I’ll admit: once upon a time my knowledge of pro wrestling began and ended with WWE. As far as I was concerned, WWE was the big leagues and therefore it was all that matters.
But, as I’ve learned, that’s far from the case.
Here are seven spectacular wrestling promotions that aren’t WWE.
Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (“World Wrestling Council”), or CMLL, is the oldest professional wrestling promotion still in existence and Mexico’s largest wrestling promotion. Founded by Salvador Lutteroth in 1933, it’s been nicknamed “the serious and the stable” for its conservative, traditional booking style and aversion to excessive violence and gimmick matches.
But if ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The proof is in the pudding: in 2014 CMLL became only the second wrestling promotion in the Americas (the first being WWE) to draw a $1 million gate with their 81st Anniversary Show.
At this point in time, the easiest way for fans outside Mexico to watch CMLL is via the promotion’s official YouTube channel. New Japan Pro Wrestling also streams CMLL’s Friday night “Super Viernes” show on its subscription streaming service, NJPW World.
EVOLVE was founded in 2010 by former Ring of Honor booker Gabe Sapolsky, so it’s no surprise that it’s quickly become one of America’s premier independent promotions.
EVOLVE first gained notoriety due to its affiliation and eventual unification with Dragon Gate USA. However, in 2015 EVOLVE entered an interesting working relationship with WWE. WWE featured EVOLVE wrestlers on its website, NXT wrestlers took part in EVOLVE events in non-wrestling roles, and WWE pulled many of the competitors in the Cruiserweight Classic from the EVOLVE roster.
Currently, British grappler Zack Sabre, Jr. is having the run of his career as the EVOLVE Champion. You can watch a mini-doc about his reign above. If that whets your appetite, you can watch all of EVOLVE’s events on the FloSlam subscription streaming service.
New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW is the second-largest pro wrestling promotion in the world, so chances are you probably already know a bit about it. But if not, here’s the rundown.
NJPW was founded in 1972 by WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki. It’s known for showcasing the “strong style” version of Japanese puroresu, which is characterized by full contact martial arts strikes and legitimate submission holds. Its largest event, Wrestle Kingdom, is held every year on January 4 in the Tokyo Dome.
There’s been a recent influx of ex-NJPW talent to WWE, including Finn Balor and the king of strong style himself, Shinsuke Nakamura. However, NJPW is home to some of the best wrestlers in the world, and for that reason many fans view it as a better promotion than WWE.
PROGRESS is the youngest promotion on this list, but it’s quickly becoming one of the best and most exciting.
One of many fantastic British wrestling promotions, PROGRESS was established in 2011 by comedian Jim Smallman and events and comedy promoter Jon Briley, and they had a very unique vision: to create a wrestling promotion influenced by strong style and punk rock that would draw heavily from local talent.
Evidently, the formula worked. In 2016, PROGRESS hosted two qualifying matches for the WWE Cruiserweight Classic. The current PROGRESS Champion, Pete Dunne, is also the current WWE United Kingdom Champion.
Pro Wrestling Guerrilla
In 2016, acclaimed pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer called Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) “the best wrestling in North America,” and that’s gotta stand for something.
PWG was founded by a group of wrestlers in 2009, including Disco Machine, Excalibur, Scott Lost, Joey Ryan, Super Dragon, and Top Gun Talwar. Being based in Southern California, the promotion has a unique flair for entertainment – and Hollywood celebrities are even known to show up from time to time.
The biggest and most acclaimed event put on by PWG is the annual Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA) tournament, and the entrants are always a who’s who in pro wrestling.
Ring of Honor
Ring of Honor is arguably the third-largest wrestling promotion in the United States, behind WWE and Impact Wrestling. It was founded in 2002 by Rob Feinstein, and is currently controlled as a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group. As such, ROH is syndicated in the U.S. and airs on Sinclair-owned stations.
While ROH remains relevant as a quality wrestling promotion, it hit its peak early on thanks to outstanding wrestlers like Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), CM Punk, A.J. Styles, and Chris Hero. As you can see, all of those people eventually made their way to WWE.
As a female fan who loves women’s wrestling, I would be remiss not to include SHIMMER on this list.
Founded in 2005 by Dave Prazak and Allison Danger, SHIMMER is an all-women’s wrestling promotion based in Chicago that was created in effort to give women wrestlers a serious, non-objectifying stage to showcase their talent – something that was sorely needed at the time.
Not only is SHIMMER unique in that it’s all-women’s promotion, it also has a unique approach to how it holds its shows. SHIMMER runs one large show every three months at the Eagles Club in Berwyn, Illinois. The shows are taped, and DVDs of each event are sold nationally through various retail outlets.
This is far from a comprehensive list: there are many other fantastic independent wrestling promotions out there, including Revolution Pro Wrestling, Insane Championship Wrestling, Shine Wrestling, Combat Zone Wrestling, and many, many more. But if you’re looking for a place to start expanding your horizons outside WWE, start with these seven!
What are some of your favorite independent wrestling promotions? Share them in the comments!