The image in this feature came by way of Mikey Nolan Photography.
You’d never expect much to come out of Reseda, California. Besides being the home of John Connor in Terminator 2, you’ve probably never even heard of the place. You would also never expect it to be a pro wrestling hotbed. We have all had exposure to the WWF/WWE, and with that, sports entertainment. From the golden age of the 80’s with Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan running wild to the attitude era with The Rock and Stone Cold breaking glass ceilings and to today’s broad appeal of John Cena. WWE is considered the central point in which sports entertainment revolves around, but it is not the be-all and end-all. There is a whole world of wrestling outside out of it that is growing ever larger. It is the independent side of sports entertainment, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla has the hottest ticket.
As you may have gathered by now, sports entertainment is a fancy term for wrestling, which will be used interchangeably from here on out.
The last time you probably watched wrestling was back in your childhood when you’d flick on the TV and watch your favourite wrestlers don their spandex and beat up some bad guys. We have all had some exposure to wrestling in one way or another, and all have our favourites we remember fondly. Although the wrestling we saw has varied greatly throughout the generations, it has always retained something special to us.
When you think of wrestling, you’re probably going to be most inclined to think of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, previously WWF). A common perception is that wrestling doesn’t exist outside of this major company to any significant scale. This is not the case. ‘Independent’ wrestling, as it has come to be known, is a blanket term used to describe wrestling promotions that haven’t reached ‘mainstream markets’ like WWE has.
‘Independent’, in essence, does not accurately describe the promotions. But for the sake of consistency, we will continue using it.
The independent scene is currently the biggest it has ever been. It has undertaken a mass resurgence. This is in large part due to the inconsistent quality of WWE. They have evolved their style of wrestling to be more family oriented, and in general, less sophisticated. This creates conflict with much of their demographic being Males in their middle ages (18+ males are 79% of their demographic). However, the flailing entertainment value is not just limited to that specific audience. A vast range of people no longer enjoys WWE’s entertainment as much as previous generations.
This has inspired fans, in masses, to seek and get behind alternatives. Promotions such as New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Ring of Honor (ROH) and Progress have all risen to great prominence. NJPW itself has a streaming service that has reached 60,000 subscribers globally and counting. There are many other promotions all throughout the world that are presenting their own style of wrestling and being successful at it.
In the independent scene, the actual wrestlers are also just as important the promotions. The wrestlers can build their own brands and control their own destinies. They mould themselves into must-see attractions; not only in wrestling but in mainstream audiences. One major example of this is ‘The Bullet Club’, and the subsidiary group of it ‘The Elite’. Made up of ‘Kenny Omega’ and ‘The Young Bucks’ (Matt & Nick Jackson), they have turned themselves into globally recognised stars. They have gone as far as securing a deal with Hot Topic that sees their merchandise in every store in the USA and Canada.
Everything has culminated together to make the independent wrestling scene the biggest it has ever been.
Pro Wrestling Guerrilla
The one promotion that perfectly encapsulates independent wrestling is that of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG). PWG is a promotion based out of Reseda, California. It was founded in 2003 by 6 Southern California independent wrestlers: Disco Machine, Excalibur, Scott Lost, Joey Ryan, Super Dragon, and Top Gun Talwar.
They founded PWG on the premise that they were frustrated with what was happening with the local promotions in California at the time. They could do it better themselves.
In an interview with Wrestling Inc, Joey Ryan talked about the founding of PWG,
“At the time So Cal wrestling was on the cusp of booming. It was getting a lot of attention with other companies like Rev Pro around. All these promoters with big money and they would want a show or two and they would be taking advantage of. Or, you know, they would surround themselves with yes men. They’d fall apart. We got kind of tired of dealing with promoters, so we were just like, ‘We have a pretty good idea of how this wrestling thing works by now.’”
