Off The Beaten Path – The (non-WWE) WrestleMania Weekend Shows You Can’t Miss

So this is WrestleMania, and what have you done?

Not to stray from their preferred strategy of absolutely flooding the market, and their fans’ brains, with content, WWE is planning to put out between 15-20 hours of wrestling over WrestleMania weekend. When you factor in a two-hour NXT TakeOver show, a two-hour Hall Of Fame broadcast, the gargantuan seven-hour WrestleMania broadcast itself, a three-hour RAW on Monday, and two hours of SmackDown Live on Tuesday, it seems like lunacy to want to watch any wrestling beyond all that. But if you take a look beyond the walls of WWE, there’s a ton of incredible wrestling this weekend that should satiate almost any wrestling fan’s tastes. It’s on these shows that you often see some of the most inventive, groundbreaking talent and matches in the industry.

While prior years have seen Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE promotion take centre stage on Mania weekend, the new belle of the ball is Game Changer Wrestling, the home promotion of Joey Janela. Starting with Janela’s signature “Joey Janela’s Spring Break” events, the pro wrestling by way of a Harmony Korine synthwave vibe has grown to four events spread over the weekend, with Spring Break itself expanding to two nights. This is the place to see some of the most innovative stuff over WrestleMania week.

The weekend kicks off for me at 4 pm EST on Thursday with my favourite of the non-Mania shows, GCW’s Bloodsport. Set on a rope-free ring to emulate the Kumite from the Van Damme film from which the event takes its name, Bloodsport features MMA-inspired contests between current and former legitimate fighters (think Matt Riddle, “Filthy” Tom Lawlor, and Dan Severn, all of whom participated last year). This year’s event is headlined by former UFC fighter Josh Barnett facing off against my favourite villain, Minoru Suzuki, who beat Matt Riddle last year. Former UFC vets Dan Severn and Frank Mir throw hands as well. This card is available to watch through the FITE app, with the option to purchase it individually or through a package with all the GCW shows.

Also on Thursday is Wrestlecon’s SuperShow which features potential match-of-the-week (if not year) contenders Bandido vs. Will Ospreay, Dragon Lee vs. Barbaro Cavernario, Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Shane Strickland, and another of my all-time favourites, the battle-scarred Masato Tanaka facing off with Eddie Kingston. You can watch this one on the FITE app or on-demand from the Highspots Network after the event airs.

If you’re still up for some late night action (not that kind) on Thursday, Impact Wrestling offers its United We Stand show at 11 pm, featuring Pentagon & Fenix taking on Rob Van Dam and Sabu, an Ultimate X match, Joey Ryan vs Tessa Blanchard for the intergender wrestling fans, and tons more. The FITE app will be carrying this event as well.

And if none of that tickles your fancy, there’s the always-surreal Kaiju Big Battel at midnight.

Friday is a packed day that starts off with Wrestlecon’s USA vs The World show at 11 am, featuring such delights as Bryan Cage vs Masato Tanaka, Maxwell Jacob Friedman vs Ethan Page, LAX vs Davey Boy Smith Jr and Teddy Hart, David Starr vs Daga, and matches featuring Brian Pillman Jr, Rich Swann, and many more. FITE is carrying this event as well, both individually and part of a package, or you can watch it on-demand through the Highspots network.

Also at 11 am is women’s promotion SHIMMER offering up a card featuring Britt Baker, Tessa Blanchard, Nicole Savoy, Su Yung, and Allysin Kay, among others. You’re almost certain to see some of these women make the move to WWE over the next few years, and some have already made appearances in NXT’s annual Mae Young Classic. SHIMMER is a great chance to catch them before Vince McMahon gets his claws into them. You can watch this one individually on FITE or buy a package with other WWN shows that include cards from EVOLVE and others.

UK promotion Revolution Pro has a card at 3 pm on Friday that features NJPW talent like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Will Ospreay facing Zack Sabre Jr and Minoru Suzuki, Tomohoro Ishii facing David Starr, and more. RevPro is known for its top-tier presentation and rabid fanbase, and their event was one of the show-stealers of Mania weekend last year. This event will be available on FITE , both on its own and as part of a WrestleCon package, or you can go right to the source and purchase the event through RevPro’s streaming service.

At 8 pm on Friday you’ll be able to check out GCW’s first night of Joey Janela’s Spring Break, which will offer this weekend’s hottest prospect, Orange Cassidy vs Taka Michinoku, and deathmatch veteran and all-around madman Nick Gage taking on Japanese legend Shinjiro Otani. These events are always crowd pleasers and this one should be no different.

Head-to-head with Spring Break is Joey Ryan’s Penis Party, because why not? This is actually one of the better cards of the whole weekend, and features such oddities as David Arquette (yes, that one) vs Timothy Thatcher, Pentagon Jr and Fenix vs Taya Valkyrie and Johnny Penis Party (Johnny Impact/Mundo), and matches featuring Val Venis (?!?!?) teaming with Joey Ryan, Flamita, Bandido, Brody King, and many more. This one might be worth skipping NXT TakeOver for. Catch this one on FITE or on the Highspots Network on demand.

On Saturday at noon, GCW presents “Orange Cassidy is Doing Something or Whatever…Who Knows” which includes a dodgeball match, a 1-minute time limit match between Trent Baretta and Chuck Taylor, and Logan Easton Laroux vs Chris Brookes in what I am confident is the first ever 7-out-of-13-falls match. This looks insane.

Saturday’s Ring Of Honor/New Japan G1 Supercard from Madison Square Garden is undoubtedly the biggest non-WWE show of the weekend. The Supercard features stars from both NJPW and ROH, with both promotions making their debut in one of the most famous arenas in the world. It’s a suitably big-league show as well, with Jay White defending the IWGP title against Kazuchika Okada, Jay Lethal defending the ROH title against Matt Taven and Marty Scurll in a ladder match, Tetsuya Naito facing Kota Ibushi for the Intercontinental title, and much more. Why watch a bunch of tired-ass rambling speeches at the WWE Hall of Fame when a card like that is on the table? You can buy this one through the FITE app as well, but it’s a whole lot cheaper to subscribe to Honor Club, ROH’s streaming service, for $12.99 and get the event for free or to watch it on NJPW World. Take it from me, this is the best deal going this weekend and the two promotions have put together an unmissable card here.

Rounding out GCW’s offerings and the last major event before WWE’s Big Show (not that one), is Part 2 of Joey Janela’s Spring Break. This one is headlined by one of my most anticipated matches of the weekend – LA Park vs Masato Tanaka in what should be a wild deathmatch. Also on the card is the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express (yes, that one) taking on one of the most exciting teams in the business right now, LAX. Also on the card are Necro Butcher, Jeff “Fake Sting” Farmer, Essa Rios, Parrow, and…the lead singer from the band Wheatus?

With WWE in the mix, there are close to 50 events taking place over the weekend, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here, so it’s pretty overwhelming to take it all in. But I’d encourage both avid and casual wrestling fans to give some of these events a try. Without the shackles of WWE creative holding them down, the independent promotions and talent on display here have the chance to let loose and try stuff that would never fly on RAW, SmackDown Live, or even NXT. Tons of talent use this as an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of a huge wrestling audience, and can be counted on to bring their A-game. It’s the biggest wrestling weekend of the year, and between GCW, New Japan, ROH, Revolution Pro, and all the other independent groups gathered in New York this weekend, no one is going to settle for second best.

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