Fans have lamented for a true powerhouse to compete against the norm of the WWE in the world of nationally televised professional wrestling. IMPACT Wrestling and Ring of Honor have had their shots, Major League Wrestling is still growing, and now All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is the next major promotion to make waves in the industry. But nearly a decade ago, we nearly had a new promotion with a roster that could have been something really special – but sadly, the Wrestling Retribution Project (WRP) never saw the light of day.
Wrestling Retribution Project: The Story
In 2011, Jeff Katz was fed up with what he saw in professional wrestling. A Hollywood executive, Katz had worked in pro wrestling early in his career – he began working with WCW when he was still a teenager. But he moved to intern at Newline Cinema and soon found himself a budding producer – working on such films as Freddy vs. Jason, Snakes On A Plane, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He also went on to write comic books, such as Image Comics‘ and DC Comics with Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash and Booster Gold. But his love for pro wrestling was always intact, and in 2011 he had had enough. And a tirade on his Twitter account led to him putting in motion the beginning of a new promotion – Wrestling Retribution Project (WRP) – as an alternative to the programming seen weekly from WWE and TNA.
He raised $100,000 through a Kickstarter campaign (which Chris Jericho claims to have helped fund) and scoured the world for a roster that would be fresh and unique. And unlike most companies who carry characters and stories over to other promotions (i.e. AJ Styles being AJ Styles in TNA, NJPW, ROH, and WWE), this would be an isolated new wrestling world. “My universe exists with the idea that WWE, TNA, they don’t exist, they’re not in my world,” Katz told Wrestling Inc.’s Raj Giri in early 2012. “Some people will be able to deal with that, some people won’t. I’m fine with that. I thought it was really imperative to cut the cord entirely on a WWE dominated narrative where it would be.
“I don’t see the point in taking like Eugene and repackaging him as U-Gene,” he continued. “That’s just lazy to me personally, not to knock on him, but to me, it was like. This is a hard re-launch. We understand the concept of multiple universes in comics and these things why not apply that to wrestling.” In October of 2011, a 13-episode first season was filmed at the Henson Recording studios over two days. Everything was in the can and ready to go. But the project, originally intended to be handled by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard‘s Imagine Entertainment, never materialized.
Wrestling Retribution Project: The Roster
The worst part of the project never making it to the air is that the roster is made up of many stars who are now big parts of WWE, AEW, IMPACT Wrestling, and more. It was a hungry group of young wrestlers, many of whom were either castaways from WWE developmental or non-Asian stars from NJPW looking to get their break into North America. But looking through the list of the signed roster, it’s almost heartbreaking to see the promotional roster that could have hit the airwaves. Current NXT commentator and former ROH World Champion Nigel McGuinness was also slated to be the lead announcer, under the name Vyvyan “Vyv” Edmondson. They also featured such agents/producers as Lance Storm, Tommy Dreamer,
Adam Pearce as Tommy Lee Ridgeway
Now, Adam Pearce is one of the most trusted WWE producers, but in 2011, he was just entering his fourth reign as the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion after years with the likes of Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), where he was also PWG World Champion.
Alex Reynolds as Profitable
Today, Alex Reynolds is one half of the Beaver Brothers, a tag team with John Silver that is currently seen in AEW as part of The Dark Order. But in 2011, he was still two years from hooking up with Silver, and was a rising star in the New York City indie scene with New York Wrestling Connection (NYWC) and EVOLVE Wrestling. In WRP, he was part of a tag team alongside the evil Satanic (former IMPACT World Champion Sami Callihan).
Amazing Red as Dios Dorado
Amazing Red was already an indie legend and had just finished his second run with Total Nonstop Action (TNA), where he was a 3x TNA X-Division Champion and early stints with All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) and ROH (where he won the ROH World Tag Team titles with AJ Styles).
