With WWE viewership in India at an all-time high, several pro wrestling companies have come up to cash in on the sport’s popularity
“India is the No. 1 country in the world in WWE content consumption” – this was the statement of George Barrios, the Chief Financial Officer at World Wrestling Entertainment. “Last year, cricket did 4 billion hours of consumption: how much do you think WWE did? We are around 3 billion. India is a jewel for us”, he went on to add.
On the Facebook page of the company too, the most likes are from India and in terms of views on YouTube, it is second only to the United States. WWE even organised two mega events in Delhi in the past two years, which saw all the big stars — from Roman Reigns to Triple H — perform in front of a full house in the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium,
With such a phenomenal hunger for pro wrestling in the country, more and more WWE-styled pro wrestling companies from India are coming into the limelight.
Freak Fighter Wrestling, or popularly known as FFW was founded in 2009 by Veer Advanshi, and he claims that it was the first independent pro wrestling promotional company in India. “Ever since it was aired on television, WWE was very popular among the Indian masses, but there was no Indian company on the scene, and so we opened up FFW so that our country has its own home-grown indie wrestling promotion”, says Adhvanshi.
“Initially we had a lot of difficulties setting up our company. Instead of renting rings, we built our own rings and also designed our own costumes for wrestlers”, he says. “Since there was no experience of any of the technical nitty gritties of pro wrestling among any of the Indian masses, we had a very difficult time setting it up. Once we were up and running, we became popular day by day”
The wrestlers too needed a lot of training, as they needed to land moves without hurting themselves or injuring others. “Indians were more into the Olympic style of wrestling and less into the WWE style — which is a mix of technical wrestling and martial arts coupled with entertainment — and so it was difficult to get people accustomed”, says Adhvanshi. “We started off with 20 wrestlers and now, more than 100 wrestlers, both male and female have graduated from our promotion”, he adds.
“Most of our shows are performed in Thyagraj and Talkatora stadium, and most of the days, we perform in front of a full house, which shows the level of excitement for pro wrestling among the India masses”, he says. Even when the Pitampura-based company travels to other states, they perform in front of a huge crowd. “Last October, we did an event in Rajasthan, where more than 11,000 people saw it”, claims Adhvanshi.
In fact, it is not just live shows that proves their popularity. “We share our shows on YouTube and they garner millions of views”, he says.
It is not just FFW that are the only existing pro wrestling companies in India. India’s most famous WWE wrestler, Duleep Singh Rana popularly known as The Great Khali, has his own wrestling promotion, Continental Wrestling Academy based out of Chandigarh. The promotion has been known to produce some of the best Indian talent, and they have also collaborated with WWE, thanks to the reputation of Rana. Kavita Devi, the first female Indian wrestler to compete for the WWE is also a graduate of CWE.
Another promotion, Wrestle Square Underground, based out of Noida, is also making waves in the Indian pro wrestling scene. A life-long fan of WWE, Vinayak Sodhi, decided to started a promotion of his own, as he turned a warehouse in Sector 150 into a pro wrestling company and that is how Wrestle Square was born. It is the first India promotion to have tie ups with American independent wrestling promotions, and also has among its ranks several American pro wrestlers in its roster. In fact, an upcoming event, titled “Dangal ke Soorma” features former WWE wrestler Chris Masters as one of its main attractions.
“There is a huge demand to learn the art of pro wrestling among Indian youth”, says Prince Adhvanshi, the current FFW heavyweight champion. “So, what companies like FFW have done is promote the local Indian talent and push them to a larger audience. Sometimes, big companies like WWE too take note of our talent”, he adds. In fact, there are as many as 11 trainees from India at the WWE Performance Centre, the official academy at the company.
Prince himself always enjoyed pro wrestling since he was a child – till an incident pushed him to become a pro wrestler himself. In 1999, in a face-off against Indo-American wrestler Tiger Ali Singh, popular WWE Superstar Kurt Angle blew his nose on an Indian flag. “I understand that you need to entertain audiences, but it should not be at the expense of a nation’s pride. That is the day when I decided I wanted to be a pro wrestler and take on Kurt Angle someday”, says Prince, who is a life-long admirer of WWE legend Hulk Hogan.
“There is however, a long way to go for pro wrestling in India”, says Veer Adhvanshi. “In terms of production quality, there are very few wrestling promotions which have the basic infrastructure. But yes, it is growing”, he adds.
However, there are many sceptics who believe, that pro wrestling shouldn’t be considered a sport as it is all showmanship and everything is fake. “Yes, there are storylines and the characters of us wrestlers are larger than life, but what happens in the ring is real. We face bloodshed, we have several injuries”, says Prince. “I would like to invite those who say pro wrestling is fake at least once to our show, make them see the real effort that goes into each and every move and prove them wrong,”