW in the mid-1980s, so I watched the WWF Golden Age superstars during my pre-teen years – Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Junkyard Dog, Captain Lou Albano, Andre the Giant, “The Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Hart Foundation, and so forth. My favorites were always the wrestlers with the goofiest gimmicks: George “The Animal” Steele, The Missing Link, The Moondogs, and especially, The Iron Sheik, who, even though he “borrowed” his gimmick from the original Sheik, he played it with such over the top virtuosity that he remains my favorite wrestler of all time.

IronMikeMLW also featured a local jobber I really, really liked: “Iron” Mike Sharpe, who was always introduced as “Canada’s greatest athlete.” He never won a match, but he was a jobber with an actual gimmick: an old forearm injury that forced him to wear a protective leather sleeve…which was rumored to be loaded with a metal plate, thus making his forearm smash lethal.

Yes, Iron Mike Sharpe had a lethal forearm smash. No wonder he was Canada’s greatest athlete.

Long story short: as the WWF’s Golden Age morphed into the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era, I grew a little bit older and little bit less interested – not overnight, but gradually, over time. Stone Cold and The Rock were interesting enough, and the Hardy Boyz did some crazy stuff in the ring – and I really did get a kick out of Goldust – but the new WWE didn’t have a place for the “Iron” Mike Sharpes and George “The Animal” Steeles of my childhood. And I definitely couldn’t stand the new backstage “unscripted” stuff, which I found to be forced and annoying – and falling well short of the Shakespearian heights of Piper’s Pit and The Brother Love Show.

Eventually, probably in the late 1990s, I pretty much dropped out of wrestling fandom. I mean, I was vaguely aware of who the big stars were at any given moment, but I didn’t really watch the WWF/E on TV. And though I would gleefully reminisce with anyone about the old WWF – especially about “Iron” Mike Sharpe, if anyone could remember him – my wrestling days felt like they were behind me.

But then, in 2007, I moved to Charlotte NC and discovered the glorious world of southern indie wrestling, and that old wrestling spark reignited! If you’re interested, you can read about some of my forays into indie wrestling here. Suffice it to say, I’m now plugged into the indie scene in the Piedmont region of the Carolinas in a more personal, intimate way than I ever was with the Golden Age of the WWF.

Let me put this a different way to give you get a sense for where my wrestling fandom is now located. Here is a list, as best I can reconstruct it, of all of the local indie promotions whose shows I’ve attended since I last watched a WWF/E show in its entirety:

I’ve also seen Big Time Wrestling shows that have come to the region, as well as a couple of TNA (now Global Force Wrestling) shows – and I think one Ring of Honor show (though I can’t remember if I actually went to their Charlotte show a few years back, or if I tried to go but couldn’t for some reason).

What do I like about the indies so much? I like the gritty, old school feel. I like the small, intimate settings that allow for a much more immediate back and forth between fans and wrestlers. It’s pro wrestling stripped of all the WWE’s glitz and glamour – kind of like DIY kayfabe: nothing flashy, but totally authentic. Southern indie wrestling, in other words, is a throwback to the late Territory Era, right when a handful southern promoters – Bill Watts, Jerry Jarrett, Jim Crockett Jr., Vince McMahon – began thinking about taking their territories national. So, maybe like late 1970s to early 1980s professional wrestling, which, probably not coincidentally, corresponds to my earliest wrestling memories.

APWI admit it: southern indie wrestling tugs my nostalgia heartstrings.

All of this now brings me now to SummerSlam – or at least to my decision to write a review of SummerSlam for PWSA, even though I’m much more up to speed on Premiere Wrestling Xperience’s “Man Scout” Jake Manning (suspended!) than I am with WWE’s current champion, Jindar Mahal – whom I know more from the New York Times feature on him than I do from actually watching him in the ring.

(Aside: praise wrestling Jeebus that the phrase “Indian wrestler” no longer conjures memories of the most cringe-worthy wrestler of all time, The Great Khali!)

SummerSlam will be my first intentional reengagement with the WWE for a long, long time. I will admit that I’m quite looking forward to it! 

Getting Ready for SummerSlam

WWEnetworkStep 1: Sign up for a free month-long trial of the WWE Network.

Step 2: Set a calendar reminder for 30 days hence to cancel the WWE Network.

Step 3: Download the WWE Network on all my devices and login to see if it works.

It does.

But what’s this? A video is automatically loading? Whatever could this be?

“The Top Ten WWE Comebacks.”

Huh. I wonder what the top ten comebacks could possibly be? Maybe I’ll watch for a couple of minutes before I get back to work on that academic article that’s been kicking my butt this summer.

