State of Independents, Part 1: Outlaws to Indies (1940s to 1980s)

 

Mid-South's Bill Watts, WWA's Dick The Bruiser, and AWA's Verne Gagne

Independent Wrestling. Sometimes referred to as indy wrestling (although its proper moniker is indie wrestling, as "Indy" refers to Indianapolis or Indiana), the tag as a cog in the hierarchy of professional wrestling has been as constant and fluid as pro wrestling itself. And over the decades that indie wrestling has been a presence in pro wrestling's history, so has its definition as it pertains to its revolt against what professional wrestling is seen as by its mainstream peers and fans. Over the course of several chapters, BumWineBob will take a look at its everchanging mantra, while also showcasing its true vision - to offer an alternative to the monopolies and corporate takeovers, highlighting the game changers that have kept that spirit of rebellion alive for nearly 70 years.

Up until 1930, the pro wrestling landscape was much akin to the Wild Wild West. The United States had embraced France's Greco-Roman and England's Catch Wrestling during the 1800s, and during the 1920s, The Goldust Trio - which featured Toots Mondt, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, and Billy Sandow - created a style of American pro wrestling that changed the world of pro wrestling forever. Initially dubbed Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling, it incorporated multiple styles of combat, while creating the blueprint of pro wrestling as we know it. Elaborate finishes, story arcs, and the inclusion of new moves such as powerbombs, suplexes, and the addition of closed fist combat, it opened up multiple new avenues to present the sport. 

In 1930, the National Boxing Association (NBA) created the National Wrestling Association (NWAssoc) to regulate pro wrestling in the United States, but regional pro wrestling failed to unify in a way that affected the industry as a whole. But in 1948, multiple regional promoters united to form the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and soon the US was being mandated and run by a singular voice. The new NWA not only controlled the countries largest markets, but soon found alliances in Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, and beyond. Wrestling's first monopoly was established. By 1949, the new NWA had unified the previous NWAssoc World title into its own, killing off pro wrestling's first attempt at unifying the sport into its own emerging dominance. And like any authoritarian regime in world history, this united front created a natural act of rebellion in the industry.

Once the new NWA took hold of American (and subsequently international) territories, its monopoly pushed against the sensibilities of other wrestling promoters that simply didn't believe in the amalgamated vision of the NWA Board of Directors. After seeing promotion after promotion, especially those that had had historical significance prior to the new Alliance uniting, fall apart and became absorbed into the NWA cause much concern for promoters who had visions that exceeded the old boy mentality of those who shared cigars in Sam Muchnik's office in St. Louis. The sudden alliance of US, Canada, and Mexico territories under a united rule didn't seem so appealing when you had to adhere to a certain blueprint to very specific conditions (and very specific champions).

While today's independent promotions create voids in local regions for live professional wrestling in between sporadic appearances by major companies and create and elevate the next generation of talents, the early independents were usually created out of disenfranchisement with the booking of the NWA head offices. These independent territories proved to be hurtful in some regions against the NWA's spiderweb of connectivity, and weren't given such a name as "independents" though - they were more commonly referred to as "outlaw territories" and in some cases treated like criminal wastelands. It wasn't uncommon for journeymen wrestlers to get blackballed or held back by other NWA territories, simply for going to work for one of the outlaws. But these new territories, with their own rosters of stars apart from much of the NWA's, helped usher in new generations of stars and legends in their own right.

DISCLAIMER: There were many more outlaw promotions or territories than just the ones mentioned. Due to space, we have listed some of the major ones who helped caused shifts in the industry.

Worldwide Wrestling Associates (WWA), Los Angeles, California (1959-1968)

