The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
Randy Orton made headlines this weekend when he made some interesting comments about independent wrestling and the wrestling style that has helped put smaller organizations on the map. It began when noted wrestling curmudgeon Rip Rogers, a journeyman wrestler but a respected veteran who was also the trainer in Ohio Valley Wrestling when Orton was coming through WWE developmental, reposted a message he had received, ironically from a Canadian-independent wrestler, lambasting the predictability and the perceived lack of psychology in the typical independent wrestling match. Orton tweeted an approval of the critique, which drew the ire of some other wrestlers on Twitter, which led to Orton tweeting out a faux apology that read:
"Sorry to the Indy marks, Indy guys and old timers who do DIVES took offense...just having a good time over a few drinks in Denmark closing the SmackDown LIVE tour...while beating RAW in making over 5 million dollars in the last 11 shows. Now I know that doesn't equate to a standing room only crowd of 150 people paying $8 at an armory somewhere...but in the big boy world that's called putting asses in seats. So enjoy your flips, dives and 20 superkicks per match. To each their own. I will go "dive" back into my 13th title run and get ready to "flip" when my bank statement comes this month."
I am not writing an article that is ripping Randy Orton. He can think whatever he wants about indie wrestling and we can sit here and talk about how he didn't deserve 13 world title runs, that he was put on the highway to the WWE because of his father, that he had very little to do with SmackDown drawing so many people in Europe, but that isn't really that important. What is important, though, is the influence independent wrestling has had on the industry as a whole, and the reluctance for many people, not just Orton, Rogers or WWE fans, to recognize that the development of independent wrestling is the most important development in professional wrestling over the last decade.
One of the problems I see today is the reluctance people have, both fans, wrestlers and former wrestlers, to accept that Independent wrestling is a successful entity. For a lot of fans, if something doesn't happen in WWE it doesn't matter. You can spend your whole life watching WWE and never be removed from that bubble, at least not knowingly. The fact is, even if you think indie wrestling is dumb, overrated and irrelevant, it has had a major influence on the WWE. Look no further than many of the wrestlers on the WWE Roster; AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Sasha Banks, Finn Balor (not to mention CM Punk and Daniel Bryan) all became relevant because of indie wrestling.
After the territories and WCW and ECW dissolved, indie promotions have been essentially responsible for supplying WWE with polished talent. WWE does tout their development program in NXT but out of the numerous athletes and names they sign to become professional wrestlers, very few names are actually produced, start to finish and become WWE wrestlers. WWE only signs guys with no real experience if they A) Like your physique/athletic background or B)You are related to someone who is in favor with the company. If you are not blessed with either of those traits, you HAVE to go to the independents if you ever want to be in WWE.
The criticism of independent wrestling is often not that it is inherently a bad thing, but that the style is obnoxious and helps kill the credibility of professional wrestling. Traditionalists may watch a match featuring The Young Bucks, Ricochet, Will Ospreay or a number of other independent wrestlers and scoff at the idea of how many dives and high-impact moves take place in the match. They think that it cheapens everything and is a reckless and dangerous way to work a match that doesn't include any "psychology." There is some validity to that argument, but the fact is that style has proven to get people over and help them make money and advance their careers. Sami Zayn doesn't sign with WWE if he doesn't work like that, neither does Neville or Rich Swann. Ricochet doesn't become one of the most sought-after talents in the world if he didn't work that kind of pace and style.
The talent on the independents are true independent wrestlers, their success is not necessarily based due to a push from a booker, but rather on their ability to perform and be entertaining in front of an audience. Ricochet gets booked for an indie event because the fans expect him to wrestle a very particular style; if he didn't do that, he wouldn't be making as much money. His livelihood is based on doing dives and flips and having really entertaining, fast-paced matches and it is solely up to him and his opponent each night to get over.
That is why it is hard for someone like Randy Orton to appreciate what these guys are doing. Randy Orton never really had to worry about getting himself over and doing things to impress bookers and promoters because throughout his entire career the company that he has worked for has always tried to make him a star. Orton has never been in a position where his push was wholly determined on whether or not he had an entertaining match each and every night. Maybe the reason why so many people think Orton is boring and a tired character is because he has never really been in that make-or-break position? You read about guys like Mick Foley and Chris Jericho and how throughout their careers they have changed up their characters and their approach to wrestling when they felt they were getting stale. They did that because they knew what it was like to be stuck in a promotion and not be pushed and be treated as an afterthought. I'm not really trying to slam Orton here, he is really talented, but maybe if he had the same experiences early in his career that Foley and Jericho did, he would understand why indie talents wrestle a certain way.
