Real Talk 18: A look at the race so far for SoCal Promotion of the Year

2016 was a wild time. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were in the middle of a bitter election, Pokemon Go forced millions of Americans to leave their homes to find fake monsters on their phone for two weeks, and the SoCal wrestling scene was starting to make a strong comeback.

Last year, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla reclaimed their crown as the top promotion in SoCal after Lucha Underground dethroned them in 2015. After becoming the big thing for awhile, Lucha Underground fell off in 2016. This allowed San Diego’s Finest City Wrestling to finish in second in the 2016 Promotion of the Year voting. This also allowed the newly established Pacific Coast Wrestling to finish in third.

This year things seem to be different. While Lucha Underground isn’t showing signs of life aside from rumors of tapings in November (RUMORS!), other promotions have stepped up this year.

Pro Wrestling Guerrilla: Second To None.

Even though PWG is still above everyone else in SoCal, the competition is stronger than ever when it comes to who has the right to be considered a challenge to PWG. Despite that, it’s still the top promotion in SoCal.

I know what some people (mostly ones who try to be friends with workers and promoters) are saying as they read this. “Why the fuck is PWG the top promotion in SoCal?” Because they’re still getting the most hype of all SoCal promotions right now in the wrestling industry. They’re are also producing the best matches. The only time a non-PWG match was named SoCal Match of the Month in 2017 was in January, the only month PWG hadn’t ran this year.

I really don’t need to write much more about it. PWG is acknowledged by the industry’s top companies, and is now seen as the place to catch the attention of those top companies. They continue to draw sell out crowds even with really high ticket prices, PWG also continues to grow in notoriety, and to act like they still aren’t the best overall promotion in SoCal would be foolish. I honestly don’t think the lineup for B.O.L.A. looks very strong, but it’ll still get more hype than every non-WWE/non-NJPW show will this year.

Bar Wrestling: Joey Ryan’s PWG Spinoff.

Earlier in the year, Joey Ryan created Bar Wrestling. Taking a page from NorCal’s Incredibly Strange Wrestling in the 90’s, wXw in Germany, and Hoodslam in Oakland, Bar Wrestling hosts wrestling shows in a concert-like environment with fans standing around the ring. Not only that, but the promotion markets itself as a “party” promotion more than a traditional promotion. Along with the unique set up to SoCal, Bar Wrestling offers fans in SoCal the chance to see big name stars at low prices. For $10-$20 you can see guys like John Hennigan, Cody Rhodes, Willie Mack, Penta El 0M, and Tommy Dreamer instead of having to pay more than $25 elsewhere. Bar running on unconventional days during the week or holidays also makes it stand out, as it is taking risks that others don’t.

While there are some much needed production improvements to be made, Bar Wrestling released its first two events online less than a week after their shows took place. Most promotions in SoCal haven’t even released a show from this year. This puts Bar ahead of most everyone else in SoCal. After running two events in 2017, Joey will look to host his third event on August 17th. If the promotion runs about two more events after his August event, Bar Wrestling could become eligible for the SoCal Promotion of the Year award. I could see Bar putting on a strong showing in the awards voting if nominated. If Joey Ryan can continue to improve the product, he’ll have a company that will rival PWG in a year or two.

My only complaint with Bar Wrestling is their subpar video production. Joey Ryan needs to get someone else to do his video production. Aside from that, Bar Wrestling has the chance to be one of SoCal’s top promotion’s in a year or two. It really has potential to become something really special. The feedback from their first two events has been very positive. Like I said, if Joey can continue to improve Bar, he’ll have a great promotion.

Alternative Wrestling Show: Back from an extended vacation.

In 2016, there seemed to be a huge void in the Southern California wrestling scene. While the San Diego area thrived, the Los Angeles area seemed dead. Part of that was because the area’s top non-PWG promotion, AWS, had gone on a hiatus. With it going on hiatus, the LA area fell flat until the promotion’s return last August.

After making its return, Bart Kapitzke’s AWS has been putting on strong shows almost every month drawing solid crowds at the American Legion Post #335 in South Gate. Since its return, AWS has been putting shows that feature a wide variety of workers from SoCal and abroad. So far in 2017, AWS has has featured shows with big names such as Josh Barnett, Jeff Cobb, Davey Boy Smith Jr., the Blue Meanie, and Colt Cabana. On top of that, AWS has done a better job at showcasing women’s wrestling than everyone else in SoCal.

AWS is also the only promotion to have a match ranked as the SoCal Match of the Month in 2017. Aside from PWG, AWS has been producing most of SoCal’s most critically acclaimed matches and shows.

