TRINITY — Thirteen months ago, Mark Karoftis, Nick Thorne and Brent Turbine waited nervously inside the Verizon Event Center.
"The three of us were sitting here before the show wondering if anyone was going to show up," Karoftis said about Uproar Wrestling's inaugural event.
Flash forward to June 13 when a standing-room-only audience eagerly awaited Uproar's sixth installment of its "Conquest" series.
"This (Uproar Wrestling) is an absolute gift for Pasco County," fan John Connell said. "I wish they had more (events)."
Connell, who claims to be the first in line at every event, is among a smorgasbord of fans who give credence to the claim that independent wrestling in Tampa Bay is alive and kicking — or throwing flying elbow drops.
Since the 1960s, the area has been a wellspring of professional wrestling. Leagues have come together and broken apart. Wrestlers from all over the country have come to the region to make their home and their mark in pro wrestling.
Regional wrestling leagues were popping up around the country before the battles between the larger, national leagues like the National Wrestling Association, World Championship Wrestling and later on World Wrestling Entertainment. Cable television brought events into fans' living rooms and the market for live events withered as the national leagues gobbled up popular wrestlers and market share.
Yet the spirit of independent wrestling endured.
"Tampa is a hotbed for independent wrestlers and where guys want to be," Thorne said. "Guys would wrestle in bars or in flea markets. (But) when an 8-year-old is standing on a chair screaming profanity at you, it's time to take stock of your life."
The raw materials were there, all independent wrestling needed locally was an organization to attach to. Uproar Wrestling has taken up the mantle.
"WWE is larger than life now, like you can't touch them," said Shayne Swyft, a co-founder of Uproar who also gets in the wring. "(In independent wrestling) the wrestlers are more accessible. These guys try harder to be noticed and be different."
Uproar wrestlers make themselves available for high-fives and autographs during intermissions and after events in an effort to connect with their audience.
"It's a little crazy," said Shae Pierson of her first Uproar event. "The kids get to interact, be involved more than they would at a bigger one. They definitely have something different to offer."
Added attendee Brenda Schindewolf: "I love it — the rush of the match, who's gonna win, who's gonna get the last laugh."
On June 13, the league got one step closer to crowning a champion. Bad guy wrestler Eddie Graves won a Royal Rumble event last month to win a spot in the championship match. An elimination tournament will determine Graves' opponent. Uproar star Jay Lethal won his quarterfinal match against Maxx Stardom June 13 at "Conquest" to get closer to that coveted spot.
Uproar's next event on Aug. 2, "Clash of Heroes," will determine the championship match.
Meanwhile presales of tickets climb every month and June 13's gate sold out.
"It gives us the sense that we're doing something right," Karoftis said. "It's an amazing feeling."