As wrestling fans, we’ve all complained about the WWE product from time to time. And right now, the RAW brand really has some of us quite disappointed as we head into WrestleMania with a rather lackluster card featuring part-timers dominating the top matches.
In times like this, where RAW feels like a marathon and you almost never actually sit through all three hours, you may find yourself wishing for an alternative to WWE that isn’t NXT. Well they’re out there, and while the quality of production may not be up to WWE’s standard, there are still promotions easily accessible for free that wrestling fans should be supporting. These promotions aren’t competition to WWE, and they don’t air opposite WWE programming, but they are alternatives when you just really don’t want to watch the current WWE product.
Note that this list is in no way in any sort of order. It’s not even a list of the best promotions to watch. I left off some promotions that I like a lot, like CHIKARA and ICW, because they aren’t as easily accessible. And that’s what this list is all about, ease of accessibility to American viewers (can watch easily for free).
So with that said, here are Five WWE Alternatives You Should Be Watching…
Impact Wrestling // Pop TV
Impact Wrestling is on the list for a couple of different reasons and the main one is they are the most accessible to the largest amount of Americans. With a show on Pop TV every Thursday night and no real meaningful pay-per-views anymore, Impact couldn’t be easier to watch from an accessibility standpoint.
The second reason they’re on the list is because Dixie Carter is out and the promotion is under new ownership and “new” management (Anthem owns it, Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantell are running it). I’ve long held Dixie Carter responsible for all the terribleness of the former TNA, so just her not being there anymore is a positive. Still though, Impact gets the distinction of being the only one on this list with the caveat that you should check them out on a trial basis.
As TNA, the organization had rebooted several times and promised change, only to always end up being pretty bad. They’re getting the benefit of the doubt this time because of new owners, but it won’t take long to see how things are. Last week’s premiere of the new era of Impact Wrestling was solid, with the only bad thing being extremely annoying commentary thanks to constant bickering between Jeremy Borash and Josh Matthews.
The Hardy’s are gone, and unfortunately it looks like that’s going to be heading to the courts since Impact management are being really petty. But some new faces have debuted, including Alberto El Patron.
Championship Wrestling From Hollywood // FITE, YouToo America
The part of the list where most people go “what, who?” Championship Wrestling From Hollywood makes the list because they’re accessible, free, and different. They feel like their own promotion and not just another Indy that gets buzz. Their roster isn’t packed with the bigger names that you see appearing in independents around the world or former WWE talents. They’ve got their own wrestlers, characters, and storylines. They’re also a throwback, watching them kinda feels like watching an old NWA show from the 80’s (with better production of course).
They’re also consistent. Not necessarily in terms of match or story quality, but in terms of the show always being there every week. So many independent promotions come out with a show, or get some syndication, and they run a few episodes and then nothing. Championship Wrestling From Hollywood has been around since September 2010, and just this month celebrated their 300th episode.
Originally part of the National Wrestling Alliance, CWFH is now part of (and the founding member of) the United Wrestling Network.
In terms of match quality, you’re not going to see five star matches here. The show is an hour long, there are no pay-per-views, and the talent just isn’t there to have match of the year candidates. The roster is decent, although if you’re looking to get into the show I’d suggest sticking with it for at least a few episodes and try to get used to the characters and not compare it to WWE or even some of the other promotions on the list. If you do, you’re likely to find a decent hour of wrestling.
CWFH can be found on various syndicated networks on the west coast, nationally on YouToo America if you have it, and every Sunday on FITE (also available freely FITE on-demand). Check them out.
Lucha Underground // El Rey Network, Netflix
Lucha Underground is by far the most unique promotion/show on this list. The lucha libre show takes place in the fictional “Temple” and invokes some Aztec myths and some strong kayfabe. It’s not just a weekly wrestling show, it operates more like a serial action drama with seasons and has been described as being “closest thing to a real life Mortal Kombat.” It’s highly unique, and thus can be a little off-putting with its production and stories. I know because I couldn’t stand it at first and it took quite some time before I was able to get into it and start to enjoy it.
Lucha Underground is currently in its third season and airs on Wednesday’s on the El Rey Network. Beginning on March 15th, you’ll be able to binge watch seasons one and two on Netflix, so it is a highly accessible alternative to WWE.
The roster is stacked with talent and a memorable cast of characters including former WWE talent Johnny Mundo (John Morrison), Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero Jr., and PJ Black (Justin Gabriel). Lucha Underground’s roster also includes a few women who don’t compete in a separate division but rather compete against the men, something you won’t be seeing in WWE.
If you haven’t been watching, now’s a good time to start.
Ring of Honor Wrestling // FITE, Comet TV, Syndicated
For many, myself included, Ring of Honor is the number two promotion in the United States. Impact Wrestling may have had a larger national footprint due to Spike TV and now Pop TV (and quite possibly Spike again in the future), but ROH has been #2 for awhile. They just lack a good time slot on a national network that a lot of folks get. As is, a lot of people can watch ROH at some terrible times via Sinclair stations in syndication and nationally on Comet (a sci-fi network that I don’t get). As is, ROH’s weekly TV show is only accessible for myself and many others freely on FITE (just like CWFH and several others that didn’t make this list).
The ROH weekly TV show is generally quite good, but in general the big ROH events are sold on DVD or available on PPV. So you can watch ROH action for free, but they’re the first promotion on the list where to get the most out of it and see the best action, you’re going to have to pay and their PPV’s cost around $35, which could a bit much for some who have gotten use to watching WWE PPV’s as part of the $10 a month WWE Network.
The ROH roster is one of the best in the world featuring contracted exclusive talent as well as top Indy names and a partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling. We’re talking new ROH World Champion Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Jay Lethal, The Bullet Club, Alex Shelley, Chris Saban, Matt Sydal, The Briscoes, Bully Ray, Cody Rhodes, and the list goes on.
ROH just celebrated their 15th anniversary with a great pay-per-view event. If you haven’t been watching ROH, now is the time to fire up the FITE app and watch new episodes every Monday an hour before RAW or catch afterwards on demand. ROH is one of the best, and if WWE starts to get you down with some poor booking, ROH is sure to pick you back up with some great in-ring action.
New Japan Pro Wrestling // AXS TV, NJPW World
New Japan Pro Wrestling has been riding a huge wave of momentum for a number of years now, growing steadily in popularity in the United States. I think a legitimate case could be made that NJPW is currently the best wrestling promotion in the world. Not as big as WWE, at least in the States, but better if just about every other way.
This list isn’t in any particular order, but NJPW is last on the list for two reasons; 1.) save the best for last, and 2.) they are by far the least accessible promotion on the list and the hardest to get into.
NJPW airs on AXS TV every Friday night, and it’s a great way to freely and legally watch some great NJPW action. The hour long show usually features one or two matches from a big NJPW show, and that’s it. Sometimes AXS will devote four weeks and show just about an entire event as they did with Wrestle Kingdom 11. And while the matches can be in their entirety, it can feel like you’re watching a best of or even highlights, and thus aren’t getting the full experience of following NJPW as it happens.
AXS offers up a great sampling of NJPW action. You’re guaranteed to see some of the best matches from NJPW with the added bonus of English commentary from Jim Ross and Josh Bartnett. But if you like what you see on AXS, and want to get more into NJPW and watch live events, you’re going to need to spend money on a monthly subscription to NJPW World, which is essentially the NJPW version of WWE Network. It cost $8.40 a month.