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In professional wrestling, the independent circuit or indy circuit refers to the many independent promotions which are much smaller than major televised promotions, particularly the current World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) promotions and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) of the past. It is called the independent circuit because most of the wrestlers who perform in it are independent contractors. Specific promotions on the independent circuit are referred to as indy promotions or indies. A wrestler is said to be in the indies or working the indies if he or she is wrestling in one of the independent promotions, or working the indy circuit if he or she is performing in different independent promotions.

Overview

Although the following paragraphs describe the system used in North America, the basic concepts can be applied to independent promotions elsewhere.

Independent promotions are usually local in focus and, lacking national TV contracts, are dependent on revenue from house show attendance. Due to their lower budgets, most independent promotions offer low salaries (it is not unusual for a wrestler to be paid only $5 to $20 per match. Most cannot afford to regularly rent large venues, and would not be able to attract a large enough crowd to fill such a venue, so they have to make use of any open space (such as fields, ballrooms, or gymnasiums) to put on their performances. Some independent promotions are attached to professional wrestling school, serving as a venue for students to gain experience in front of an audience.

As independent matches are usually not televised, indy wrestlers who have not already gained recognition in other promotions tend to remain in obscurity. However, scouts from major promotions attend indy shows, and an indy wrestler who makes a good impression may be offered a developmental or even a professional contract. The advent of the internet has allowed independent wrestlers and promotions to reach a wider audience, and it is possible for wrestlers regularly working the indy circuit to gain some small measure of fame among wrestling fans online. Additionally, some of the more successful indies have video distribution deals, giving them an additional source of income and allowing them to reach a larger audience outside of their local areas.

A few independent promotions have become major forces in the wrestling business. TNA (originally labelled NWA:TNA, but has since—like many other major promotions over the years—distanced itself from the National Wrestling Alliance) eventually grew beyond independent status with the help of a national TV deal, a video game deal with Midway Games, and DVD distribution. Some of the more well-known indy promotions today in the United States include Jersey All Pro Wrestling, CHIKARA, Combat Zone Wrestling, Heartland Wrestling Association,Maryland Championship Wrestling , Memphis Wrestling, New York Wrestling Connection, Pier 6 Wrestling, Chaotic Wrestling, Next Era Wrestling, East Coast Wrestling Alliance, Ohio Valley Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Ring of Honor and its sister promotions Full Impact Pro and SHIMMER Women Athletes.

Although most promotions try and adhere to a high standard of wrestling integrity, independent promotions are also the most likely places to find matches involving hardcore wrestling, also referred to sometimes as "garbage wrestling". Since the indy wrestlers are not on TV, there are usually no restrictions on what they can say and do during matches. Infamous hardcore wrestling companies include CZW and IWA Mid-South. Independent circuits are distinct from backyard wrestling, which is performed strictly on an amateur and unprofessional basis; backyard leagues are of a notably lower quality than professional leagues featuring trained performers. However, some particularly skilled backyard wrestlers do eventually advance to the independent circuit and will wrestle in both backyard and independent pro leagues.

Differences between the old territories and today's independent scene

Territories held shows in a certain town each week while also going to a different town night after night with several towns covering a certain region. Most of today's indie promoters struggle to hold a show on a monthly basis in a single town. Promoters in those days could fill big arenas up into the thousands, while indie promoters struggle to draw a few hundred people at a high school gym or local fairground. Wrestlers in the territories could afford to make a good living in the wrestling business for years at a time (despite still needing a day job for insurance and retirement benefits) while current day indie wrestlers struggle to pay their bills, much less risk living out of their car. Territories also had weekly television shows on local stations in each town while most indies cannot afford such exposure.

Many of today's wrestlers learn their trade in a wrestling school, but scrape by learning their craft on occasional indie bookings with no consistency in developing their skills the way many wrestlers during the era of the territories had been able to do. Many wrestlers would learn the basics by setting up the ring or having a job at the arena setting up chairs and selling merchandise, refereeing matches, or some other way of being trained and entering the business. They would then wrestle night after night in a different town wrestling in front of the same crowd each week when they returned, and then go to other territories to learn something new from experience. Many young wrestlers in this era do not have this kind of tough education in the business or that luxury of learning their craft from experience.

