There was a buzz in the crowd that night. As the challenger and champion faced off in the no disqualification match, you can feel the tension in the audience. Everyone wanted the challenger to dethrone the champion, who made this feud very personal recently. Little did we know; the champ was about to make it even more personal. As the action spilled to the outside of the ring, the wrestlers began to brawl all over the place. The challenger sent the champ flying off the stage through a table with a backdrop. The champ went through the table with a horrible sounding crash, leading everyone to stand and cheer. Our hero was about to vanquish the villain. He had the upper hand.

The brawl continued to ringside, and the villainous champion managed to get his hands on some duct tape, and taped the challenger to the top rope near the corner, leaving him helpless. As the champion went to the outside of the ring, the challenger’s father stood up and got into face of the champion. The champion did not like this, and threw a huge right hand, knocking the challenger’s father to the floor. The champ dragged him into the ring right in front of his son, and proceeded to attack the father with a chair, sending the challenger into a rage. As the champ opened the chair and put it around the neck of the father, he told the challenger that he would break his dad’s neck if he didn’t quit. Quickly, the challenger quit. The champion had won the match, but that wasn’t enough. He jumped off the middle rope, crushing the chair into the neck of the challenger’s father. The crowd gasped, and children cried as the champion was showered with boos. I looked behind me, and there was a child crying. I told the little girl that was crying that the champion won’t get away with this, and that the challenger will get him back. Don’t worry, the hero would win in the end. I was enraged, and wanted to see the champion be beaten be the challenger.

They had my money for the next show, and many more.

The emotional connection created while watching this live did not happen at a large WWE show, or some other theatrical production. This was at my local independent wrestling promotion, IHW (Innovative Hybrid Wrestling). The wrestlers involved weren’t huge stars like John Cena or Roman Reigns, but Markus Burke (the challenger), and Titus (the IHW Champion).

To you, reading this, it’s unlikely that you have ever heard of them. They run a small territory called The Maritimes, that consists of three provinces in Canada: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. IHW makes its home base in Moncton, New Brunswick, but tours all over the other towns and cities in New Brunswick, and throughout Nova Scotia. They consistently draw around 600 (or more) fans to their major shows in Moncton, and easily 300+ everywhere else they go, making them one of the largest independent promotions in the Maritimes, if not in Canada.

Almost all the stars are local talent, with a few from out of province, but the majority from our own Maritime provinces. IHW’s doesn’t focus on telling complex soap opera stories like WWE, but sticks to simple stories that everyone can follow, while keeping the show family friendly. Kids and adults can both enjoy the show, as it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the viewer, but gives us heroes to believe in and villains to boo. The simple storytelling has seen the company grow from drawing barely 100 people to drawing the incredible numbers they draw now all over the Maritimes. Indeed, independent wrestling in the Maritimes seems to be entering a boom period, and IHW’s consistently great shows is a huge part of that boom.

The territory that was once considered one of the best ones in the world during the peak days of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling (owned by Emile Duprée), is now seeing revival due to the hard work of promotions like IHW that carry on the legacy of Grand Prix (which is still semi-active as a promotion, but does not run frequently). 

Indeed, the territory that saw the likes of Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and Andre the Giant come through it is still alive and well today. However, the majority of the stars here are relatively unknown outside the territory, but still manage to be huge draws here.

Companies like UCW and Red Rock Wrestling have managed to draw over 1000 people to shows occasionally, showing that the independent wrestling business is far from dead here, especially when considering the average WWE house shows draws around 2500-3000. Yet, so few know about what is happening here, which is a shame, because the wrestling here is second to none. We have some of the best wrestlers, and best promotions on the independent scene today, and I would put their shows up against anyone in terms of quality.

From the story I told earlier, you can see that IHW has managed to create a special connection with the audience that keeps us wanting more. If you watch wrestling these days and wonder why it isn’t like it was when you were a kid, where you could get behind the babyfaces and boo the heels, I encourage you to check out your local independent promotion. I can promise you that the majority of them have characters you can love, characters you can hate, and stories you can get emotionally invested in. As Titus flew off the top rope, crushing the chair wrapped around the head of Markus Burke’s father, I felt completely shocked. Then I felt angry. I began to boo, while acknowledging the beauty of the storytelling happening in the ring. I wanted Markus to completely destroy Titus. This was no longer just about the championship or who was the better man. It was personal. He hurt a man who’s always there cheering his son on. A man that is a Maritimer just like us. Titus hurt one of us. It was personal for us too. I can’t wait to see the rematch that will hopefully end with Markus Burke dethroning Titus and getting revenge.

Every single person in the audience that night wanted Titus’ head on a platter. The heel got real heel heat, and the babyface got even more over as the top guy in the company. I have only highlighted the two top stars, but did not mention other top guys like Julian Young, Chip Chambers, Remi Petit, Brody Steele, Riddick Stone, Kirk Aube, Shane Stephens, James Liberty, and Dick Durning. Or upcoming stars Sabotage (an excellent tag team), and Maddison Miles (a great young lady who has been making huge strides as a wrestler), and countless others. The Maritimes territory is one of the hottest territories in the world right now, and is worth keeping an eye on.

You can follow the Maritime wrestling promotions IHW, UCW, and Red Rock on Twitter:

Markus Burke & Titus can be followed here:

A recap video of the story mentioned above can be viewed below:

IHW’s and Red Rock’s television shows can be viewed for free on Bell Aliant TV1: