So far, we’ve discussed the importance of the talent and the amount of shows in the success of British Wrestling – but as integral as they are, it isn’t just the performers who make the shows happen.
It takes a village to raise a wrestling promotion, from its founders and owners to the volunteers and ring crew. Luckily, the UK has no shortage of people who want nothing more than to put on a good show.
While international partnerships with WWE or New Japan Pro Wrestling have directly benefited successful promotions like Progress, Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) and Revolution Pro Wrestling, other companies are receiving a bit of a rub from the increased eyes on British wrestling, too.
One of the promotions I’ll talk about is an up-and-comer from Brighton that just celebrated its first anniversary; the other was established in 2011, when Britwres wasn’t quite what it is today.
Both, however, share a culture and a following that transcends the match card for any given date.
Josh Bevan is feeling a bit anxious ahead of Riptide’s July 6th show, International Waters.
“I don’t want to go back to set up shows! I want to pay stuff off!” he exclaims.
Coming off the promotion’s tenth show, Riptide Rumble, on June 1st – which many believe was their best outing yet – Bevan knows he’s got a tough act to follow.
“What can be better than the fan favourite winning the rumble at the end of the night?”
Of course, Bevan, who runs the show at Riptide, knows that some patience is required for anything in wrestling. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the trajectory his company has taken since debuting a little over a year ago. Riptide has become a staple of the schedule for many Britwres fans and wrestlers alike, heralded for its intimate, inclusive atmosphere and the brilliant visuals of its on-demand product.
Not bad for something Bevan literally came up with overnight.
After working as a musician for many years, Bevan fell back in love with wrestling as an adult through watching whatever televised product he could get his hands on: from WWE to Impact Wrestling and Lucha Underground. That led him to live wrestling, where he attended UK promotions like Progress, ICW, and Battle Pro as a fan.
It was at that Battle Pro show where Bevan met an old classmate who was now working with the promotion – the motivation he didn’t know he needed.
“Some sort of link had been established,” he says of the fateful meeting. “I had one night’s sleep, and then the next morning was like… ‘Oh. I’m going to start a wrestling promotion.’
“I wasn’t looking to start a promotion,” he continues. “But when (that link) got established, something in the subconscious connected the dots.”
The amount of wrestling he’d been watching and his experience as a performer gave Bevan a few ideas for what he wanted his promotion to be like. Which was, essentially, one thing: different.
“I just knew that at all levels of the product, there was things I would do differently,” Bevan says. “I couldn’t get people that I knew would love it to come. That was frustrating. And, no one was doing it in Brighton. I wanted to share the stuff that I loved so much, that I was seeing, that I believed in, and I wanted to change the things that I didn’t like. I had solutions to a lot of these problems.
“That gave me a lot – and still gives me a lot – of emotional momentum.”
For Bevan, one of the main elements that needed an update was the delivery of the video on-demand product. He was tired of going to great shows and seeing them broadcasted in a way that didn’t represent the quality.
“That’s frustrating,” he says, “because when you’re trying to get people to come, and already there’s a huge disparity between the expected experience for a first-time independent wrestling goer and the actual experience – it couldn’t be further apart.
“When you’re already working against that, for it to be hard to watch for other reasons…”
Despite its excellent roster, storytelling, and atmosphere, Riptide is arguably most famous for the cinematic qualities of the video they post online. For Bevan, his production and performance background didn’t mesh with the way wrestling was being shot.
“There was a dissonance for me, looking at the video products,” he says. “Basically everyone would have these big, old, shoulder-mounted cameras. Everyone – and I knew that my mates could do incredible things, all the time, with new tech. So it didn’t make sense to me – I felt like there had to be a reason.
“So essentially, for that first show, I got one of those guys to come in and shoot some promo, through the freelancers that I know. Then, I also got one specialist wrestling videographer.
“Seeing the difference between my guy, and the other stuff… I was like, ‘It’s got to be this, and just this.’”
For Bevan, one of the best parts has been proving people wrong about the Riptide style of shooting – done in partnership with Wild Stag Studio. In Bevan’s mind, there’s nothing about it that isn’t an improvement from the old style.
“It isn’t style over substance,” he insists. “There’s no trade off. I feel we’re representing the wrestling moves better.”
Part of that is because Riptide doesn’t do a live edit. It means the shows take longer to appear online, and each show requires a substantial amount of post-production that other promotions don’t have to worry about.
“I know why other people don’t have these things, it’s because there isn’t the money in the market for it,” says Bevan. “It’s a whole other expense, and not everyone can get it at the rate I can. But even that, which is great, they wouldn’t pay. Because they don’t have the perspective.”
That perspective comes from being an independent artist and freelancer himself.
“What represents good investment to me is skills and services. If you need them, you have to pay for them – and it’s worth paying for what you need.
“But it’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Riptide isn’t the only UK promotion that was founded to bring about change.
“The reason Attack! was started is because there was so many of us – what people associate with the Attack! group of guys,” says Chris Brookes, who in addition to being one of the most well-travelled men in Britwres, is part of the Attack! Pro Wrestling ownership group.
“It was really difficult to break out some years ago unless you ran with the right circle,” he explains. “It was very much a who you knew more than what you knew sort of situation – because the internet, when we were all breaking in, wasn’t as prominent as it is now.
“It was really a case with, if you were in with the place – or the people who were in that place – you were okay, and if you weren’t, you were really going to struggle to get an opportunity there.”