Okay, they’re counting down from number 10…

#10 Bret “The Hitman” Hart

Bret_Hart“How’d you know I’d be watching this?”, I ask the WWE auto-loading video? Not only does it start with a WWF Golden Age icon, it starts with a WWF Golden Age icon who is also bona fide Canadian wrestling royalty! I remember watching Bret Hart on Calgary Stampede Wrestling before he was “The Hitman,” before the Hart Foundation, before he rocked the coolest sunglasses in the history of professional wrestling.

The Hitman’s exit from the WWF, following the infamous Montreal Screwjob, is the stuff of legend: legit backstage heat between Hart and Shawn Michaels; the two squaring off at Survivor Series in Montreal for Hart’s heavyweight championship; Michaels putting Hart in Hart’s own sharpshooter; referee Earl Hebner surprising Hart with a really quick bell; a stunned Hart hocking a giant loogie at McMahon (and, given the distance, impressively hitting him in the ear); Hart decking McMahon in the locker room afterwards; Hart gone from the WWE, his hatred of Michaels, McMahon, and the entire company simmering for over a decade…until his shocking return in 2005, burying the hatchet with Michaels, and getting inducted, rightfully, into the Hall of Fame.

There are nine better comebacks than this? How is this possible?

I must keep watching.

#9: Chris Jericho

Y2J’s comeback was better than Hart’s? Impossible. I mean, Jericho was a great worker…but how is this comeback remotely comparable to the Montreal Screwjob and a 13-year hate-filled exile and Prodigal Son-esque return?

Well, at least Jericho is also Canadian. I’ll give you a pass this once, WWE auto-loading video. But you better come through with #8, or I’m logging off and getting back to that academic article you’re distracting me from.

#8: Hulk Hogan

Touché, WWE auto-loading video. You have identified the comeback that just might be as great as Hart’s, even though the Hulkster wasn’t a quarter of the in-ring worker as Hart, and even though Hogan owned what is unquestionably the lamest finishing move in the history of the WWF/E. None of that matters because during the Golden Age, Hulk Hogan was the WWF.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yt6Sh0k2TaA

Everyone knows the story of Hogan’s exit and return: Monday Night Wars; mass defections to WCW; Hollywood Hulk and nWo; WWF on life support. And then, out of nowhere, Vince miraculously acquires WCW and Mr. Golden Age returns (but with a weird painted-on black beard).

Now that’s a comeback!

RockHoganOh wow, auto-loading video just reminded me that Hogan battled The Rock in WrestleMania 18. We’ll call that the matchup between the lamest finishing move in the history of professional wrestling (double leg drop) against the second lamest finishing move in the history of professional wrestling (the people’s elbow).

There are 7 better comebacks than Hogan’s? How is this possible? I’ll watch one more…then back to work.

#7: Sting

Huh? Sting?

Is there a glitch in the WWE app? Did the video switch to “top-ten face paint”?

Sting1Sting2I’m not even sure Sting ever actually left WCW. Now, granted I was beginning to lose interest in wrestling by the mid-1990s, so my memory is a little hazy here…and I never knew the WCW like I did the WWF anyway…but didn’t Sting merely change his makeup and wrestling outfit? He went from colorful and happy to dark and brooding?

AdonisHow does a character flip count as a comeback? You are drunk, WWE auto-loading video. By this standard Adrian Adonis should be #1.

I’ll give you one more chance to prove yourself – and then I’m going back to work.

#6: Shawn Michaels

Okay, this was a good comeback. I’ll admit it.

But on behalf of Bret “The Hitman” Hart (circa. 1997-2005) and all Canadian wrestling fans everywhere, I hereby announce my objection to Michaels’ comeback listed ahead of Hart’s.

And Hogan’s for that matter.

But Michaels definitely deserves to be above Sting. But not Jericho (because of the whole Canadian thing).

#5: Edge

EdgeEdge? Edge???

Raise your hand if give a sh!t about Edge.

Even if you just raised your hand, how was his comeback better than that of Canadian wrestling royalty? Or that of the most recognizable professional wrestler in the history of professional wrestling?

Reeeeeeeeedunculous.

Oh wait. Edge is Canadian too, right? (Wikipedia confirms.) Okay, I’ll give him a pass…even though he’s not Canadian wrestling loyalty.

He also came back from a ruptured Achilles in 8 months. I ruptured mine right around the same time as he ruptured his (must be a structural flaw in the Canadian anatomy) and it took me a solid year to come back. Props to him. He can stay on the list.

#4: Brock Lesnar

Dumb. Whoever voted on this stuff has no historical perspective.

Oh wait. Lesnar is semi-Canadian. I guess I’m forced to give this a semi-pass.

