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Notes from a Polite New Yorker: Independent Pro Wrestling - Best Sport Ever

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In New York, the independent pro wrestling show provides the best value for your sports dollar.

The seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium are now less expensive. Instead of costing $2,500 for one game, you now only have to pay $1,500. It wasn't that long ago you could pay $20 for a tier seat and sneak down to the box seats with a little bit of luck. Those days are over.

Other major-league sporting events are also increasingly expensive. And with the New Jersey Nets possibly moving to Brooklyn, there may soon be more ways for New Yorkers to be raked over the coals by amoral sports franchises.

Enough. If you go to a baseball game this year, go see the Staten Island Yankees or the Brooklyn Cyclones (a Mets farm team). There are plenty of inexpensive college basketball games with NBA-level talent available to see. And in New York, there are playgrounds where you can see excellent basketball played for nothing.

Also consider going to a professional wrestling show. In New York, the independent pro wrestling show provides the best value for your sports dollar.

I was fascinated with pro wrestling when I was growing up in the 1980's. I was the most dedicated Rowdy Roddy Piper fan ever. I even constructed my own crude imitation 'Piper's Pit' set in my basement. I had the Rowdy One's spastic swagger down pat, and imitated him with a towel wrapped around my waste to simulate his traditional Scottish kilt.

Starting in the late 1980's, mainstream pro wrestling became too much like a bad soap opera. Strange and unlikely plot lines and tawdry gimmicks that veered far away from the entertaining ring theatrics I had grown up with became the norm. The WWE is still like that today in many ways.

Pro wrestling and I parted ways until I came across Extreme Championship Wrestling in the early hours of the morning on cable TV. Vulgar and brutally violent and independent of the two more corporate wrestling companies that were dominant at the time, Extreme Championship Wrestling was a wrestling fan's answer to the stale state of the WWE (then called the WWF), and WCW (which WWE later bought).

ECW captured the hearts of millions of wrestling fans. ECW fans were the most boorish and rowdy of all the wrestling fans, but also the most knowledgeable about pro wrestling. If a wrestler botched a move in the ring, he was likely to be met with chants of "You fucked up! You fucked up!" When an ECW wrestler would execute a near-suicidal move that would often involve falling from great heights or pummeling someone through a table or some combination therein, crowds would chant, "Holy shit! Holy shit!" or "ECW! ECW! ECW! ECW!"

ECW had a sense of humor about itself and would hilariously lampoon itself, its TV networks and its own wrestlers. It made me love wrestling again.

ECW went out of business in 2001 and was bought by the WWE, and is now simply another WWE "brand" and is a sad shell of its former self.

Since the real ECW's demise though, other independent promotions have moved to fill in the void left by the irreverent company. One such promotion is Ring of Honor, or ROH, which was established in 2002.

Recently, fans filled Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom for an ROH show. I arrived early and managed to get a ticket ($25 general admission) at the last minute. The evening included a special appearance by the legendary "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. It would have been cool to meet and get The Nature Boy's autograph, but I didn't feel like spending the extra $25. I perused the evening program ($5) as the ballroom filled up.

The show began with a solemn tribute. With the lights still dimmed, all the wrestlers came out from the dressing room and surrounded the ring. The ring announcer announced the recent death of pro wrestler Mitsuharu Misawa in Japan and offered ROH's condolences to family and fans. Then the audience stood and observed a ten bell salute followed by a moment of silence. All the wrestlers went back to the dressing room.

Then the show was on, and independent wrestling and its rowdy fans were in their element like in the good old days that I remembered. There were a few wrestlers from the golden age of ECW, specifically Jerry Lynn, who was reigning ROH champion going into the show, and Guido Maritano, one of the Full Blooded Italians. Both still had it and wrestled well.

The crowd broke into a chant of "Jerry-atric! Jerry-atric!" during Jerry Lynn's match, which was unfair. Jerry Lynn is a great wrestler who in my opinion never got his due. He was doing flips and moves that people half his age would be hard pressed to pull off.

The wrestler who I had not heard of before but who impressed me the most that evening was Austin Aries, who strutted his way to the ring with the arrogance of an overbearing pickup artist. He kicked off the show by berating all of us "fake New York tough guys," and warned that we could be knocked out in one punch if we messed with A-Double. He had a well-developed character and knew how to work the crowd into an angry lather.

Austin Aries carries his sleazy character through in the way that he wrestles, running away – even sitting down outside the ring briefly to rest while Jerry Lynn and Tyler Black fought it out in the ring in the three-way dance that headlined the evening. At one point he snuck up on the belt as if he might steal it, only to be shooed away by the official keeping watch over it. He wound up winning the belt, becoming the first two-time champion in ROH history.

As Aries was carried off on the shoulders of his bad-guy comrades after his victory, people began filing out of the ballroom. It was a victory for ROH's lead villain, but a bigger victory for the independent wrestling fans of New York.

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