Buddy Austin

In the 1940s, the Eatons, Cal and Aileen, along with the California Combine, controlled most of the pro wrestling in California and initially worked with the NWA after its creation in 1948. But following a controversy over booking in 1957, when Lou Thesz defeated Édouard Carpentier for the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship. The move to take the belt off of the French-Canadian star did not sit well with the Eatons. In 1958, they formed the North American Wrestling Alliance (NAWA) and in 1959, they officially seceded from the NWA and announced Carpentier as the first NAWA World Heavyweight Champion. In 1961, it was rebranded to its more popular moniker, Worldwide Wrestling Associates (WWA). Thanks to their past history with the California wrestling scene, the WWA operated out of the 15,000 seat Grand Olympic Arena in Los Angeles, which became the West Coast equivalent of Madison Square Garden. In a pioneering move that would be replicated up to this day, WWA secured relationships with Japan Wrestling Associaton (JWA), routinely swapping talents for big shows and tours - in 1962, Rikidozan won his only US-based World title with WWA (although he did hold the NWA International Heavyweight title from 1958 to 1963, it was NWA's title belt contested almost exclusively in Japan). In 1963, WWA made more history when Bearcat Wright defeated Freddie Blassie for the WWA World Heavyweight Championship, becoming the first African-American to win a non-segregated World title. Other huge stars for the WWA included The Destroyer, Bobo Brazil, Buddy Austin, Mil Mascaras, John Tolos, and many more. In 1966, Cal Eaton passed away, and his wife passed on the promotion to her two sons from a previous marriage - Mike LeBell and pro wrestler "Judo" Gene LeBell (who went on to a legendary career as a trainer for both pro wrestling and martial arts). In 1968, however, Mike LeBell decided to rejoin the NWA, ending the promotions autonomy, rebranding to NWA Hollywood Wrestling. NWA Hollywood Wrestling remained in operation until 1982, when the company finally closed down, with the quickly rising WWF from New York acquiring their territorial foothold. While his state of independence was brief in comparison, WWA was a true pioneer in pro wrestling - in 1947 they were the first wrestling promotion to get on television with Hollywood Wrestling, and in 1971, NWA Hollywood became the first wrestling promotion to utilized Closed Circuit Television to air their events, when he'd broadcast events to local cinemas for his sold-out shows at the Arena.

American Wrestling Association (AWA), Minneapolis, Minnesota (1960-1991)

Verne Gagne
In 1948, Minnesota promoter Tony Stecher - brother of 3x World Heavyweight Champion Joe Stecher - was one of the founding fathers of the NWA, when his Minneapolis Boxing and Wrestling Club became the official booking office for the new NWA territory. In 1952, his son Dennis Stecher and advisor Wally Karbo joined the ownership team until Tony's passing in 1954. In 1959, Dennis would sell his half to one of his father's top stars, young Verne Gagne. For much of the 1950s, Verne Gagne had been one of the top young stars in the television era and by the end of the decade, the Minnesota territory felt it was time to inject some youth into its NWA World Champion. Ultimately, the NWA head office felt otherwise. In early 1960, Gagne and Karbo rebranded the promotion to the American Wrestling Association and demanded a title match against NWA World's Heavyweight Champion Pat O'Connor (an ultimatum that behind the scenes also demanded that Gagne win the title). The NWA refused. By the time the ultimatum's deadline passed, the AWA had seceded from the NWA and on August 1, 1960, Verne Gagne was named the inaugural AWA World Heavyweight Champion. The AWA would soon branch out beyond Minnesota, promoting throughout the Midwest and to the West Coast, becoming the NWA's biggest competition on a national level. Over the years Gagne would train future legends like Ric Flair and bring in journeymen from other NWA territories and make them stars, like Hulk Hogan. But ultimately better offers led to these stars jumping ship to the NWA or rising WWF. While the AWA was a rival force in the 1960s and 1970s, by the 1980s the company fell on hard times and briefly tried to unite with fellow independents Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) in Memphis and World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) in the late 1980s, but to no avail. By 1991, the AWA folded.

World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), New York, New York (1963-1971)

Vince McMahon Sr, Toots Mondt, and
Bruno Sammartino (Photo: WWE)

While no one would deem the WWE independent by today's standards, for a brief period in its early days, it was another outlaw promotion that broke away from the NWA over title booking. Jess McMahon and Toots Mondt had formed NWA Capitol Sports in the New York area in the early 1950s and became the NWA's New York territory. In 1954, following Jess' death, his son Vince McMahon Sr. took over the company. Capitol's top star was "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and in 1961, Rogers became the NWA World's Heavyweight Champion (defeating Pat O'Connor, the man that wouldn't drop the belt to Verne Gagne). In January of 1963, the NWA booked Lou Thesz to beat Rogers for the title, but the decision infuriated McMahon and he withdrew Capitol from the NWA, rebranding his promotion to World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and declaring Rogers the inaugural WWWF World Champion. Sadly, Rogers's health was in a state of decline and just 22 days later, he lost the title to Bruno Sammartino, who would prove to be the star that would make the WWWF a major player in the U.S. But while the WWWF remained a strong rival throughout Bruno's near 3000-day reign as World Champion, after his loss to Ivan Koloff in 1971, things changed. That same year, the WWWF rejoined the NWA, where it remained NWA's New York territory once again (with the title being reverted to simply the WWWF Heavyweight Championship) until McMahon Sr. sold his company to his son, Vince McMahon Jr. In 1983, McMahon Jr. withdrew the now WWF from the NWA and built the regional New York promotion into the first truly global superpower in pro wrestling.

