Brodie Lee, photo by Scott Finkelstein
It started with Bryan Danielson. They then came for Nigel McGuinness. Jon Moxley followed soon after, and Tyler Black went right after him. Another year passed, and it was Claudio Castagnoli. Six months later, Chris Hero found the call. Somewhere between the Kings' signings, Britani Knight was snapped up. Contractual obligations made them shy away from the Briscoe Brothers and Adam Cole. Today, it was Brodie Lee. In the last two-and-a-half years, WWE has picked up some of the best the indie circuit has had to offer, much to the delight of some fans and dismay of others. What gives with this current scouting of the independent circuit? My guess is someone in WWE finally wised up and saw that just harvesting greenhorns and second/third-generation wrestlers to start from scratch in FCW wasn't getting the job completely done. Seeing that CM Punk, a minor league pickup from an administration past, was poised to break big, maybe the indies weren't totally untouchable as once thought.
This raises a question. What does it all mean for independent wrestling and its fans? The fact that WWE is not only aware of the indies but looking at the amalgamated mass of promotions as a fertile breeding ground for talent has both negative and positive connotations for the survival of sub-mainstream wrestling. Obviously, those negative ramifications include a vibrant scene being stripped of its most vital wrestlers with little to no recourse for stories, feuds and continuity. Probably the greatest example of WWE throwing a monkey wrench into the plans of an indie company was with their signing of Castagnoli.
At the time of his signing, he was embroiled in Chikara's 12 Large Summit, a round-robin tournament that looked to crown their first ever Grand Champion. The smart logic was that he would win his block and face off against longtime rival and fan-favorite wrecking ball Eddie Kingston in the finals. The feud had been brewing for years, involved a well-done double turn at the end of 2009 and carried on under the guise of the promotion itself fighting for its life against the invading Bruderschaft des Kreuzes. The final showdown would not only take place with the richest prize in the company hanging in the balance, it would be broadcast live on iPPV for the first time in Chikara history. Then WWE came calling, and those plans were thrown out the window.
This wasn't much of a problem for Chikara as much as it was a minor inconvenience. When the company is booked as expertly as it has been throughout its history, it's not surprising that head booker, trainer and wrestler Mike Quackenbush turned that negative into a positive by having Castagnoli make Sara del Rey as a main event player on the way out and then use his own influence and overness to cement Kingston as Grand Champion at High Noon. That's neither here nor there though. The point is Chikara was going in one direction, and WWE stuck a big fork in the road.
Those short term negatives though to me are short term for a reason. They often give way to positive things. There are two ways where I can see this farm system mentality working out for all parties involved that aren't WWE. For the wrestlers, it gives them a chance to further their careers and make the money they deserve for plying their ever dangerous trade. For the promotions, the benefits are threefold. One, it forces them to push new talent and thus keep their cycles fresh. Granted, this is more of a long term thing, and if WWE poaches talent too quickly (the pace they're grabbing up guys right now seems to be slow enough that ROH and DGUSA among others are able to restock nicely), then they may take longer to recover, but wrestling always finds a way for new and fresh talent to make it to the top.
Secondly, it allows for them to capitalize off the fame of their alumni. ROH can proudly say that they had Danielson and Punk on their roster doing great things before they moved on. Thirdly, and this is probably the most important thing, if indie wrestlers help make WWE great, the trickle down effects mean that local promotions, whether they're as big as ROH and Chikara or as small as the local start up with $5 tickets at the local VFW, will have more people interested in them. As much as some among us hate to admit it, WWE is the driving force in wrestling in terms of popularity and business, even if the indies are the creative hubs in America.
That all being said though, it should make independent wrestling fans cognizant of the idea that if their favorites get too popular or are too good for the minor leagues, then they're going to head to Stamford eventually. Rather than making us sad of that fact, it should actually strengthen our reserve and love for the independent scene. Rather than worry about who WWE is going to take next, maybe this all should make us appreciate the guys while they're plying their craft for us in the smaller arenas. It's no secret that WWE and indie styles are vastly different from one another, so that makes these wrestlers' time in the indies that much more memorable because they're working in a far freer environment than in the rigid structure of the Titan main event style.
A wrestler's career on average is not very long at all. If they're given a shot to "make it", they're going to take it. Rather than be sad at them leaving, appreciate them while they're in the more intimate setting of the indies. That way, when they do bust out big in the major leagues, you can say honestly that you liked them before they were famous. Yeah, it'll make you sound like a hipster, but sometimes, sounding like a hipster can be so personally satisfying.