Tired of “sports entertainment?”
Not only is it a special time to be a wrestler, promoter or someone with ties to the business, fans seem to be the ones profiting the most. As special as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been to everyone over numerous decades, there are some companies that have flown under the radar, despite being some of the largest wrestling companies in the world.
The best part about wrestling is that you can watch one show to the next, and see many different styles. Puroresu is reserved for Japan, lucha libre was made famous by Mexico, and when it comes to the independent scene, they run with the “indie style” of highspots and continuous action.
These days, one can make the argument that wrestling is as big as it ever was, thanks to the number of active promotions serving as alternatives to WWE. In all fairness, Vince McMahon’s company has been producing good shows as of late, but it doesn’t necessarily mean WWE is the best.
Monday Night Raw, the promotion’s flagship show, can be a three-hour mess more often than not. The continuous social media plug by broadcaster Michael Cole ruins the flow, and ironically, there’s no room for the matches to tell a story. Blame it on the attention span of the “WWE Universe,” yet nobody is running to their television sets to see Sheamus vs. Randy Orton or four-minute Divas matches week after week. The product is also geared towards younger crowds, hence the parental guidance (PG) rating.
In spite of that, wrestling fans made it their mission to look for something different, and considering the shape of the business (the lack of territories), wrestlers have found success outside WWE by working smaller shows and venturing out to other continents.
There are plenty of wrestling shows you can watch on cable, too. Wrestling seems dependent on the internet these days, yet some promotions can be discovered in the comfort of your own living room.
Here are 10 other wrestling shows you should consider watching instead of WWE:
10. Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
It may come as a shock to some, considering Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling has been in the news as of late for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, some wrestling fans argue its weekly show on Destination America, Impact Wrestling, is a better program than Raw. The roster isn’t a bad one, featuring Kurt Angle, Austin Aries, Gail Kim, The Wolves and The Hardy Boyz.
Hiring Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan to be a part of creative was a baffling move, but it could be a step up from Vince Russo. Rumors of the promotion’s demise have been swirling, and they’re not the only Wednesday night wrestling show on Destination America. But there was once a time where TNA was the hottest brand on the planet, and even if that was over a decade ago, you’ll at least find a special match or two tuning in on a weekly basis.
9. Global Force Wrestling
Jeff Jarrett, former President of TNA, continues his wrestling ventures with Global Force Wrestling, the company that co-promoted NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9 and offered English commentary with Jim Ross and Matt Striker.
The company, owned by Jarrett and his wife Karen, was noticeably absent since the Jan. 4 Tokyo Dome show, until just a few days ago when the first GFW event took place from Jackson, TN. The company used a six-sided ring, and featured Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows from Bullet Club, Sonjay Dutt, and Moose, to name a few. Other wrestlers on the roster include Scott Steiner, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, PJ Black (formerly Justin Gabriel), Davey Boy Smith Jr., Trent Baretta and Shelton Benjamin. Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title contender Chael Sonnen and Jim Cornette are also aboard the movement.
8. Pro Wrestling Noah
While viewing material can be hard to obtain, Pro Wrestling Noah made the case to be considered as Japan’s No. 2-promotion over the past few decades.
When All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) promoter and wrestler Giant Baba passed away, the promotion suffered from a mass exodus where 20 of its stars left for Noah under the guidance of Japanese legend Mitsuharu Misawa. Since then, compelling and legendary matches took place in Noah rings, featuring KENTA (now Hideo Itami), Daniel Bryan, Kensuke Sasaki, Takeshi Morishima and Naomichi Marufuji competing over the Global Honored Crown (GHC) Championship. If one wants to familiarize itself with Noah, the mid-2000s would be a great place to start. While Noah can’t be found on television, excellent matches and full events can be found on YouTube or Daily Motion.
Noah is home to some of the world’s most gifted but lesser-known wrestlers, like Zack Sabre Jr., Mikey Nicholls, Shane Haste and Daisuke Harada. There is currently an nWo-style invasion angle in full throttle featuring heel stable Suzuki-gun terrorizing the Noah’s talent. Led by Minoru Suzuki, other members include familiar faces and former WWE superstars Shelton Benjamin, Taka Michinoku, and Davey Boy Smith Jr.
7. Dragon Gate USA/EVOLVE
Gabe Sapolsky, co-founder of Ring of Honor and former Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) employee, runs Dragon Gate USA and co-owns EVOLVE. Both promotions can be found on the WWN Live network, amongst other companies such as SHINE and Full Impact Pro.
Both Dragon Gate USA (a branch of the Dragon Gate promotion in Japan) and EVOLVE also share talent, and their shows are usually available on Internet pay-per-view (iPPV), then transferred to DVD shortly after for purchase.
Drew Galloway (formerly Drew McIntyre) currently holds the EVOLVE world title and the Dragon Gate USA Open the Freedom Gate Championship. Indie vets like Chris Hero, Drew Gulak, and Davey Richards make habitual appearances, as well as WWE hopefuls Johnny Gargano and Biff Busick.
Chikara is the purest form of family entertainment apart from WWE. With strict rules including no cursing or low blows, leaders Mike Quackenbush and Reckless Youth put heavy emphasis on tag teams, lucha libre, trios and hero vs. villain storylines.
Some of Chikara’s most popular wrestlers derive from the Colony stable, where names like Fire Ant, Green Ant, and Silver Ant dazzle crowds by busting their chops. Familiar faces like Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan, and Cesaro have competed in Chikara rings, and AJ Styles will be competing in the promotion (alongside his Bullet Club brothers) for King of Trios, a six-man tag tournament over the course of three nights, which serves as the promotion’s WrestleMania.
