How Animated GIFs Helped Create an Indie Wrestling Boom

Thanks to social media’s word of mouth and the rise of streaming services, more pro wrestling can be seen than ever before.

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Sep 15 2016, 4:47pm

Ring of Honor World Champion Adam Cole. Image: Courtney Rose/Flickr

It used to be that in order to watch pro wrestling that wasn't available on TV in North America, you would have to wait for someone to trade tapes with, which could take weeks depending on how connected you were within pro wrestling's fabled tape trading community. But as the world becomes more globalized, so has pro wrestling—with recent evolutions in internet streaming, as well as trends in social media, more people are able to find wrestling outside of WWE more than ever before.

Senor Lariato, noted for his wrestling GIFs on Twitter, is one of the many who have helped independent promoters bring word to their product through social media.

"I do think social media's played a significant role in helping independent wrestling's rise over the past 15 years or so," he told Motherboard. "As we've moved into an increasingly digital age, it's simply allowed promoters and wrestlers to reach more potential fans than ever before."

New Japan Pro Wrestling, for example, had several critically acclaimed matches, showcasing a ton of talent that had never been seen in North America. Through the streaming service Ustream (and later its own streaming service New Japan World), plus word of mouth on social media and partnering with North American promotion Global Force Wrestling, the company was able to appear on pay-per-view in January 2015. It did well, drawing roughly 12-15,000 buys, which is pretty damn impressive for a promotion that almost never runs shows in the United States.

"Where TV has been the distribution model for pro wrestling since the 50s, and still is for the big promotions, the internet and social media and [streaming] services make up the distribution model for the super indies today" Brandon Howard, who writes for pro-wrestling and mixed martial arts publication Fightful.com, told Motherboard. "When NJPW was able to do [10,000] PPV buys, although they'd been on AXS for about a month at that point, I think you have to credit a lot of that to NJPW's internet and social media following they gained with English-speaking fans."

Former Twitter user DeathToAllMarks, also known for posting GIFs, agrees, going beyond just NJPW, citing several independent promotions that have posted footage on YouTube, as well as started their own streaming services.

"Whether it's matches, trailers like the onesPWG/AIW/AAW put out or second long GIFs," he told Motherboard, "samples are a great way to get new eyes on your product so that if people want more, they can support and buy DVDs or pay for monthly subscriptions to the ever increasing number of streaming services out there."

While WWE has enjoyed a popular run on social media, that popularity can be found all around the world. Not only does New Japan run big shows on their service, but Mexican promotions like AAA and CMLL have had their big shows on demand or streaming as well, not to mention dozens of other wrestling promotions out there. Wrestling may not be as popular as it was back in 1998, but the bigger the internet becomes, the more room there is for more wrestling.