World Wrestling Association (WWA), Indianapolis, Indiana (1964-1989)

Dick The Bruiser
In 1950, Billy Thom formed NWA Indianapolis to become Indiana's stake in the new NWA, and in 1955, he sold the territory to Chicago promoters Fred Kohler and Jim Barnett to extend their reach in the Midwest. In 1964, Kohler and Barnett sold their stake of the territory to wrestlers Dick The Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder, who rebranded the territory as WWA and withdrew their membership to the NWA. The following year, in 1965, they purchased Kohler's Chicago territory (which also reached up to Detroit), effectively giving WWA a huge territorial advantage in the Midwest. In 1966, the WWA formed an alliance with Verne Gagne's AWA, although it was purely for talent-sharing purposes - both companies remained separate independent entities, with their own World Champions. In fact, Dick The Bruiser - the inaugural WWA World Champion - started up the Indiana WWA after he'd won the Los Angeles-based WWA World title in April of 1964 from Freddie Blassie. In July, The Destroyer defeated The Bruiser for the title, but Dick The Bruiser refused to honor the title change, and thus became the first WWA World Champion in the new Midwest territory. Alongside Dick The Bruiser and Wilbur Snyder, the WWA had many great World Champions, including Bruiser Brody, Ox Baker, Ernie Ladd, and Bobo Brazil. By the mid-1970s, WWA seceded the Detroit territory back to NWA, as The Sheik's NWA Detroit was outpacing them. By the 1980s, Dick The Bruiser's age made it near impossible to keep up with the advances made by Vince McMahon Jr.'s WWF and Jim Crockett Promotions, and WWA finally folded in 1989.

East Coast Wrestling Association (ECWA), Newark, Delaware (1967-present)

The longest-running independent promotion in the United States originally began as one of the country's very first backyard promotions, when founder Jim Kettner promoted his first card out of his backyard. Over the years, Kettner became a top regional promoter and even helped promote WWF cards in the area. For much of the first few decades though, the company that would become ECWA ran sporadic cards. During the 1980s, it rebranded as East Coast Wrestling Semi-Pro. In the early 1990s, it finally became the name it still uses today, East Coast Wrestling Association (ECWA), with the official crowning of their first ECWA Heavyweight Champion in Lance Diamond (who would become Simon Diamond in ECW). In 1997 it launched the ECWA Super 8 Tournament, which has become one of the most prestigious U.S. indie tournaments for up-and-coming indie stars, with names like Christopher Daniels, Ace Darling, Paul London, Petey Williams, Davey Richards, Xavier Woods, and Tommaso Ciampa winning it in early stages of their careers. In 2010, Kettner sold ECWA to his protege Mike Tartaglia (who wrestling in the 90s indie scene as Michael Bruno) and in 2020, Tartaglia sold the company to longtime booker Joe Zanelle.

National Wrestling Federation (NWF), Buffalo, New York (1970-74)

NWF World Champion Antonio Inoki
Pedro Martinez was a Rochester wrestling promoter who bought into Toots Mondt's Manhattan Booking Agency in 1952. It lasted only a few years before a dispute led to Martinez selling his shares back (although he never received payment) and in 1958, he purchased the Upstate New York territory which became NWA Upstate New York. In 1968, he brought in wrestler Johnny Powers. When Powers defeated Freddie Blassie in Los Angeles for the WWA World title and the change wasn't recognized, Martinez withdrew NWA Upstate New York from the NWA and rebranded it as the National Wrestling Federation (NWF), with Powers being crowned the inaugural NWF World Heavyweight Champion. Martinez formed an early partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling and Montreal, Canada's International Wrestling. The promotion would sadly fold in late 1975, but the title remained active for years to come. At the time of the company's folding, the World title was held by NJPW's Antonio Inoki, who decided to carry on the NWF World title as New Japan's top singles belt (although after joining the NWA, they were forced to drop the World title status). It remained New Japan's top belt until 1981 when Inoki started the International Wrestling Grand Prix tournament. The belt was reactivated briefly in 2003 in New Japan, and the following year, Shinsuke Nakamura unified the NWF Heavyweight title into the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

International Championship Wrestling (ICW), Lexington, Kentucky (1978-1984)

