We wrap up our look at the first half of 2016 by casting an eye over a select group of indie promotions from around the world.
First things first, I’m sticking TNA in this bucket for two reasons: a) I don’t watch enough of them to give them an article to themselves a-la WWE or New Japan, and b) this year has seen TNA continue to cement their place in wrestling as an indie promotion with worldwide television.
Despite marking their 14th anniversary, Ring of Honor are a far cry from the company than they once were. As mentioned in our review of New Japan, ROH’s alliance with the Japanese promotion is on the verge of being abused by the company. All three pay-per-views of the that ROH have held so far in 2016 have had a strong New Japan flavour to them, with the company’s 14th Anniversary Show event seeing Tomohiro Ishii unseat Roderick Strong for the TV title, whilst the Global Wars PPV only had two matches that didn’t feature any New Japan talent, and was pretty much ruined by an angle involving the Bullet Club.
The result of all of this is that, aside from the PPVs, ROH has been left a disorganised mess.
The weeks after the Global Wars PPV saw ROH’s television show show nothing but “best of” episodes – a sure-fire way to kill ratings – whilst the go-home show for June’s “Best in the World” pay-per-view featured talent who weren’t even on the PPV. Beyond television, the company’s live touring schedule has also been affected by the New Japan link, as fans treat “core ROH shows” as secondary events, which will have the obvious issues if and when the tie-up with New Japan ends.
In terms of champions, Jay Lethal has remained the company’s champion throughout 2016, having won the belt from Jay Briscoe at last year’s Best in the World pay-per-view. The Addiction – Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian – currently hold the tag titles after beating War Machine – Raymond Rowe and Hanson – at a TV taping in May, whilst the same set of tapings saw Bobby Fish win the TV title from Tomohiro Ishii, after the New Japan veteran had beaten Roderick Strong in a three-way at one of the joint ROH/New Japan shows in February. Even though the promotion has slightly increased its focus on women’s wrestling, this is mostly only visibly through the company’s YouTube channel, and as yet there are no plans to add a Women’s title to their parade of championships.
Due to its status as an unofficial “number two” in North America, without an increase in financial backing and a change to creative direction, the promotion will remain ripe for cherry picking as and when performer’s contracts come up. The departures of Mike Bennett and Maria to TNA at the start of the year was a warning, whilst the loss of Roderick Strong and expected exit of Moose in June further underscored the issue for ROH.
Another promotion that’s been around for fourteen years, the best way to describe TNA’s progress this year is with it’s antonym: regression. Starting 2016 with another change of television host, TNA’s ongoing cutbacks meant that the company continued to lose some of the bigger names from their history – namely Kurt Angle, Bobby Roode and Eric Young – with the latter two immediately jumping into the clutches of WWE.
In April, it was revealed that TNA had been in talks with a marketing company called Aroluxe over the purchase of the promotion. At time of writing, there’s been no sale, but the company’s financial woes led to no end of rumours over TNA’s future. Late purchases of flights, late announcements of shows, delayed payment to staff alike, and an eviction from their long-time offices (with the company’s HQ relocating to a warehouse)… none of those paint a picture of a company in good health, does it?
TNA’s latest doom-watch came in June, when their Slammiversary pay-per-view and accompanying TV tapings were almost cancelled at the 11th hour. It was only thanks to a series of calls from the company’s CFO that ensured that the shows went ahead.
Away from the financial woes, TNA’s five titles (yes, they have that many) have been passed around a lot this year. Starting with their centrepiece, the TNA championship started the year vacant, thanks to a storyline with Ethan Carter III and Matt Hardy at the back end of 2015. EC3 won the title on the first episode of Impact on POP TV, before dropping it back to Hardy two weeks’ later.
Matt defended that title throughout TNA’s tour of the UK, before losing it to Drew Galloway in March. Galloway represented TNA and the title worldwide, including using it in a storyline in EVOLVE, but ended up switching the title to Lashley at Slammiversary. Unlike most other promotions, these title changes are purely out of storyline, rather than to capitalise on someone’s popularity (or punish their lack of), since TNA haven’t held a non-televised event since October 2015.
As far as tag teams go, 2016 has been dominated by the newly-formed Decay – the team of Abyss and Crazzy Steve. With the Wolves having dropped the tag titles on the UK tour to the reformed Beer Money (Bobby Roode & James Storm), but sparked by Roode’s departure from TNA, the titles went to the Decay during March’s Impact tapings.
Departures also affected one of TNA’s secondary belts, as King of the Mountain champion Eric Young – who’d beaten Bobby Roode during January’s Impact tapings – dropped the belt to Bram in March as the former TNA champion made his departure from the company. Eli Drake won the title at an Impact taping in April, but let’s face it, the belt that has been known as the Global, TV and Legends title is little more than a prop.
