wrestling / Columns

411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Is the Busy Wrestling TV Schedule Bad For the Indies?

September 27, 2019 | Posted by Jake Chambers
Wednesday AEW WWE NXT, Shane Douglash

Welcome back to 411 Fact or Fiction – Wrestling Edition, I’m your host, Jake Chambers. Every week, Fact or Fiction poses statements on pro-wrestling history, culture and current events and then challenges writers to explain why they believe each statement is totally factual or completely fiction. No middle ground will be tolerated!

This week’s guest is the esteemed owner and booker of Beyond Wrestling: Mr. Drew Cordeiro. Drew’s reputation as a DIY-producer of craft pro-wrestling with a straight-talking personality is unmatched in the industry today. As fiery and unflinching as its founder, Beyond Wrestling has clawed its way to the top of the super-indie scene and become a place for borderless dream matches and an incubator for new wrestling talent. And as more wrestlers take up positions in the mainstream who have passed through Beyond, the power of Drew’s influence will only continue to grow.

Beyond Wrestling 'Uncharted Territory' - Episode 17 - 07/24/2019

The most recent column I wrote here at 411mania was this review of Beyond’s signature event, Americanrana ’19, my finale review of the promotion’s revolutionary first season of the live weekly online streaming show Uncharted Territory at the IndependentWrestling.TV website.

As a huge fan of the guerrilla mindset at Beyond since the inception of the company 10 years ago, I have discussed it many times over the years in various columns here at 411, and so it’s my absolute pleasure to welcome Drew’s participation in the relaunch of one of my favourite 411 staples, and he definitely brings fresh insights, biting analysis and the strong opinions both he, and this column, have been famous for over the years.

Statement #1: Starting in October, every week the WWE will air 5 hours of live wrestling on cable TV and 2 hours on national network TV, and AEW will present 2 hours live on cable TV while IMPACT, MLW, ROH, NJPW, WOW have tapped nationally televised programs all featuring contracted wrestlers. This is bad for independent wrestling.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Normally, I’d think this means new wrestlers are going to fill the spaces left on the indie scene by these signings. We’ve all watched this cycle play out in pop culture over the years, for example, I saw Peal Jam open for Red Hot Chili Peppers in a small concert hall one year, headline the same venue a year later, and eventually play for tens of thousands at their own outdoor festival. This is basically the same trajectory I witnessed Seth Rollins go through. Neither of these cases decimated the indie scenes they came from. So why wouldn’t this continue on in perpetuity? Well, that’s a massive list of corporate entities contracting wrestlers and actively looking to lock in more just to keep them away from their competitors. This feels abnormal. And with rumors that the ever-hoarding WWE wants to cut deals with indie companies for Network content, it can be no doubt that their long-term intention is to make everything from training prospects to airing events in backyards go through the WWE portal. I mean, we could be looking at a future where the WWE will Venmo you $20 for every Hindu squat you do in an authorized gym. It will really take strong-willed creators to stand up to this economic force and maintain the artistic integrity of independent wrestling, and to be honest, I’m not sure it’s even worth it.

Drew Cordeiro: FACT – Besides WWE allegedly stockpiling wrestlers for global expansion, other wrestling promotions pursuing television in the United States are going to need to lock down whoever they can get their hands on if they take a traditional approach to building a roster. Rookies are being signed to exclusive contracts at an unprecedented rate, before they even have a chance to fully develop as performers. Veteran competitors that wouldn’t get a whiff of the mainstream even five years ago will no longer be around to teach the next generation of independent wrestlers how it’s done. It takes a significant amount of time for an independent wrestler to build a following. I am concerned that fans won’t stick around for the next crop of talent to mature if they can just flip the channel from the comfort of their own home to watch their current favorites wrestle live almost every night of the week. At some point a hierarchy will form and independent wrestling will be on the bottom of the totem pole beneath all of the aforementioned promotions that will broadcast on television.

Statement #2: Beyond Wrestling started out 10 years ago intentionally putting on shows in an empty venue with only the other wrestlers on the card in the audience, but then just recently held their annual Americanrana event in front of a rabid audience of more than 1,000 fans. Live audiences are an important part of a pro-wrestling show.

