Best of 2013: Independent Wrestling

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We give a lot of love to the world of professional wrestling, in particular the WWE. However, there’s an exciting world of independent wrestling out there that featuring athletes who are not signed to major contracts (WWE, WWE Developmental or TNA). They’re out there every weekend busting their asses, sometimes in front of minuscule crowds for next to nothing all in hopes of entertaining the audience, learning their craft and one day making it to the big time.

Sounds a lot like music, right? Well, for everyone out there that “remembers when” they saw that big name act play The Court Tavern in New Brunswick or The Saint in Asbury Park or some dive bar in California or a club down in Austin, we wrestling fans have the same “remember when” moments. How about standing next to a very sweaty Daniel Bryan (then known as “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson) in at The Murphy Rec Center in South Philly and realizing you’re a lot taller than him. How about getting a quote from a blond CM Punk about his aspirations for the Ring of Honor title in an armory in Pennsylvania. Or catching a young Rob Eckos (TNA’s Robbie E) wrestling at a JCC in Edison, New Jersey. Those moments mean as much to us wrestling fans as those moments of music fans.

So, we felt that we should give a little love to the warriors of the independent wrestling world during our annual Best Of’s run.

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Best Wrestling Movie: There’s always tons of wrestling documentaries that come out every year, but absolutely none of them can hold a candle to “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce’s film 7 Levels of Hate. The film, which documents Pearce’s feud with Colt Cabana over the NWA World Title. The film, despite being created by one of its subjects, is an honest and fair look at the feud and how the politics of the National Wrestling Alliance not only killed the feud but in essence killed off the best momentum the promotion and title had in decades. However, beneath the surface of this film about a wrestling angle is a film about two men, Cabana and Pearce, and their love of the art of professional wrestling. It’s fascinating to see how these two athletes are willing to sacrifice so much, both physically and professionally, for the sake of entertaining audiences with a feud/story. [Click here to order].

Indie Wrestling Promotion: Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. While Chikara and Ring of Honor both deliver extremely exciting in-ring products, they don’t match up to PWG. When ECW closed down, a little bit of the wrestling industry died along with it. The chaos, the unpredictability, the grittiness, the excitement — all went by the wayside. Yes, early Ring of Honor seemed to capture some of that spark, but it never captured it fully. So when I saw Pro Wrestling Guerrilla for the first time this year, I got the same spark, the same chill and I became the same “mark” that I was when I watched my taped episodes of ECW Hardcore TV. When I watch a PWG show, I got drawn into every second of every match. Why? Because every match could be a main event. From opening bell to closing credits, every match is of the highest quality as if the best of the best gather to compete in the small, intimate confines of a hall in Reseda, California. Oh wait, the best in the world do gather there every month.

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If you’re looking to dive into the vast catalog of PWG, I recommend you start where I did with their All-Star Weekend 9 and DDT 4 DVD’s. On DDT 4, you’ll see all the regulars of PWG in a one-night tag team tournament. However, the highlight will be that it’s the final night of El Generico before he went off to WWE NXT to become Sami Zayn. The build around Generico’s last night and if he and his partner (Kevin Steen) could win DDT 4 (and the PWG Tag Titles) was fantastic.

As for the All-Star Weekend DVD’s, you’ll see a lot more familiar faces like Paul London, Trent Barretta and Jay Lethal mixed in with PWG regulars like Adam Cole, Brian Cage, Willie Mack and more. While there are so many great matches on the card, the show stealers are The Inner City Machine Guns (Rich Swann & Richochet) vs. AR Fox & Samuray Del Sol (WWE NXT’s Kalisto), Sami Callihan (WWE NXT’s Solomon Crowe) vs. Drake Younger and The Young Bucks vs. The Dojo Bros.

Top Podcast: Is this even a contest? The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana is hands down the best pro wrestling paaaaaaaaaaadcast out there today. While Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, Court Bauer, Jim Cornette and others put together solid ‘casts, no one can touch Colt. He’s one of the most entertaining personalities out there — he’s a laugh riot, but he also knows how to get into the heart and soul of pro wrestlers big and small. There’s a wonderful blend of humor and honesty in this podcast and it’s just fascinating to hear wrestlers open up about their lives. His podcasts this year with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Scott Hall and The Miz were amazing yet so were the ones with Trent Barretta, The Genius and Kevin Steen. If you love wrestling and aren’t listening to this podcast, you aren’t that big of a wrestling fan then. No seriously, just listen to it.

