Originally published August 11, 2011, for Red Eye in Chicago.
by Anthony Roberts
There aren’t a lot of forms of entertainment that offer cheap beer and a chance to get rowdy. But independent pro wrestling serves up both almost every weekend year-round.
Names such as Jay Lethal, Acid and MsChif may not be as familiar as Hulk Hogan or Randy “Macho Man” Savage (RIP), but these wrestlers are ushering in a new era of fans to enjoy the pain and pageantry of the squared circle, right here in Chicago.
“Being a fan of wrestling since I was a kid, it’s good to see that it’s getting its second wind,” said Mike Schultz, 24, ofRavenswood, who grew up watching The Outsiders tag team and remembers going to a taping of “WWE Raw” as a kid. “It seemed like things got stale for a second, but guys like Punk and a few others are helping that.”
The Punk he’s referring to is Chicago native C.M. Punk, the reigning champion of the WWE—the largest wrestling organization in the world—whose brash, in-your-face style has been a hit with fans, especially in his hometown. There’s a renewed buzz for the sport, and indie wrestling leagues, such as Berwyn-based AAW and DreamWave Wrestling out of LaSalle, offer fans up-close action, plenty of mayhem and a great cast of characters—all without arena prices. (DreamWave has $1 beers, too.) On Saturday, Philadelphia’s Ring of Honor, the country’s third-largest wrestling company, will bring its grittiest grapplers to southwest suburban Chicago Ridge for an evening that includes the battle for the world title between Davey Richards and Roderick Strong.
“For wrestling fans, indie wrestling is a great way to go out on a weekend night and see possibly some of the stars of tomorrow for little money,” said Brady Hicks, contributing writer for Pro Wrestling Illustrated and host of the wrestling-themed podcast “In the Room.”
Hicks feels indie wrestling’s ripe for a resurgence.
“There are a lot of former fans out there who want to look back at wrestling with this certain nostalgia,” he said, “and they really want to like it again.”
Colt Cabana is doing his part. A favorite among Chicago indie fans, the Wicker Park wrestler’s popularity surged after his good buddy Punk gave him a shout-out—”Hey, Colt Cabana”—during “WWE Raw” on USA Network in June. (It was such a big moment, Cabana slapped the saying on T-shirts and is selling them on his website.)
“People are sick of the cookie-cutter, catch-phrase, obvious kind of stuff,” said the 6-foot-1, 233-pound Cabana, 31, whose real name is Scott Colton. “People want something real. They can relate to us and we’re going to help [wrestling] become even more popular in Chicago.”
Cabana says today’s indie wrestlers are giving fans more variety within storylines and more action in the ring. Cabana, whose finishing move is called the Billy Goat’s Curse (an inverted Boston crab), feels the new crop of bruisers and body-slammers are being more influenced by the greats of old, which means more drop-kicks and less flop and shtick.
And the fans are definitely paying attention.
“To see these guys go out there and give it their all is what’s the best part,” said Dave Leland, 30, of Hyde Park, who says he’s been a fan of pro wrestling since the ’80s and once spent $300 on a replica championship belt. “It’s fun and that’s what fans want: more fun and less B.S.”
ANTHONY ROBERTS IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR.