Once again I was shown the incredible power of a well done night of independent wrestling. I love long told anyone who asks that the best pro wrestling matches are never seen on television. They are done in church basements, VFW halls, run down nightclubs and bingo halls. Last night I got my first taste of Pro Wrestling Guerilla – or PWG. They have been going since 2004 in Los Angeles and have stumbled upon a wildly winning formula. They charge high ticket prices, and book nothing but quality talent, and don’t overload the card with a ton of matches.
A lot of wrestling promotions try and keep prices low, and because of that they can only book a couple of “names” per show and rely on local wrestlers, and often too frequently, the trainees from their associated wrestling schools, to fill out the bill. While I appreciate the need to develop your homegrown talent, and totally respect it when promotions do, there something special about an indie wrestling “supercard” in a small venue and that’s PWGs Raison d’Etre. I’ve spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on pro wrestling matches over the years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual number is over ten thousand dollars, especially if you count merch purchased at said events. You could say I’ve seen it all, and that wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration. Especially when it comes to the widely varying quality of matches. I’ve paid to see complete Jabronis who were obviously having their first ever matches, right on through to some of the best wrestlers in the world plying their trade in front of just a couple
Hundred of us. And the list of big stars Ive seen in tiny places while they are on their way up is a mile long. Almost as long is the list of legends I’ve seen sadly embarrassing themselves deep down on the lowest rungs of the ladder that’s also known as “the way down.” Thankfully that happens less and leas often nowadays as there a. Seems
To be a better support network from wrestlers on the downside of their career and b. A lot of the ex-legends who had serious problems are no longer with us. Sad but true.
But when you get a top quality night of independent wrestling, there’s really nothing quite like it. And there are a few elements that need to come
Together to make it a truly special night. You need great wrestlers. You need a decent building. It doesn’t need to be beautiful, it just needs to have “vibe” and of course you need a hot crowd,!
But beyond that, you need a great booker. A booker is the guy behind the scenes that puts the matches together. Beyond just hiring the wrestlers, the booker is responsible
For coming up with the matchups, and much more importantly helps lay out the match. The booker will come up with the backstory aka the storyline of the match and in an ongoing sense, the league, and also dictate, to a degree, the pacing and outcome of the match. The booker will lay out how they want the match to go, how long it should be, and typically a fair amount of the moves you see on n the ring. At least for the big moments of the matches. And then they send the rassslers out to the ring to execute. If this were a typical professional sport, the booker would be the GM, the head coach, the marketing department and the team captain all rolled into one. Sometimes the booker is one of the wrestlers. That historically doesn’t end well. They usually can’t resist the temptation to put themselves into the main event role, usually to the detriment of the show in general. For a while Dusty Rhodes was the exception to this rule. Until he wasnt. Today that transgressions is evident anytime Triple H steps into the ring. But, I digress…
When done well, the booker’s role isn’t even noticed, and he makes the shows transcendent. The best booker comes up with storylines that work on a long arc that unfolds slowly week after week, like an episodic television show (think Breaking Bad) while also making things easily digestible for someone who is just tuning in to that one episode, or showing up for that one event. And that’s truly an art.
But the most important thing a great booker can do is to emphasize.e the strengths and hide the weaknesses of his talent roster. The best guy to ever do that in the wrestling business was Paul Heyman when he was at the helm of the original ECW. He took a rag tag bunch of wrestlers and turned them into veritable superstars. At the same
Time he created some of the most intense houses on wrestling history. The ECW Arena in Philly and the Mad House of Extreme in Queens (a bingo hall and an Elks Lodge respectively) were two places where I legitimately feared for my life on more than one occasion. Even though I knew it was “fake” shows there legitimately made me suspend my disbelief, which means they completely succeeded.
I don’t know who the booker is at PWG but he’s a total G. There were a total of seven matches last night and every one of them was spectacular. The night opened with a classic David be Goliath Story of a match between the huge tattooed monster Brody King and the tiny and skinny youngster Jungle Boy. It should have been a squash match, where the huge guy wins easily. But it was booked and presented don such a way that you never counted Jungle Boy out, and even when he lost, he looked good in defeat. It was his first appearance in PWG and because he was brilliantly booked, it didn’t matter that he lost. He still got a “Please Come Back” chant from the entire crowd after his match. And thats about as high a compliment you can get from a fired up crowd full of smart marks, the term for us nerds who spend waaaayyy too much time thinking about and reading about pro wrestling. And if you’ve read this far, you’re well on your way to becoming a smart mark already.
Rodney on the other hand, was just a mark. It was all still real to him, dammit. And that’s why I loved going to matches with him so much. He made me and everyone around him feel like it was real. God I miss him. #RodSpeed