Much like the Super Bowl brings along a constellation of parties and events capitalizing on energy and visitors, WrestleMania 37 at Raymond James Stadium will bring independent wrestling events to Tampa.
And, much like the Super Bowl brought less of that surrounding spectacle in 2021 due to COVID-19, there are fewer events in Tampa surrounding WrestleMania on April 10 and 11 than normal.
“When WrestleMania comes to town, that’s where all the independent wrestling companies go,” said Jeremy Gomez, owner of Tampa-based Generation Championship Wrestling.
“Independent wrestling company,” Gomez said, describes pretty much any regional promotion outside the WWE, AEW, Ring of Honor, Impact or a couple others.
There are dozens of small, indie promotions in Florida alone, he said, but “last year, a lot of the companies didn’t survive.”
While nothing matches the WWE in production value or concentration of talent, fans praise the larger independents for how they utilize their wrestlers and make the matches the fans want to see happen.
When WrestleMania 36 was headed to Tampa in 2020, before the pandemic changed everything, there was a spreadsheet passed around with more than 100 events in Tampa Bay that week. This time, there’s less than half of that.
Still, Generation’s slate of shows and meet-and-greets at the Egypt Shrine Center the day before WrestleMania involves multiple companies together under the Generation umbrella for We Run This Town.
It starts at 8 a.m. on April 9 with wrestlers Madusa and ODB serving breakfast, and ends with Ladies Night Out, an all-female wrestling show starting at midnight. In between are multiple other shows (with titles like Kayfabe Kitchen and Once Upon a Time We Blew the Budget). Something like 70 or 80 wrestlers will work it all.
The larger, New Jersey-based promotion Game Changer Wrestling will take over the Cuban Club for three days of matches in the limited-capacity outdoor courtyard from April 8 to 10. They’re calling the whole thing The Collective, featuring shows by companies out of Orlando, New Jersey and Ohio. Fans can buy individual tickets to any of the dozen shows (such as Effy’s Big Gay Tampa Brunch, Alex Colon’s Planet Death and Allie Kat’s Real Hot Girl S--t) or get a general admission pass to them all.
“Independent wrestling was basically at its all-time height in February of 2020 in terms of business, spectators, wrestlers working five nights a week. There were new markets, new fans,” said Game Changer Wrestling owner Brett Lauderdale. “It was too good to be true. Now, we’ve sort of started back from zero. Had our company not been as successful as it was the past couple years, it arguably could have killed us.”
The company’s 2020 event planned for the Cuban Club pre-pandemic was going to feature wrestling companies from as far as Japan, and was on track to see 4,000 fans at its main event. He expects maybe a quarter of that this time.
There’s also a three-day Showcase of the Independents featuring shows from around the United States, hosted by Independent Wrestling TV at 81Bay Brewing in Tampa. That one includes Cleveland’s Absolute Intense Wrestling, Go For Broke, and ICW No Holds Barred.
Some fans remain nervous about the pandemic, and there are fewer people traveling from out of town, and none from other countries. Since WrestleMania tickets only went on sale only a few weeks before the event, there has been less time to plan vacations.
“There are people who go to WrestleMania every year, get to town on a Wednesday, go to multiple independent shows, NXT shows, then WrestleMania, then Raw on Monday night, hit the beach, and then do it again the next year,” Lauderdale said. “It’s the pilgrimage.”
When events around WrestleMania didn’t happen in 2020, there were wrestlers who lost a significant piece of their livelihood for the year.
“In non COVID times, some wrestlers will wrestle nine or 10 matches a day, for three days straight that week,” Lauderdale said. “They’ll bounce around town and do a show at 1, 4, 8 and midnight.”
That’s not to mention the potential of thousands of dollars in merchandise sales, exposure to new fans, and possibly, to talent scouts from the WWE and other larger companies that attend shows. And legends who no longer get in the ring have a chance to sell merch and autographs at the conventions.
“It’s a career changing weekend for some,” Lauderdale said. “And it can be life changing for fans, too. You don’t know who you’re going to meet, wrestlers and new people, there’s nothing like it.
“The spirit will still be there this year, just scaled down.”
If You Go
Game Changer Wrestling’s The Collective, Remixed: Twelve wrestling shows over three days, including Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport 6, For the Culture and Spring Break 5. Packages for all 12 shows start at $225. Individual shows, $5 to $25. 11 a.m. to midnight, April 8 to 10, Cuban Club, 2010 N Avenida Republica de Cuba, Tampa. eventbrite.com/o/game-changer-wrestling-16962477962
IWTV Showcase of the Independents: Fourteen wrestling shows over three days, including Cleveland’s Absolute Intense Wrestling, Go For Broke, and ICW No Holds Barred. Individual shows start at $30, and various multi-show packages are available. Noon to midnight, April 8 to 10, 81Bay Brewing, 4465 W Gandy Boulevard, Tampa. shopiwtv.com/collections/showcase or eventbrite.com.
Generation Championship Wrestling We Run This Town: Multiple wrestling shows. $5 to $40 for individual shows or $100 for all. 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., April 9. Egypt Shrine Center, 5017 E Washington St., Tampa. gcwmaniaweek2021.eventbrite.com
WrestleCon: The fan convention features appearances, and question-and-answer sessions with top wrestlers, such as Al Snow, Sgt. Slaughter, Victoria, and Nzo. Three-hour sessions begin at 9 a.m. Once your session has been completed, patrons must exit to allow hotel staff to clean and sanitize the area. Session entry includes a branded Wrestlecon face covering as a gift. $15. 9 a.m- 5 p.m. April 9, 9 am- 2 p.m. April 10. The Westin Tampa Waterside, 725 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa. (813) 775-2076.
Wrestlestock: A new wrestling convention features some of the legends of the squared circle. Some of the appearances include Sgt. Slaughter, Luke Williams of the Bushwhackers.”The Nasty Boys” Brian Knobbs & Jerry Saggs, “The Winner” Barry Horowitz, JJ Dillon, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, “Vampire Warrior” Gangrel, “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas and Billy Silverman (Referee). The convention runs noon-7 p.m. April 9 and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. April 10. American Legion Post 248, 3204 West Cypress St., Tampa. $10-$20 at eventbrite.com.
Bash at Beef O Brady’s: Tampa Bay Pro Wrestling hosts this free wrestling show and watch party ahead of WrestleMania. Free. 2 p.m., April 11, Beef O Brady’s, 8810 N Himes Ave., Tampa. facebook.com/tampabayprowrestling/