Indie wrestling has risen to unprecedented heights this year.
Look no further than Hot Topic, where Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks and the rest of the Bullet Club have T-shirts available. “Minor league” promotions are maximizing their distribution channels through online streaming, allowing more access to their product and subsequently drawing more revenue. WWE’s stance as the only game in town has been disrupted – disgruntled members of its roster are fleeing the safe harbor of guaranteed money and stability for the unpredictable nature of the indie circuit.
For many fans, these indie promotions were first discovered through PW Ponderings. Since 2009, the website has devoted its coverage to only indie wrestling, providing results and reviews of events throughout the country. “A few years ago, ROH, CHIKARA, CZW and another promotion had shows all in the span of two weeks,” says website co-founder Chris Gee Schoon Tong (GST). “Gabe Sapolsky tweeted ‘thanks to websites like PWPonderings, I can find all the results in one place.’ At that moment, we realized we’re making a difference to not just fans, but also some of the people in the business.”
California native GST grew up on WWE television, watching Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and the rest of the New Generation. By the end of the Nineties, he was collecting ECW tapes, hooked on the mature, realistic characters. Unfortunately, he caught only the tail end of the company as ECW closed its doors in 2001.
“That’s the closest I’ve come to falling out of wrestling,” GST says. “The Invasion angle was terrible.”
Seeking alternatives to a McMahon product, he scoured the indie scene, eventually finding Ring of Honor. It was love at first sight – the incredible athleticism, the legitimate sports feel, entertaining characters like Christopher Daniels and Bryan Danielson. As a result, GST started the unofficial ROH Live Journal community, which the company even listed it on its website at one point.
“At first, I never wrote content pieces – just news or results,” he says. “Then at some point, I realized I guess I do like writing my own opinions on wrestling. So I developed that skill of making what’s interesting to me interesting for somebody else.”
That’s how he got noticed by Jerome Cusson and Kevin Ford, a couple of wrestling writers on a sports website. They recruited him to cover ROH for the site, but it was a short-lived opportunity. The site closed down, leaving the three fans without an outlet.
With Cusson’s journalism background, Ford’s vast indie knowledge and GST’s passion and experience, the trio decided to launch their own site. Initially, it was ProWrestlingPonderings.com, but they decided to shorten the name to PWPonderings. (The original domain has since been purchased.) Assuming the web admin role, GST didn’t know how to create a website, but dove into WordPress. He picked a grungy, brown and orange template, something that felt underground to represent the world of indie wrestling.
“We felt like we were doing something different from everybody else,” GST says. “We had no interest in talking about WWE. I’ll listen to Meltzer or Keller’s podcasts so I know what’s going on, but I have no time to watch it. Indie wrestling has kept my passion.”
Highs and lows
Obviously, three people can’t report on the entire indie scene – that would require a lot of resources and manpower. So PWPonderings covered what were considered the best promotions in indie wrestling, scooping up every DVD as soon as they went to market. For live event coverage, Cusson or Ford would text GST the results of every match and then he’d post them to the site. The trio’s goal was to get fans of the product more involved and to show casual wrestling fans what else is out there.
“We purposely didn’t cover some promotions because of the way they did business or the way they treated the talent,” he says. “It’s part of that journalistic integrity. We don’t want to give them any type of press because they’re hurting the industry. That’s why we’re so appreciative of promotions like AIW, Beyond Wrestling, AAW and CWF Mid-Atlantic, who have given us so much access and we’ve seen what their product is.”
CHIKARA is one of those promotions that has embraced PWPonderings: Ford is the sole proprietor of the CHIKARA Special, a Tumblr recapping match announcements, blogs, videos and more CHIKARA content. “Make sure you’re always doing something you want to do,” he says. “If you do it because you want a retweet or 10,000 people to read it, then you’ll feel bummed out. I write about CHIKARA for myself – them getting exposure is a nice bonus.”
