To tune into WWE programming on the nights of Monday Night Raw on March 9, 2020 and Friday Night SmackDown on March 13, 2020 was akin to gazing into the future of sports and sports entertainment viewing for the next year-plus.
After airing live in front of thousands of fans on March 9, WWE was forced to pivot and broadcast from their training facility on March 13 due to the onset of the global pandemic. Not only were fans getting a glimpse of what they would be watching for the foreseeable future, but wrestlers themselves were setting up a crystal ball, as well. Not just wrestlers within WWE but also – or more emphatically, especially – independent wrestlers.
Indie wrestling is the lifeline of WWE. It’s very rare for a performer to make their wrestling debut inside a WWE ring. It’s understood that a pro wrestler must pay their dues, first wrestling in obscurity inside dimly lit bingo halls in front of just 50 people, before being considered ready for the big time. However, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a clothesline to those ideals as indie wrestling vanished almost as quickly as the crowds did.
While the absence of crowds contributed to the temporary shutdown of the independent wrestling business, WWE has continued to run their business, meaning they’ve continued to search and sign the next wave of talent in pro wrestling.
In late February, WWE announced that the largest class of recruits in its history had reported for training at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando. While it was a positive sign the company was continuing to harvest new talent, many of the new recruits had previous experience with WWE, were standouts in U.S. college athletics, or had made a name for themselves in one of the bigger U.S. promotions, such as Impact Wrestling.
Meanwhile, of the 18 new recruits, none were Canadian.
"As indie wrestlers in Canada, we got [expletive] all," says Jody Threat, an independent wrestler based out of Toronto. Threat noted to Sportsnet that it’s been remarkably difficult to gain exposure in Canada during the pandemic. "Any sort of relevance has more weight in America because that’s where the eyes are, and that’s where the bigger companies with the money are really, really watching, and it seems to be very challenging to get noticed if you just stick to Canada."
No longer could indie wrestlers within Canada rely on multiple bookings per week to supplement their income and boost their status within the industry. It was time to adjust.
"On one hand, you feel like you’re having to wait and lay in the weeds for the time to be right," says Channing Decker, an independent wrestler and promoter also based out of Toronto. "On the other hand, you’re watching the news and thinking that you can’t wait for your life to be put back on track by these politicians and whatnot."
And so, the adjustments came. With no crowds to perform in front of, most indie wrestlers decided it was time to amp up their social media presence.
"I understood that I needed to still be relevant," says Threat, who wrestled regularly throughout Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States before the pandemic. "When you’re an indie wrestler, you need to be seen. It’s just the nature of it. We’re not signed, we’re working for ourselves. We got to advertise ourselves somehow, and I was running out of ways [to do] it."
Many wrestlers, including Decker and Threat, have found success in promoting themselves on social media. Decker, for instance, has been involved in shooting cinematic-style matches for local Toronto promotions such as Superkick’d, and his own promotion, Greektown Wrestling.
However, there aren’t many indie wrestlers who can match the social media success found by Chris and Patrick Voros.
"The Voros Twins," a twin-brother tag team based out of the Vancouver area, have exploded across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok thanks to a video of the two answering a seemingly innocuous question: "Who painted the Mona Lisa?"
"Lately, ever since September, every time we leave the house," Patrick begins saying before both, in unison, finish saying, "everyone’s always like, ‘Da Vinki!’"
"For us, what we found out is that we do quantity over quality," says Patrick. "We just throw anything at the wall and see what sticks. We just make content and people seem to like it."
Saying “people seem to like it” is an understatement. Chris and Patrick, who have wrestled across Western Canada, the Northwestern United States and parts of Europe, possess social media numbers equal to, if not better, than even some WWE roster members. As of April 1, the twin brothers have over 845,000 followers on TikTok, 110,000 followers on Instagram, and over 22,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Their success follows a tryout with WWE in August 2019, when the pair were told to continue honing their craft.
"They said pretty much the same thing. You guys put in the work, now you have to increase your social media," says Patrick. "I feel like in the past year, we’ve definitely done that."
The Voros Twins attended the 2019 WWE tryout alongside Decker and Threat, each wrestler one of the 40 invited to Toronto ahead of SummerSlam on Aug. 11. Less than one year later, though, that high-water mark of attaining a tryout with the world’s largest wrestling company would feel like a distant memory as opportunities within indie wrestling dried up as the pandemic took hold of the globe.
"I’ve stopped trying to think about it because it’s so daunting," says Threat. "You get these glimpses of hope like, ‘Oh, maybe we can start wrestling,’ and then you can’t."
"I feel like my hands are tied," says Decker. "Whether I want to be impatient or patient about it, it seems like there’s a certain protocol that we’re going to have to wait and adhere to either which way. I’d love to get a bite from a bigger organization, like AEW, WWE, Ring of Honor.
"(But) that’s the hope of a pro wrestler. Every day you have that hope that you might get that big call."
For now, though, independent wrestlers across Canada will have to wait.