The only thing that holds AWS back is they haven’t released their 2017 shows for people who can’t attend events to watch. This is something that will probably change soon, as the promotion has announced that is attempting to release their events on DVD and Blu Ray. If the promotion fixes that and is able to showcase their events to a wider audience, I can see AWS picking up more notoriety from fans.

If AWS can continue what they’ve been doing, they should finish strong in the end of the year voting process.

SoCal Pro: An interesting contender

Let me say this now: SoCal Pro Wrestling has no real chance of winning this award. With that said, they’ve done enough to make a strong case to be considered one of region’s top promotions in 2017 so far.

Throughout 2017, SoCal Pro has brought in many big names to help celebrate its 10th year of business. So far this year, names such as D’Lo Brown, Psicosis, Paul London, Rocky Romero, Brian Cage, and Rey Mysterio Jr. have performed at SoCal Pro events alongside SoCal Crazy, Ryan Kidd, and newer homegrown stars like Mike Camden, Ju Dizz and Anthony Idol. This has helped SoCal get some attention from fans, and has given the promotion a boost in notoriety. While the roster itself isn’t the best in SoCal, the promotion tends to book one or two intriguing matches a show.

Even though the promotion isn’t doing anything that will blow people’s minds, they’ve been doing fairly well. Their attendance has been pretty solid, with the promotion even drawing a pretty big crowd for their 10th anniversary show in April. Like I said, I don’t think they have a chance at being the SoCal Promotion of the Year for 2017, but I do think they should finish strong.

Finest City Wrestling: An uncertain contender.

After coming off their biggest event in June with Rey Mysterio Jr., FCW’s follow up event that was set July 22nd ended up being cancelled. This is a blow to the promotion, as it had started to gain some momentum after finishing second in last year’s awards voting.

Prior to FCW canceling their July event, the promotion had been building a solid foundation for its future. Along with showcasing established workers such as B-Boy, Jeff Cobb, Tyler Bateman, and Brody King, the company has introduced new talent to the SoCal scene. In April, FCW saw the debut of Joe Heiken, a worker from Atlanta, GA who caught people’s eyes with his match against Corey Jackson. Also at that show, the two first graduates of FCW’s Battle U Pro Wrestling School, K.C. Douglas and Michael Hopkins, make their pro wrestling debuts. With all these factors, FCW seemed to be building a bright future.

The promotion’s recent set backs will hurt it in the end of the year voting. From the apparent premature end to the Fore Fathers stable (with B-Boy, Lil’ Cholo, and Scorpio Sky), to losing one of their top stars Douglas James after he signed an exclusive contract with PCW, and up to the canceling of the July event. Gus Parsons and crew are more than capable of putting on good events, but this string of bad luck hasn’t really helped matters.

While the promotion still has time to turn things around, it’ll be hard to make a case for FCW to finish highly in the end of the year awards voting.

Pacific Coast Wrestling: Money isn’t everything.

Despite claims coming from the people behind the promotion, PCW isn’t the best professional wrestling company in California. Not even SoCal. Or the LA area. Maybe the South Bay. Who runs there aside from them? Still, they’ve been able to do things other promotions haven’t thanks to the company’s owner willing to spend a huge amount of money.

Let’s focus on what PCW does right. This past year, PCW has been drawing crowds that are bigger than your average SoCal show. Some have even drawn more than PWG’s shows. They advertise and market their shows like no other while also splurging on talent that can draw above-average crowd numbers. PCW has also become more visible with their shows now steaming on the Highsports Wrestling Network, and they’ve done a better job at releasing their events in a timely manner.

Their shows are also decently produced from what I have seen. The presentation of the events are well done and give a different vibe from the majority of independent wrestling productions. Still, the production has its flaws. The camera work on the shows aren’t the best, and there were tons of audio issues. Despite that, PCW’s done a decent job at the way it formats their video releases.

With all that said, they’re not producing the same quality of matches other promotions are at the moment. Most people I’ve talked to who have attended events have told me the shows just aren’t up to par with PWG, FCW, or AWS in terms of match quality. Some matches have gotten some notable praise, but PCW hasn’t had a match that has been considered “Must See” in 2017.

After drawing a big crowd for their January event, their attendance has been down. This could just be a temporary trend, but with their biggest draw in R.V.D. losing the title recently, PCW is going to have a hard time bringing in more fans with higher ticket prices.

A lot of people will think PCW should finish high in the awards. There are some good arguments as to why. To me, I don’t think it’d be outrageous if they finished third in the voting. With that said, I don’t think there’s enough to justify them being considered in the Top 3 SoCal promotions so far this year. They’re not as critically acclaimed as other promotions, and they aren’t generating the type of hype others are. To be honest, I think PCW is just a novelty promotion at this point.

Santino Bros. Wrestling: SoCal’s best kept secret.