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Top 10 Indie Wrestlers of 2013: Disclaimer…I am basing this list off of wrestlers I have actually seen wrestle in 2013. Now, for example, I love Adam Pearce’s work, but I did not see one of his matches from 2013 (but I did in 2012), so I can’t fairly place him on the list. It’d be like including a movie I saw in 2012 on my Best of List for 2013. Also, there a number of names not on the list that should be. Why aren’t they (and I’m looking at you, El Generico, Sami Callihan, etc.)? It’s because they’re now under contract to WWE. So again, that disqualifies them from the list as they aren’t “indie guys anymore.” Also, you aren’t going to agree with everyone I’ve put on here. Remember, it’s just a list!

1. Colt “Boom Boom” Cabana: Funny does equal money. Colt Cabana is the man. He was one of my and my dad’s favorites back when we watched all the indies. During a CM Punk promo my dad turned to me and said, “I don’t like Punk he talks to much…Colt Cabana, now that guy’s great, he makes me laugh!” And it’s true Colt Cabana will make you laugh — at a show, on YouTube or on his amazing podcast. Yet, I think the whole comedy thing with Colt makes a lot of people forget this guy is a world class professional wrestler. YouTube any match he’s had with Mike Quackenbush and you’ll see Colt’s British wrestling background — it’ll blow your wrestling mind. Also, look at his older stuff and you’ll see a guy who’s bled with the best of them, who can work a high impact style and on the occasion can fly around. Yet, at the end of the day, Colt Cabana is a consummate entertainer who’s giving you your money’s worth and bringing 10-20 minutes of joy into your life through the art of wrestling. And isn’t that why we go to wrestling, to enjoy ourselves? If you’ve never seen Colt wrestler, he is the #1 must-see guy on the indies, make it a priority to see him live.

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2. “Mr. Wrestling” Kevin Steen: When Steve Austin endorses a guy, you should pay attention. I first saw Kevin Steen wrestle for Jersey All-Pro back in 2004 and I was impressed. Fast forward nine years and “Mr. Wrestling” has evolved into the total package. While he might not fit the typical physical specifications for a wrestling…who the hell cares. Steen has a great, high-impact style that brings me back to the days of ECW when Joey Style would scream “OH MY GOD” after a big move. Steen probably has at least 15 OMG moves in his arsenal. His personality in the ring as a smart-mouthed, brutal son of a bitch is such a breathe of fresh air in today’s scene as so many guys seem like faceless high spot machines. On the mic and out of the ring, Steen has this charming, funny and enthralling personality. If you’ve never watched his “Weekend Escapades” on YouTube, check it out and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Mark my words if the WWE is smart and signs this guy, he’ll be printing money for them.

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3. “The Panama City Play Boy” Adam Cole: Adam Cole reminds me of Ric Flair. There I said it, let the hate roll in. Everything about Cole reminds me of “The Nature Boy.” He’s got this natural heel charisma, he can work with anyone in the ring and make them look amazing and on the drop of a dime could be just as big a baby face as he is a heel. Adam Cole can flat out work. He has this one move where he goes for a suplex and then drops the guy’s head on his knee. I think it’s one of the greatest moves ever. Don’t ask me why. Oh, and his double jump “destroyer” flipping piledriver is also bananas. Every time I see Adam Cole wrestle the phrase “future legend” runs through my head. He has something special about him, something that I saw in guys like CM Punk or Daniel Bryan over 10 years ago.

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4. The Young Bucks: Best tag team out there period. The Young Bucks are a true throwback to The Fantastic, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and yes, even The Hardy Boyz. In the ring these two have so many double team moves, in fact I will dare to say I’ve never seen a team with so many patented double team maneuvers in the 25 years I’ve been a wrestling fan. Their super kicks are so fun, so brutal that when I saw them live I marked out huge for each one. As an aerial team these guys KILL it with the imaginative combinations they’ve come up with. And, as a team, they’re natural asshole heels. I mean these guys are heat machines and are able to use cliched wrestling moves like the crotch chop or the “too sweet” sign to generate heat. But, these guys are such good heels that fans have begun to love the hell out of them. Consider me a fan for sure. TNA, when they had them as Generation Me, really missed the boat on these guys. Hopefully some national company in the States (NJPW has already put titles on them) will recognize their awesomeness.