Jake Chambers: FICTION – Some of the greatest times in my life have been watching live wrestling, and I have no doubt that being at a Beyond show is a fantastic experience; however, in 2019 the importance of an audience to the creative aspect of a mainstream event are minimal. The collectively faceless “audience” entity is treated by pundits and producers like some embarrassing little sister you have to drag to a cool party. Particularly, mainstream wrestling TV tapings expect the crowd to react like there’s a sign telling them when to applaud or laugh, and if they don’t show appropriate enthusiasm then they are accused of not understanding wrestling or respecting the performers. So as long as the agendas of producers, wrestlers – and even the online punditry – takes precedence over the ticket-paying patron, wrestling audiences are as important as the flat, animated puppets in the background of a WWE 2K video game.

Drew Cordeiro: FACT – While the audience was not made up of paying fans when Beyond Wrestling introduced the studio taping format in 2009, there WAS a live audience. The ringside presence of the wrestlers who would also be competing at the event elevated the energy in the room and created a legitimate sense of competition which pushed the other athletes to try harder. NXT has recently introduced the phrase “FTMF” which stands for “follow that my friend” which indicates to me that our influence over the last decade has made a lasting impression in WWE.

Traditionally a wrestling card is built with undercard wrestlers holding back to make sure that the main event gets the biggest reactions but our goal from day one was to give wrestlers a platform that leveled the playing field so everyone had an equal opportunity to steal the show. But what exactly does that phrase mean? A quick Google search says “attract the most attention and praise.” How can that be determined in a predetermined environment? By the reaction of the live audience! Often you’ll see veterans say that wrestlers should be more concerned with the story than getting a pop, but the wrestlers will know if they did their job if the audience liked the show. Storytelling is an important tool to help wrestlers find a more efficient route to getting a pop, but at the end of the day, nobody wants to perform in a vacuum. Despite playing to a smaller audience, the live broadcast of NXT on USA was a more exciting viewing experience than RAW or SmackDown because of the engagement of the audience.

Statement #3: Pro-wrestling should be more like a sport and NOT a narrative battle between good and evil.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Those traditional lines of hero/villain in pro-wrestling have become so blurry that it’s very hard to care anymore. For example, is Bray Wyatt’s new Fiend gimmick good or evil? Everything about his presentation is old school villain, yet he gets cheered and is lauded by critics as a genius for his great character work. On the other hand, Baron Corbin, who the audience seems to legitimately hate, is constantly criticized as being terrible because he’s doesn’t know how to “work” or “talk”. Both the writing and critical reaction is very confusing; I don’t know (or care) what to think. On the other hand, I really like the concept on these Josh Barnett Bloodsport shows where everything is presented like a catch wrestling shoot fight, and New Japan, which is still tied to their Strong Style origins of pro-wrestling as a realistic fight league (despite succumbing to some “story-lining” in the past few years). I think my biggest problem is that mainstream wrestling tries to disguise finisher spamming and illogical submissions as storytelling in a match instead of creating a strong good vs. evil narrative dynamic. And if that’s the case, then give me two randos trying to fight out of a hammerlock and I’ll just cheer whoever wins.

Drew Cordeiro: FICTION – As someone that produces a large amount of wrestling, I try and watch as much as I can to stay ahead of the curve. For the life of me I could not figure out why they show so many recaps on WWE programming. Surely they could fit another match on TV instead of beating their audience over the head with something that just happened an hour ago! I asked someone within the system and they told me that they wanted to treat each episode like there are new fans watching for the very first time. That makes sense… except wrestling at its core is about good vs. evil, and if the mainstream presentation gravitates toward shades of grey, you’ve taken one of the most straight-forward, easily-digestible storytelling mediums and turned it into something that even diehard fans have a tough time following. Now, if a mainstream promotion can effectively pull off nuanced storytelling where every wrestler has their own motivation (the first couple season of Lucha Underground come to mind) it can lead to some really special moments. However, I can speak from personal experience, that Beyond Wrestling reached new heights when we started to focus on match combinations where fans knew who they wanted to cheer and knew who they wanted to chant “micro-penis” at. We strive for diversity with our programming, so there’s room for everything, including a more sport-based presentation where stories can organically manifest. That’s something you won’t often see in an overproduced, micromanaged setting.

¡SWITCH!

Statement #4: Classic ROH was better than classic ECW.

