Those who know me best understand the appeal live independent wrestling has in my life. It is the purest form of the entity. Only at a live show can you get a total clear experience that engages all of your senses. The sights, sounds, and smells all integrate into a real life experience. The energy of the crowd and wrestlers is palpable. And the mingling with fans and wrestlers is a given. The banter and the danger are real. Hands down, attending live shows is THE way to truly grasp the essence of indie pro wrestling.
Over the past year I have had the opportunity to attend dozens of independent wrestling shows all over the country, mostly in the South. It has been a great journey, replete with unforgettable moments and opportunities to meet so many new friends. I am so grateful to have had this chance to attend so many live shows. Being one who believes that we should recall and protect wrestling memories I began to reflect on the past year and how best to record its significance in my wrestling journey.
Ultimately I came to the decision that I would make a list of 25 independent pro wrestlers who have made an impact on me over the past year. This is my list and mine alone. It includes only people that I have seen live in action over the past year. These people have made lasting important memories with me and I am ever grateful for that. I decided to list them alphabetically and not rank them. Memories are too hard to rank.
- Cedric Alexander – Cedric put in a great performance at AAW in a four way match at Killers Among Us. This match was one of my favorites over the past year and he displayed a great combination of power and speed in this four way classic.
- Prince Mustafa Ali – I was absolutely blown away by Ali in the Freelance title match in Chicago in June. He won an exciting 6 way scramble earlier in the night just for a shot at the title. The title match was a gem, MOTY quality in my eyes. Ali brought the fight and energy, creating great drama for the fans.
- The Briscoes – I love this team! They tore it up in Dallas for Ring of Honor. They can fly, sprint, and brawl. And they know how to connect with the fans. I can’t get enough of these guys.
- Dalton Castle – Dalton and his boys were victorious in Dallas for Ring of Honor and he showed some impressive wrestling moves, but I was more impressed with his persona. I can’t get the picture of him shouting “Papa Hales, Papa Hales” at the Hyatt Regency out of my mind!
- Tommaso Ciampa – I have seen Tommaso wrestle several times this year and have always been impressed. He has good strikes and can brawl when called to the task. He is also a really good guy in person.
- Chip Day – Chip is one of my all time favorites. He has a potent offense and is not afraid to launch himself out of the ring. He can take a bump and deliver a beating. His promos are the best. His shadow wrestling government promo at AWE was world class!
- Sugar Dunkerton – He is currently one of my favorite characters in wrestling. Saw him in Atlanta and Freelance in Chicago. He is a very good worker and has a lot of crowd appeal.
- Johnny Gargano – Johnny has REALLY impressed me and I have seen him a ton all over the U.S. in the past year. He just seems to get better and better. His performance in Chicago in a match with Sabre Jr. was inspiring. His arm selling was a thing of beauty to behold. You must see him live!
- Anthony Henry – What a solid performer, a small but ripped package. Anthony has energy and charisma. He puts everything into his performance. He was great in last years Scenic City Invitational.
- Chris Hero – What can you say about a guy like Chris? Absolutely at the top of the heap. His ring presence is a thing to behold. Chris has great athleticism for his size and his strikes are unbelievable. I saw him in Dallas and Chicago and he blew me away. The REAL DEAL and a super nice guy too.
- Corey Hollis – Corey is not a big guy but he can sustain lethal offensive force. He is a high flyer and a sprinter, but he can go the distance in a long match, too. Corey put in a great performance at the 2015 SCI.
- Kota Ibushi – What an impressive guy! Saw him in Dallas and his leaps and kicks were off the charts. Huge crowd response when he showed up in the Evolve ring. I need to see more of him live!
- Team IOU – Kerry Awful and Nick Iggy combine to form my favorite tag team. IOU represents everything great about independent pro wresting. These guys put it on the line, heart and soul, every time! They have wrestling skills, great psychology, and create fan buzz. And what Brawlers!!! Watching them win the AWE tag team titles and hearing Kerry Awful’s speech in the ring after is probably my favorite moment of the year.
- Kongo Kong – Great ring performer with surprising athletic skill considering his size and build. He is not afraid to fly. I saw Kong in Rossville, GA and Chicago and he impressed me both times. He has a great persona and does not break character.
- Heidi Lovelace – I like everything about this woman. She can really wrestle as a true professional. That icy stare is classic. She can deliver good strikes and take a bump. I saw her in Atlanta and Chicago. Small, but what a competitor and character! My favorite woman in the indies this year.
- Gunner Miller – Gunner is a rising star in professional wrestling, relatively new to the craft. The former football star is a powerhouse athlete. Gunner is becoming a great striker and is my favorite up and comer in all of wrestling. I have seen him at Empire and SCI and his improvement is unbelievable. He is an incredibly hard worker and has great charisma. I expect to see him at the next level very soon.
- Moose – I have seen Moose several times this year and have always enjoyed his performances. He is such an impressive presence in the ring and he always brings potent offense to the fight. The Moose chant is a fixture wherever he wrestles. It makes for a great ring entrance.
- Will Ospreay – Saw him at Evolve in Dallas and he tore up the place with his high flying and sprinting. His athletic ability is undeniable and he knows how to work a crowd. I can’t wait to see him live again!
- Jimmy Rave – I have seen Jimmy many times live and am always amazed. His ring psychology is off the charts and he is a gifted wrestling technician. He can wrestle any style and he can brawl. He can work heel or babyface. He is another guy who represents everything great about indie wrestling. If you have never seen him live, you should!!!
- Matt Riddle – I have had the pleasure of seeing Matt live a couple of times this year. What an honor! This barefoot scrapper can wrestle and strike with the best of them. His kicks would drop a bull. And he is developing the art of selling and taking bumps. The future for him is limitless. See this man! You will not be disappointed. The Dallas chants of “BRO BRO BRO” are still ringing in my ears.
- Lio Rush – Now Lio is a small guy, a really small guy. But boy is he an athletic talent. Lio is a young guy but he is picking up knowledge at warp speed. I saw him in Dallas against Jay Lethal and was tremendously impressed. He is a great high flyer, with other moves as well. Huge upside for this young guy.
- Zack Sabre Jr. – I have seen him in two great matches this year versus Ospreay at Evolve and versus Gargano at AAW. For my money Sabre is one of the best technical wrestlers in the world. His mat skills are off the charts and he has great ring charisma. We enjoyed some great banter during his match with Gargano in Chicago. It is always a joy to watch him live.
- Martin Stone – Martin is a great ring performer. He has athleticism to match his power and he is a fine striker as well as a proven flyer. I have seen him several times and he is currently the darling of Atlanta independent wrestling.
- Tracy Williams – Hot Sauce always brings the heat to the fight. I absolutely love this guy! He brings so much energy and has a lot of skill on the mat. I saw him at Evolve in Dallas and in my book he is a rising star!
- Fred Yehi – I may have saved the best for last. Fred is near the top of my list for best indie wrestler of the year. He is a great ring performer and getting better every day. He has the ability to go up against a lot of different styles. Fred has a ground game and can fly. He puts it all on the line every night. I have seen him a number of times and can’t wait to see him again!
This concludes my trip down indie wrestling lane over the past year. The year ahead looks just as fun for me with trips to Atlanta, 2016 SCI, and Brooklyn on the agenda. Another trip to Florida and an excursion to North Carolina seem likely with a journey across the pond to England likely next May. If you want to get a hold of me check twitter for Papa Hales @MikeHales9. I probably won’t be home. I’ll be out making towns.