For many indie purists who have been following the rise of indie wrestling in the United States since the fall of ECW and WCW, the name Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (or more likely, its acronym of PWG) is synonymous with its evolution and growth. Formed in Southern California in 2003 by a group of SoCal indie wrestlers – Joey Ryan, Super Dragon, Excalibur, Disco Machine, Scott Lost and Top Gun Talwar – PWG was a part of the indie revolution of the early 2000s that saw the formation of such promotions as Ring of Honor (2002), CHIKARA (2002), TNA Wrestling (2002), and Chicago’s AAW (2004). With WCW and ECW gone, it left a huge void in employment opportunities for young wrestlers, as the WWE ultimately had a finite amount of talent they could employ. The rise in new, hungry talent that had been brought up on tape trading of ECW and Japan (All-Japan and NJPW) from the 90s, had nowhere to expand, exercise and exhibit this emerging new style of “American indie”. But thanks to PWG, ROH and the likes, these new promotions gave way to a style and presentation of independent wrestling that has lead to the boom in professional wrestling we see now.
But while PWG still carries a huge name to many fans, continuously selling out events (with waiting lists months long sometimes), and being the hip show for celebrities, it seems to have dropped substantially in its power position at the top of the indie food chain over the past few years. While five years ago, PWG was arguably tied with ROH as the #3 US promotion behind WWE and TNA, it’s dropped off considerably with the rise of so many other promotions, who have managed to use Social Media to expand their international appeal, and used the ever changing streaming service platforms to get their content to new and existing fans faster than ever. Sure, their annual tournament, Battle of Los Angeles, is still one of the indie world’s most prestigious showcases of indie talent, but for how much longer? Other promotions around the world have adopted their own tournaments, such as wXw‘s 16 Carat Gold in Germany, PROGRESS‘ Super Strong Style 16 or Smash Wrestling‘s GOLD in Canada, and are gaining in notoriety with fans and wrestlers alike.
Part of the issue is the accessibility to the content. Every since the emergence of the WWE Network, every wrestling promotion around the globe, from NJPW to Ireland’s OTT, have launched their own streaming service. While few have the massive content or capabilities of WWE Network, NJPW World, Impact’s Global Wrestling Network, or Ring of Honor’s upcoming Honor Club, most have their own service on Pivotshare. Other promotions, such as WrestleCircus, House of Hardcore and Mexico’s AAA, have embraced Twitch as a new streaming option, offering pre-taped content as well as live events. Other smaller promotions have turned to content hub providers, like Highspots Wrestling Network or Powerbomb.tv, to act as their streaming service. PWG has chosen the latter option, working with Highspots.
And while many would argue that PWG has the content and quality to command its own streaming service, like Ring of Honor at the very least, it’s not uncommon for some of the larger promotions to still use Highspots or Powerbomb.tv. They have good bases of subscribers, hungry for new wrestling to watch. But that’s where the biggest issue arises. Normal turnaround for shows on streaming services – for events not aired live as a PPV – is anywhere for one week to a month. But on Highspots Wrestling Network, PWG’s events are one year behind. That’s right, one year behind. They just uploaded and made available the February 18, 2017 event PWG Only Kings Understand Each Other, which saw PWG World Champion Zack Sabre Jr. defend his belt against Chuck Taylor in the main event. Since that event took place, the belt has changed hands twice. The 2016 edition of PWG Battle of Los Angeles was only itself uploaded not too long ago. In a day and age of Social Media and spoilers, it’s risky waiting even a month before making your event accessible before even the die hards start looking for pirated copies.
It’s no secret that PWG makes a good chunk of change off their DVD sales. They have a faithful and loyal fan base that collects all of their DVDs and they’re quite a bit further caught up than their streaming service through Highspots Network. As of this writing, January’s Mystery Vortex V was now shipping. And on Highspots merchandise section (of their main site, not through the Network), you could get PWG events Video On-Demand individually as recent as October’s All Star Weekend 13 – but each event costs as much as it would for any normal streaming service. More actually, as each event costs $15US to download – with 3-day events like BOLA running you $45US. But with upcoming generations of wrestling fans reliant solely on streaming services to discover and keep current with wrestling promotions (and becoming increasingly ignorant of what a DVD even is), is this a business model that will help keep PWG’s name in the upper echelon of must-see independent wrestling? Fans are subscribing to the WWE Network, NJPW World, Honor Club, so many streaming services, that being able to throw in an extra $15 a month (or $45 on BOLA) on top of those, seems like wishful thinking. The fan base may be sustainable now, but is its growth?
As mentioned, PWG was founded by six men, but as of today, only two remained – Super Dragon and Excalibur. The rest have all moved on to other endeavours. Joey Ryan even went so far as to open a rival SoCal promotion called Bar Wrestling, that runs monthly events, which also air on Highspots Wrestling Network. But unlike PWG, who are a year behind in their events, Bar Wrestling’s are uploaded within a couple weeks. Bar Wrestling was founded in the early summer of 2017, had their first show in June of 2017 and their last show was Candice LeRae‘s farewell show, Bar Wrestling 8: Happily Ever After, on January 18 – all eight are now available to watch on Highspots Network, while PWG has only just uploaded last February’s event.
And speaking of PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles, this year Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks announced that their indie SuperCard #AllIn, was running on September 1, 2018, which would put it smack dab in the weekend that PWG generally holds it’s BOLA weekend, over Labor Day weekend. Young Bucks are PWG veterans, debuting with the company in 2007, and 4x PWG World Tag Team Champions. Not to mention CHIKARA also runs it’s King of Trios tournament the same weekend, it thins down the potential roster of talent for BOLA, as many will look to make history with Cody and The Bucks that weekend.
PWG will forever hold a place in history as one of the promotions that helped launch an indie uprising that has lead to the explosive growth, recognition and acceptance of indie wrestling that we see today, but it’s position at the top of the indie heap has become more fragile than ever. Ring of Honor, in alliance with NJPW, has become the strongest US promotion, and the rise of promotions like Lucha Underground, EVOLVE, and Tommy Dreamer‘s House of Hardcore, and the newfound accessibility for regional promotions like Chicago’s AAW, Toronto’s Smash Wrestling, and even California’s PCW ULTRA (formerly Pacific Coast Wrestling) to get seen quicker and faster online, has made PWG more of an archive of great matches than a promotion with must see upcoming events (online that is). By the times most people can (legally) access them, the story is too old and the results have been discussed and dissected in forums online months ago. And then PWG will suddenly find themselves in the worst battle there is in the pro wrestling world – the battle for relevance.
But at the end of the day, Super Dragon does what Super Dragon wants and PWG continues to thrive. To quote a friend, “Super Dragon gives no f**ks.” So really, should we?