Wrestling, perhaps more than any professional sport, is home to a wide array of offerings to suit the tastes of most every fan. While football, hockey, baseball and basketball are dominated by a single professional league in North America, professional wrestling has been able to maintain some of its traditional territorial roots, even while World Wrestling Entertainment has emerged as the flagship organization for the industry.
The WWE, with its global positioning and diversified business interests, has certainly done its part to elevate wrestling from the fabled “smoke-filled arenas” and Saturday morning television fare to a mainstream, prime time piece of popular culture. However, while the brand continues to amass new fans, the WWE doesn’t appeal to everyone and there are a growing number of fans turning to the independent wrestling scene to whet their appetite for ring combat.
Wrestling on the independents, "indies" if you will, is presented without the pretension of “sports entertainment." Here it’s still “rasslin," a battle of good vs. evil played out between the ropes. The independents themselves have evolved from what was once considered "outlaw" promotions to claim a key place in the industry as a place to groom up-and-coming talent, a home for those wrestlers on the sunset of their careers and a stomping ground for those talents that maybe didn’t seem to fit into the culture of the WWE.
But the debate continues to rage on and the question remains: which is better, the independents (the “indies”) or the WWE? Each has something special and unique to offer, but there can only be one that is the best. Here are some of the top arguments for each case. You decide. And as always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section and let us know where you stand in this debate.
15 WWE is Better: Pure Resiliency
Looking back over the past generation, since the WWE rose to the top of the industry and virtually wiped out all possible competition in the field, the story of Vince McMahon’s monopoly has been riddled with negative headlines. A grand jury indictment, sex scandals, wrongful death lawsuits, and most any type of challenge you can imagine. There probably hasn’t been a year in the past 25 that the WWE’s lawyers haven’t been actively turning away challenges from somewhere, yet the WWE flag continues to wave strongly. There's something be said about WWE's staying power.
14 The Indies are Better: Not Bound by Political Correctness
Away from the scrutiny of television executives and a board of directors, the unregulated nature of independent wrestling pushes the envelope in ways that we only saw briefly during the WWE’s Attitude Era. Hardcore matches, risqué characters, inter-gender bouts, a return to the carnival roots of pro wrestling in North America – it’s all available to fans on the independents in a format that wouldn’t be palatable to the suits that dictate the creative direction of the modern WWE. While it's not necessary to push the envelope as much as WWE did in the Attitude Era, it's helpful to not feel limited in what one could do.
13 WWE is Better: Diversified Wrestling’s Profile
Vince McMahon may have bought a wrestling company from his father, but what he developed that to become is something much more. The WWE has dipped their fingers in movie production, music, merchandising, a television network and other revenue streams. The scope of the WWE extends far beyond the simple presentation of wrestling matches in front of a live audience. That diverse representation continues to open new doors and afford the top stars the same respect as peers in other sports and entertainment mediums.
12 The Indies Are Better: Breeding Ground of the Next Generation
While the WWE does offer a state-of-the-art training facility with some of the finest instructors in their Florida-based Performance Centre, nothing can re-create the education that comes from paying one’s dues in the harsh conditions of the independents. We can’t help but think that the shorter career expectancy of talent being developed “in-house” stems from the fact that wrestlers who are fast-tracked to the top tier don’t appreciate the opportunity in front of them.
On the other hand, wrestlers who have clawed their way to a spot through the independents like Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, and Chris Jericho have a greater appreciation for their achievement to reach the top. In the meantime, fans at local community halls and arenas have the chance to see some of the earliest matches of future legends.
11 WWE is Better: Roster Depth
When Vince McMahon first decided to take his regional circuit and expand on a national level, he did so by more than just edging his competition out of their TV time slots. He also plucked the top talents from each territory to create an elite roster. With Hulk Hogan as his franchise player, he featured a supporting cast of wrestlers representing the best the country had to offer. That has continued and expanded in scope as the WWE is now recruiting from Europe, Asia and all parts of the globe to find the talent that they believe will maintain their position as the industry leader.
10 The Indies are Better: Wrestlers That Defy The Mold
“Creative has got nothing for you” is a statement that has discouraged many talented wrestlers while under contract with the WWE. How can you demonstrate your value if you aren’t given the platform to perform? New Japan newsmaker Kenny Omega was once under a developmental contract with the WWE and parked in a developmental territory for several months. When he realized that he would never fit the mold they were hoping to create for him, he requested his release and ventured out on his own, creating his own success.
The independent scene is filled with stories like this – wrestlers who were given up on too early, wrestlers who got frustrated and left, and others that were never able to crack the door to wrestling’s premier franchise despite excellent talent. Colt Cabana is a prime example of a popular touring attraction that has been a welcome addition in matches around the world that was unable to create a lasting foothold during a brief WWE run.