Founded by Pete Dunne and ring announcer Jim Lee in 2011, Attack! gave wrestlers like Brookes, Flash Morgan Webster, Mark Andrews, and Eddie Dennis a place to wrestle and grow together when opportunity was difficult to come by.
“We all wanted to wrestle as much as we could, and we wanted to try and get out and get exposure, but no one would give anyone the opportunities,” says Brookes.
“So it was like, well, let’s start our own show and create our own thing. And we’ll get our own opportunities off the back of that.”
The roots of Attack! as a wrestler’s promotion and the resulting culture have given it a different feel to many of the UK’s bigger companies. It also gives them a different perspective when it comes to injured performers.
For instance, near the beginning of last year, Chief Deputy Dunne broke his ankle on an Attack! show in Bristol.
“As someone who was a part of putting together the Attack! shows at the time, when that happened – and above and beyond just knowing him personally – the thing that hit me was when he messaged me asking if I still wanted him for shows. Immediately, to me, because he was such a good, unique character within the universe of Attack! and in wrestling in general, I couldn’t see why there wasn’t something worthwhile he could do on wrestling shows.
“But that didn’t seem to be the case across the board. A lot of shows dropped him off or cancelled his bookings while he was injured.”
The same situation came up when Brookes’ tag partner and key member of the Attack! roster, Kid Lykos, was injured, and again when Eddie Dennis missed several months to surgery earlier this year. Brookes made sure that both continued to be booked – and most importantly, paid – for shows.
“I think there’s always this faux-professionalism by promoters that a lot of the time can be a one-way street,” says Brookes. “They expect the utmost professionalism and commitment and devotion from you as a performer on their shows, but when the boot’s on the other foot, so to say, those things kind of go out the window. You get injured, well, you’re on your own now. I don’t think that’s the way it should be – and I think being in the position I am with Attack! definitely made me more conscious of that.”
Attack! stands out for a few reasons – the off-the-wall characters that decorate the roster and themed shows like last month’s Press Start 6 come to mind – but the goal of creating a friendlier, better environment for performers shouldn’t go unnoticed.
While this article focuses more on a couple of Britwres’ less internationally known promotions, I would be remiss to speak about the culture of British wrestling without bringing up Progress.
(In fact, I’d been to several shows without speaking to anyone before being welcomed into the fold with open arms at my first Progress show – but that’s a story for the next chapter.)
“We’ve always wanted to put shows on where everyone is welcome,” says Progress co-founder Jim Smallman.
“We were inspired by watching football in Germany at the height of their “refugees welcome” movement and were inspired by how welcoming and inclusive tens of thousands of football fans could be. Wrestling should be like that, and after all, I’ve loved wrestling all my life.
“I want to be around lots of other people who love something so cool.”
Maybe it’s that Progress was founded with such love in mind that it’s become the environment it is now, known around the world for its atmosphere and inclusivity.
“I must get three or four lovely messages every week thanking us for Progress and that’s really humbling,” says Smallman. “It’s one thing to put on a wrestling show; to be able to be part of building an awesome community is something else entirely and as rewarding as any angle or storyline that we could put together.
“I’m not sure exactly what it is about Progress that has led to this community, but I know that I personally have always gone out of my way to make myself available to fans to talk to; I’m not far removed and hidden away as an owner, and neither are (co-owners) Jon (Briley) and Glen (Joseph).”
Progress’ success both in the UK (where they’ll host the country’s largest independent wrestling show in 30 years this September at the SSE Arena) and worldwide (they’ll soon be embarking on a six-show American tour) has helped put a spotlight on British wrestling, which has undoubtedly factored in the recent success of a number of other companies.
“I think our success has happened at the same time as a lot of wonderful success for several British companies, and I’m proud to be part of that scene.
“If fans in America or Japan or Australia being aware of Progress has then made them seek out other British independent companies or wrestlers then that’s a really cool thing.”
Bevan may be the only full-time of employee of Riptide Wrestling, but he’s got a small army behind him. On show days, Riptide’s operations include four camera operators, a lighting designer, the stage management team, two engineers, a producer, bar manager, security and ring crew, and Bevan’s father as the operations manager.
For Bevan, his people-related expenses are worth every penny.
“If you want to have lasting relationships with people, it’s a grind. But if you believe in their skills, you want those people around.”
This extends to the fans that come to shows, whether they’re Riptide regulars or newcomers. Bevan believes being based in Brighton has helped with a baseline for inclusivity and tolerance, and trusts Riptide fans to self-police if that isn’t the case.
“There are certain behaviors that I think are really preventable in wrestling, so long as people know that it’s cool to tell people to stop,” he says.
“You can tell someone that’s behaving badly at a Riptide show that they’re behaving badly,” he adds with confidence. “It’s a risky thing to say, but that’s the level I think we’re at with the audience.
“There’s a grey area there,” he notes, “but if you think it’s affecting the show for someone, even if it’s minor – if it’s minor, then it’s not that bad for the person being called out on it either. It’s not that embarrassing, they just got a bit excited.
“If it’s major, then they deserve the response. That’s not a grey area, and the ring crew will deal with it.”
Things have moved very quickly for Riptide since their first show on June 17th, 2017. The main goal moving forward? Stability.
“We’re still hoping people turn up,” jokes Bevan. “The revenues aren’t quite in a place that’s particularly proportionate to the expenses. We’re looking at distilling the product and expanding the audience under the parameters that we’re operating under.”
For Riptide, it’s all about investing for the future.
“We’re investing in Brighton, investing in the library, investing in the skills of the team that we have now, and investing in the wrestlers,” says Bevan.
“I just want the product to get better and better.”