Randy Savage & Lanny Poffo
Debuting in 1949, Angelo Poffo was a long traveled journeyman throughout the NWA territories for the bulk of his five-decade career, including a run in 1958 as the NWA United States Champion. By the mid-1970s however, he had a new focus - his two sons, Randy and Lanny, who were embarking on their own pro wrestling careers. Infuriated with what he perceived as poor booking of his two sons, in 1978 Angelo created ICW in Lexington, Kentucky. The problem was, that territory already had NWA representation in NWA Mid-America and Continental Wrestling Association (CWA). Poffo's outlaw promotion built around his sons, Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo, and would directly run against CWA shows at times, in Kentucky, Tennessee as well as in Missouri, West Virginia, and Illinois. During the company's six-year history, Lanny Poffo was a 4x ICW Heavyweight Champion, while Savage held the title three times. Sadly, ICW never fared as well as CWA did in the Mid-Southern area, and in 1984, the company ended up being bought out by their rivals (although due to a lack of available information, CWA introduced the ICW roster by implementing an ICW invasion angle).





Southwest Championship Wrestling (SCW), San Antonio, Texas (1978-1985)

SCW Heavyweight Champion,
Tully Blanchard
Like many pro football players who failed to catch on with the NFL in the United States, Joe Blanchard had migrated to Canada to compete in the Canadian Football League (CFL). And like many football players who played in Alberta, eventually, Stu Hart found them and trained them to be wrestlers. Blanchard debuted in 1953 with Hart's Big Time Wrestling (later known as Stampede Wrestling) and by 1956, had begun his journies working in the US territories of the NWA, where he became a 2x NWA Texas Heavyweight Champion with Fritz Von Erich's NWA Big Time Wrestling (later WCCW). Upon his retirement from pro wrestling in 1977, Blanchard set up shop in San Antonio, Texas, and in 1978 opened up Southwest Championship Wrestling (SCW). And much like Angelo Poffo with ICW, Joe Blanchard used his new promotion to push his son, Tully Blanchard, who was struggling in the NWA system, and create superstars in Adrian Adonis and Gino Hernandez. At SCW, Tully Blanchard became a 7x SCW Heavyweight Champion during the company's seven-year run, which saw the company share talents with AWA, Carlos Colon's World Wrestling Council (WWC) in Puerto Rico, and WCCW. In late 1982, SCW became the first pro wrestling company to land a TV program on the USA Network, when Southwest Championship Wrestling made its debut, and it soon became one of the network's highest viewed programs. But following a bloody contest between Tully Blanchard vs. "Bruiser" Bob Sweetan, which USA refused to air, the relationship began to sour. As SCW's attendance dwindled, so did their abilities to maintain their payments to USA Network and in the fall of 1983, USA canceled SCW's timeslot and gave it to Vince McMahon Jr. for his new program, WWF All American Wrestling, which debuted that September. By 1985, SCW was forced to close its doors. Tully Blanchard returned to the NWA, where he was soon thrust into the national spotlight as the fourth member of the new Four Horsemen.

Mid-South Wrestling/Universal Wrestling Federation, Tulsa, Oklahoma (1979-1987)

3x MSW North American Heavyweight
Champion, Junkyard Dog
In the 1950s, Leroy McGuirk created the NWA Tri-State territory that encompassed Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and one of his top stars was "Cowboy" Bill Watts, a 7x NWA Tri-State North American Heavyweight Champion. In 1979, Watts purchased NWA Tri-State from McGuirk and quickly rebranded the company as Mid-South Wrestling (MSW), and immediately withdrew from the NWA. Despite going "outlaw", Watts remained cordial with the NWA, and the NWA World Champion would still occasionally show up at MSW events. MSW ignored the rise of the cartoonish gimmicks and instead stuck to a hard-hitting more realistic approach, building around stars like Junkyard Dog, Ted DiBiase, Butch Reed, and Magnum TA. When Vince McMahon briefly took over the coveted 6:05 pm timeslot on TBS, station owner Ted Turner soon became angered when McMahon presented a different show than originally agreed upon (McMahon used taped matches from house shows, usually with WWF stars beating NWA stars, instead of an in-studio style show). In an effort to combat McMahon on his own network, Turner gave MSW a timeslot of their own, and it soon became one of TBS's highest-rated shows. MSW was initially promised the Saturday timeslot when Vince McMahon decided to leave TBS, but at the last minute, Jim Crockett Promotions outbid MSW for the slot. In 1986, Watts rebranded Mid-South to Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF), in hopes that the more international sounding name would help bring him to national prominence, but by then, talent raids from the WWF, NWA, and more had dried up his resources. In April of 1987, Watts sold the MSW/UWF promotion to JCP.