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5. The Dojo Bros (Eddie Edwards & Roderick Strong): STIFF. That is the word to describe these two. Never before have I seen (or heard) two guys deliver such thunderous chops as Edwards or Strong. At Ring of Honor’s Final Battle in NYC in December, the two of these guys had a “chop-off” showdown in the center of the ring. With each chop you could see their respective chest’s turning red then purple. Woof. Roderick Strong has been a longtime favorite of mine and “The Messiah of the Back Breaker” has only gotten better since I first saw him back in ’03-’04. He’s so much more fluid — brute force combined with graceful finesse. His backbreakers are still brutal as hell. Eddie Edwards, who I just for the first time this year, is a beast of a wrestler. His flying double stomps, chops and his “backpack” stunner are just awesome. Rumor is Edwards is headed to WWE, would love to see him there.

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6. The Spectral Envoy (UltraMantis Black, Frightmare, Hallowicked): This Chikara trio is just so fun to watch. First, there’s the leader, the devious and maniacal UltraMantis Black. He’s a hell of a talker and one of the true “cult of personality” figures on the indies. He has this magnetism that crowds just eat up…and he can wrestle too. Hallowicked is the workhorse of the trio. For such a lanky dude, he can soar like a cruiserweight and his kicks are devastating. Frightmare is the Mysterio of the trio — he’s absolutely dynamic with his high-flying abilities, but the dude can sell like a masked junior Ricky Morton.

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7. “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin: Elgin is this generation’s “Doctor Death” Steve Williams. I was really impressed with Elgin on the PWG DVDs I purchased, especially with his “dead lift” power bombs an German suplexes. Yet it was his performance at Ring of Honor’s Final Battle 2013 at The Hammerstein Ballroom last year that sold me on Elgin as a future star. Elgin isn’t just a powerhouse who mauls people, he connects with the crowd and people really, really love this guy. He also is a terrific seller, something a lot of power wrestlers never master. 2014 is a going to be a banner year for this guy.

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8. Chuck Taylor: The Kentucky Gentleman is a terrific blend of comedy and pure wrestling. First off, if you aren’t following his Instagram hardcore title defenses, please do so immediately. They are hilarious and watching all them together will take you like five minutes. As for his in-ring work, Taylor is always finding a way to crack you up. He’s so funny that when he hits a terrific move, you’re nearly stunned at how great it is. Then, once the comedy is over, Taylor is a general in the ring and can work any wrestler. His current “Best Friends” team with Trent? (Barretta) is quickly become one of the tops on the indies.

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9. The Briscoe Brothers: When I last saw #DemBoys in the ring, it was nearly 10 years ago and Mark Briscoe wasn’t legally allowed to wrestle in Pennsylvania due to his age. Now…the duo are the Redneck Road Warriors. As a team they are absolutely brutal — completely intense, hard-hitting and can get some serious air. As singles competitors they’re even better. Mark Briscoe has evolved from the snarky little brother into a toothless, bearded whack job who nicknamed himself “Chicken” (based off his real-life job as a chicken farmer) and is the master of “Redneck Kung Fu” blending humor with high impact wrestling. Meanwhile, Jay Briscoe, the man has gone from opening card to a serious, brutal, main event player. His promos on YouTube are throwbacks to old NWA-era Dusty Rhodes promos.

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10. The Colony (Green Ant, Fire Ant): Yes, they’re wrestlers dressed like ants, but hot damn, can they wrestle. No offense to assailAnt (the third member of the group) but Green and Fire really are the perfect blend of high-energy high flying lucha style and ground-based European submission style. The two wrestle predominantly in the now defunct Chikara and the Wrestling Is…promotions (which is essentially Chikara), so I’d love to see them expand their horizons and wrestle elsewhere with more seasoned opponents (although supposedly the two do wrestle around the country unmasked, but I have not seen them compete in unmasked form). Regardless, these guys are awesome.

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Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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