Drew Cordeiro: FICTION – In a lot of ways on the surface it feels like comparing apples to oranges, but the biggest similarity to me is that both promotions had lasting effects on the way mainstream wrestling is crafted and presented to a much larger audience. You can’t reduce classic ECW to blood and guts, but early ROH also had its fair share of shocking stunts and gruesome moments. Both organizations produced dozens wrestling superstars that became household names. The prominent styles that defined each company, such as lucha libre and hardcore in the case of ECW or strong style and technical wrestling in the case of ROH, eventually infiltrated television wrestling. Even though ECW’s star faded much quicker, they also accomplished more in a shorter period of time. Timeless standards used in the wrestling industry to measure success, such as PPV buys and tickets sold, swing in the favor of ECW and that’s enough for me to give them the nod.

Objectively speaking, classic ROH was not better than classic ECW. Personally speaking, I liked classic ROH more. It’s what I had access to and what I grew up on. I was able to experience the shows live and in person. By the time I got my hands on ECW, even though I was able to appreciate why so many loved it, it didn’t excite me. I had no nostalgic attachment. It didn’t age well. I’d love to dig up some classic ROH shows for comparison’s sake. Is the entire ROH catalog even available anywhere? How can I watch Da Hit Squad vs. Mamaluke & Matt Thompson from the “Scramble Madness” event without tracking down an out of print DVD?

Jake Chambers: FICTION – I’m giving the nod to ECW ’95-’97 over ROH ’03-’05 because of two reasons: the ECW Arena and The Sandman. ROH just never had that signature venue that was as electric as the Arena. A great static venue provides continuity and thus re-watchability to an episodic pro-wrestling show, from RAW at the Manhattan Center to the Lucha Underground Temple, and NXT at Full Sail, but the ECW Arena set a standard of wild excellence that a homebase-less ROH never found. And while prime ROH featured many of my Top 30 favourite wrestlers of all time, it didn’t have someone like Sandman, I mean, who did? Homicide was maybe the closest they got, but Sandman’s clumsily realistic fighting, raucously hilarious promos, and scary drunken death stare, made for a once in a lifetime character. Experiencing Sandman in ECW was like seeing Andrew Dice Clay at MSG in the early ’90s, a Friday the 13th movie in the ’80s, or a KISS concert in the ’70s, just unexplainable, un-repeatable, era-specific bad assery. So, as Drew said, it’s possible age is directing my nostalgia here, but I think if you pop a Sandman video into your VHS, nothing on your ROH DVDs will compare.

Statement #5: The age of the “dominant big man” in pro-wrestling is gone forever (at least in our lifetime).

Drew Cordeiro: FICTION – What is this based on? Because Drew McIntyre hasn’t won the WWE Universal Championship yet? Because Luke Harper was sidelined for months? Because Dominik Dijakovic and Keith Lee have such good chemistry they’re only allowed to wrestle each other? What about Brock Lesnar’s stronghold at the top of the card? Or Baron Corbin getting more TV time than anyone else this year? Someone like Braun Strowman is an interesting case. He’s huge, he has a cool look, he can talk, he has an intimidating voice, he is capable of entertaining matches, and he’s still relatively young. Would interest tank if he won every match for the next year?

One of the highlights of Uncharted Territory Season 01 was Chris Dickinson’s quest to prove himself against the biggest and baddest wrestlers on the scene to prepare for his match at “Americanrana ’19” against Daisuke Sekimoto. He wrestled and beat the likes of Josh Briggs, Eddie Kingston, Erick Stevens, Tom Lawlor, Josh Alexander, and Timothy Thatcher. Standing 5’10 and weighing 235 lbs. perhaps the Dirty Daddy isn’t a “big man” when compared to the likes of The Big Show, but the way he performed against a murderers’ row of opponents proved his dominance. He’s never been more popular, with bookings coming from all corners of the globe.

If the “dominant big man” formula isn’t working it has more to do with the size of the fight in the dog and not the size of the dog in the fight.