International Wrestling Federation (IWF), Boston, Massachusetts (1979-1996)

IWF stars "The Iron Horseman" Perry Saturn 
and Terra Ryzing (Triple H)
In 1977, Walter "Killer" Kowalski retired from full-time wrestling as a top star in the WWF, 30 years after his debut in 1947. He retired in Boston, where he opened a wrestling school. In 1979, he started the International Wrestling Federation (IWF) as a local promotion that would incorporate his own students with regional talents. Although a separate independent promotion, not aligned with the NWA, due to his long-standing history with the McMahon family and WWF, he often supplied local talents for the WWF in the area. By the early 1990s, his students were becoming more prominent, with stars including Terra Ryzing (Triple H), "The Iron Horseman" Perry Saturn, Joanie Lee (Chyna), and others. In the early 2000s, after IWF had folded, Kowalski's school merged with Chaotic Wrestling's Chaotic Training Center and continues today as the New England Pro Wrestling Academy. Kowalski continued to train there until his retirement due to health issues in 2003.

International World Class Championship Wrestling (IWCCW), Boston, Massachusetts (1984-1995)

Angelo Savoldi was a wrestling veteran who competed from 1937 until 1972 and in 1984, he opened up International Championship Wrestling (ICW) in Boston as a new local promotion in opposition to his old rival, Killer Kowalski. Early on, ICW formed an alliance with Puerto Rico's WWC, recognizing the WWC titles as their own top titles. The alliance was short-lived, and by the end of 1985, IWC had its own titles. They would also form talent exchanges with Championship Wrestling From Florida, and by 1989, had entered an alliance with Atsushi Onita's Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW). In 1991, in an agreement with Kevin Von Erich, rebranded as International World Class Championship Wrestling (IWCCW). Combining former WWF or WCW stars, it also became the early stomping grounds of future ECW stars Taz, Big Val, Dances With Dudley, Big Dick Dudley, and others. IWCCW folded in 1995.

Pro Wrestling America, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1985-1996)

PWA promoter Eddie Sharkey

With AWA's presence on the national platform declining rapidly against the rising juggernaut of the WWF and the increasing power build of Jim Crockett Promotions, Minnesota veteran Eddie Sharkey saw an opportunity for change in the region. Trained by Boris Malenko, Sharkey debuted in the 1950s and soon began working for the AWA. In 1982, Sharkey left the AWA over a pay issue, and over the next few years, began to become the sounding board for many Minnesota area wrestlers growing increasingly frustrated with their position in AWA, pay concerns and state of AWA itself. In 1985, he launched Pro Wrestling America (PWA), starting with two of his star students Crusher Von Haig and The Road Warrior (who would become later known as Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal), and quickly adding Minnesota talents like Rick Rude, Barry Darsow, Tom Zenk, and The Destruction Crew (Mike Enos & Mike Bloom), plus names like Paul Ellering and the young Steiner Brothers. By the end of the 1980s, PWA had developed two of the top young prospects in the game, The Lightning Kid (Sean Waltman/X-Pac) and Jerry Lynn. By 1993, however, the nation had become so consumed in the growing monopolies of WWF and WCW that regional wrestling began taking hits, and the promotion folded.

Continental Wrestling Association (CWA)/United States Wrestling Association (USWA), Memphis, Tennessee (1986-1997)

Jerry "The King" Lawler
In the 1940s, NWA Mid-America controlled Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky, under the ownership of Nick Gulas and Roy Welch. In the mid-70s, NWA Mid-America was broken into two booking offices, with Gulas running one half, and young promoter Jerry Jarrett taking over Memphis and parts of Kentucky. In 1977, Jarrett launched his own promotion, alongside Memphis wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler, called Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) and the new territory became the new NWA affiliate in the South. But by the early 1980s, the NWA seemed to abandon Memphis - it repeatedly refused proposals to crown Lawler the NWA World's Heavyweight Champion and the World Champion rarely appeared in the area. In 1986, CWA seceded from the NWA, forming an alliance with Verne Gagne's AWA instead. As WWF and JCP gained national prominence, CWA attempted to unite AWA and WCWA into one national organization, but it failed. In 1989, CWA would rebrand and become the United States Wrestling Association (USWA) and become a partner territory with the WWF in the early 1990s.