At the end of the day, people who criticize indie wrestlers for their wrestling style have to understand that this is a financially motivated decision. The Young Bucks have made a lot of money despite their lack of size because they do a bunch of crazy moves. People who criticize them for a lack of selling, psychology and for being spot monkey's and think they are hurting the business are ignorant to everything in the past that has supposedly hurt wrestling. When Shawn Michaels became a star there were veterans who hated the way he wrestled and felt like it was unrealistic and hurting wrestling; today we look at him as one of the greatest performers of all-time. Independent wrestlers are putting their health and safety at risk to entertain people and make a living; and none of them are making Orton money, as he is quick to point out. Those people don't deserve to be criticized; like anyone else they are going to do what needs to be done to make a living for themselves and their family. Today, that involves doing a lot of dives.
Backlash is the kind of event that would never exist in the pre-WWE Network days; because WWE no longer has to rely on people individually purchasing each PPV event, they don't have to worry about making sure a PPV card is full of intriguing matches. Jinder Mahal would never in a million years be contending for the WWE Championship if WWE was trying to convince people to pay $50 to watch Backlash, but with the Network they don't have to worry about that anymore, so you can take a gamble on experimenting with a guy who until a month ago was literally a jobber.
Can Mahal win at Backlash? Sure, why not? I'd like to think that WWE would protect the WWE Championship more than by hastily putting it onto a job guy; but by putting Mahal into the title picture they have shown that they don't want to protect the purity of the championship that much. If Mahal wins the title, is it really going to make that big of a difference for SmackDown? It isn't like Orton is setting the world on fire with his current championship reign, at least Mahal winning would be something different and who knows, maybe his anti-American gimmick catches on and he can help get another babyface over when he drops the title,
The two-most intriguing matches on the show are outside the world title picture, with Kevin Owens taking on AJ Styles for the United States Championship. Considering the event is in Chicago which is a really hot audience; I think this match should go on last. Hardcore fans do not respect Mahal as a true contender and he isn't the best wrestler so the WWE Championship match is going to be fairly weak. With Owens and Styles you have two really great workers that the crowd respects and they could easily have one of the best matches in WWE this year. It would also help make the United States Championship seem more important, which WWE would like since god knows the WWE Championship doesn't feel that important right now.
The other interesting match is Shinsuke Nakamura vs Dolph Ziggler. I can't complain about how WWE has treated Nakamura since calling him up to SmackDown; they are protecting him and hyping him up as a huge deal and he will have his first match against Ziggler at Backlash. The report from Dave Meltzer is that they want to capture the magic that Nakamura vs Zayn had back at Takeover last spring, so you would think that Nakamura and Ziggler would try to have a really good match. I do think that since they want to get Nakamura over as a star, they won't give Ziggler much of the match, so it might only be a 10 minute match. I think it will be good regardless of how they book it, and the Chicago crowd will love Nakamura.
The rest of the card is a real hodge-podge. Breezango becoming number one contenders for the tag titles is almost as bizarre as Mahal's rise to the top, and that just shows how thin the SmackDown tag team roster is and also how horribly bad WWE has ruined American Alpha. The Women's Championship is not being defended at all, instead having a random tag team match that could totally happen on a SmackDown. I guess the idea is they want to prolong Charlotte taking the title from Naomi a little bit longer, but I don't understand why Charlotte is a babyface in the first place. She came to the main roster as a babyface and she was solid, but as a heel she was great and anyone that has watched her since NXT knows that Charlotte is infinitely better when she is a huge b---h. Sami Zayn is going to job to Corbin in a match nobody cares about. Actually, the real WWE thing to do would be to have Zayn get the crap beaten out of him, but manage to roll Corbin up and then have Corbin beat-up Zayn after the match to show fans that wins and losses don't matter. Luke Harper vs Erick Rowan is the literal definition of filler.
Must Watch Matches:
Jay White vs Will Ospreay: ****1/2 - ROH War of the Worlds
Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii: ****1/2 - NJPW Dontaku 2017
David Starr vs WALTER: **** - Westside Xtreme Wrestling 16 Carat Gold Day 1
Jurn Simmons vs Axel Dieter JR.: **** - WXW 16 Carat Gold Day 2
Ilja Drugunov vs WALTER: ****1/4 - WXW 16 Carat Gold Final