Jake Chambers: FACT – Some of the wrestlers Drew cites here are not even the size of the dominant big men of the golden era in pro-wrestling. Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman just happen to look huge since so much of the roster now is basically cruiserweight. I mean, what is Drew McIntyre, like 6’4? Guys like Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Hillbilly Jim were 6’7, and I’m not even talking about (billed as) 7-footers like Sid or Diesel or the healthily obese guys like Mabel or Kamala. There was such a mix of different kinds of difficult-to-defeat huge wrestlers with distinct styles back in the day, giving wrestlers different puzzles to solve was more interesting compared to everything now being a move trading spectacle. If Andre the Giant was in his prime today he’d be shit on so much it would make The Great Khali look like Daniel Bryan. Every New Japan G1 season critics complain about Bad Luck Fale stinking up the tournament, and thus a huge guy who could crush most of the roster is never a threat to win. Nia Jax should have had an unstoppable run as champion for years in WWE, but she was tapping out to a minuscule Bayley face-lock before she was even out of the gates. And, of course, there’s Braun Strowman, who has not only been destroyed and humiliated by a smaller Brock Lesnar for almost 2 years, but was basically just jobbed out to a much smaller Seth Rollins in the Clash of Champions main event. The dominant super heavyweight tradition in pro-wrestling is gone and we won’t see it again in our lifetime.

Statement #6: Beyond Wrestling’s weekly live online streaming show Uncharted Territory is a must watch.

Drew Cordeiro: FACT – How can I be expected to give an unbiased answer? Uncharted Territory is the culmination of my life’s work. The main goal of our weekly live broadcast is to help repopulate the independent wrestling scene. By running weekly instead of monthly, we hope to accomplish in 3-months what used to take an entire year. Frequent repetitions in front of a live audience allow young wrestlers to hone their craft while quickly amassing a strong following.  Beyond Wrestling is a proven platform which has given dozens of wrestlers their first big break. We are the gatekeepers to the national wrestling scene. A good chunk of what you see on Wednesday nights has been directly influenced by everything we’ve accomplished over the last decade. I can tell you with absolute certainty that Uncharted Territory is under a microscope. Many influential people within the wrestling industry will obsess over every move we make. It’s both flattering and frustrating. We are driven by creativity. They are driven by bottom lines. Our hope is to get a fraction of the support that NXT or AEW will receive through the rest of the year. IndependentWrestling.TV has been an incredible partner and “Uncharted Territory” would not be possible without this partnership. If you want to see what Uncharted Territory is all about, Season 02 begins on Thursday, October 3rd and will stream live every week starting at 8pm ET on IWTV.live. Sign up using promo code: THURSDAY for a 20-day free trial and stream the entire Beyond Wrestling catalog since 2013 including the entire first season of Uncharted Territory which concluded in July.

Jake Chambers: FACT – This was obviously a softball statement for Drew to thank him for participating in the first edition of the new 411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction. From his answers today I think we can all see why he’s one of the most influential pro-wrestling bookers in the world. I wish him nothing but success with Uncharted Territory Season 02, and in my opinion you’re not going to find a better ratio of compelling wrestling per minute than what I saw (and reviewed) during the first season. At a time when there is so much wrestling to be watched, Beyond brings clear pro-wrestling stories punctuated by great matches every week. And Drew’s not wrong by saying that Beyond is re-populating the independent scene with new faces, and that freshness is really exciting. I hate to say it, but AEW… eh, that roster is pretty same-y, NXT features a lot of guys we’ve also seen there for a while, and WWE might shake up their brands again but there’s no real unique combination that they can do at this point. Meanwhile, Uncharted Territory made names like Thomas Santell, Solo Darling and Bear Country, some of my favourite wrestlers of the year and I had barely heard of them before the series started. Uncharted Territory is going to bring something new to a broadcast TV atmosphere that might start feeling very familiar after a few weeks of “war”, so check it out!

Thanks again to Drew for his participation and I hope if you haven’t yet taken him up on the 20-day free trail offer over at Independent Wrestling.TV then GET OVER THERE and check out the new season of Beyond Wrestling’s Uncharted Territory every Thursday night, streaming live starting on October 3rd. Be sure to follow Beyond Wrestling’s Twitter account for all the news, and you never know when Drew’s gonna drop some knowledge over there.

And I hope you enjoyed the return of Wrestling Fact or Fiction. While you’re over at Twitter go ahead and follow me too and join a tiny elite of bots and defunct accounts that are treated to random and “hilarious” New Japan tweets. I’m going to be scouting for new participants who want to step up and take the FoF challenge, so that will be the best way to get in touch!