Brian Cage as John Cage
Brian Cage was a failed WWE prospect in 2011, having been released from Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) as Kris Logan and Nightclaw. He had become a regular with PWG and Championship Wrestling From Hollywood by the time WRP came calling, long before he became a national star with IMPACT Wrestling and a former IMPACT World Heavyweight Champion. In WRP, he teamed with John Ricker (Eli Drake) in the tag team, the Johntourage.
Chris Hero as Chris Hyde
Chris Hero had just come off monster runs in ROH, Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) and CHIKARA with Claudio Castagnoli (WWE’s Cesaro) as the Kings of Wrestling when he joined the roster of WRP in 2011. Soon after the failing of WRP, he would join Claudio with WWE’s developmental in FCW and NXT, rebranded as Kassius Ohno.
Chris Masters as Concrete
Chris Masters, “The Master of the Masterlock”, had just ended a nearly 8-year run with WWE in 2011, and jumping to WRP was to provide Masters with a renewal of his TV presence.
Colt Cabana as Punchline
Colt Cabana was two years into his return to ROH, following a failed run in WWE as Scotty Goldman when he became the character Punchline in WRP.
Dr. Luther as Father Dante
Most North American fans are just discovering Dr. Luther now due to his recent signing with AEW, but the Canadian hardcore veteran was also part of the 2011 roster for WRP as the nefarious Father Dante.
Eli Drake as John Ricker
Before he became Eli Drake with IMPACT Wrestling in 2015, before joining NXT in 2013, before signing with the rebooted NWA in 2019, he was Shawn Ricker, a veteran of Ohio’s Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA) and a rising star with Championship Wrestling From Hollywood. And in 2011, he was John Ricker in WRP.
Emil Sitoci as “Das Nihilist” Klaus Kessler
The Netherlands wrestler is a veteran in the European scene with Germany’s Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw) where he’s a 2x wXw Shotgun Champion and 2x wXw World Lightweight Champion. In 2011, he was still a veteran and added a strong European style presence to the wrestling.
In 2011, Fergal Devitt was a rising star in NJPW as Prince Devitt, where he was in his 5th reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, and third alongside Ryusuke Taguchi in Apollo 55. He was still looking to break in North America and WRP was to be his break out. But due to Visa issues, Devitt couldn’t attend the tapings for the first season. Two years after WRP folded, he would form Bullet Club in New Japan and then head to WWE in 2014 to become Finn Balor.
Joey Ryan as Chase Walker
Joey Ryan had yet to master the art of Dong Style wrestling and was primarily known for his work with PWG, CWFH, and a short stint in ROH. A year later he would have his first stint with TNA, and then Lucha Underground, before becoming the penile icon he is today.
Karl Anderson as Killshot
Much like his future Bullet Club cohort Fergal “Prince” Devitt, Karl Anderson was looking to re-establish himself in North America. He was in the midst of his first IWGP Tag Team title reign in Bad Intentions with Giant Bernard (ex-WWE Superstar Albert and NXT head trainer Matt Bloom) and was years away from his last North American title run, in The Real American Heroes with Joey Ryan as the NWA World Tag Team Champions in 2008.
Ken Doane as Stan Shooter
It had been a few years since Ken Doane was a national wrestling star, as Kenny in the WWE Tag Team Champion Spirit Squad stable. But he was rebuilding his confidence in the US indie scene.
Kenny Omega as Scott “The Cornerstone” Carpenter
A franchise player in the midst and nowhere to air it. Kenny Omega had had a failed run in WWE developmental, Deep South Wrestling (DSW) in 2005 and 2006, and was just transitioning in New Japan after his run in DDT Pro. He had just won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles with Kota Ibushi in the Golden Lovers when he arrived for the WRP tapings.
Kevin Matthews as Bobby Hollywood
WrestlePro‘s main man Kevin Matthews, formerly known as KM in IMPACT Wrestling and tag partner of Fallah Bah, was just getting started in Pat Buck’s Pro Wrestling Syndicate (PWS) in 2011 when he joined the WRP roster.