Ford appreciates the consistently refreshed roster and long-term storytelling, two elements sorely lacking from WWE. By covering CHIKARA for so long, he feels connected to certain wrestlers whose careers he has followed from the start. “I used to watch Create-A-Wrestler and thought he was pretty bad,” he says. “Now that same guy is in the main event of the season finale, and he’s one of the best parts of the show.”
As these grappling rookies have evolved over time, so has PWPonderings – GST says the first time they reached 500 hits, they were ecstatic. Now if they don’t get that many hits by the time he wakes up, he considers it a failure. “It means we didn’t produce enough content,” he says.
In addition to posting news and results, PWPonderings also runs the Indie Wrestling Podcast, a platform featuring weekly newscasts, interviews and specific shows spotlighting ROH, CHIKARA and CWF Mid-Atlantic. Before wrestling podcasts were all the rage, PWPonderings had the niche covered way back in 2009, uploading audio files to be right-clicked and downloaded. “It never caught on as quickly,” GST says. “We kind of missed the opportunity. We didn’t invent it – the Observer had eYada and Live Audio Wrestling had been around forever. But it was really interesting to have a podcast about indie wrestling only.”
The biggest challenge of maintaining PWPonderings for the past eight years has been the cost. As the amount of visitors has increased, so has the necessary amount of bandwidth. At one point, it cost $75 a year for the hosting service, GST says. Now it costs nearly $200 a year. “We have the highest package on our server that we can get outside of me buying computers to be our own server,” GST says. “Even now there are times when it doesn’t hold up as well as I would like it to, but the alternative is me doing something I have no clue how to do in running our own server. I don’t want to risk that.”
In 2016, every web admin’s biggest fear became reality for GST: he completely lost the site due to malware. All the articles, all the audio, vanished. “It was heartbreaking,” GST says.
Luckily, one of his friends is a computer science guy so he was able to save a lot of the content. But the site’s highest-read article, in which they broke the news that El Generico signed with WWE, hasn’t been recovered. “We were given that information by trusted sources,” GST says. “All the other websites caught on and confirmed the story, but in terms of our website, it was one of those moments and now it’s gone.”
Ironically, as indie wrestling’s popularity has grown, PWPonderings’ traffic has decreased.
The site had a couple of record-breaking years in 2014 and 2015, reaching over 100,000 hits each year. Last year, the site hit around 98,000 hits – impressive, yet interesting. GST attributes the decline to the number of indie-devoted websites popping up in recent years, as well as the amount of mainstream outlets like Rolling Stone, ESPN and VICE expanding their coverage outside of WWE.
“Now that everyone is covering it at a greater rate, of course our hits are going to go down,” GST says. “But being a part of that movement is probably one of the things we’re most proud of. It’s our passion for the product and the community that we’ve grown that has made this a really fun venture.”
Similar to the NWO, the original trio has expanded to a full-fledged team. The site even focuses on WWE to an extent, designating writer Chris Bacon to cover NXT because so many indie darlings end up there. In an effort to maintain quality control, Ford has reduced his role to scheduling what gets posted when.
“It’s a labor of love. We make just enough through sponsorships to keep the site going,” Ford says.
One of those newer writers is Rich Laconi, a high school English teacher in New York. He’s the assistant editor of Last Word on Pro Wrestling, co-host of the Running Wild podcast and a columnist for ROHWorld. It’s that ROH coverage that piqued GTS’ interest, sparking a new chapter for Laconi and PWPonderings.
He has interviewed a who’s who of ROH: Jay Lethal (“got him to do a Macho Man impression”), Cody Rhodes, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Frankie Kazarian when he was part of the Bullet Club. “It was right before it was revealed to be a setup and he completely kayfabed the interview,” Laconi says.
“When I look at the list of people I’ve been able to talk to, I just can’t believe it. I’m so lucky that four years ago I was watching and enjoying ROH and four years later I’m interviewing these guys and writing about them,” Laconi says.
“It’s been a real blessing.”