Excalibur furthered this in an interview with Rudo Can’t Fail,
“Outside of Rev Pro, we were generally unhappy with the types of promoters we were working for, since many of them were carnies, con-men, or outright thieves, and if they weren’t, they just had bad ideas about what made a good wrestling show.”
“Not that we were much better at the beginning, but our goal was to create a place where guys were treated fairly and actually wanted to wrestle. We wanted a place without the politics or backstabbing that we were seeing or sometimes the victim of, where everyone was allowed to succeed or fail based on their in-ring performance.”
PWG was founded on the premise that they wanted to make wrestling better. They wanted to make it an enjoyable experience for both the fan and the wrestler. They wanted people to experience the fun in wrestling again.
Throughout the years of PWG’s existence, it has nurtured itself as a place that can not only introduce and create wrestlers but present the best and most popular in the world.
PWG has become one of the hottest experiences in wrestling. In its past, it has featured some of the most famed wrestlers of this generation. Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), Phil Brooks (CM Punk), Sami Zayn (El Generico), and Kevin Owens (Kevin Steen) have all competed in PWG.
Owens especially fell in line with the essence behind PWG. He agreed with their philosophy of wanting to make wrestling better for the fans as well as the wrestlers. This even led to him wrestling extra matches for them out of the love of his heart.
Owens talked to 411Mania about the culture of PWG, and the positive mantra behind it,
“No, they paid me extra even though I didn’t ask because they are the best. They appreciate the work I put in and make sure to let me know. And as far as wrestling multiple times, for PWG, I’d do it in a heartbeat, anytime they need me to… Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t have experienced what I’ve had the chance to experience throughout my life.”
PWG also features some of today’s biggest wrestlers. The likes of The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson), Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr. all regularly compete for the promotion. It is no secret that PWG is a very successful promotion, and promotes a very popular brand of wrestling. But there are many independent promotions that manage this. So, what makes PWG have the hottest ticket in sports entertainment?
The Hottest Ticket
You might have the impression by now that PWG has perfected things. It hasn’t. But in saying that, it doesn’t need to be perfect to be so dearly loved. It does have its shortcomings; the things that could potentially bring it down.
The American Legion Hall is not the ideal venue to be running a wrestling show. It is small, and with the dense numbers of people in such a small venue, immense temperatures are reached. The wrestlers must endure it throughout their matches. The fans must endure it throughout the hours of the show. Include this with all the other problems of running in such a venue, mixed with only a limited number of fans being able to attend, and you would expect it to be far from successful.
These shortcomings have instead created a persona that works for the promotion. They have helped to give PWG such a unique reputation. There is so much that they manage to do almost perfectly that these shortcomings become overlooked. They have even gone as far as gaining cult-like status. They have become just as much a part of the experience. This can be hard to fathom, but only something truly special can accomplish this.
Plain and simple, PWG has one heck of a reputation. Over their years, they have proved with such consistency to put on insanely good wrestling shows, that it has become a given for fans wanting to attend. They know what they are getting, and there is nothing they would rather have. However, PWG only runs approximately 1 show per month, and with such limited numbers of tickets available, the demand increases exponentially every second. Fans have no qualms in splashing out their hard-earned money seconds after the tickets have been released. The day tickets are released has become such a phenomenon that it is normally trending on social media.
It is fine for fans to want to go to a show, but it is even more important to maintain that demand and not let it trickle off. This predominately comes through the fans experience at the shows. The fans are just as much a part as anyone else. A wrestling show, in general, cannot be successful without the fans. PWG has taken this to the next level. The level of wrestling quality and the fans desire to be there has created a special combination. A combination that inspires the production crew and the wrestlers to make every moment, every match, and every show better than what has ever been. They are created with the sole purpose of everyone enjoying themselves, and is their recipe for success.
The fans know this. They understand this. With the knowledge, they know that their clamber to get a ticket to the next show is going to be worth it. They are fulfilled knowing they are going to see a wrestling show inspiring to be the best.