Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Southern Indies Are Important

AJ Styles was part of the Georgia scene when it was last spotlighted, but it deserves your attention now too
Photo Credit: Lee South/
The independent wrestling explosion, for all intents and purposes, didn't begin the night Ring of Honor debuted. Combat Zone Wrestling, All Pro Wrestling, IWA Mid-South, and a former developmental territory of WCW in Cornelia, GA, were all forerunners to the marquee indie-turned-national television property. One cannot talk about important sub-mainstream wrestling companies without talking about NWA Wildside. It was a fertile breeding ground for wrestlers who still remain relevant today. AJ Styles, Mickie James, Matt Sydal, Jimmy Rave, Abyss, Joey Mercury, and Luke Hawx are all featured alumni. For awhile, it was one of the places to pay attention to in all the land.

But when Bill Behrens took a job with WWE and closed up shop, not only did Wildside's legacy end, but the spotlight on Southern indies in general outside of Florida seemed to vanish. As the lamps have been lighted around various areas of the country, the illumination around the Southern indies, which traditionally has been the strongest area in the country for wrestling on the whole, has been slow to reignite. Some areas have gotten back their shine; for example, North Carolina might be the best combination of "hot" and "new" in terms of indie buzz. However, the Southern states have more to offer, especially in Wildside's old hotbed of Georgia.

The South in general and Georgia in specific has a well-defined, modern indie scene that produces some of the best current material outside of the WWE/ROH/TNA/Lucha Underground corporately-backed mainstream. The biggest reason why people don't know to look in Georgia and other states in the region is because of a lack of distribution and promotion outside of the core area. And that lack of promotion has led to some unsavory stereotypes being perpetrated, like these Southern promotions are all old school boring companies no move being more sophisticated than a chinlock.

Of course, each area or promotion (be it local or national) has its own flair. It's just that a lot of these Southern companies do pay a decent amount of homage to the old territory days. Then again, is that really a bad thing? I mean, guys who spanned the south from Memphis to Greensboro, Atlanta to Mobile, Tampa to Kentucky, are all renowned in history for being fantastic workers. Why would emulating guys like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, or Jerry Lawler be a bad thing?

Of course, relying on those guys or people doing straight up tribute gimmicks of them in the modern age might not be the best course of action, and admittedly, promotions exist in the South that cling to super-reactionary views on what wrestling should be. But the truth is that kind of shit happens all over the country. You'll find just as many shows in the Northeast featuring old WWE guys working matches on top of the card that they did on B-television shows or on house show midcards, and yet no one will dare say that anywhere but the South has a fetish for the past.

What makes the marquee promotions, the places like Empire Wrestling Entertainment, Deep Southern Championship Wrestling, Platinum Championship Wrestling, Southern Fried Championship Wrestling, and NWA Wildside's spiritual successor, Anarchy Wrestling, so viable and important is that the tributes they pay to the past do not dominate the action, but instead are one piece of the puzzle that informs their uniquely modern spin on wrestling.

Granted, the lack of distribution/promotion is a problem that solely rests on these companies, but at the same time, many of these local promotions do so well at the gates. Still, many of them upload their stuff on YouTube anyway, so they want to be seen by everyone. Better promotion and distribution would go a long way into getting the bigger audience. But at the same time, if the wrestling is readily available for free, then shouldn't more people want to watch? That question is hard to answer, especially given human nature to need hype to reach a critical mass before most folks tend to check out something new.

That's why the Scenic City Invitational is so important. This event isn't the first major tournament held among Southern wrestlers, but it's the first one to be entrepreneured by a single company rather than the greater AIWF governing body, and it's one that already has four names with national recognition in the fold - Moose, Kongo Kong, Gunner, and Jimmy Rave. This tournament could be the tipping point that finally gives Georgia and maybe the entire region south of North Carolina and east of Austin the shine it deserves.

It really shouldn't be taking a tourney of this undertaking to get people to pay attention to Southern independent wrestling, but if it gets more eyes on Georgia, then it'll have been worth it. The fact is that indie wrestling is just as vibrant there as it was during Wildside's heyday, maybe even more so. The South's relatively untapped potential is ready to be shared with the rest of the country, and regardless of what anyone thinks, its modern take on the old NWA mat-heavy stylings is vitally important to a healthy aggregate American wrestling scene.