Not only was the hiatus of AWS in 2016 a blow to the L.A. area. The the Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy also took a break from promoting events, which seemed to leave a void in the area. Prior to the hiatus, the Santino Bros. were taking a page from promotions such as EWF and Revolution Pro by holding events comprised of the school’s students, trainers, and established workers in the area.

This past year, Joey “Kaos” Munoz and company started holding events again at the Santino Bros. training facility. While the shows can’t draw more than 30-40 people due to limited space, they’re made available to fans on the Santino Bros. YouTube Channel, providing a great showcase for students and workers who perform on these shows.

The roster is really well put together. Students like Douglas James, Brody King, Jake Atlas, heather Monroe, Jesse James, Hoss Hogg, Darwin Finch, and Lucas Riley to name a few help give the Santinos Bros. a nice core undercard roster to build up for the future. Having performers like Tyler Bateman, Eli Everfly, Ruby Raze, and Los Luchas also gives the Santino Bros. shows a group of established workers they can build around for upper card and main event matches. Appearances from workers such as Rocky Romero and Santino Bros. alumni like Tito Escondido and Famous B also gives their show lineups a boost in quality.

Wrestling wise, the Santino Bros. aren’t producing a MOTYC on every event, but their shows have been consistent in terms of quality. There are never really any bad matches on these shows, and nearly everything ranges from average to really good. Most shows seem to have at least one or two matches that are worth watching, which is more than what could be said about most promotions in SoCal.

While other promotions with schools in the SoCal area put on shows, the Santino Bros. are doing the best job at helping their performers grow. They’re also doing an excellent job at showcasing their stuff by getting clips and matches up on YouTube. While I don’t think they’ll win the award, I think the Santino Bros. are in the Top 5 when it comes to best SoCal promotions in 2017 so far.

Lucha VaVoom: Lifetime Achievers

I talked about how PWG gets a lot of notoriety in the wrestling industry, and the most compared to SoCal promotions. That is something nobody can deny. However, the only company in SoCal that has actual recognition in the mainstream since its inception has been Lucha VaVoom.

Since its inception, Lucha VaVoom has been drawing sell out crowds for nearly 15 years in Downtown Los Angeles and has become a LA institution at this point. It is an entity of its own that appeals to a crowd that isn’t realy there for wrestling, or Lucha Libre. People go because it is a variety show that proves an experience unlike anything other. From burlesque dancers, to comedians, to Lucha Libre stars, to Joey Ryan, VaVoom has been SoCal’s most successful promotion since the LeBell family ran the territory.

Despite selling out the Mayan in Downtown Los Angeles every time they run, Lucha VaVoom never gets love from the awards voters, which honestly sucks. This company deserves some recognition.

Everyone else

Some people are asking “what about *insert promotion here&?” I’ll give a quick rundown on the rest of the field that people might ask about.

EWF

Despite having a huge 2016, the EWF seems to have become less prolific in 2017. They’re still putting on shows with solid workers, but the revival of AWS and the Santino Bros. seems to have overshadowed them. This doesn’t mean they’ve fallen off since last year, but it seems like people have had their attention elsewhere. They’re still a Top 10 promotion, but I don’t think they can be considered in the Top 5 SoCal promotions for the year so far.

FIST Combat

Along with Lucha VaVoom, F.I.S.T. Combat is a promotion that appeals to an older, more mature audience. Their shows don’t draw big crowds, but they’ve been able to entertain (or disgust) people that have attended their events this year. The company also gained notoriety when “Dirty” Ron McDonald (played by Seabass) won an “I Quit” match by pointing a gun at Delirious’ head. They probably won’t finish high, but that last bit alone should get them a spot in the Top 10 in the end of the year voting.

Lucha Underground

They weren’t mentioned because they haven’t ran any events in SoCal. Having a TV show doesn’t count. Sorry “Believers.” If they run shows in November, we can talk. Till then, adios.

Maverick Pro

Imagine you had a pain somewhere on your body. A bad one. You notice it, but do nothing about it. This pain starts to get worse and worse, but you just ignore it still. One day, you put some ice on it. Sadly, the ice doesn’t work and you’re still in pain. Then one day the pain sorta goes away. You think “cool, my life is better now!” A week later, you’re in even worse pain but you still don’t do anything to get rid of this pain that will eventually kill you. That’s how I can best describe Maverick Pro.

So Yeah

Those are my thoughts on the race for SoCal Promotion of the Year so far. There are a lot of promotions I haven’t mentioned, like Lucha promotions and such, but that’s because they haven’t been doing much this year when compared to the promotions mentioned above.

So far in 2017 I think PWG is clearly the overall top SoCal promotion with AWS and Bar Wrestling (despite having only ran two shows) right behind. After that, I think the Santino Bros. and SoCal Pro round out the Top 5.

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