The current boom of indie wrestling in the pro wrestling world didn’t happen over night. There have been indie federations almost since pro wrestling began, promotions and companies that never allied with the NWA, or got absorbed by the WWF, that toiled away in their own regional pockets of the world. It wasn’t until the demise of both WCW and ECW in 2001 that a vacuum was created that created the spark – and need – for a stronger independent wrestling network in North America. Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), IWA Mid South and Maryland Championship Wrestling (now MCW Pro Wrestling) were already in operation (CZW and MCW founded in 1998, IWA Mid South in 1996), but there was no easy access to watch most of these indies unless you lived in the area or had friends who traded VHS tapes. But the rise of the internet and the accessibility of faster internet in the early 2000s changed that. Out of the ashes of WCW, rose TNA (now Impact Wrestling) in 2002, while other major indies like Ring of Honor (2002), Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG, 2003) and CHIKARA (2002) began to pop up, providing elite level wrestlers a platform, especially with WWE being a tougher option for those “too small”.
The early 2000s so a great wave of their stars go on to huge careers with WWE, TNA/Impact, and beyond – names like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson), Seth Rollins (Tyler Black), Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and current WWE Champion AJ Styles, all were part of that early to mid-2000s class of wrestlers to lead the charge, opening doors for future indie talents like Adam Cole, Kevin Owens, Ricochet and others to find work in bigger arenas. But there’s a wave that pre-dates that former wave, featuring innovators and risk takers, names that are held in high esteem by many wrestlers and promoters, but that are in many ways forgotten today. While some have reached cult status (for good or bad), some are mere footnotes. But there were plenty of wrestlers who forged the roads in the indies in the late 90s and early 2000s, inspiring the Tyler Blacks and the CM Punks to continue their path, instead of patterning their styles after what the WWE was portraying. While there were far more than the names listed below, these are 10 wrestlers who are largely forgotten (or don’t get the credit they deserve) for leading the first wave of indie superstars, that helped launch the indie scene that has finally gotten the recognition and attention its so long deserved.
The Forgotten Generation: Indie’s First Wave of Influence
(DISCLAIMER: This list only includes those who worked in the US indie scene)
TRENT ACID (1995 to 2010)
Philadelphia’s Trent Acid was someone that most assumed would become the next great breakout star from the indies. An innovative and entertaining high flyer, he was well known for his tag team, The Backseat Boyz, with Johnny Kashmere, but was equally renowned as a singles star. Sadly, just as the indie scene began to thrive in the mid-2000s, Acid became a victim of his demons – his career was derailed and stagnated by substance abuse. He hit rock bottom in early 2010, when he was arrested for heroin possession and sentenced to just shy of two years in prison. Tragically, he never made it to prison, dying from a drug overdose on June 18, 2010. A 3x CZW Junior Heavyweight Champion, Big Japan Junior Heavyweight Champion, and multi-time tag team champion with Kashmere in a myriad of promotions, Acid was a trailblazer who burned out before he truly got a chance to shine on the big stage.
SARA DEL REY (2001 to 2012)
One of the most influential women’s wrestlers in North America of the past two decades, California’s Sara Del Rey is most recognized today as Sara Amato, one of the head trainers at the WWE Performance Center and producer/agents for NXT. But for 11 years, Del Rey was considered one of the best women’s wrestlers in the world. She worked Japan and Mexico, as well as US promotions like Ring of Honor, SHIMMER (where she’s a former champion), CHIKARA, and more. She not only battled some of the best women’s wrestlers in the world, but she was an early leader in intergender wrestling, often grappling with some of the toughest men in the ring as well.
TEDDY HART (1995 to present)
One of the most gifted prospects in pro wrestling, from a legendary wrestling family, Teddy Hart made news when he signed with the WWE at only 18 years old. But over a decade of errant behaviour, drug use and a seeming passing interest in the pro wrestling industry, Hart burned more bridges than could be built for most of the 2000s. After starting with his family’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, he became an indie star with Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW), AAA in Mexico and Ring of Honor, but every time he was offered bigger opportunities, they always collapsed. The past year is cleaned up and seems to finally have found the passion for pro wrestling that had eluded him for most of his career, looking for redemption for his tarnished legacy.
