Small Market Smash: Smash Wrestling in North Bay

Back before World Wrestling Entertainment was the global juggernaut that it is today, even back before it was WWE, wrestling was comprised of territories. Each area of the country was split apart into different companies who would perform their unique brand of wrestling. Once Vince McMahon started his National expansion, more and more territories began dying out, leaving a very few territories left to compete with the all-encompassing McMahon Empire. Eventually, the territories faded away completely and what we were left with was the wrestling independent scene, a scaled back version of the territories where young athletes could hopefully hone their skills and learn their craft in front of local crowds.

Smash Wrestling is one of these independent promotions. Based out of Toronto, Smash has been operating for a few years now, and has slowly been building a significant fan base not just within their home city, but outside of it as well. I have written about their shows in the past here. This past Sunday, Smash took another step towards increasing their reach by branching out into the smaller market of North Bay, located a few hours north of their metropolis home. This can be a risky gamble for an independent company. There are so many X factors that one needs to consider. What kind of entertainment are they competing against? Will the fans enjoy their brand of entertainment? Can they draw without the city’s familiarity of their product or stars? These are all potential pitfalls that Smash hoped to avoid heading to the Gateway of the North.

Tucked against a wall in the Regency Ballroom of the Best Western Hotel, standing among the standing room only crowd of over 300 excited fans, I can tell you that Smash’s roll of the dice was a gamble that paid off. Of course, it just as easily could have gone the other way. So why even try to expand? Why go after a smaller market when you can draw just as many fans, maybe more, in a larger market? The answer varies depending on who you speak with. For many fans, promoters, and wrestlers, a show with 300 fans can be just as rewarding as a show with 3000. It isn’t always about money.

For many fans in smaller markets, independent wrestling not only offers an alternative to WWE’s programming, but it might be the only brand of sports entertainment they get to see live. The days of Vince McMahon bringing his travelling circus show to smaller markets like North Bay are long gone. Local fan Kevin Drew explains how independent shows coming to a smaller market can reignite one’s love affair with professional wrestling, while sharing the experience with friends and family.

“Smash Wrestling at the Best Western was something that North Bay needed to spark interest in wrestling.  As a long-time fan, I’ve gone to several shows in town as well as out of town…And my daughter who is just new in the wrestling scene loved the show with her favorites being Xandra Bale and, of course, Space Monkey…Overall, I throughly enjoyed the show, and think that indy shows are always more entertaining than the ‘sports entertainment’ you see on television.”

It isn’t just fans that benefit however. Independent companies like Smash allow local men and women to not only try to become the next John Cena, but also the next Vince McMahon. Adam Miller, who has been bringing professional wrestling events to North Bay for eight years, has been able to help his community through these smaller companies (Sunday’s event was a fundraising show for local Special Olympic Athletes), and live a dream that wouldn’t be possible without their existence. However, putting on wrestling shows of WWE quality without McMahon money and reach does have its challenges as well.

“In a city like North Bay its tough as it is a “true blue” hockey town.  But I built a relationship with a lot of the businesses in North Bay letting them know what I was doing and slowly it became bigger and better.  Wrestling will always be a part of North Bay in some way and I always did my best to see to it that it never faded away.”

Independent wrestling in smaller markets not only can build relationships between family members who bond over their favorite form of family entertainment, business and promoters looking to help the community and raise their own stock, but performers and fans as well. Rip Impact has wrestled for Ring of Honor, and companies of various sizes around the world. On Sunday he wrestled in front of 300 fans in a hotel ballroom, but says the experience is just as satisfying.

“I had an absolute blast performing for Smash Wrestling in North Bay.  It’s really fun to come up to a smaller city like North Bay to wrestle. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy wrestling in larger cities, and have been fortunate enough to have travelled across Canada, USA and Mexico over my career. But there’s just something about wrestling in a place like North Bay – I think it must be the intimate setting among other things, like having the opportunity to truly interact with the fans before and after the show.”

He isn’t wrong. During one of the matches, a particularly nasty tag team of Shane Sabre and Big Ben Ortmann began picking on a young fan at ringside. At a WWE show, this kind of thing would be par for the course and shrugged off, but in a market like North Bay, that child had a name, a name that was chanted throughout the ballroom like he was the one fighting the bad guys. Wrestlers walked among the huddled masses in ways that would never be allowed in cities where the big names come to play.

Looking out into the sea of faces that Sunday afternoon, I knew there were people there that wouldn’t watch wrestling on television, WWE or otherwise. However, the live experience offers something unique and special, especially for fans who don’t get to see the likes of the Undertaker. For the fans in attendance, it might as well have been WWE coming to their town for all the noise they made. Within the span of a few hours, a bond had been created between performer and spectator, one that may last with both for a long time.

Smash Wrestling may not be the biggest wrestling company on the planet, but they are getting bigger, ironically, by expanding into these smaller markets. While most wouldn’t think of a small market like North Bay as a key to becoming the next WWE, Smash proved on Sunday that expanding into smaller markets can have a big impact, on everyone involved.

Photos by Kevin Drew