Up for the Count: Indie Wrestlers Are the REAL Deal

Up for the Count: Indie Wrestlers Are the REAL Deal

By Paul Barile

Ever since the days of Gorgeous George and The Fabulous Moolah, professional wrestling’s popularity has ebbed and flowed. From the Capitol era of the early 1960s to the wildly popular Attitude era of the late '90s there have been high-flying highs and pin fall lows.

For a teenager sitting in the International Amphitheater watching Dick the Bruiser fight his farewell battle against Jerry “The Farmer” Blackwell, I never imagined a promotion would come along that was bigger and more exciting than what we were witnessing right there on Halsted Street.

Becky—my date on that fateful night—sat in horror, blood splattered across her white blouse, staring at me as if it was my fault she got splashed. I knew right then I’d never see Becky again except for passing glances in the halls at school between classes. But I also knew I was witnessing the end of an era.

Wrestling promotions came and went over the years. There were some epic events at the old Comiskey Park. There were smaller events in the back rooms of bars across Chicago.

Then Vince McMahon burst into the scene like a German suplex and—with the help of Hulk Hogan and a colorful cast of babyfaces and heels—he created an international wrestling juggernaut that soared higher than anything Midsouth’s promoter Jim Cornett could have ever imagined.

To maintain that level of glitz and glamour that accompanied this upstart known as the WWF (currently known as WWE) things were going to have to change quicker than a perfectly placed drop kick.

One of the first casualties of the new age of wrestling was the ticket prices. If McMahon wanted to attract the top talent, he had to pay them top dollar. It turned out the fans were the ones who were called upon to provide those dollars. Sometimes the inflated prices didn’t match the deflated wrestling cards. The fans didn’t care. They paid and they came in droves to hang over the steel crowd control barriers and scream at the men in tights in the ring performing their (faux) violent ballet.

The next issue was the up-close and personal fan interaction with the big name wrestlers. The big names aren’t going to come into the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) to press the flesh with young fans. This is not entirely the fault of the wrestlers. At that level, they have handlers and managers and insurance policies to protect.  

During those glory days at the Amphitheater, we had real access. We actually talked to the original Black Jack Mulligan before a fight. Also, when in Chicago, many of the wrestlers did their after show drinking at The Summit on Archer Road. Fans mingled with wrestlers sharing stories and Falstaff Beer.

These are just two of the reasons why there has never been a better time for independent wrestling promotions. These are the rough and tumble little bullies who perform at park districts and banquet halls and upstairs above bars on the west side of the city.

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These are guys who tune-up trucks by day and execute pile-drivers by night. They aren’t risking life and limb for big bucks or endorsement deals. They’re breaking their backs—doing backbreakers—for the love of the game, for the roar of the crowd. 

One of the most attractive elements of these promotions is the ticket price. A fan can sometimes lock down ring-side seats for less than 20 bucks. Compare that to the (nosebleed) seats at a WWE event which can eclipse $200, depending on who is on the card. 

In the bigger venues—with the national organizations—the promoter and the concessionaire are waging a steel cage match over your wallet. Hefty drink prices and food prices catch up with you after paying the enormous ticket price with its inherent “convenience” fees.

You have to be a superstar to afford to see a superstar.

Then there is the access to the wrestlers.These emerging stars of the squared circle realize the value of making sure the customer is happy. The smart ones realize that grassroots support is necessary, and they understand what it means to them as they pursue their dreams. They will sign autographs and pose for pictures typically with humor and grace because tomorrow they’ll be back at their jobs—just like you.

The argument that they are not as polished as the big time promotions is easily countered with the fact that they try harder. Triple H. might have the most devastating pedigree (closing move) in the business, and you can bet there are a dozen guys no one knows about executing the perfect moonsault.

No one is trying to trivialize or disparage the WWE or any other big promotion. They have their place, even if it is too expensive for the working class fan. The indie promotions are simply more valuable to those fans. They offer a surprising alternative by putting on a great show at an affordable price.

They often do this at great expense to themselves. All is not always high flying thrust kicks for the indie wrestlers. While the big money guys pull up in their limos and saunter in to the major venues where trained technicians are responsible for everything from the squared circle to the pyrotechnics, indie wrestlers often have to rely on setting up the ring themselves before they wrestle and tearing it down after. 

When the big money guy goes to the gym for a quick work out, the indie wrestler is at work fixing cars or cooking pizzas. The luxury of working out for the indie wrestler is solely based on time and budget. This is something the big money makers don't have to worry about.

When they're on the road, the superstars of wrestling can stay at a Hilton while the emerging indie wrestler is often forced to sleep in his Ford.

With this amazing proliferation of wrestling shows throughout the Midwest, this is the best of times for young promotions and passionate wrestling fans. There has been no better time in recent memory to show your appreciation for these road warriors and attend the shows and maybe buy some swag. 

Sit as close to the ring as you can, but be careful when these gladiators collide, the sparks are going to fly.

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