Much like a television show, Chikara also works in seasons, which is great for storytelling.
5. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla
Everything about Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) screams do-it-yourself success. The company is run by pro-wrestlers (Joey Ryan, Excalibur, Super Dragon, among others), with the bulk of the shows taking place at the intimate and electric American Legion Hall in Reseda, CA (PWG shows now sell out in minutes, attracting fans from all over the world to be part of the spectacle.)
Furthermore, not just anyone is invited to compete at a PWG show; only the best performers with good track records inside the squared circle can book their place on a PWG card. With that said, it’s hard to find a bad match when watching a PWG event, which is why every wrestling fan must own a PWG show on DVD. The best wrestlers in the world have graced PWG rings over the years, and the biggest show of the year, a single-elimination tournament titled Battle of Los Angeles (late-August) rivals New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s (NJPW) G1 Climax as the best tournament in modern-day wrestling.
Some may find the action to be too spotty, yet there’s something to be said about every wrestler on the bill wanting to have the match of the night. In terms of bang for your buck, PWG is truly the most entertaining wrestling show in the world, mixing exceptional wrestling with the funniest laugh-out-loud sequences in wrestling.
4. Ring of Honor
Seen as the unofficial development territory of the WWE, there’s a good chance your favorite WWE world champions of the past and present laid the groundwork for their careers in Ring of Honor.
CM Punk, Seth Rollins, and Daniel Bryan all had prosperous careers in the top independent promotion in the world, as did former TNA standouts Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels and Styles. The Baltimore-based promotion prides itself on being the “best wrestling on the planet,” which is hard to argue after diving into ROH’s material, where you can find the epic contests featuring Joe vs. Punk, as well as any match pitting the Young Bucks against reDRagon.
ROH just signed a monumental TV deal with Destination America, the home of pro-wrestling on Wednesday nights. The promotion also co-hosts the hottest wrestling shows of the summer with NJPW in North America titled War of The Worlds and Border Wars.
3. Lucha Underground
Lucha Underground offers wrestling fans something completely different.
Produced by Mark Burnett, the Emmy-winner responsible for Survivor, The Voice, and The Apprentice, the one-hour wrestling extravaganza is the premiere program for lucha libre wrestling in America. It can be found on El Rey Network, owned by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. Considering the media mogul’s success with reality television, the backstage segments are slick and well done, and the in-ring action comes off differently based on how the camera angles work and the unique visual effects.
The roster isn’t too shabby either, comprised of former WWE and WCW talents like Alberto El Patron (formerly Alberto Del Rio) Johnny Mundo (formerly Johnny Nitro), Chavo Guerrero Jr., Konnan and Vampiro. Other revered wrestlers include Prince Puma (Ricochet), Brian Cage and Fenix. The promotion shares talent with Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion (AAA) in Mexico, which is another promotion to keep tabs on.
Some may feel like NXT is a cheeky inclusion, considering the brand of upcoming superstars is a division of WWE.
The show, however, isn’t on cable television, which sets it apart from Raw or SmackDown because WWE fans need the WWE Network service in order to watch. On top of that, not every WWE fan is familiar with NXT. Apart from the recent “NXT” chants you’ve been hearing on WWE programming, in addition to the main roster impact from the likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Neville and Paige, not everyone is familiar with the likes of Enzo Amore, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Tyler Breeze.
The one-hour show, which airs via tape delay on Wednesday nights, is arguably the hottest wrestling show in the world right now. There’s a lot of competition on Wednesday, considering there are four major wrestling shows to choose from, yet NXT sets the bar high when it comes to its competitors. Veterans like Rhyno and Brian Kendrick have made appearances, and wrestlers such as Hideo Itami and Finn Balor are making huge splashes in the business after lengthy careers outside WWE. NXT is also the home to the best women’s division in wrestling, with names like Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Bayley.
1. New Japan Pro-Wrestling
The biggest promotion in Japan is WWE’s true main rival, considering NJPW unveiled an online streaming service of its own late last year titled NJPW World.
Many gaijin have performed in Japan before, yet the world of Puroresu is completely different from sports entertainment. Benefitting from the fall of All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) as the No. 1-promotion in the continent, you won’t find a Ladder Match or a Hell in a Cell contest when tuning into one of the shows; it’s more about the fight, and most of the matches work as shoots.
Wrestlers such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Kazuchika Okada are becoming household names, while the legacies of The Great Muta, Akira Maeda, Shinya Hashimoto and Tatsumi Fujinami will never be forgotten.
As it stands, Styles is the current International Wrestling Grand Prix (IWGP) World Heavyweight Champion, a belt created by founder Antonio Inoki in 1987. The title is so prestigious that only 26 men had the honor of wearing it around their waists. The IWGP, the governing body of NJPW, is unique in its own way, offering six titles to the wrestlers including the second-major singles title, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship (The title is as important as the IWGP Heavyweight strap.)
The best tournaments are also found in Japan, including the G1 Climax, Best of the Super Juniors, World Tag League and NJPW Cup. If that’s not enticing enough, the promotion has a TV deal in America with AXS TV, where fans can watch historic matches on Friday nights with legendary combat sports figures Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett calling the action.
If you miss stiff brawls, hour-long matches, and compelling feuds lasting years, NJPW is the best alternative out there.