WWE is the monolith at the top of the pro wrestling world, its throne unchallenged for decades . A typical person will have some familiarity with Vince McMahon's Hollywood of wrestling, and may or may not have a vague, fuzzy awareness that other professional wrestling does exist.
For all its size and money, the WWE is only one company, and a company whose ultimate focus is to hold its crown. In doing so, its product strives to rope in the largest, broadest audience possible. Like any work whose aim is to become more mainstream, that breadth comes at the expense of depth, and its need to be suitable for all ages precludes content either too harsh or too complex for the kids who make up much of its audience.
The world of independent wrestling is much like the underground scene of any other art form: Scraping out an existence in the shadows, popping into any tiny venue that will have it, and filled with people who pour out their hearts - and in this case, shatter their bodies - for the medium they ply and adore. Thanks to high speed internet and the video streaming revolution, however, the wider world is getting to peer into those dark corners and find out what these crazy artists are doing.
British independent wrestling has undergone a surging revival in the past five years thanks to its new visibility and a bumper crop of excellent native performers. For most of the past few decades, Great Britain was a tour stop. Local promotions survived by bringing in known names from the US and Japan. Now, the local heroes have taken over.
At the forefront of this new era is London-based Progress Wrestling. Progress proclaims itself “Punk rock pro wrestling,” performing in rock clubs and dark concert venues rather than gyms and town halls. The underground aesthetic - a black ring with white ropes in a room you’d expect early Slayer to play - sets the tone perfectly. This is wrestling for adults who want a hard-hitting show that tells an engaging story. Progress has delivered with each new chapter, and grown considerably as a result.
Progress’s in-ring action is superb, aggressive, and heartfelt. Performers are given the creative control and scope to tell a proper narrative with a match, and the larger story arcs are woven together over the course of months into a cohesive tapestry that gives the promotion a proper, rich fictional world for a fan to invest in. Looking at any one event - a betrayal, an unexpected alliance, an emerging hero - you can think back across months of shows and see how prior storylines lead up to it. A dramatic beat in Progress is given proper time to simmer and bubble before being served up, and when it is, it arrives in the form of some of the sharpest, most athletic pro wrestling on Earth.
Progress is only one of a number of British independent wrestling promotions staking a claim to the contemporary wrestling audience. Other standouts, such as Revolution(RPW) and Scotland’s ICW, are also fast-growing, featuring keenly skilled homegrown wrestlers and thriving off of subscription video platforms that open them to a global audience. There’s never been a better time to get into indie wrestling, and the British scene is galloping at the head of the charge.