ACTION Wrestling is a Throwback Promotion from a Nearly Bygone Era
The participants are almost always are doing this on the side, during their off-time as it isn't a business with a huge payout at this level---but all of them have dreams.
No, going to see an Independent Wrestling promotion is not like going to the massive arenas the WWE occupy or the newest "Big Time" promotion AEW hope to fill over the next several years. Rather it is grass roots, small town crowds often jammed into local Rec Centers and School gyms in smaller towns surrounding bigger Metro Areas.
There was a time, not too long ago, where the small, independent Wrestling Promotions ruled the roost when it came to Professional Wrestling. That was a time before Vince McMahon and the WWE became the "Big Dog" and assimilated them.
Most of us probably have a vision of what Pro Wrestling looks like thanks to McMahon's control over the sport and his TV Productions. Mostly huge, muscle bound guys and ladies full of flair and personality in made for TV or Pay Per View spectacles.
Which makes what the Independent Game is even more fascinating. Sure, there is a level of showmanship, people dressed in some sort of attention grabbing costume covering up the traditional tights. But it lacks the pyrotechnics and customized entrance music guys like Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns have.
This past week (mid Aug. 2019), I got to see what can only be termed a "Throwback" promotion at play in Tyrone, Georgia. If you're wondering where exactly Tyrone is---it's about 45 minutes or so Southwest of Atlanta off Highway 54 on the way to Peachtree City with a population of somewhere around 7,000 or so.
I didn't really know what to expect when our neighbor asked us to go and check out her friends Wrestling Promotion but as a fan since childhood, I was game and "The Lovely Bride" was too.
ACTION Wrestling is about as small a promotion as it gets. Matt Griffin runs things from Tyrone, which just happens to be his hometown. Griffin, a former Marine, put in his time on the Independent circuit, trying has hand at Wrestling for 8-years while being a life-long fan.
Griffin says "I found a building, made a lot of contacts within the rec department and the Town of Tyrone itself. It's a lot of work and minutiae but I only moved forward when I was confident of success."
One thing that sets Griffin's promotion apart from others: It's essentially a non-profit. He works by day for a local, family run Insurance Company--by night, he works on ACTION Wrestling using his own see money to secure the facilities and everything associated with it.
However, the impetus for doing all of this is an even better story. After expenses, everything else goes to charities. "All the shows are benefits for non-profits or schools. I had wanted to run a show to benefit Make-A-Wish Georgia, and they were on board as well. I've been a volunteer with them for the past 6-years and was able to find a situation with low enough costs that even if the show didn't draw a crowd, I would be able to cover everything." Griffin adds at first, it was a learning experience; "It was very experimental at first, finding what works. It has to be what places will let you hang posters, when do you send press releases and where, will people buy tickets and in what fashion (how). Those questions and more are vital to answer quickly."
Really it was the crowd that fascinated me. A full house at the Tyrone Rec Center might be 150 or so, the night we were there on a hot, summer night in August--the place was packed. Packed with kids and families mostly. A few retired folks on hand too, all of them seemed to know the wrestlers all of them completely tuned in to the "Product".
What caught my eye though were the kids. They were everywhere. Greeting the wrestlers during their entrances from behind the curtain and checking every move.
The wrestlers themselves were a surprising mix of not so giant, chiseled or muscled like the guys you see on TV, rather guys you see at the local Kroger or Home Depot. Ranging from 170 lbs on up, they aren't the 300-pound behemoths you see on television, but man, they do know how to work a show.
Griffin tells me most are "Local or semi-local guys working the independent circuit". It means they travel around to shows like ACTION Wrestling performing in front of a couple hundred people for a couple hundred bucks a night. The job does not pay well enough for most to do it full-time. Griffin says; "They are independent contractors, some on their way up and learning. Some have been in the game for years and some have invested in themselves to wrestle mostly full time and supplement their income with merchandise sales." He adds, "Just about everyone I use has the skills and potential to make it big on the National Stage."
One of his performers, Marko Stunt will begin working with All Elite Wrestling (AEW) on National TV beginning in October of this year.
Griffin has no preconceived notions of challenging the "Big Boys" of Professional Wrestling, but is excited for the organic growth and development of his promotion. He says "I want to keep building organically, let word of mouth spread that this is a good live event, you can bring kids, it's reasonably priced and money doesn't go into my pocket--it goes to a good cause". He adds "In the first year plus, we have already had wrestlers branch out and get bigger opportunities through ACTION".
It was interesting to see that during intermission (yes, they had intermission), all of the wrestlers came out ringside to meet and great the fans. There was something about seeing both the babyfaced (good guys) and heels (bad guys) coming out, smiling, posing for pictures and taking time to shake hands and talk to those in attendance.
To be sure, ACTION Wrestling lived up to the name--the wrestlers spent a lot of time flying around the ring and taking some impressive bumps. But there was no blood drawn, no tables destroyed, no ladders flung around the ring--just good old school wrestling.
Matt Griffin doesn't have a set goal for his fledgling promotion---he only wants it to keep growing. He says make no mistake, "Yes, I'd love to run a show in a building with 1 or 2,000 people to support Make a Wish Georgia or Toys for Tots or any of our non-profit partners but I don't want it to seem like falling short of that isn't a success". He adds; We've donated around $20,000 to non-profits since we began and that's the important number. We are proving you can put on great shows and help causes without cutting corners."
Really, what made this different--at least to me, is that everyone left happy. The performers looked like they were having a blast and nobody had to take a bump that could have seriously injured them. The fans were dialed in, cheering the good guys (faces) and booing but smiling at the bad guys (heels). Not every match ended with a finish you'd expect but the matches were well choreographed and had plenty of action.
I suppose for some Professional Wrestling isn't their Cup o' Tea, and I respect that. But watching these guys perform might make you reconsider, it's not the crazy stunts and scripts of WWE Wrestling and the mic promo work isn't as polished nor is it as suggestive---it leans heavily towards the old school days of the sport when yes, the wrestlers talked smack--but it was mostly PG rated at best.
And for those of you who think it is "Entertainment", I highly....HIGHLY recommend you go watch this in person, I promise you---seeing a 200 pound guy drop from 10-feet in the air onto the mat will get your attention.
If you like what Matt Griffin and his ACTION Wrestling Promotion does or is about---here's where you can find them on the Internets...
ACTION Wrestling---yes, they have a Tumblr Page
And you can watch them here at IndependentWrestling.tv