WWE is the undisputed front runner of Pro Wrestling in the United States, but what other versions of this “sports entertainment” can be found out there? These are my top five picks, each with a totally different feel from Vince’s vision. (Spoiler: There is no TNA here because it’s a dollar store knock off of WWE, not its own product.)
5. Ring of Honor
Ring of Honor was started in 2001 by RFVideo.com, a wrestling tape trading store. This was the year that ECW experienced a shutdown, causing a problem for RFVideo since half of their inventory was ECW shows that they taped themselves. Remember that awful Jack Black movie “Be Kind Rewind?” Hmm… – Ed.
ROH stood out because every match started and ended with a handshake. This little detail has since gone away, but the spirit of competition is still going strong. In the mid 90’s, ECW was the place to be; now, ROH has inherited that mantle. Unlike ECW, however, ROH isn’t known for weapons and blood, but serious competition (that sometimes involves weapons and blood.) Do you enjoy Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, C.M. Punk, or even the recently-retired Daniel Bryan? They all made a name for themselves in ROH years before they were ever given a shot by Vince.
Ring of Honor is syndicated, but you can watch the previous week’s episode on Rohwrestling.com for free.
The Land of the Rising Sun has been seen as a great place for wrestlers to hone their craft for as long as there has been professional wrestling. Characterized by both a hard-hitting and submission style, Japan is a strange place for a Westerner to watch wrestling. The crowds are notorious for being silent and respectful, sitting quietly throughout the match (except for occasional polite clapping or when cheering the finish.) AJ Styles was IWGP World Champion when WWE picked him up; current NXT Champ Finn Balor was also an IWGP champ when he got the call. Shinsuke Nakamura — IWGP’s Intercontinental Champion — will make his NXT debut at Takeover Dallas this Friday.
IWGP is on AXIS TV Fridays at 9 pm
3. Lucha Underground
This isn’t your typical Wrestling, which makes it a great candidate for anyone who hasn’t yet found their “niche” in the American fare. Lucha Underground has mind controlled zombies, a man who is actually a dragon in disguise, and production value that borders on what you’d expect from a feature film. I could go into all the glorious craziness . . . but you really should watch the season one recap for yourself.
Lucha Underground is on Wednesday 8pm on The EL Ray network
If ROH and IWGP are where WWE snatches great wrestlers from, then NXT is where the future of WWE is groomed. This is where great talent is turned from coal to diamonds. Started by Triple H three years ago, they’ve made what was considered a “farm league” into a viable brand in its own right. NXT sells out arenas all over the USA, and at the end of 2015, they sold out arenas in England, too. Between the women’s wrestling revolution, they main-evented the Takeover Respect event, and a Tag Team renaissance. NXT is the best hour of wrestling you can find on TV currently.
NXT is avilible weekly on WWE Network on Wendsday and Hulu on Thursday
If ROH is competition, Lucha Underground is crazy, and NXT is the future, then Chikara is FUN. Billed as a family-friendly Lucha show — children under eight get in free with an adult in most places — everything about Chikara is PG. This means parents don’t have to worry about the content of their fun shows, which are packed with characters closer to Batman and Spiderman than Hulk Hogan or The Rock. The lineup includes everything from wrestling ants to an old time baseball player to evil twins from another dimension. Chikara is known for it’s three-night, three-person tag team tournament known as the King of Trios, where they invite people from all over the world to participate. They’ll even give older, semi-retired wrestlers a chance to perform in front of adoring fans one more time.
Chikara doesn’t have a presence on TV, but you can subscribe to their VOD service at Chikarapro.com
All opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deck Ape...or anyone else. Arrr!