By: Jack Wannan
Chris Hero remembers what independent wrestling was like when he debuted in 1998. In short, it was nothing like what you see now.
The veteran of more than two decades remembers that wrestlers worked at a different pace and style back then. He believes the demand, athleticism-wise, was an entirely different game.
“Those shows, you would have maybe one house show dive,” Hero recalled during an interview on Pollock and Thurston. “There would be one match that would be like ‘Oh, these guys are like WCW cruiserweights,” or, “They’re like ECW.’ And the rest would just be good old-fashioned pro wrestling. Pro wrasslin’.”
The physicality, which he says has increased “tenfold,” is just one of new challenges that wrestlers breaking into the industry nowadays face. The way that technology has made all wrestling easier to document — including something as early as the first few matches of someone’s career — has made it hard for wrestlers to grow and develop without a massive crowd watching them. That, or how locker rooms changed, or how many new wrestlers had to learn to wrestle without the presence of crowds during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, all caused big barriers to success for some, he believes.
The ways that independent wrestling has changed is part of what intrigues him about the matchmaker role at West Coast Pro Wrestling that he assumed this year. The position was something he talked to promotion owner Scott Bregante about after doing a signing and seminar for them previously. Hero said that the environment around the promotion intrigued him.
“There was just a little something special about the vibe there. Just a different kind of energy. The audience, the locker room, Scott that runs the place. And I just felt like man, I would like to do some more stuff here.”
Hero believes that the rise of the “super indie” — a promotion that is less locally focused and instead books talent from across the country or even across the world, has made it hard as a promotion to stick out from the pack. He provided an example of this, saying that people might go into Wrestlemania weekend excited about many high-profile matchups, but afterward feeling differently.
“That [Wrestlemania] week happens and you’re like ‘wait, what just happened? What do I remember?’ and there aren’t a lot of things that stick,” Hero said.
When considering how he can make things “stick” for West Coast Pro, his focus was on how he could do things differently. Similar to “super indies” he wants people from around the country and around the world, but focuses on people you “wouldn’t normally see,” or names that can provide “fresh matches.” And along with that group, really try to work with the local names that have potential.
“What locals, local-ish people, can we develop over time, and just foster their connection with the audience … We’re going to take this crop we have now, just push them and see what happens.”
The promotion’s event this weekend, “Cruel Summer,” will be headlined by Titus Alexander and Vinnie Massaro. Alexander is a California-based 22-year-old wrestler that has been praised as a rising star, with appearances in promotions like GCW, DEFY, PWG, and AEW. The card also has names like NJPW talents Jeff Cobb, Kevin Knight, and KUSHIDA, DDT’s MAO, joshi talents Maria and Riko Kawahata, and many others. In September, Mexico’s Black Taurus and Dragon Gate’s Shun Skywalker will touch down in the promotion as well.
Part of how Hero has seen wrestling change is how increasingly accessible it is to watch. It’s easier than ever to watch wrestling from the past or present from any part of the world. This is a plus for fans, but hurts an early-stage wrestler’s “empowerment to try and fail.” A wrestler’s career being highly documented from the very start might hurt that, he said.
“There’s just so much progression that happens in the first few years of pro wrestling … You don’t want to have a bad first impression with someone. It is important, I think, for promoters to set their talent up for success and not over-expose them right away.”
When discussing his own career, Hero said it felt like he only truly got the hang of it more than a decade in.
“Once a year for my first 10 years I thought ‘Okay, now I’ve got it,’ then there’s some kind of reality check.”
Along with his work in West Coast Pro Wrestling, Hero has also periodically helped out with AEW in the role of a coach and producer. It’s a position Hero enjoys as he says it allows him to further share his thoughts on wrestling.
“The coaching/producing aspect is something that I really enjoy. You coach different people [in] different ways,” Hero told POST Wrestling. “Sometimes you’re just a note taker, like ‘Ok, what are these guys doing? Let’s try to make sure the cameras get it all, let’s make sure the production knows what’s going on, someone’s coming in through the crowd, etcetera.’ That kind of stuff. And sometimes it’s a collaborative effort where you’re sitting there with people, they’re stuck on something, and you’re like ‘How about this? How about that?’”
He also said that the role in AEW helped prepare him for the hands-on work at West Coast Pro Wrestling, where he works alongside wrestlers at their school and helps orchestrate matches on the day of an event.
Hero’s passion for wrestling and its history is clear. In his house, Hero has a bookshelf full of books that he says are all about professional wrestling. Part of why he enjoys producer or coach roles is so that he has an avenue to talk about wrestling that doesn’t annoy people.
Hero currently has his career as a wrestler on pause, with his last match dating back to March 2020 when his second stint in WWE wrapped up. But through his work with West Coast Pro Wrestling or his other work in AEW, Hero is continuing to shape the history of wrestling, even if he’s not inside the ring.
West Coast Pro presents Cruel Summer this Saturday on IndependentWrestling.tv at 10 p.m. ET