9 WWE is Better: In-House Expertise on Staff
When you list the number of outstanding wrestlers who are on the WWE payroll and never see a moment of television time, it is truly jaw-dropping. Working as trainers, producers or agents, men like Adam Pearce (former NWA World champion), Terry Taylor, Scott Armstrong, Arn Anderson, Fit Finlay and many more help develop the product but also mentor the wrestlers on the ascent of their careers to help them evolve in the sport.
On the independents, the veteran presence available to direct the younger/newer talent is often outnumbered and outgunned by the number of segments that require their attention. As a result, on the indies, often newcomers are sent out to the ring with a fellow inexperienced wrestler and the result is sometimes under-whelming.
8 The Indies are Better: Unpredictability of Free Agency
Since the introduction of guaranteed contracts, we are seeing wrestlers locked into WWE stays for longer than ever before. However, the result is a bloated talent roster of over-exposed talent that may not be earning their keep at the box office. But, they are encumbered for a three-year term, which allows little wiggle room to shake things up. On the independents, where most deals are struck on a handshake, strategic partnerships and free agency of wrestlers creates the opportunity for dream-match showdowns and inter-organization rivalries that keep the product exciting and unpredictable.
7 WWE is Better: Salaried Opportunities For Talent
As a wrestler, there are few places you want to be other than the WWE. The enticement of guaranteed money, plus incentives for merchandising and residuals create an attractive financial package for the top earners. Wrestlers at the top of the game now are earning greater money with greater security than at any time in wrestling history. This ultimately attracts some of the best talent in the world.
While indies shows pay well, it's always a gamble because an audience can be one or 1,000 people, which can change the payday dramatically.
6 The Indies are Better: Allows Work/Life Balance
Forget what you think you know about the choreographed nature of wrestling. One wrong move or miscalculation and one can find themselves with a permanent disability. The independents allow athletes to hone their skills and explore their passion for wrestling on weekends while juggling the security of another career and family time during the week. That is a major help to a wrestler's well being as they could live a normal life outside of the business.
This is a major difference from the WWE, which requires its stars to travel over 300 days per year.
5 WWE is Better: Television Saturation
If you’re a wrestling fan and want to find some matches on television, chances are that you’re going to find the WWE. With three distinct brands under their umbrella, plus the extended on-demand offerings created by operating their own network, you can catch a WWE match on TV at any time, day or night.
The independents, if they do have television, may never be able to compete with the full market saturation of the WWE’s televised product. It's very easy to follow WWE and as consumers, you want convenience.
4 The Indies are Better: Intimate and Interactive
Often appearing in legion halls and armouries, professional wrestling on the indies allows fans a greater opportunity to meet their favorite wrestler and snap a photo or get an autograph. Additionally, as most enterprising wrestlers augment their income through their own merchandising, they are interested to connect with the fans to support their own needs while engaging the audiences directly, which will lobby promoters to ensure they make future appearances.
The WWE Superstars are simply not accessible to fans at live events in the same manner. Whenever they're recognized on the street, they're probably drained from a busy day and may not be as receptive to fan interaction as indie wrestlers.
3 WWE is Better: Production Value
When you become a juggernaut in the entertainment industry and are producing a product for prime time television, it stands to reason that your production will be first rate. The one area where the WWE leaves all of its competition in the dust is in the area of production.
Lighting, sound, video, pyrotechnics … any attempt to rival the WWE’s presentation comes up short. Not only has the WWE run away with it in recent memory, but one could argue their production values were far greater than that of WCW, despite WCW having Ted Turner's billions to work with.
2 The Indies are Better: Creative Autonomy
When wrestlers have a stake in what they are doing and have a sense of ownership for their matches and segments on the card, the result is a more impassioned performance. The creative autonomy that wrestlers have while working on the independents has been responsible for the re-invention of characters such as Al Snow. When Snow failed to ignite the WWE as Leif Cassidy in 1995, he went on hiatus to Extreme Championship Wrestling where he had the opportunity to re-invent himself. Putting faith in the talent, and not in a staff of writers has a direct influence on the quality and energy of the live show presented to the public.
1 WWE is Better: WWE = Wrestling
There is no escaping it. Vince McMahon has done such a good job at establishing his brand of entertainment that when people talk about wrestling, non-fans may ask, “You mean like WWE”. The initials WWE are synonymous with wrestling in a way that no indie organization has yet to rival. While the WWE can accredit much of its talent to the indies, it promotes that talent on a worldwide stage, something the indies could never do.
In every sport, there is one brand that trumps them all and in the business of pro wrestling, WWE is king.
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