Before I go on: What’s the deal with Canadian comebacks? Is this some kind of standard wrestling angle I wasn’t aware of? The American hero who fights off the foreign threat. Best friends competing for the love of the same woman. The evil boss who jerks around the fan favorite. The Canadian who’s gone for a while then comes back?

I don’t know: that last one just doesn’t seem to have the same je ne sais quoi. (Thought I’d write that last phrase in Canadian.)

#3: Undertaker

Wait…what’s this, WWE auto-loading video? Undertaker isn’t actually #3? This is just a gratuitous addition to the list of ten for the simple reason that Undertaker keeps “dying” and then coming back?

But that’s his whole gimmick! He’s the dead man. He dies and he comes back! Isn’t this supposed to be a shoot list, not a work list?

I am going to make an executive decision here and declare all worked comebacks ineligible for this list. Undertaker, your special category is hereby vacated. Sting, you are also disqualified.

In the slot vacated by Sting, I am officially inserting Jake “The Snake” Roberts. He left a maleficent keeper of gigantic snakes with names like Damian and Lucifer; he came back a Bible quoting, born-again Christian — with a gigantic snake named Revelations.

Now that’s a comeback!

Real #3: Triple H

Better than Hart? Better than Hogan? Better than Michaels?

Nope.

I’m suspicious of you, WWE auto-loading video. How did you put this list together?

What’s that, you say? Fans voted?

Ah, this is starting to make sense. Edge, Undertaker, Jericho, both halves of D-Generation X: 80% of the votes were cast by fans who were 10 years old during the Attitude Era. Who’s next on the list? The Rock?

#2: The Rock

Thanks, millennials. You ruin everything. Retirement funds, napkins, golf, dinner dates, department stores, churchgoing, home-owning, Applebee’s, and now WWE Network auto-loading top-10 lists.

But I will give you this: The Rock had mic skills! The footage in the auto-loading video of him trash talking John Cena, mocking his bland wrestling outfit and his face-wavey thing, is pure wrestling gold!

#1: John Cena

Of course millennials vote Cena #1. They have no respect (please speak this in your head with your best Iron Sheik accent).

John Cena: the Wonder Bread face of the WWE. Suffice it to say, in the battle between “Let’s go Cena” and “Cena sucks,” I’m firmly with the latter.

But I do think his entrance music is kind of great. The jorts…not so much.

 

Finally, the WWE auto-loading video is over, and I’ve just lost a good hour of work on that article I’m supposed to be writing. But before I get back to it, I absolutely must take a quick peek at the WWE Network’s much ballyhooed vault. How best to test its capacity?

IronMikeI know: I’ll run a search for my favorite Canadian jobber, “Iron” Mike Sharpe.

You gotta be kidding me! 19 pages of results! 190 “Iron” Mike Sharpe matches to watch!

I bow to you, WWE vault.

For nostalgia’s sake, I need to watch one. The first page has an “Iron” Mike vs. S.D. “Special Delivery” Jones match in a rare jobber vs. jobber match.

Oh yeah, I’m definitely watching this. Maybe I can dig up “Iron” Mike vs. Barry Horowitz or “Iron” Mike vs. Barry O match after.

The match loads and plays, and there he is: the “Iron” Mike of my childhood, grunting his way around the ring, protective shield around his “injured” right forearm…when out of nowhere, he crushes S.D. Jones with a lethal forearm smash…S.D. goes down, “Iron” Mike goes for the pin…one…two…three!

WHAAAATTT??? “Iron” Mike actually won a match during his career?

(I just checked Wikipedia: “Iron” Mike got a brief push during his WWF career. I have no memory of this.)

Now, you may be asking yourself: Dan, why do you bash Hulk Hogan’s and The Rock’s ridiculous finishing moves, but not “Iron” Mike’s? Why are a double leg drop and an elbow smash lame finishers, but a forearm smash a fantastic one?

Isn’t the difference obvious? “Iron” Mike wore a leather sleeve over his forearm to protect an old “injury,” and said protective sleeve was long rumored to conceal some sort of unauthorized metal plate. When the forearm-sleeve-plate connects with the side of an opponent’s head – especially when that the blow is delivered by “Canada’s Greatest Athlete”– well, that obviously knocks his opponent out. One, two, three, “Iron” Mike for the win.

MissingLinkOkay, I really must turn off the WWE Network. If I let myself, I’d be watching it for the next three days straight – chasing down old Missing Link matches, and such.

Let me end this section by saying this: the WWE Network is really cool. Supremely disruptive of my summer research plans…but cool nonetheless.

Next up: Part Two.