Pro wrestling is a weird bastard art, and if you’re unfamiliar with its intricacies, the hordes of people in your social media circles obsessively pontificating about it every Monday night must be a truly confounding experience. Let our very own Dominic Griffin, lifelong wrestling enthusiast, teach you a little something right here, In This Very Ring…
The WWE may be the world’s largest wrestling conglomerate, but if we’re talking pound for pound, moment to moment, Pro Wrestling Guerilla is, as their tagline tells, the very best professional wrestling in the universe. Hyperbole? Sure. Accurate, though? Yes.
PWG is an indie promotion in every sense of the term. The promotion was formed back in ’03 by Super Dragon, Excalibur, Joey Ryan, and three other fellow wrestlers who have all since moved on. They’re small. They stay local. They haven’t left Reseda in a few years and, unlike their closest competitors, they don’t do iPPVs (internet streamed pay-per-view events). You would think this limiting, but it actually gives them a great deal of freedom.
As indies like Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA began to use the iPPV business model, they started signing a lot of their talent to exclusive deals, not allowing them to work for promotions who also do iPPVs. Being an indie wrestler, not having the freedom to work multiple promotions across the country can be a drawback financially. It can also be discouraging for fans, as it limits the likelihood of seeing their favorite performers come to their town to wrestle their local heroes. By ignoring that aspect of the business and doing about 10 shows a year, PWG is able to be a sort of neutral zone where pretty much any indie dream match can (and usually does) occur.
In comic book terms, PWG is a promotion that always feels like a special event, a multi-publisher 80-Page Giant. They have a core roster of a few top guys and young, local talent, but in that orbit, there is always a periphery of travelers from other promotions, or veterans from PWG’s past making triumphant returns.
The cards tend to have a reliable structure, but the sense that anything can happen makes each show something special. Because they don’t have weekly shows, PWG eschews the usual storytelling paradigm other wrestling promotions trade in, ie, small shows acting as episodic building blocks, creating feuds that blow off at monthly PPV events. Instead, they focus on putting on supershows every six weeks or so, each tethered by enough connective tissue for ongoing storylines to occur, albeit at a much different pace. It’s a long game they play, but they’re constantly building to really special moments, because unlike the WWE, continuity and history matter.
Something that happens on an episode of Monday Night Raw in 2007 will very rarely affect a storyline in 2014. I mean, it happens here and there, like the recent reunion of heel faction Evolution, but by and large, WWE fans are expected to have three month memory cycles. While PWG may only reference past events in a joking meta manner, at times acknowledging their rich histories allows them to exploit their audience’s passionate fervor to efficiently build powerful storytelling moments. For instance, on a show in 2012, multiple performers lovingly paid homage to Human Tornado, a character who was last portrayed as a misogynist villain, and commentator Chris Hero, Tornado’s chief rival, then pointed out with a big “WTF?”
The Reseda crowd PWG attracts is somewhere between “Maury live audience” and “opening night for Star Wars Episode VII” in terms of pure, enthusiastic ferocity. Being in a rare spot where a wide variety of performers can convene without fear of breaching their respective exclusivity means the wrestlers themselves are usually in as good spirits as the onlookers. As such, the bread and butter of their matches are big, fun romps with playful audience participation and winking fourth wall breaks. Underneath this frivolity, they are still capable of shocking twists or heartwarming moments of drama. To illustrate some of my favorite PWG moments, I will recount a narrative throughline of a few different feuds and angles through my personal holy trinity of indie wrestling: Kevin Steen, El Generico, and The Young Bucks.
The Infinite Cycle of Hatred
Kevin Steen and El Generico are both from Canada, and used to team up as Steenerico. Steen was a brash, loudmouth bruiser and Generico performed as a faux luchadore who pretended to be from Mexico, despite having a visible ginger beard beneath his mask. They worked as endearing babyfaces, mismatched best friends.
Before this union, Steen primarily feuded with Super Dragon, PWG co-founder, who can be described as maybe the most “indie” wrestler of the mid 2000s: out of shape, clothed in a full body masked costume, and delivering some stiff strikes and complex signature moves, including a bevy of head drop driver style finishers. Super Dragon was always presented as an asshole monster who was nonetheless beloved by fans, basically The Undertaker for the underground. When he semi-retired due to injuries and personal reasons, Steen and Generico sort of absorbed his role of being universally beloved.
The Steenerico team was always a fun one, and their chief competition in terms of tag team dominance came in the form of The Young Bucks, Nick and Matt Jackson, two brothers whose devil-may-care in-ring style and propensity for wearing tassles owe equally to the Hardy Boyz and The Rockers. After spending years as lovable heroes, The Bucks got signed to wrestle in TNA and took the opportunity to turn heel in the indies, unlocking a very specific skill: being impressive and worthy of scorn at the same damn time.
