You Can't Fake This

Jun 09, 2017 -- 3:57pm

Independent

:  not dependent: such a (1) :  not subject to control by others  (2) :  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit

Merriam Webster really knows how to sum up any word into a simple idea, but the fact is being independent requires much more than a lack of affiliation or control from a higher entity. Throughout history, anything independent also must have an identity, a sense of purpose, and perhaps most importantly, a well-oiled chain of support. We might not even exist as a nation today if General Marquis de Lafayette hadn’t provided his leadership to a haphazardly put together American infantry (See Yorktown).

This more-defined definition of independence helps put into context why independent wrestling works in a time when one company dominates the wrestling spectrum throughout the world. And on a warm and humid June evening, I sought two things. Number one, air conditioning. There’s no window unit in my room and my window faces west, so you can imagine the desire to escape. And two, I wanted to find out if our local chapter of wrestling, RCCW (River City Championship Wrestling), fits the bill of true independence described above.

I will confess off the bat, I’m not exactly a stranger to the world of turnbuckles, DDT’s (see Jake the Snake Roberts), and title belts. You see, although my household did not have the expanded cable package and only got the local channels, my friends had plenty of access to USA Network, and therefore Monday Night Raw and Smackdown. So I do remember being fascinated by the likes of the Dudley Boys’ table-work, Rey Mysterio’s 619, and the Stone Cold Stunner, even if I was unable to keep up with the ongoing storyline that could make Days of Our Lives blush. As the years progressed, however, I slowly lost interest, plus other pressing life matters had taken precedence over making sure I was around a tv for Summerslam or Survivor Series. Still, every now and then I would find myself wondering how much fun it could be to take in another rousing night of piledrivers, suplexes, and a lightshow a wedding DJ would trade an arm and a leg for.

Thus, we arrive at Summertime Bruise. The date is June 2nd, the venue: The American Legion Post 52 on 6th and Ferry in La Crosse. It’s a building that, on most given nights, I wouldn’t spare a passing glance. This is primarily because, as a kid, I always thought of the Legion as this Freemason-style organization that forbade outsiders from so much as milling around the parking lot, by punishment of conscription, (Or worse, being pulled inside and having to listen about how my generation can’t seem to do anything right, and how it was better when they paddled kids and half the city used to be apple orchards or something like that).

Yet that night, it seemed like they couldn’t get you in fast enough, and make sure you were welcomed into the main event hall where the ring sat waiting. The pale blue canvas was deceivingly neat and clean, no foreshadowing to the hell about to unfold in the squared circle for whoever was bold enough to snake under those ropes. One thing I also noticed right off the bat was that the ring, and the room in general, was smaller than I had imagined it might be. Growing up seeing large arenas where crowds seem to stretch infinitely into the darkness, it was different seeing all the action condensed into an area smaller than some garages I’ve been in.

That, however, lends itself to a key point of indy wrestling that I quickly discovered: the crowd doesn’t have to be 90,000 plus like at Wrestlemania III in order to draw you into the action. The unique intimacy I felt at the Legion, versus if I had been at an event in the Xcel Energy Center, say, had the power to make a fan feel they were a part of the action even in the back row. That leads into the first point I made earlier about independence: needing a sense of identity. That connection to the fans and immediate up-close interaction of having confetti rained upon you, being sprayed with “holy water” by Shawn Priest, or yelling right in the face of Aesop Mitchell, just can’t be replicated by a big-time brand.

I had the chance to speak with two gentleman that not only have a long-time connection to wrestling, but who I have known now for many years via many different networks. Nick Ragner and Alex Riley have partnered up, both in the ring as well as in numerous broadcasting ventures, starting back when we were all students at UW La Crosse. And it was while I was talking to them about this topic, that Nick brought up an excellent point on the draw of independent wrestling that sums up why it works:

It’s for everyone.

“It’s very family friendly” he quotes while we compared the different regions that exist in the Midwest. “It’s very character oriented”.