Formerly the crown jewel of TNA, the X-Division has been well and truly put on the back burner. 2016 started with Tigre Uno as champion, but after losing the belt to Trevor Lee during January’s Impact tapings, the Mexican has barely been seen on Impact. Lee held the title for almost six months, losing it to Eddie Edwards at Slammiversary, whilst the subsequent TV tapings saw Edwards drop the title, then regain it, from Mike Bennett.
The company’s women’s title has been held by three different wrestlers in 2016 – with Gail Kim dropping the title to Jade in a sub-5 minute match in March, before Sienna (the former Allysin Kay) took the title at Slammiversary. TNA’s women division is a far cry from what it once was, but at least they did give us one memorable moment, in the form of the unspeakably-awful match between Shelly Martinez and Rebel at a One Night Only event.
No matter what the company tries, it always seems like TNA are spinning their wheels as they slide backwards into oblivion.
Marking their fourth anniversary, the London-based group have gone from strength to strength, with their main championship belt getting the credibility to become a world title, thanks to Marty Scurll defending it in Dallas (at WrestleCon) and in Potenza, Italy (for a group called PWE).
On top of that, PROGRESS got the nod to host two qualifying matches for WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic – quite the feat for a group that until that point had never so much as promoted a show outside of England. Granted, one of the matches was a foregone conclusion, since Zack Sabre Jr. had been named as an entrant prior to his qualifying match, but we were still given two classics as Flash Morgan Webster went down in defeat to ZSJ, whilst Jack Gallagher overcame Pete Dunne in the other qualifying match.
Championship-wise, PROGRESS continued their reputation for consistency – their first show of the year saw Marty Scurll defeat the New Japan-bound Will Ospreay for the PROGRESS title, and only just dropped the title to William Eaver, as the Pastor cashed in his “Natural PROGRESSion Series” title shot to win the belt in a shock result at late-June’s Chapter 32: 5000-to-1 event.
Their tag team championships only recently changed hands at the first half of the Super Strong Style 16 weekender, with the London Riots beating the Origin (El Ligero and Nathan Cruz) after their six-month reign with the title.
The company will be adding a third title later this year, with a fourth to follow. At time of writing, PROGRESS are part-way through their Atlas championship tournament; similar to New Japan’s Best of Super Junior tournament in format, it’s exclusively for wrestlers over 205lbs, September’s Brixton show will see the crowning of the first ever Atlas champion, whilst the next “Natural Progression Series” tournament will end up crowning the company’s first ever Women’s champion.
Given PROGRESS’ history for inanimate objects as titles (the initial PROGRESS championship was a staff with the PROGRESS logo on it, whilst the current tag team titles are a shield split in two like a Ying-Yang logo), I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Atlas title ended up being a massive boulder (like the Atlas stones from the Strongman competitions)…
The second half of 2016 will be extremely interesting for this group – although they are keeping up their cadence of shows roughly every month, September will be a pivotal month for the promotion. In an eight day stretch, they’ll be co-promoting two shows with the Toronto-based SMASH Wrestling promotion (on September 17 and 18), before returning to England for their biggest show to date on September 25 at the 2,000 capacity Brixton Academy.
Appropriately entitled “We’re Going To Need A Bigger Room… Again”, it’s another leap up for a group that started out at a 350-seater venue in Islington called The Garage, before a string of rapid sell-outs prompted the move to their present “home” venue of Camden’s Electric Ballroom. On paper, going from 700 tickets to 2,000 may represent a huge challenge, but on current form, very few people will bet against PROGRESS hitting a home run in September.
Pro Wrestling Guerilla maintained their record of having critically acclaimed shows, but unfortunately also lived up to their history of having an unspeakably slow turnaround for the release of those shows. At time of writing, the company had released both nights of March’s “All Star Weekend” event, but were still taking pre-orders for May’s “Prince” show. Given that a litany of independent promotions either have iPPV or on-demand services, the model of only releasing shows on DVD or Blu-ray in 2016 feels so archaic. Then again, I suppose that model is slightly better than what Ring of Honor employs for their iPPVs, where purchasing a show only allows you access to it for one year.
The first half of the year hasn’t been the best for the iPPV format, particularly around WrestleMania weekend. As usual, the WWN family of promotions ran a series of shows in the days before WrestleMania, with varying degrees of success. Both of the EVOLVE shows buffered badly during the live stream, and subsequent technical issues even led to the on-demand shows being posted much later than expected. Whilst iPPVs are the best format for fans to see shows as they happen, it’s clear that on an indie level, the technology is still hit-and-miss. Still, it meant I was able to get a load of extra EVOLVE shows to add to my review backlog!