The moment that tied these four wrestlers together actually occurred outside of PWG in Ring of Honor. Steenerico had been on a very bad losing streak and it was showing. Steen put on weight, become more hirsute. In a match against The Bucks, Steen took Early Onset Alzheimer’s (a double superkick to the head) and lost the match. He had promised himself one more loss would cause him to retire. In a tearful goodbye promo to his little buddy, Steen snapped and destroyed Generico with a chair. This video captures the tragedy below:
Heartbreaking stuff. Steen and Generico had a lengthy feud in ROH, but the new status quo for the former partners carried over anywhere else they both chose to wrestle. In PWG, any passing moment shared between the two told the continuity that these two men, once brothers, fucking despised one another. In 2011, Steen, in maybe the best shape of his life, returned to PWG after some time away and began working two to three matches a night on a regular basis, taking turnsbetween trying to get back into the World Title picture as a solo star and trying to one-up his hated rivals, The Bucks.
He was continously unsuccessful in defeating The Bucks, losing the finals of DDT4 in 2011 with his partner Akira Tozawa in a match whose finish mirrored the night he and Generico split. This allowed The Bucks to defeat El Generico and Ricochet (filling in for an injured Paul London) for the Tag Team titles. The Bucks spent the whole summer terrorizing Steen, but it didn’t stop him from winning the PWG World Title from Claudio Castagnoli (WWE’s Cesaro.) The next month, at the annual Battle of Los Angeles tournament, Steen and Generico just so happened to make it to the finals, leading to a great surprise, a “random” tournament that built to a hated grudge match. Generico won, earning him a title shot against Steen at the show Steen Wolf, in a brutal, cringe-inducing Ladder Match. Generico won that, too, leaving Steen a crumpled, beaten mess, easy pickens for The Bucks, who attacked him post-match.
Would Generico help his former teammate? He wouldn’t be given the chance, as the lights went down.
Super Fucking Dragon, returning out of the blue, to aid his former rival destroy The Bucks. It was a beautiful swerve, one steeped in continuity. But what of Steen and Generico? Surely that little moment, that twinge that they might reunite? That had to mean something right?
The Hot Tag of Destiny
The following year, Steen and Generico spent a lot of time trying to one-up each other, with Steen inserting himself into El Generico’s title defense against Eddie Edwards at World’s Finest, beating both men to regain his title. Parallel to this ongoing feud, The Young Bucks began an odd feud with referee Rick Knox, who the duo had physically assaulted on multiple occassions. At Threemendous III, their 9th anniversary show, The Young Bucks were in a triple threat ladder match with Super Smash Bros and Future Shock (the team of Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilley). Knox, fed up with The Bucks’ bullshit, interfered against them, allowing SSB to win the big match. At the 2012 Battle of Los Angeles, The Young Bucks teamed up with fellow heel Brian Cage, The Fucking Machine (seriously, his muscles have muscles,and littler muscles growing on those. He is a Rob Liefeld pin-up brought to life) to challenge Rick Knox and whoever would team with him. Generico, ever the hero, signed up. Knox also asked for Steen’s help. Steen just laughed and walked away.
We got a three-on two-handicap match that was really three dominant dudes beating the shit out of a wrestler and a referee. All hope seemed lost until Generico, beaten and brittle, made his way back to the corner to tag out to discover that Steen had changed his mind. These two men who have spent years trying to legit kill one another, find themselves in the same position they once did on a regular basis, as partners.
Seeing glimpses of Steenerico back together was great, and made all the more powerful by NOT just having them bury the hatchet. When all is said and done, they’re left as enemies. That glimmer, though. That sliver of hope…
El Generico, world-traveled underdog, got signed to the WWE in 2013. His final show was set to be DDT4, the annual tag team tournament, where, shock of shocks, Steenerico were announced as participants. It would have been easy to book a One Night Only romp of the two teaming up, just like old times, but instead we were treated to something much sweeter.
In the first round, they barely beat the Briscoe Brothers, as their bickering and in-fighting got in the way of a cohesive offense. In the second round, they defeated Future Shock using their old tandem finisher, a package piledriver right into a brainbuster suplex. The crowd popped hard as the two men’s mutual hatred of newly heel World Champ Adam Cole (who rose to prominence by beating Generico at BOLA and winning the title from Steen at Mystery Vortex) brought them closer together than they had been in years. For the tournament final, they were face to face with old rivals, The Young Bucks.
This was a match for the ages. Even though all four men were on their third match of the night, they delivered a dramatic and powerful closing chapter for fans who knew they might never get to see these two teams compete against one another again, at least in this intimate a venue. The finishing sequence built up to the same tandem climax from the Future Shock match, only for The Bucks to steal a win with roll-up pin. Fans were dejected. They’d been on a roller coaster building to Steenerico finally defeating their nemeses, but instead were treated to something much better.
Jump to 3:43
DAT HUG. Such catharsis. Very wow.
Two men who, over the ensuing years, had been involved in all manner of shifting storylines, in various promotions, two wrestling characters who had lived and breathed independent of one another despite being inexorably entwined, given a moment of true finality, here, in a promotion otherwise not known for long form storytelling. It’s a beautiful, poignant moment. One that could only happen in Pee Dub Gee.
As for Steen and The Bucks, well, that’s a story for another time…