Luke Gallows as Johnny 99
Luke Gallows had left WWE in 2010 after a run as Festus and then Luke Gallows in CM Punk‘s Straight Edge Society. He would show up in TNA as Doc Gallows, part of the Aces & Eights storyline in 2011, but he also made a go in WRP as Johnny 99 – oddly sharing a locker room with future Bullet Club tag team partner Karl Anderson.
“Psycho” Mike Rollins as Master Murder
A veteran of the Canadian indie scene with Smash Wrestling, Superkick’D, and Destiny Wrestling, he was still a rising prospect in the Ontario indies when he got the call in 2011. He had his first tour in Japan with DDT Pro 2019 and headed to the UK with Preston City Wrestling (PCW) for his UK debut in 2020.
MVP as Lord of War
MVP had left WWE in 2010 as a former 2x WWE United States Champion and WWE Tag Team Champion, and by the time he arrived in WRP that October in 2011, he was the inaugural IWGP Intercontinental Champion in New Japan, defeating Toru Yano at Attack on the East Coast in the US that May. He lost the title days before arriving for WRP, losing it to Masato Tanka at NJPW Destruction 2011.
Pat Buck as Muncie Magee
Pat Buck was a near 10-year indie veteran from New York City when he headed to the WRP tapings, having worked for Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) and NYWC and would assume part ownership of Pro Wrestling Syndicate (PWS) a year later. PWS would morph into WrestlePro in 2016 and now Buck is a producer in WWE.
Sami Callihan as Satanic
Now, Sami Callihan is “The Draw” in IMPACT Wrestling, former IMPACT World Champion who has been the company’s top heel since his debut in late 2017. In 2011, he was a blossoming star from the Ohio scene who had taken fire in CZW. In 2013, he would head to NXT to start a three-year stint that never truly realized.
Shawn Daivari as Faris Gotch
In 2011, Shawn Daivari was one of the seasoned pros, after runs in WWE, TNA and ROH. A former TNA X-Division Champion (as Abdul Bashir), Daivari brought loads of indie cred from his days in the Midwest indies. He’s since returned to WWE as a producer.
Shawn Spears was in the middle of his first release from WWE developmental when he was signed for WRP. From 2005 to 2009, he was in WWE developmental and spent the next few years back on the indies. Much like Prince Devitt, he never made the tapings due to late Visa problems, and in 2013 returned to WWE with NXT. He’s now part of AEW following his WWE release in 2019.
Timothy Thatcher as Bryce Braxton-Collins
In 2011, Timothy Thatcher was a prospect on the West Coast that had all the tools to be a star. A regular with All Pro Wrestling (APW) and Supreme Pro Wrestling (SPW) at the time, he had just debuted with CWFH when he joined the cast of WRP. Since then, he headed to Europe and joined Germany’s wXw in 2013, and became the longest-reigning EVOLVE Champion of all time. He recently signed with NXT.
Wrestling Retribution Project: Now Available to Watch
We're all in this together. pic.twitter.com/cOB5qUqM9b
— WRP (@TheWRProject) March 20, 2020
On March 20, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was gathering steam and things were shutting down, Jeff Katz took to Twitter and announced he was going to be finally releasing the Wrestling Retribution Project to the masses. Although never truly edited, all releases would be uncut and raw. “Several years ago, I found myself in uncharted waters of my own,” Katz said on a Twitter post. “Bluntly, I had betrayed the trust of wrestling fans when I failed to deliver on my proposed vision for the Wrestling Retribution Project.” He went on to say that due to COVID lockdowns, he couldn’t currently edit the material but decided to release the uncut footage anyway, for fans – and those involved – could finally enjoy nearly 9 years later.
Over the next few weeks, he would release matches and promos from the first season on his new YouTube channel, showcasing the depth of a roster that would prove to show them all future superstars and giving us just a hint at a promotion that almost was, at a time when we desperately needed it.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.