How Game Changer Wrestling Went From New Jersey Shows To International Acclaim

The Garden State has been a hotbed for professional wrestling over the past two decades. New Jersey has bred some of the top performers in the sport, hosted multiple WrestleManias, and has even become somewhat oversaturated with independent promotions. One of the most successful professional wrestling promotions in the world, Game Changer Wrestling (GCW), started out in the Garden State as a small independent company, before becoming one of the biggest promotions in the country.  

The national success of Game Changer Wrestling blossomed into an international phenomenon under the direction of owner Brett Lauderdale. The promotion has featured annual marquee events including Joey Janela's Spring Break, The Nick Gage Invitational, Josh Barnett's BloodSport, Effy's Big Gay Brunch, and many more. GCW put on shows across the country before expanding their tours to Japan, Mexico, The United Kingdom, and more grand locations. Most recently, GCW has announced upcoming dates in Montreal and Toronto, Canada. However, before becoming the premiere deathmatch promotion in the entire world, GCW saw its fair share of owners, rebrands, and a carousel of top tier talent coming through its locker room.

Jersey Championship Wrestling

Long before Game Changer Wrestling even existed, a small company known as Jersey Championship Wrestling was founded by Ricky Otazu in New Jersey in 2000. JCW found early success by often featuring talent from ECW, ROH, JAPW and many more promotions. Talents such as Low Ki, Bryan Danielson, AJ Styles, Public Enemy, Charlie Haas, Homicide, CM Punk, Amazing Red, and Colt Cabana have all appeared at JCW shows. Most notably, the Jersey-J Cup Tournament became a staple of the promotion attracting top tier talent from all over the world.

The promotion ran under the Jersey Championship Wrestling banner until 2004, when an opposing promotion, National Wrestling Superstars, bought out the company from Otazu. However, Otazu resurrected the company in 2012 after NWS was no more. JCW returned with a new training school and brought back the infamous Jersey J-Cup tournament. The company continued to run at venues all over the state of New Jersey, including the ever popular Game Changer World venue located in Howell. Eventually, JCW returned as a part of GCW when Brett Lauderdale revived the company, purchased its library, and put together shows under the Jersey Championship Wrestling banner in 2021.

Brett Lauderdale and Danny Demanto Purchase and Rebrand JCW

Jersey Championship Wrestling ran until 2015 with budding stars Joey Janella, Ortiz, Santana, Chris Dickenson and more. The success of JCW caught the attention of current GCW owner Brett Lauderdale and current ICW No Holds Barred owner Danny Demanto, who outright purchased the company from Ricky O. The duo changed the name of JCW to GCW, or Game Changer Wrestling, and took the promotion to new heights. GCW would continue to run shows at the infamous Game Changer World Venue until it closed in 2018. In an interview with CentralJersey.com, Demanto stated, "The atmosphere inside and even outside (Game Changer World) is like no other. It feels like one giant family is meeting up once a month for a great time from when we get there until we close the doors after the show."  He went on to say it would be hard to let go of the venue.

Under new ownership Game Changer Wrestling flourished as one of the top independent promotions on the rise. GCW continued to grow its fanbase by becoming synonymous with hardcore and deathmatch style wrestling, eventually becoming the number one deathmatch promotion in the world.

Nick Gage and a Slew of New Talent

Brett Lauderdale had previously worked for Combat Zone Wrestling and became friends with the legendary Nick Gage. Over the years, Gage became an integral part of Game Changer Wrestling, becoming increasingly synonymous with the brand. In fact, many GCW storylines and tournaments were based around Gage. The Nick Gage Invitational tournament was created under the GCW banner, garnering much success for the promotion. Gage would go on to have memorial feuds with the likes of Matt Cardona, Jon Moxley, and many more. Additionally, the most infamous representative of the MDK Gang himself went on become the only talent to be exclusively signed to GCW. Lauderdale posted on Twitter, "This is the first & likely the last contract GCW will ever offer. Nick has earned the right to finish his career on his terms w/ dignity & a focus on the future he deserves. I'm proud GCW can give him that."

As the GCW roster continued to grow talent such as Effy, Jordan Oliver, Allie Katch, Jimmy Lloyd, Tony Deppen, Mance Warner, Joey Janela and more became regularly featured on Game Changer Wrestling Events. Annual events based around these talents began to take shape under the GCW banner including Joey Janela's Spring Break and Effy's Big Gay Brunch. Aside from the regulars, surprise GCW competitors have included Thunder Rosa, X-Pac, The Briscoe Brothers, and many more.

Combat Zone Wrestling

As previously mentioned, Lauderdale had worked in several roles for Combat Zone Wrestling in the past. Many of Lauderdale's motivations and roster selections came from working in CZW. Lauderdale even ran an angle where he and Nick Gage invaded CZW's Cage of Death 19 pay-per-view event, much to the dismay of CZW owner, DJ Hyde. Hyde even called the police, claiming he was legitimately unaware of the angle. During an interview with WrestleZone, Lauderdale commented on the matter, stating, "GCW has built a reputation on being outlaws. We have become known for saying 'f*** it, let's do it our way.' GCW just may be the last real outlaws in professional wrestling. How many chances like this would we have to go out and make a major statement, right or wrong, on our competitors biggest stage? Will people be mad? Maybe. Will the fans like it? Probably. Most importantly, will the GCW fans love it? Of course. Will DJ and his yes men have a problem with it? Probably. But f*** them. He had it coming."

