wrestling / Columns

What Is the Future of Indie Wrestling After COVID-19?

June 3, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
Game Changer Wrestling GCW

While wrestling hasn’t stopped for some, pieces seem to be falling into place for some regarding “when will shows begin to get back to normal?”

Of course, WWE and AEW have been holding empty arena shows throughout the current pandemic, while in Japan we’ve seen no-fan shows from the likes of DDT, Dragon Gate and NOAH. Japan has recently relaxed restrictions there, with the Government dictating that for pro sports, “no fans” are allowed at events until June 19, before half-full arenas can be used from August 1. There does seem to be some wiggle room, with “events” allowing up to 100 people or half-full crowds from May 25 – which seems to be how DDT and Tokyo Joshi Pro are going to start running shows again from June 14.

Japan’s been here before though. In this same pandemic. At the end of March, 6,500 fans attended a K-1 MMA show at the Saitama Super Arena, with fans being screened for high temperatures and having contact details taken. The very next day, one of those fans tested positive for Covid-19, adding to the 1,100 positive cases Japan had then. Fast forward to the end of May, with the number having ballooned and stabilised at over 16,000, and you’d be forgiven for being afraid of history repeating itself.

Every country is handling it differently – and in some cases, with massive changes within countries. Within Germany, for instance, wXw has already rescheduled a tonne of shows, and has asterisks over a lot of dates, with some looking to reschedule to 2021. As it stands, wXw hasn’t run in front of fans since the final day of 16 Carat Gold, almost two months ago, when Germany had barely 1,000 cases. Truth be told, had Carat been a week later, it wouldn’t have happened – that was a real big bullet that wXw was lucky to have dodged.

Since then, Germany’s leapt through the curve, and gone on to flatten it at over 183,000 cases – but the country has reopened, leaving the decisions on events to each individual state in Germany. At time of writing, the upcoming show listings for wXw has been massively hit, with the promotion pushing back their scheduled Oberhausen events in June and August as current restrictions would mean that wXw would be running in front of crowds of 40 – less than a tenth of their usual crowds. What that means for September’s scheduled five-day Catch Grand Prix event remains up in the air until the situation and local laws change – although wXw were able to tape some empty arena content for their “Shotgun 2020” program. Elsewhere in Germany, the German Wrestling Federation have announced that they’ll not be running any shows in their usual Berlin home until August at the earliest.

Over in the UK, things are a lot more opaque. While Germany’s Bundesliga has been back in action for a few weeks, with some of Britain’s football (soccer) leagues having decided to just curtail the season entirely. The English Premier League is returning in mid-June, albeit with no fans, but while the go-ahead has only just been given for competitive sports to resume behind closed doors, the British Government hasn’t even set an estimated date for when “ticketed events” can resume, instead saying that these “may only be fully possible significantly later.” Which is just as well, given that virtually every indie show has been cancelled: PROGRESS have canned all of their shows until the end of November (noting that their end-of-October show was going to have been rescheduled anyway due to the NXT UK Takeover: Dublin date)… Rev Pro technically still have dates on the books for June and July, but those look extremely optimistic, while Fight Club Pro have cancelled all dates for the time being.

Across the sea, in Ireland, they’re looking to permit wrestling training from August 10, along with live shows… as long as they can meet social distancing guidelines and other criteria. OTT’s cancelled more shows, but are looking to return in October, with a show in Belfast, along with their 6th Anniversary at the end of the month. So, why the difference in approaches? Ireland’s in the area of having 25k cases (at time of writing) with 1600 deaths, while the UK has over ten times the number of cases and almost 40k deaths. Without going too political, the overriding feeling from those who have so much as looked at the UK media in the last week or so can probably sum up the recent events in one, highly-scientific word. A shitshow.

Meanwhile over in the States… the numbers are even more grim, with 1.8m cases and over 100k deaths. The point is, whether your country has had a few thousand cases or over a million, a lot of the western world is either opening up, or well on the road to doing so… while also hoping to avoid future waves of infection. Tennessee has already opened up for shows – even if they were pretty quickly shut down (per the Wrestling Observer this past week), while GCW and ICW NY have announced plans to run shows in the coming weeks in outdoor venues – with ICW running a “deathmatch drive thru” show in New Jersey. Necessity is the mother of invention, and all that…

We may well be waiting for a vaccine or a treatment before crowds at live wrestling shows are back in the way it was at the start of 2020. Of course, the health and safety of everyone involved is paramount – whether it’s the fans, the wrestlers, the ticket takers, cameramen, soundmen and so on… even when we get a new, stable “normal”, precautions will need to be taken, and I don’t envy those first promotions who look to run indoor in the “old way”. In the medium- to long-term, there may be something that could ease confidence in gatherings as things continue to improve: face masks.

It’s a contentious subject for some, depending on what advice you listen to – but if we get to a position where infections are controlled but the urge to get back to the old ways, then going down the Japanese route of wearing facial coverings may well become the new norm. To some extent, even arena shows with a reduced audience in place will pose an issue – as you’d not only need arenas to ticket (say) one in four seats, but also police it efficiently in order to keep the fabled 6ft/2m apart. As for independent shows, that’s a much bigger issue.

Looking at shows I attend live (well… pre-coronavirus), there’s a multitude of different settings to contend with. From shows where specific seats are ticketed, to all standing shows in the back rooms of pubs, to all-seater shows in community theatres, these are all unfortunately examples of the environment we’ve been told to avoid in the current pandemic. All settings that in the current situation would see their allowed capacity heavily reduced. Can facial coverings be the silver bullet? Absolutely not – but if the indies are to resume, this may well be a part of the tool kit towards allowing the relative “minor leagues” being allowed to resume. That is assuming that any “dialling up” of attended events starts with smaller shows before we get back to seeing the likes of WWE, AEW, ROH and Impact touring in front of audiences.

Unless there’s a discovery of medical treatment (be it vaccine or a cure), or even a repeat of what happened with the 1918 Spanish Flu (in that the virus mutated into a less harmful form), a lot of fans who regularly go to shows have probably written off the remainder of 2020… but if smaller companies can reach a situation where the framework is in place open up, even if it’s so a small number of people back to lower-level shows, then the quicker that wrestling’s underground can start to think about getting back on their feet.

article topics :

GCW, PROGRESS, Ring of Honor, wXw, Ian Hamilton