As I watch independent wrestling rock star Rich Swann dropping jaws at FIP, Evolve and PWG, respectively, I am left with a nagging question. In the past, this question would be ludicrous. Except the rules have changed.
To explain, Swann – even at 24 – is already one of world’s elite independent wrestlers, a master of the ring and in packing smaller venues the world over. He maintains (assumed) complete creative control of his character, likenesses, merchandise, travel schedule and, well, his name. ‘Mr. All Night Long’ is, in fact, Rich Swann, by birth. A rarity beyond rarities.
To this writer, Swann’s talents are arguably on par with the entire WWE wrestler (noting body type and wrestling style), to include their main developmental roster in NXT. Still, Swann remains a stalwart of the independent wrestling scene, a decision I’m selfishly grateful for (being able to see him live at least once a month).
Whether or not the decision to remain independent is Swann’s…is for him and him alone. Unless, of course, he wants to contribute to this blog to tell his story (hint, hint).
In the past, however, the brass ring was – of course – WWE. A shot at developmental…to Monday Night Raw…was the prize of every pro wrestler, one captured brilliantly in the graphic novel series Headlocked.
Today’s WWE, however, is a different one, where the veil of secrecy is no more. Excessive schedules and injuries, careers solely determined by creative departments and subsequent merchandise sales, and a corporate leadership team in constant flux thanks to shareholder expectations. Escaping NXT for the main roster is a coin flip, at best. Then, to what end…once you get there?
To summarize: has a top tier successful independent wrestling career become a better path than a shot at the WWE?
As Ring of Honor’s powerhouse tag team roster proves each week, staying independent has its clear perks. If the stories are correct, the Young Bucks’ smartest professional decision may very well have been to reject semi-regular overtures from the WWE. This empowered them to become stars both domestically and in Japan. Thus, it’s odd – to say the least – to witness the reverse journey of Fergal Devitt, an NXT Champion awaiting a roster spot within its bigger brother. Again, however I don’t have Finn Balor alongside me to offer his sentiments.
Thus, the thought of a top indy wrestling talent starting anew within WWE developmental seems a sad proposition. We’ve seen firsthand what happens when the leap doesn’t work, the dramatic and seemingly sudden drop from lower mid-card to obscurity (assuming s/he even escapes NXT).
I discussed this very topic with a former professional athlete and WWE developmental talent. Now a world class personal trainer, he recalled his FCW (now NXT) days with a smile…likewise the wonderful success of a close friend of his within the indy wrestling scene. Watching the guy’s videos, he was clearly talented.
Playing devil’s advocate, however, I offered the sentiments above, on risk: reward for staying independent. He admitted to never pondering this alternative…but how could he? The pro wrestling landscape is night and day from even 5 years ago. CM Punk arguably single-handedly ensured it stays that way.
Editor’s Note: Wrestling In Florida – is, by design – an anonymous blog site intended to celebrate the professional wrestling community. We welcome submissions by indy and pro wrestlers/talent/promoters, also considerate supporters – anonymously or otherwise.
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