Lauderdale almost even went so far as to buy out the promotion completely. During another interview with Wrestling Inc. Senior Editor Nick Hausman, Lauderdale shared, "I actually had a deal to buy CZW. We had a signed MOU, which is a memorandum of understanding, where we outlined the terms and it was signed by all parties. And yeah, it was basically a done deal. And then when it became time to progress, [CZW owner DJ Hyde] bailed. I guess he got cold feet ... Or somebody got in his ear, or whatever it was, and he just bailed out."

Marquee Events Across The United States

Game Changer Wrestling started out with a cult following in New Jersey before branching out all over the United States. Although many of GCW's premiere events still take place in Atlantic City, the company often ventures to other states for The Collective event annually. In fact the city of Indianapolis presented GCW and The Collective with an Official Proclamation declaring the event to be, "Indie in Indy Wrestling Weekend." The Collective event often takes place in the same city of that respective year's WrestleMania location. 

Although Jersey remains the heart and soul of GCW, the promotion's reach continues to grow. GCW has ventured all over the country from coast to coast. Events have taken place in major cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Austin, Nashville, Brooklyn, and many more. The promotion continues to run events with more frequency and more miles seemingly by the week, but GCW wouldn't just be held to within the confines of the US borders.

GCW Goes to Mexico and Japan

Lauderdale took the promotion to new heights when he brought GCW to Japan for an initial five shows featuring talent from international promotions. GCW was able to sell out all five shows. The tour was so successful that Game Changer Wrestling returned to Japan in September 2022 for three more events. The Strong Hearts even made their debut for the promotion in Tokyo.

This past October, GCW headed down to Mexico as well to take on the wrestling stars of Vanguardia in Pachucha. This was not Game Changer Wrestling's first stint south of the border, as they had previously ran shows in Mexico with Zona 23 featuring Alex Colon, Joey Janela, Los Macizos, and more in 2021. GCW also headed across the proverbial pond this year, as its roster made their United Kingdom debut in Liverpool against TNT Extreme Wrestling. The company announced two Canadian dates as well.

The Wrld on GCW at Hammerstein Ballroom

Arguably one of the biggest independent shows of all time was Game Changer Wrestling's The Wrld on GCW event held at the legendary Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on January 23rd, 2022. The event featured a capacity crowd, top notch production, and a ton of surprise appearances. Additionally, The Wrld on GCW had the Internet Wrestling Community abuzz all night. Fans were elated to see their favorite GCW regulars take on some of the best national and top independent talent on the planet. 

The show featured Matt Cardona, Jeff Jarrett, Thunder Rosa, Ruby Soho, Lio Rush, then GCW World Champion Jon Moxley, and more. To the delight of the fans in attendance and those watching at home, The Briscoes GCW Tag Team Championship open challenge was answered by none other than deathmatch legends Nick Gage and Matt Tremont. Fans were also treated to a surprise appearance from WWE Hall of Famer, X-Pac. The show is still revered as one of GCW's biggest and most successful to date

Streaming on IWTV and FITE

In addition to taking the world by storm, Game Changer Wrestling struck up a monumental deal with Independent Wrestling Television, a streaming service exclusively for multiple wrestling promotions across the country and beyond. The deal allowed GCW to stream 10 shows live exclusively on IWTV throughout 2020. Unfortunately, IWTV claimed that GCW was in breach of contract as IWTV was set to be the sole holder of the pay-per-view rights. Fortunately, the two sides came to an agreement which also resulted in a GCW Settlement Series of events exclusively produced for IWTV.

GCW ran most of its events on FITE TV moving forward. Lauderdale stated in an interview with "The Business of The Business" podcast, "IWTV is a great service for some and at times it's a great service for GCW, but in my opinion, if you're just relying on a subscription service like IWTV or any HighSpots, if that's the sole distributor of your product, you're going to hit a ceiling and you can only grow so much. The consumer and the platform are only going to pay so much. With FITE TV, theoretically, there is no ceiling.

GCW Moves Exclusively to FITE+

Game Changer Wrestling teased a massive announcement at the end of October of 2022, leading up to November 1st's announcement that Game Changer Wrestling and its libraries were moving exclusively to FITE +, FITE TV's subscription service. The monumental deal is marked by a statement on the FITE website explaining, "GCW puts on approximately 75 shows a year, live and international. Fans will also have immediate VOD access to 240 past GCW events."

During the official announcement, Lauderdale told FITE, "Over the last 6 years, we've been blessed to meet so many loyal and hardcore fans all over the USA and around the world. Their support has allowed us to experience unprecedented growth and change the game in independent wrestling. Now, as our schedule becomes busier and our catalog continues to grow, we want to make it easier for all our fans to follow us on this journey. We are proud to continue our partnership with Fite and bring our entire library, along with all future live events to Fite+, which will allow us to strengthen our relationship with our existing fanbase, while introducing Game Changer Wrestling to a new generation of Indie Wrestling fans." The move seems to be a perfect fit for both parties moving forward.

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