There is some debate over whether or not Ring of Honor should even be called an indie promotion, since it is not restricted to holding one monthly show in a local town. Some believe it to be a modern day regional territory, considering they have several shows a month across The Northeast and The Midwest. There are those who even dare to call it a national promotion on a niche level due to their presence on DVD, in merchandising, The Internet, and exchanges with talent from Great Britain and Japan. They also have a development league in Florida called Full Impact Pro. The promotion has also experienced limited coverage on television such as The Fight Network in Canada, the now defunct TWC Fight! in the United Kingdom, and Samurai TV in Japan along limited pay per views every two months in addition to an upcoming TV deal with HDNet Fights in the United States.

In addition to this, there is some criticism over WWE's developmental system for grooming young talent. Within this system, there has never been more than one development territory for a long period of time, and each development league to pass through and groom WWE talent has been a local indie which promotes one show a week instead of promoting shows across several towns in a region night after night. The main exception to this is former WWE development league Ohio Valley Wrestling, which promotes three shows a week, albeit in one town Louisville, Kentuckymarker. Many have also criticized a large number of the wrestling talent themselves for lack of experience and not being seasoned enough in the ring, much less learning their craft properly.

Independent promotions in other countries

In Mexicomarker and Japanmarker, which have recognized major circuits, the concept of independent circuits also exists. The reliance on major promotions to acquire talent from them, however, varies widely from each other and from the North American system.

Mexico

Lucha libre has many more independent wrestlers in proportion than the rest of North America, because of the weight classes prevalent in the Mexican league system as well as its emphasis on multiple person tag matches; just about anyone with ability can emerge from an independent promotion into either Asistencia Asesoría y Administración or Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre and be a champion there. Independent Mexican wrestlers may use a lot of gimmicks, including some that may be based on copyrighted characters from American television shows, such as Thundercats and X-Men. (These gimmicks are often changed if the wrestler playing them makes it into AAA or CMLL; the most prominent example of non-compliance with this method is midget wrestler Chucky from AAA, whose gimmick is based on the Child's Play movie.)

Japan

Until 1984, no independent puroresu promotion per se existed in Japan; potential talent went directly into the training dojos of either New Japan Pro Wrestling or All Japan Pro Wrestling. (International Pro Wrestling also was a third-party promotion until 1981.) The advent of the Japanese UWF offered a long-sought third alternative. From 1986 to 1988 the Japanese system went back to the two-promotion system, but then the UWF was reformed and another promotion Pioneer Senshi, was started. Because of Japanese societal mores which implied that a wrestler was a lifelong employee of a company and thus identified with it wherever he went, neither AJPW nor NJPW made an effort to acquire wrestlers trained in other promotions; wrestlers from the major promotions who left, such as Genichiro Tenryu, Gran Hamada, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Akira Maeda, Yoshiaki Yatsu, Atsushi Onita, and Nobuhiko Takada had to start their own independent promotions in order to keep themselves in the limelight.

As the 1990s ended, though, things began to change. Independent promotions began gaining more prominence as they were featured in major specialized media such as Shukan Puroresu and Shukan Gong magazines. With the death of Giant Baba and retirement of Antonio Inoki, which effectively broke their control over the promotions they founded, the major promotions began looking to the smaller promotions for talent. In 2000, the first major signing from an independent, Minoru Tanaka by NJPW from BattlARTS, took place; soon after NJPW stocked the junior heavyweight division with independent talent such as Masayuki Naruse, Tiger Mask IV, Gedo, and Jado. On the same year, following the Pro Wrestling Noah split, AJPW was forced to fill its ranks with independent talent; Nobutaka Araya, Shigeo Okumura and Mitsuya Nagai signed up (Araya is the only one who remains, but other signings since then have been Kaz Hayashi, Tomoaki Honma, Hideki Hosaka, and Ryuji Hijikata.) Noah admitted one wrestler from the independents, Daisuke Ikeda, to its ranks as well (Ikeda has since left, but other wrestlers from the independents that were signed included Akitoshi Saito, Takahiro Suwa, and Taiji Ishimori). Although AJPW, NJPW, and Noah remain committed to their dojos, the reliance on independents is growing as obscure talent is recognized for its ability.

See also



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