LUFISTO (1997 to present)
Quebec, Canada’s LuFisto is still performing and working with some of the company’s top indie promotions, such as SHINE, SHIMMER, Beyond Wrestling and others, but the 20+ year veteran never managed to get the notice on bigger platforms. Not only is she a pioneer in women’s wrestling, but in hardcore wrestling as well. She began in a tag team called The Missionaries of Violence, competing in intergender hardcore matches in Montreal and in CZW. When she moved to singles competiton, she was just as deadly – in 2006, she won the CZW Iron Man Championship, ending Kevin Owens’ 364 day reign.
ADAM PEARCE (1996 to 2014)
“Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce began in the mid 1990s with Mid America Wrestling (MAW) in Wisconsin and well as IWA Mid South, before catching on with PWG in 2003. He’d spend three years with ROH from 2006 through 2008, before heading of to work the remaining NWA territories and affiliates – he’s actually a 5x NWA World Heavyweight Champion. A constant work horse, he just never made it with WWE or TNA, until he retired in 2014. He then signed with the WWE as a producer/agent and now works as one of Triple H‘s right hand men in NXT, as well as producing 205 Live.
MIKE QUACKENBUSH (1994 to present)
Pennsylvania’s Mike Quackenbush started in local indies, such as Pennsylvania Championship Wrestling (PCW), as well as MCW, CZW, IWA Mid South and more, combining an athleticism and technical prowess more akin to the traditional British style than anything going on in pro wrestling in the late 1990s. Ultimately, his legacy will be remembered as founding CHIKARA in 2002, where he’s the owner, booker and commentary announcer and he retired from the ring in 2013. In the past few years, he’s come out of retirement for a few special showcase matches here and there.
RECKLESS YOUTH (1995 to 2007)
Reckless Youth – aka Tom Carter – was dubbed “The King of the Indies” in the late 1990s in much the same way people have been praising Ricochet the past few years. The New Jersey native made his name in regional indies in the 1990s, like PCW and NWA New Jersey, before jumping on with the likes of CZW and Jersey Championship Wrestling (JCW, now Game Changer Wrestling (GCW)). He’d work with former PCW rival Mike Quackenbush in the latter’s CHIKARA briefly near the end of his run, but in 2007 he walked away from pro wrestling for a full time career in accounting.
JULIO SANCHEZ (1994 to 2013)
Another PCW regular, Julio Sanchez actually worked for WCW and WWF as enhancement in the 1990s, as well as being an ECW regular in 2000, just before the company folded (where he wrestled as Julio DiNero). When ECW folded, he had two years of sporadic use with TNA as well. But for whatever reason, Sanchez could never translate his indie magic to the bigger stage (although to be fair, it was probably entirely due to the booking of the bigger companies he worked for). He worked for MCW, JCW, Keystone Championship Wrestling (KCW), and many more indies, but never quite gets mentioned the way he should. He left the business in 2013.
SCORPIO SKY (2002 to present)
Although he’s finally managed to break out in the past year with Ring of Honor as part of the faction SoCal Uncensored with Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian, it took a long time for Scorpio Sky to finally get the break he deserved. Breaking with West Coast promotions like Empire Wrestling Federation (EWF), Revolution Pro Wrestling (RPW) and Alternative Wrestling Show (AWS), he became a regular performer with PWG pretty much since day one. But as other PWG stars like AJ Styles, Adam Cole, Kevin Steen, El Generico and more moved onwards and upwards, Sky seemed to destined to remain where he was. In 2010, he got a boost starting work with Championship Wrestling From Hollywood (CWFH), where he’s been one of their stars. In 2012, it appeared his ship had come in, and he signed with TNA, where he became Mason Andrews. But he was used sparingly and his 2-year run was less than 10 matches in total. Last year, he started to finally break, working with CZW, Bar Wrestling, and WrestleCircus, before finally joining ROH as a regular.
SUPER DRAGON (1997 to 2015?)
If you combined the smooth technical savvy of Bret “Hitman” Hart with the violent innovation of Tommy Dreamer, you’d get Super Dragon. A man, a myth, a legend, he had some of the most frighteningly realistic looking matches of the past 20 years – if you didn’t wince at least once watching one of his beatings on a victim, you’re probably a sociopath. He made brutality an art, pain a reward, and violence seem like love. His greatest legacy has been the promotion he co-founded, PWG, and continues to run to this day, but there’s a cult following of Super Dragon’s ring work that is justifiable. He’s never officially announced any retirement, but he hasn’t been seen since returning briefly at Battle of Los Angeles back in 2015.
Who are some of your favourite early indie pioneers that never really got a big break with a mainstream company or the credit they deserve? Let us know in the comments section below – and feel free to post videos for others to check out!