World Class Wrestling Association (WCWA), Dallas, Texas (1986-1990)

Back: Kevin Von Erich, David Von Erich, Kerry
Von Erich; Front: Fritz Von Erich
For decades, Dallas, Texas had been one of the hotbeds of the NWA, ever since Fritz Von Erich purchased Ed McLemore's Southwest Sports in 1966 and turned into NWA Big Time Wrestling. By the end of the 1970s, Fritz had built a strong organization and, with the rise of his sons as wrestlers then superstars, NWA Big Time had become one of the biggest territories in the U.S. In 1982, at the height of the Von Erichs vs. The Freebirds rivalry that captivated a nation, they rebranded as World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) in an attempt to become a national company. By the mid-1980s, however, WCCW was in a state of distress, continuously recoiling from the tragic deaths of two of its biggest stars - David Von Erich (1984) and Gino Hernandez (1986). In 1984, Kerry Von Erich defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship but lost it in only 18 days. As Jim Crockett Promotions assumed more and more of the NWA's control, the more WCCW felt the squeeze. Finally, in 1986, shortly after Hernandez's passing, NWA President Jim Crockett Jr. told Fritz he would no longer send the NWA World Champion to the Texas territory. Fritz Von Erich withdrew from the NWA and renamed the company to World Class Wrestling Association (WCWA), now looking to take on the WWF and JCP as the country's dominant brand. Unfortunately, tragedy continued, with the death of Mike Von Erich in 1987, and, after a failed last-minute merger with AWA and CWA (that created the USWA), WCWA was forced to close down its doors by 1990.

Powerful Women of Wrestling (POWW), Indianapolis, Indiana (1987-1990)

Years earlier, former WWA announcer David McLane created GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), a sketch comedy/wrestling show that became a national sensation on TV for a few years. But McLane left GLOW after the first year and returned to Indiana to launch POWW. While GLOW was more of a variety show based around gags and skits, POWW was a serious attempt to create a proper women's promotion. It acted as a sister company to WWA (akin to Ring of Honor and SHIMMER in their early days), and POWW's titles were defended and recognized within the WWA as well. POWW featured new faces like Madusa Micelli (Alundra Blayze), Luna Vachon, Bambi (Selena Majors), and Peggy Lee Leather, as well as post-WWF Wendi Richter. POWW also had a talent exchange with the AWA. When WWA and AWA folded by the end of the decade, it essentially pulled the rug out of POWW and they folded in 1990.

Century Wrestling Alliance (CWA), Boston, Massachusetts (1989-1997)


Tommy Dreamer (far left) at a CWA show
In 1989, the Boston area became a hotbed for independent wrestling. Not only did it have Kowalski's IWF and Savoldi's IWCCW, that year Tony Rumble - a former wrestler who was a manager in IWCCW - opened Century Wrestling Alliance (CWA). Along with utilizing former WWF and WCW stars, like IWCCW, it was an early breeding ground for future stars, such as Tommy Dreamer, The Public Enemy (Rocco Rock & Johnny Grunge), Scotty 2 Hotty, and more. They briefly formed an alliance with ECW in 1997 and 1998, which resulted in a short agreement with Great Sasuke's Michinoku Pro. By the end of the 1990s, the NWA had lost all power in the national market and was now a collective of global independents under a singular banner. In 1998, CWA rebranded as NWA New England, but in 1999, Tony Rumble tragically passed away. In 2007, they announced their withdrawal from the NWA, returning to the CWA banner, but the promotion closed down shortly after. New England indie veteran Jason Rumble starred with NWA England early in his career, where he was a 3x NWA New England Heavyweight Champion.


By the beginning of the 1990s, the territories were dead. What had begun as a monstrous force in 1948 had now been reduced to scraps in forgotten towns or bingo halls in cities where once they heard the roars of a stadium. There were two monsters now building steam to be the industry's Alpha Dog - Vince McMahon's WWF and Ted Turner's WCW (the organization he'd built out of purchasing JCP's entire combined collection of territories) - and with AWA dropping out in 1991, alongside the subsequent territorial collapses of the previous five years, it created a huge vacuum in the hierarchy of the promotions power structure. It would take multiple years, with various combinations of ideas and rosters, before the wastelands of the outlaw territories would become fertile once again, but when it did, it got extreme.


To Be Continued in 'The State of Independents, Part 2: The Birth of Independence (The 1990s)

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