With the US indies at a level of competition and awareness not seen since the initial indie revolution of the early 2000s, there’s arguably no US promotion that has come as far in the past five years as New Jersey’s Game Changer Wrestling (GCW). In the early 2000s, indie promotions like Ring of Honor (ROH), Total Nonstop Action (TNA), Major League Wrestling (MLW), Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), CHIKARA, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) helped kickstart a revolution of opportunities following the demise of WCW and ECW in 2001, with several of them (TNA, ROH, and MLW) eventually becoming major promotions following acquisitions from larger corporate backing and television deals. Since then, other indies have risen up to create a strong presence in regional territories, like AAW Pro in Chicago, Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW) in Ohio, DEFY Wrestling in Washington, PCW ULTRA in California, and Beyond Wrestling in New England.
But while these promotions have largely remained within a certain state stronghold, GCW has continuously sought out expansion and since 2017 has done just that, expanding from New Jersey into a circuit that includes Philadelphia, PA, Milwaukee, WI, Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, New York City, Nashville, TN, Austin, TX, and Indianapolis, IN – and before the COVID pandemic hit, they were slated to debut in Detroit, MI. But GCW’s expansion plans didn’t just stop at touring the US – in 2017, they partnered with Mexico’s Desastre Total Ultraviolento (DTU) to begin promoting shows South of the Border, and in 2019 they began to tour Japan, with help from Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS. The pandemic also halted another international debut, as they were scheduled to make their UK debut this summer in Liverpool, England in a series of co-promoted shows with TNT Extreme Wrestling. GCW has become one of the most expansive US indies in history, both in the US and internationally.
While GCW has only been a brand for five years, the promotion has a far longer history than that. In fact, the company began as Jersey Championship Wrestling (JCW), founded by Ricky Otazu in 1999, and they made their debut on January 29, 2000, with JCW Chaos With The Cops. For 15 years, JCW remained one of the top indie promotions in the New Jersey-New York circuit, seeing a slew of stars come through their doors at various stages of their careers, such as Low Ki, Chris Candido, Joey Janela, The Briscoes, Ace Darling, Reckless Youth, Homicide, Jay Lethal, and countless others. But in 2015, Ricky O sold the promotion to Brett Lauderdale and Danny Demanto, who rebranded the promotion to GCW, and since then the company has expanded to heights that JCW barely even scraped the surface of (Demanto departed GCW in 2019 to take over ICW New York, which has since rebranded as ICW No Holds Barred). Its events are regular features on FITE.tv and its rabid fan base has made it one of the most important indie promotions in the country. Lauderdale’s eye for talent has also been a remarkable asset for the company – many stars that GCW brought from a regional to a national level, such as Joey Janela, Jungle Boy, Marko Stunt, and Jake Atlas, have all gone on to become stars with AEW and NXT, while others, such as Mance Warner, Jordan Oliver, Myron Reed, and Calvin Tankman, all work for MLW.
GCW continues to change the game in the US indies, running must-see events during WrestleMania Weeks, organizing a united front called The Collective, and delivering one of the most diverse platforms of pro wrestling in the US, from the highest flyers to the deadliest deathmatches. Here’s a look at the current state of GCW for the newly initiated (or the mildly curious).
Game Changer Wrestling: The World Champion
For 15 years, the JCW Heavyweight Championship was the promotion’s top prize. Held by such names as Low Ki, Reckless Youth, Homicide, QT Marshall, Joey Janela, and Tama Tonga, it became the GCW World title during Tonga’s reign in 2015 and has since been held by the likes of KTB, Matt Tremont, Nick Gage, and AJ Gray. But the current reigning GCW World Champion is Rickey Shane Page, whose stable 44OH alongside Atticus Cogar, Gregory Iron, Eric Ryan, and Eddy Only has run riot in GCW over the past year. With the main focus on Nick Gage, Rickey Shane Page has been terrorizing a promotion built on terror.
Game Changer Wrestling: The King
No man has done more to elevate GCW’s name and stature in the US (and global) indies than the King of American hardcore, Nick Gage. A longtime star with CZW (where he’s a 4x CZW World Champion), Gage returned to wrestling after several years in prison and pledged a new allegiance to GCW in 2017 as his new home ground. That December he won the GCW World title from Tremont and went on a 722-day reign as GCW’s World Champion, while bringing his brand to the likes of Beyond Wrestling, CHIKARA, AIW, AAW Pro, and many more. And during the past few years, the legend of the MDK Gang – Gage’s rabid fanbase – has risen to monstrous heights. GCW will forever be Nick Gage’s yard first and foremost.
GCW: The Blood Guard
Aside from Gage, Game Changer Wrestling has had a strong cast of regulars over its growth in the past five years. Several former JCW stars, like Janela, Chris Dickinson, Lucky 13, Tremont, Pinkie Sanchez, and Jeff Cannonball continue to play huge parts in GCW’s continued growth, especially Janela and Dickinson. While the others continue to be active with GCW in big matches, Janela’s mind behind the scenes has helped elevate GCW’s status over the years, with his series of events like Joey Janela’s Spring Break, Joey Janela’s Lost in New York, and Joey Janela’s LA Confidential, not to mention his current status as a star with All Elite Wrestling. And Chris Dickinson has emerged as one of GCW’s greatest performers, having an MVP year in 2019 with some of the years best matches. And let’s not forget Homicide, who has spent 20 years with the promotion, debuting at JCW Jersey J-Cup that May and still working the promotion now as GCW, having competed this past weekend at Homecoming, where he faced RSP for the GCW World Championship.
