I remember the first wrestling show I ever attended, and I know to some that may be hard to believe, as it's such a long time ago now, but the memory is still fresh in my mind, and I can still remember virtually every sight and sound, alongside the smells of the old school independent circuit.
These days, when people talk about independent promotions they are referring to things like Ring of Honor, but way back when, promotions like Ring of Honor would have been seen as every bit as mainstream as the World Wrestling Entertainment promotion is today.
The first bout I ever saw was part of a traveling show, in the days before the wrestling community could be found on the Internet, when such traveling promotions didn't have a regular magazine, or a weekly television spot, when there was no radio commentary, and results weren't carried in the local, or national newspapers, so what you got was a one night stand, before they'd roll out of town, never to be seen again, or at least not until the next year, when half their roster would have changed, and so, whilst some of the crowd might remember a heel, or a face, from a previous year, to most of us, virtually every performer on the card was a blank canvas, with no history, and no background, and with no promos, to give us a clue, as to what was what, and who was who, the audience would file into the venue blind, and it was down to the wrestler, with the aid of nothing more than a badly made costume, and a few words, to sell his character, before the bout, and from that moment on it was down to what he
could do in the ring.
Todays television performers, have it made, in that regard, as they have weeks, or months, or indeed even years, to sell a character, and to get it over with the crowds.
Week, after week, after week, they can come into our homes, and call us sycophants, to prove they are a heel, or they can rescue a million divas, in distress, to prove they are the face of the company, but back then, they had two minutes, and their in-ring abilities, to let us know who they were, and whether we should be booing, or cheering them, and that didn't always work out as planned.
Sure, the performers could always rely on old industry standards, to try and get their character across, for example by using such stock methods as the rake to the eyes, but that wouldn't always get the desired result, I mean, if the face hadn't done his job right, and we didn't connect with him, then we might start cheering the heel, for sticking his thumb in the other guys eye, and that could start making things complicated, after all, the bout would have been booked to work one way, so if we ended up cheering the heel, rather than the face, mid-bout these two guys would have to start working the fight in another way, to give the audience the result they wanted, and to save themselves from a riot.
You had to respect the work these performers would put into a bout, often longer than the modern, standard, televised fare, these guys had to work hard, work cleanly, and to sell the fight with every move they made, rather than relying on pre-recorded promos, and they also had to be ready to adapt, and to improvise, and as such I have to often wonder if many of todays Superstars could cut it in such an environment.
The world of wrestling has moved on from the days of the traveling shows, and it's Catch-as-Catch-Can roots, and in some ways that's a sad thing, as we've lost some of the purism, and the art, and it's moved more towards the world of Sports Entertainment, and away from the world of pure athletic aggression, in your face, and within touching distance, that we used to see, and that kept a wrestler honest, but on the other hand, with the aid of television, and the ability for us to become familiar with a character, as well as giving that character the time, and facilities, for him to develop, and for his story-lines to develop, it's given us the sort of classic feuds, and plot-lines, that the old traveling shows could never give us.
Now-a-days a story is told as much through props, and promos, as it is through in-ring abilities, which in a way is sad, but it allows the stories to go so much further, and for us to be engaged for that much longer.
I doubt the old traveling promotions will ever come back, in the way they used to be, so I'm not going to try and hang on to the past, or to call for it's return, but I will say to fans, of the modern television promotions, get out there, and support your local promotions, and the true independent promotions, not just because it gives you a new, and fresh wrestling perspective, but also because it's paying respect to those that paved the way, in this industry, whilst also ensuring the survival of the little guys, who so often work as the development territories, for many of the stars we later learn to love, and enjoy.