In auditoriums, gymnasiums, and recreation centers throughout the United States, men and women in spandex costumes grapple. Wrestling is kept alive by no fewer than 15 unique promotions in Florida alone. Ring of Honor, one of the most highly regarded wrestling promotions in the world, comes to Fort Lauderdale this Friday for their first Florida event of the year.
This isn't WWE. Like Impact Wrestling, whose weekly TV show is filmed in Florida, Ring of Honor is one of the most popular promotions in the United States. Wrestlers tend to work for multiple companies at a time, necessitating frequent and extended travel that is one of the biggest downsides to the career. In addition, life in the ring can lead to injuries ranging from concussions to dislocated shoulders to broken necks.
“I’ve always been impressed with how passionate the fans are [in Florida],” says 46-year-old wrestler Christopher Daniels. “We always have passionate crowds when we go.” Daniels boasts a 23-year career as a professional wrestler. Among other accolades spanning several promotions, he is a former Ring of Honor World Television Champion and a four-time Ring of Honor World Tag Team Champion.
Interested? You can attend Friday’s Fort Lauderdale event, then drive to Lakeland Saturday for another Ring of Honor competition or pop over to Ocala for NXT Live, a division of the WWE. You're liable to see a number of the same faces in the crowd at each show. (Including mine.)
“Florida has a lot of history with wrestling,” says Frankie Kazarian, a 39-year-old wrestler and Daniels’ tag-team partner. Ever since 2004, when Impact Wrestling began doing its weekly shows in Orlando, “you got a sense of the vibe, the passion, that the Florida crowd could bring to a show… I’ve wrestled all the way south to as far north as you can go in Florida, and I’ve seen — even if it’s a pack of ten or 15 fans — no matter what, wherever you’re going to be in the state of Florida, those few are gonna be there every time without fail.”
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Wrestling fans are devoted, rabid creatures, and even a few hundred can bring an auditorium to life with cheers, chants, and signs carried by people of all ages and backgrounds. To attend a wrestling event is to become part of a weird, shouting, overly excited family. While a casual wrestling fan might catch WWE Raw on TV once a week, more serious fans will likely follow several promotions — attending live events, purchasing pay-per-views, and using subscription services like the WWN Network, Demand Progress, and FITE TV. Some of them might even go to wrestling events on their honeymoon. (Like I did.)
Ring of Honor specifically has garnered a sizable following over the years. Referring to big names in WWE, Daniels says, “Guys like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, all those guys came through Ring of Honor… First they came through the independent scene. They learned their trade by traveling the world and working everywhere they could, and Ring of Honor was one of the first places that gave [them] national exposure.”
Friday’s event will include a number of fan favorites, like Daniels, Kazarian, Jay Lethal, Colt Cabana, and Ring of Honor World Champion Adam Cole. The show promises matches from both the men’s and women’s divisions that will inspire the kind of excitement many of us had watching Dusty Rhodes or the Rock as kids — and maybe even a chair shot or two.
Road to Final Battle with Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and more. Doors at 6 p.m., bell at 7:30 p.m. Friday, October 21, at War Memorial Auditorium, 800 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale; rohwrestling.com. Tickets cost $25 to $65 via ticketmaster.com.