What do some of the biggest and best names in WWE and AEW have in common? Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.
Kevin Steen, Tyler Black, El Generico, and Uhaa Nation may not be monikers known to some, but what if you instead called them Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn, and Apollo Crews?
Along with Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Kenny Omega, Claudio Castagnoli/Cesaro, and more, they all cut their teeth for the Southern California wrestling company that has had some of the greatest wrestlers and matches over the last twenty years.
This is the story of PWG.
How an Epic Pro Wrestling Fail Led to the Creation of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla
In 2002, the California wrestling scene was as hot as the weather.
But some con artists were not in it for wrestling.
“We had some bad experiences on the Indies with promoters taking advantage of people. There was one show where it was a 9/11 benefit show, and the promoter left at intermission with the entire donation,” said PWG co-founder and current AEW announcer Excalibur on Robbie Fox’s My Momma’s Basement.
One company that seemed to have all the ingredients to become the top promotion in the territory was Epic Pro Wrestling. It was owned by The Simpsons and King Of The Hill artist Gary Yap.
They had many talented So Cal wrestlers on the roster and seemed like a nice change from all the owners with bad intentions.
“[Gary Yap] had very big ambitions and good intentions,” Excalibur explained. “He wanted to pay everybody fairly. He ended up spending a lot more money than he should have”
But in November of 2002, Gary and Epic Pro Wrestling encountered some epic problems.
The wrestlers showed up at the L.A. Entertainment Center and found locked doors. So all the grapplers, including Sabu, Jerry Lynn, and Japanese icon Ultimo Dragon had to stand outside while maybe a hundred fans started to show up.
In short, nobody knew what was going on. Gary finally drove up to the venue while talking on his phone.
Excalibur noted, “He doesn’t get out of the car. He’s trying to book another venue. He’s pleading, ‘You don’t understand. I need to book the show for tonight. I need it right now.'”
While Gary tried to salvage it all, current WWE talent and former NWA World Champion Adam Pearce was furious, pounding on the door and causing Gary to sink into his seat like a child.
Finally, Gary looked out the window at the crowd of fans and apologized, “Sorry. There’s no show.”
He drove off without saying anything else. The fans were disappointed and cheated, and the talent was embarrassed.
But, they always say there is a light at the end of every tunnel, and this giant misfire by one company would help launch another.
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The Magnificent Six
During the chaos of the canceled card, six wrestlers talked in the parking lot and had a simple idea.
They would ambitiously start their own promotion.
But what made these six want to own their promotion was to have a company for wrestlers.
And so they decided to DIY before it was a hashtag or the name of a tag team.
The six were the masked men Excalibur and Super Dragon, a pre-disgraced Joey Ryan, the dancing inferno Disco Machine, the silent technician Scott Lost, and the powerhouse Top Gun Talwar.
On July 26th, 2003, at an ample space in City Of Industry, California, the PWG six had put their money together to rent a venue often used for collectible shows.
They’d pay their local talent and fly-ins and hoped the audience and stars would savor the experience and return.
It was the start of something extraordinary.
While the talent was great, the founders had their initial doubts.
In short, PWG didn’t have the budget Epic Pro Wrestling had. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t pay what Gary was paying,” said Excalibur.
But they were forthright with their peers about the situation.
The half dozen stars wrestled on the first show alongside such talent as Scorpio Sky, Adam Pearce, Frankie Kazarian, and AJ Styles. To their credit, the founders lost three of the five matches they were involved in, which proved that this would not be for their sole benefit.
Proving their selflessness, Kazarian would pin Joey Ryan to become the first-ever PWG Champion.
And as the company continued to put on events, fans started to see just how different PWG was compared to other companies.
Bringing in new and exciting talent such as Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and The Briscoe Brothers would help win PWG the SoCal Uncensored.com Promotion of the Year award. And they had only done a half dozen shows!
Their cards captured the fans’ imagination with edgy names like “Are You Adequately Prepared To Rock?” “An Inch Longer Than Average,” and “Taste The Radness.”
By 2004, they moved their events to the Hollywood/Lou Feliz Jewish Community Center for the next two years before relocating to the American Legion Post No. 308 in Reseda (which would become known as the PWG clubhouse) in 2006.
The company would impressively expand into Europe and Great Britain.
They also garnered a distribution deal with High Spots DVD, which paid a licensing fee that helped ease airline ticket prices and see future big-name talents such as Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Christopher Daniels, and The Young Bucks appear in classic matches.
In the years that followed, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla was becoming a place not just for wrestling fans to enjoy some of the best wrestling around, but where talent from all over the world would cross their fingers to get a chance to work because of what PWG could do for them.
“If you get booked there once and have a good showing, you could get booked everywhere,” said pro wrestler and former PWG tag team champion B-Boy. As a result, lesser-known talents like Quicksilver, Human Tornado, and Chris Bosh had a chance to shine and enhance their careers.
But, getting hired there would require you to catch the eye of Super Dragon, who was not only the company’s booker but someone who had a very keen eye for talent. And Super Dragon’s philosophy for a show was simple, give even the opening match guys a chance to show what they got, and see what the fans thought of them.
“Let the wrestlers in the other matches prove they’re as good as you. If the fans like your opening match, maybe, you guys belong in the main event next time,” said SoCal Uncensored’s Steve Bryant.
That freedom was the main reason why stars such as Cody Rhodes (fresh from leaving WWE) and Daniel Bryan (right after being fired by WWE) would come to PWG for a recharge.
And those given a chance to shine remained grateful for their opportunity.
When Ring Of Honor wanted The Young Bucks to sign an exclusive contract with them, the current AEW Executive Vice Presidents made sure to be allowed to work PWG shows as well.
“They were ready to walk, but after some negotiations, Ring Of Honor said fine,” explained Excalibur.
This “Young Bucks deal” would allow ROH talent such as Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Roderick Strong, Jeff Cobb, Jonathan Gresham, and Bandido to work both ROH and PWG shows.
It has resulted in some glorious events.
Where Are The PWG Founding Six?
So where are those six Pro Wrestling Guerrilla game changers now?
Excalibur would retire in 2007 after winning 1 PWG Tag Team Championship due to concussions but stayed with PWG as a commentator and created the graphics for the DVDs. He currently works as a commentator for AEW.
Disco Machine left wrestling in 2007 after a career with stints with Wrestling Society X, XPW, and the NWA.
Scott Lost retired in 2010 after winning 5 PWG tag team championships and became a full-time comic book artist.
Top Gun Talwar left PWG in 2007 after, as Excalibur noted, “He was like an engineer or something. He got a job. A really real job.”
Super Dragon is still the booker of PWG and editor of the DVDs but has not wrestled much due to injuries. He is a former PWG champion and 6-time PWG tag team champion.
Joey Ryan departed PWG in 2015 after being a 4-time PWG tag team champion and once the longest reigning PWG champion, forming Bar Wrestling. He was accused of misconduct in June 2020 and hasn’t been a part of wrestling since.
Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Today
After all these years, fans should never forget that Pro Wrestling Guerrilla was started not because of money but because six wrestlers wanted their profession to change for the better.
And PWG continues to go strong with some of the biggest indie cards of the year. Major stars such as Bandido, Jonathan Gresham, Davey Richards, Malakai Black, Brody King, Daniel Garcia, and Konosuke Takeshita appear at their prestigious events.
Yes, PWG continues to elevate pro wrestling to Art. Bravo to all concerned for their sacrifices in getting them off the ground and the legacy they continue to build.
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