When wrestling fans think of Wrestlemania, most think of the huge extravaganza of Sunday night's show, or the craziness of RAW the next day or even the Hall of Fame show. In short, they don't think past WWE's contributions to the weekend.
However, there's another side of Wrestlemania weekend. With close to 100,000 wrestling fans in one city at the same time, it's the biggest gathering of wrestling fans of the year. These fans also tend to be some of the more passionate, “hardcore” fans. Which means that it's a huge opportunity for independent companies to be seen by fans clamoring for more wrestling in their weekend, and their life.
"Wrestling really is this little subculture," says Gabe Sapolsky, founder of EVOLVE and WWN, and the man in charge of More Than Mania. "Wrestlemania weekend is just this amazing thing where an entire city just becomes entirely about wrestling. Instead of being this little outcast to society, we are the city for that week."
What started small, with just a few independent shows running in the same city as Wrestlemania, has exploded into an important part of Wrestlemania weekend. From bigger companies like Ring of Honor to smaller local companies, or even overseas promotions, it's an important time for companies to get in front of an audience that normally wouldn't be there, particularly if it's a company that doesn't tour too often.
"It's a huge opportunity to create buzz for your product," Sapolsky says. "You have fans from all over the world coming to these events and those fans will go back to where they came from, and you want them to say they had the most fun at your events."
In addition to exposure, Sapolsky explains that with all of these ultra-passionate fans in one area, it's important from a strictly business perspective.
“It's the equivalent of Black Friday for us. It's the kind of weekend, business-wise, that can carry you through the lean times of the year,” he said
Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks, who will be competing in a ladder match at ROH Supercard of Honor this weekend, explains that it's not just important for the promoters and fans, but for the wrestlers as well.
“WrestleMania weekend is important to ALL wrestlers because it's the largest gathering of fans from all over the world," Jackson says. "Some of those fans might not have ever heard of you, so it's wonderful exposure to 'casual' fans. The spotlight is on wrestling for those couple of days probably more so than any other time in the year.”
So, if you are going down to Orlando, Fla., or if you're living vicariously through someone that's there, here's a rough schedule of the non-WWE wrestling events going on around the weekend. There are even more events there that aren't for wrestling, such as Ringside with JR or MatMania with Xavier Woods, but I focused on the shows with matches.
OCW and FTPW Downtown Throwdown, 6:30 p.m.
The earliest show on Thursday is actually a local company, as Orlando City Wrestling puts on a show featuring EC3, Moose, Brian Cage, Taya and more.
Evolve 80, 8 p.m
The cornerstone of WWN starts More Than Mania, as Evolve has their first of two solo shows during the weekend. This is headlined by Zach Sabre Jr. defending the EVOLVE title vs. ACH, and Drew Galloway vs. Matt Riddle in a grudge match.
WrestlePro, 8:30 p.m.
WrestlePro from New Jersey starts off the wrestling series that is part of WrestleCon. It's a good mix of their regulars plus stars, Cody Rhodes faces Brian Cage, Cody's wife Brandi takes on Joey Ryan, and Tommy Dreamers goes against local Chris Payne.
Joey Janela's Spring Break, midnight
The wildest show of the weekend might be this one, featuring Marty Jannetty vs. Joey Janela in the main event, Glacier in a match, Matt Riddle vs. Dan “The Beast” Severn and a promised ref run-in by Earl Hebner.
Yes, you can see some of the wrestlers of Progress at Axxess, as WWE announced the surprising partnership to put Progress and ICW wrestlers at certain sessions of WWE's annual Mania convention. But if you want to see one of the hottest companies on the other side of the pond in their U.S. debut, this is the time to do it.
"There's so much great wrestling out there, and so many different promotions that bring so many different things to the table,” Sapolsky explains on his decision to partner with these companies for More Than Mania. “This is an amazing chance to bring them all together under one roof and present all these different type of shows."
EVOLVE 81, 4 p.m.
EVOLVE again gets center-stage, with another Zach Sabre Jr. match headlining, as he takes on Michael Elgin. Maryland-local Lio Rush faces Drew Galloway, and Keith Lee takes on Donovan Dijak.
Revolution Pro Wrestling, 4 p.m.
RevPro is part of the UK invasion that seems to be a bit theme of Wrestlemania weekend this year. Zach Sabre Jr. faces Pentagon El Ciero Miedo (Pentagon Jr), Ricochet faces Marty Scurll and Will Ospreay takes on Fenix.
CHIKARA: Turn Left, 8 p.m.
The wild world of CHIKARA comes to Wrestlemania weekend for the first time since 2014 as it gets a primetime spot on Friday night. The “Fun Filled Super Lucha Show” will feature a main event of Grand Champion Ultramanis Black taking on UK sensation Grado, who will be making his CHIKARA debut.
“The eyes of the global wrestling community are on Orlando for WrestleMania weekend,” CHIKARA founder Mike Quackenbush says. “It’s important to be represented, if you want to be part of the larger wrestling dialogue. And it’s an important stage to make a statement about differentiates your approach to the craft from everyone else’s approach."
WrestleCon Supershow, 8:30 p.m.