GCW: The Gate Keepers
While most of the current roster isn’t JCW originals, Game Changer Wrestling has also managed to create a solid roster featuring a cast that are all capable of stepping into the title picture at any time. There’s no “low card” in GCW, and the rest are all just preparing themselves for their shot at the GCW World Championship. It’s that deep. With a rotating influx of new talents, there are some names that have proven to be loyal soldiers to the GCW philosophy and have become Gate Keepers of sorts, the names that new stars will have to get through first to get into the upper card. Alex Colon and SHLAK have become deathmatch legends with GCW – both in the US and Japan – and Jimmy Lloyd, while still young, has become a GCW lifer and one of the company’s greatest success stories. Tony Deppen remains the gold standard, while veterans Nate Webb, Shane Mercer, and Matthew Justice provided veteran leadership. MLW’s Mance Warner is also on Team GCW, while AJ Gray has emerged as one of the company’s most reliable stars in the past year, being the man to end the 722-reign of Nick Gage as World Champion.
GCW: The New Breed
While Game Changer Wrestling has a deep core of veterans and regulars, it’s been their keen eye for talent that has kept them feeling fresh show after show. They’ve already got a track record of exposing underrated or unknown talents into becoming stars with AEW, NXT, IMPACT Wrestling, and MLW, but they’re also elevating other young stars into US indie superstars. Alex Zayne and Blake Christian were arguably the two top pick-ups in 2019, while others like EFFY and Allie Kat have become two of the most popular members of the roster. Jordan Oliver, 1 Called Manders, and Cole Radrick have all elevated their games since becoming GCW regulars, while 2020 is already off to a great start with debuts from Calvin Tankman, Benjamin Carter, Myron Reed, Tre Lemar, and Lee Moriarty. Oh, and this past weekend someone by the name of ACH made their GCW debut?
GCW: The International Crew
While their alliances with Mexico’s DTU and Vanguardia Lucha Libre, as well as contacts in Japan with FREEDOMS, Big Japan Wrestling, and others, GCW has also been able to maintain an international presence on US soil as well as their tours to other countries. DTU, Zona 23, and Vanguardia stars Ciclope & Miedo Extremo are the reigning GCW World Tag Team Champions, holding the titles for an astounding 807-days after defeating The Rejects (John Wayne Murdoch & Reed Bentley) back in 2018. Since then, they defended the GCW titles in both Mexico and Japan. Japan remains a constant pipeline of talents, with such deathmatch stars as Jun Kasai, Masashi Takeda, Daisuke Masaoka, Takayuki Ueki, Isami Kodaka, and Toshiyuki Sakuda frequenting GCW throughout the year in the US, while legends like Great Sasuke, Minori Suzuki, and former ECW World Champion Masato Tanaka have competed in GCW rings in recent years. Canadian PCO‘s entire comeback in 2018 wouldn’t have been a success without his run in GCW before Ring of Honor.
GCW: The Marquee Events
GCW’s initial ascension into the US indie stratosphere arguably began over WrestleMania Week in 2018 following the first Joey Janela’s Spring Break that featured the epic WALTER vs PCO slugfest. Since then, they’ve had two more Spring Breaks (the fourth was sadly canceled this year due to COVID) and launched a second series, Bloodsport – initially hosted by Matt Riddle before being taken over by Josh Barnett the following year – that is a shoot/MMA style event. Joey Janela has had his own series of events, and this past spring, GCW brought back the Acid Cup, a tribute tournament to Trent Acid, and was set for a historic all person of color event over this year’s WrestleMania Week called #ForTheCulture, curated by AJ Gray. They’ve also got two deathmatch tournaments annually, with June’s Tournament of Survival (although this year’s edition has been moved to August 22 due to the shutdown) and September’s Nick Gage Invitational. Hopefully following the success of this past weekend’s two-night event Homecoming, held outside on the Garden Pier of the Atlantic City boardwalk in New Jersey, can become another annual event, following the success of another project, Backyard Wrestling, that has become a new Fourth of July tradition. They’ve also found success with another backyard themed series under the name of WOMBAT (Warriors Of Mat Battle And Trouble), the old indie promotion run by The Invisible Man (another GCW regular) that puts on reunion shows. And between all of these events, there are regular monthly events as well. There’s definitely no shortage of content from Game Changer Wrestling, past, present, or future.
With 2020 now over the halfway mark, GCW has made an explosive return to live wrestling following the pandemic shutdown live wrestling in the indies. They came back on June 20 with The Wrld on GCW, Part 2 (and their Indiana debut), followed by July 4’s Backyard Wrestling 2, and this past weekend’s Homecoming two-night affair. The storylines are simple. It’s basically a fight club where everyone fights for the respect of their peers (well, except for RSP and 44OH), both in the ring and in the audience. It’s simple enough that you can jump into the GCW waters with relative ease and by your second or third show, you’re well versed in the cast. And from there on, it’s just another fantastic show after another, featuring some of the best technical wrestling, most gifted aerialists, and yes, a whole lot of deathmatches. But it’s smarter than ECW, edgier than WWE, and more of an alternative than AEW. It’s Game Changer Wrestling, and they’re here to not only change the game but truly change the world of professional wrestling.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. GCW PPVs air first on FITE.tv, but you can also watch back catalog on IndependentWrestling.tv (IWTV).