Therein was the key takeaway I had at my first RCCW event. I never felt like the wrestlers were trying to sell a product, or that their lines were unnecessarily choppy and poorly written, or that I was ever going to be offered the “exciting new opportunity” to view the RCCW Network for just $9.99 (ask any regular viewer of Raw or Smackdown how often they’ve been reminded by Mr. McMahon about the WWE Network). No, this was wrestling at its base composition; providing easily accessible entertainment for ages 1-99, while allowing enough character freedom to let each wrestler develop an individualized connection with the audience. And it’s all contained to a small area, so the chops seem louder, the falls seem harder, and the pain feels stronger.

In a few weeks, RCCW will have the opportunity to appeal to a more mass audience when the wrestlers take center stage at Riverfest on July 2nd. And many a casual observer might be surprised to find out that something a person maybe hasn’t seen in person or on television in many years is right in their backyard. “You’re going to have a bunch of people walking in there asking ‘What is that?’”, Nick said to me as we talked about how this particular event has the potential to draw much greater awareness for the company than any event in the young organization’s history. “You’re going to have the biggest draw you’ve ever had”.

It will certainly be the first time many in the area are exposed to pro wrestling. So I suppose that begs the question then:

“Whatcha gonna do?? When RCCW runs wild on you???”

I eagerly await the answer, brother.

The Power of Local

May 30, 2017 -- 8:47am

By Adam Roberts

I’ve finally had a chance to settle in to my new position here at ESPN La Crosse. Now about a month in, I decided to make the new digs look a little more like home. In between local updates, farm reports, travelling to games, and everything in between, I’ve suddenly found myself spending more time at the office than I do in my own residence.

One of the first things I decided to do was throw up some of my pennants I had collected over my youth. And the very first one I pulled out of the cardboard box was from August 20th 1999, my first and only trip to old Milwaukee County Stadium. That day a lowly Bill Pulsipher fell victim to two Barry Bonds home runs as the Giants ran roughshod over my Brewers 10-3.

Other than the score, I don’t remember much from that day. It happened a few weeks before my sixth birthday, and all our memories from that time in our lives are a little foggy to say the least (Hell, as I’m writing this I caught myself for a split second forgetting what I ate this morning, glass of milk and a seven-layer-bar).

I’ll tell you what I do remember though: calling my first high school basketball sectional playoff game.

Everything from Henry Ellenson running the length of the floor to throw down a monstrous two-handed jam, to the electric student sections of both River Falls and Onalaska, the chants, the play on the court, the pep bands, even the smell of the arena vividly sticks out in my still-growing treasure trove of sports memories from my young career.

And the best part, I guarantee you nobody who attended that game felt like they overpaid to get in.

Another place I’ve never heard anybody leave wishing they had not gone? Copeland Park, which after 15 seasons has morphed and evolved from team owner Dan Kapanke selling tickets out of the back of his own truck, to a thriving stadium that rivals single-A minor league parks across the nation. On top of receiving a face-lift to its entranceway and concession area, the park regularly draws over 2,500 fans a night, each one treated to quality baseball, discounted beverages prices in a race that pays homage to the major league team three and a half hours away, and between-innings and postgame entertainment that would make Bill Veeck grin from ear to ear. In an era of 60 dollar field box seats for a June ballgame, you just can’t beat 10 dollars for the same seat at Copeland, with the chance to see the big stars of the future before they ink their big contracts and commercial deals.

In the six years since I have moved to the area, I’ve made a point to expose myself to nearly every local sport the Coulee Region has to offer. And what I’ve seen has confirmed in my mind that local sports eliminate something you find far too often at the professional level: complacency. Everyone on your small-town or high school or D3 college team is just trying to make noise and get noticed, not think about which garage they will be parking their new hot rod into when they get back to the ranch that night.

In summation, I’m certainly not advocating that you never, ever take in a professional sporting event for the rest of your life. The pro level of competition still offers you a chance to see the athletes who have ascended to the pinnacle of excellence in their sports, and that certainly is worth taking in. Just know, the next time you are weighing the pros and cons of saving up for a weekend trip to Lambeau or day-tripping it out to Milwaukee or Minneapolis, remember there are plenty of up-and-coming athletes who would love to leave a positive impression on you.

And best of all, your family, and your wallet, will greatly appreciate it.

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