The annual event always has one of the more diverse cards of the Mania weekend, and this is no different. The Hardys take on the Lucha Brothers, Penta El Ciero Miedo and Fenix. Plus, Jeff Cobb takes on Bobby Lashley, and Ricochet and Will Ospreay each captain teams against each other.
Kaiju Big Battel, midnight
Of all the shows going on in Mania weekend, this might be the most unique. Kaiju is a combination of pro wrestling and old Japanese kaiju movies, such as Godzilla. They wrestle, they destroy buildings, and it's a wild ride from beginning to end.
Shimmer 91, noon
The biggest all-womens' promotion in the U.S. starts the day off on Saturday. Champion Mercedes Martinez puts her title on the line against Candice LeRae. Plus, Santana Garrett, Cherry Bomb, Tessa Balnchard, Leva Bates, Veda Scott, and more.
Wrestling Revolver: Pancakes and Piledrivers, noon
This card from Iowa's Pro Wrestling revolver features a first-time match between Shane Strickland and Ricochet. It also has the Lucha Brothers vs. Sami Callahan and Brian Cage, and Eddie Kingston vs. the former Adam Rose, going under the name Krugar. Plus, did I mention free pancakes?
WhatCulture Pro Wrestling, 1:30 p.m.
WhatCulture Pro Wrestling, yes a spinoff of the WhatCulture entertainment site, is one of the fastest risers in the UK. They'll be bringing over talent like Joe Hendry, Grado, Martin Kirby, Drew Galloway, El Ligero, and more in the company's U.S. debut.
CHIKARA: Bad Wolf, 4 p.m.
Two big matches headline this CHIKARA show. Grand Champion Ultramantis Black defends against Juan Francisco de Coronado. Also, Zack Sabre Jr makes his 2nd CHIKARA appearance against Max Smashmaster.
WrestleCon Womens' Supershow, 4 p.m.
As part of an annual tradition, WrestleCon is putting on its own womens' show this year. This year is headlined by Taya vs. Su Yim, former WWE star Jazz vs. Maryland-local Kennadi Brink, plus Taeler Hendrix and Chelsea Green vs. Santana and Gabi Castrovinci.
ROH Supercard of Honor, 6 p.m.
It would not surprise anyone if this ended up being the top show of the weekend. The card is headlined by new champ Christopher Daniels vs. Dalton Castle, but arguably the most-anticipated match is a ladder match between The Hardys and The Young Bucks.
“Having a ladder match with the Hardys was something Nick and I literally dreamed of,” Matt Jackson says. “Like, I've had actual dreams about jumping off a ladder onto Matt Hardy, so this is surreal that it's actually happening. We would wrestle out back in the yard in our own ring and pretend to wrestle them, or even be them. Nick would jump off the top of ladders just like Jeff. The TLC era is a big reason we decided to become wrestlers. It had a huge influence of our careers. Now, we've got the opportunity to actually do a ladder match against the greatest tag team in history.”
WWN Supershow: EVOLVE vs. Progress; 8:PM
The WWN Supershow regularly features some of the top matches of the weekend. This time, it will be the U.S. vs. the U.K. as wrestlers from EVOLVE take on wrestlers from Progress. EVOLVE champ Zack Sabre Jr will take on Mark Haskins, Progress Champ Pete Dunne will take on ACH. Plus, a new WWN champ will be crowned in a 6-way match.
CZW: Best of the Best, 8:30 p.m.
The ultraviolent company will be part of WrestleCon this time, and it will include one of their bigger shows of the year. Best of the Best is a tournament, and will include the likes of Ricochet, AR Fox, Sami Callahan, Michael Elgin, Lio Rush, and Shane Strickland.
Beyond Wrestling: Caffeine, midnight
New England's Beyond Wrestling makes a trip down to be part of More than Mania. This late night card with an appropriate name will feature Matt Riddle vs. Donovan Dijak, Jeff Cobb vs. Keith Lee, and LuFisto vs. Deonna Purrazzo.
“I love growing relationships with other quality companies and promoters,” Sapolsky says. “When I see quality people like the CHIKARA people or Drew Cordeiro with Beyond Wrestling, who is a young upcoming promoter, I want to become associated with these people.”
WWN Broken Tailgate, featuring FIP; 11 a.m.
WWN wanted to create something for people to do as they waited for Wrestlemania to happen. So they came up with the concept for the “Broken Tailgate”. As the name suggests, the main attraction will be the whole Hardy family doing a meet and greet at the tailgate. However, Full Impact Pro will also be putting on a show at the same time as a pre-Wrestlemania treat.
Wrestle Circus vs. Pro Wrestling Revolver, midnight
This was one of the last shows to be announced, as these quickly rising companies joined forces this week to announce a post-Wrestlemania show being held just a few miles from Camping World Stadium. Already announced is the World's Cutest Tag Team against Sami Callihan and Jessicka Havok, Brian Cage vs. Desmond Xavier, and Shane Strickland vs. Mike Elgin.
However you choose to do Wrestlemania weekend, it's one of the best times to be in the wrestling world, whether it's as a wrestler or fan. As Matt Jackson sums up, “WrestleMania weekend is fun because I get to see a bunch of old friends, and familiar faces, all gathered in one city. We get to celebrate the thing us 'outcasts' all love more than anything: Professional wrestling.”