When I say “wrestling contains multitudes,” that’s not just a cue for you to roll your eyes, it’s my way of saying there are more than a few kinds of pro wrestling.
If you’re familiar with any one kind, it’s likely what WWE does, which is boringly called WWE-style. There are some outliers (flippy high-fliers such as Kalisto and Neville and ) but WWE ‘superstars’ (they’re not called ‘wrestlers’) tend to be large, buff alpha-male looking dudes who you’d guess spend their whole lives downing protein shakes and lifting weights.
And those WWE stars tend to have very similar matches that mix striking attacks, rest-holds, submission locks and bodyslams. WWE may sign ‘hybrid’ athletes that can perform death-defying flips like Seth Rollins or have a wider build like Kevin Owens, but the style is kept somewhat similar to make a reliable show that fans can tune in for and get what they expect. Like how McDonalds Big Macs are the same in California and Kentucky.
As of July 19, the company’s main broadcast programs: Raw (Mondays, 8 to 11 pm, USA), SmackDown (8 to 10pm, USA) will both air live, each with their own separate rosters.
But once you get outside of WWE, you see that there’s a variance of what wrestling can be. Chikara is the most glaringly different promotion, as its characters are far more cartoonish. Some talent wrestle under Ant personas (i.e. Fire Ant), wearing antennaed masks.
One of their recent champions is Princess KimberLee, whose appearance resembles a generic Disney Princess costume, and Hallowicked, a man who wrestles in a costume that bears resemblance to a pumpkin, recent won the title from KimberLee. I’ve seen one Chikara show live, it was in a recreation center in the Bronx, possibly the smallest venue I’ve seen wrestling performed at.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is the most successful promotion in the east, and many of its talents fight using a technique called Strong Style. It emphasizes strikes that often look (and sometimes are) extremely painful. NJPW wrestlers are broken down into two divisions, Juniors and Heavyweights.
I’ve never seen NJPW live, but I have seen some of its athletes perform live, thanks in part to a working relationship with the Ring of Honor (RoH) promotion. Not only did I see RoH’s Supercard of Honor (its event that takes place during the same weekend and in the same city as WWE’s Wrestlemania), but I also attended some of its TV tapings at Terminal 5, a concert venue in New York City.
Possibly my favorite wrestling on TV is the non-traditional Lucha Underground. While other companies I’ve referenced are year-long touring promotions, Lucha tapes its episodes in the same location, a dilapidated-looking warehouse in the working-class neighborhood of Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Its episodes are presented in seasons, and unlike all other wrestling, there are off-seasons where it doesn’t air new episodes.
Whereas WWE is helmed by insane manic millionaire Vince McMahon who is also an on-screen performer, Lucha Underground does things a little differently. LU lists film-maker Robert Rodriguez and reality tv show mastermind Mark Burnett as an executive producers, but its on-screen ringmaster is the bloodthirsty Dario Cueto, who is portrayed by actor Luis Fernandez-Gil.
Cueto is a great amalgamation of every trope of a wrestling promoter (shamelessness, greasy hair, greed and loves of violence and manipulating his performers), and his long-term storyline of his caged little brother made for excellent television.
Lucha is also the oddest bird of the flock because of some things it borrows from Lucha Libre wrestling. Instead of a tag team division where wrestlers compete in 2 on 2 matches, Lucha Underground has a Trios division comprised of teams of three wrestlers. LU is also completely OK with inter-gender wrestling, something that is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea. Once you realize that these are all performers and nobody wants to harm each other, it’s easier to watch.
This practice is partially a result of the show not giving women their own separate championship title for women to fight for, so they challenge for all of the company’s titles. One of the best matches of the year so far was an NO MAS! match featuring Lucha Underground’s Sexy Star and Mariposa, a bloody grudge match that was set up over a number of months, and referenced Mariposa torturing a captive Sexy Star, a moment we never actually saw.
And at the very bottom of this list is the last thing I would recommend to a new viewer: TNA, also known as Total Nonstop Action. TNA presents a weekly program called Impact, which is taped in a location called The Impact Zone, a soundstage in Orlando’s Universal Studios theme park. Some defend TNA, but most malign it for the years of sloppy booking, overpaying too-old WWE talents and poor production quality.
While the first of those charges no longer stands, the show’s current announcers are arguably the worst on modern wrestling television and the crowds that attend Impact tapings always detract from the product because TNA can’t even sell tickets to tapings. Its roster is filled with talents who deserve better, including former WWE talents Drew Galloway, Ethan Carter, and Bobby Lashley, who are all shining here more than they did in WWE.
Next: Surprises Abound