Professional wrestling wasn’t always the global, streamlined, sanitized mass market presentation present-day WWE and its imitators are. Look up footage of any number of NWA promotions in the 60s, 70s, and 80s (all on the WWE Network for the low low price of $9.99!) and you’ll find regional companies appealing to regional audiences in ways many fans would argue was far more entertaining than the variety show approach of today.
Earlier this week, WWE began teasing some sort of forgotten promotion’s footage, named Southpaw Regional Wrestling. Its contents were a mystery, until Friday when four mini episodes dropped on YouTube.
Southpaw Regional Wrestling is a unique WWE production: made to appear and feel like a reclaimed VHS tape of the dusty, smoky territories of yesteryear, with current WWE Superstars playing off-the-wall characters, many of their own invention. Talkin’ Shop and Talk is Jericho listeners will recognize
Sex Tex Ferguson right away, one of Luke Gallows’ many characters he’s come up with over the years to pop the boys, so to speak. Gallows was recently interviewed by FOX Sports and was asked about Southpaw Regional Wrestling:
Southpaw Regional Wrestling is a concept of this … basically 1980s southern regional wrestling promotion or territory, and it’s a lot of stuff that the guys have been doing for years backstage to entertain each other," Gallows said. "I know my character in particular has been an ongoing thing for the better part of a decade.
It’s a common belief that in wrestling, promos are much more entertaining and engaging when fans can tell the performer is enjoying him/herself, and feeling comfortable with the source material. SRW is a great example of this theory in action, as these are characters the wrestlers have invented and, ostensibly, wrote most if not all of the dialogue. John Cena, Chris Jericho, TJ Perkins, Rusev and others assume roles wildly different from their weekly Raw and Smackdown characters (I never knew how badly I needed The Ascension as a couple of surfer dudes in my life until this week) in a series of backstage interview, vignettes and promos in the buildup to "Lethal Leap Year," Southpaw Regional Wrestling’s biggest show of the year.
It also features a series of bizarre commercials that blur the line between in-show gag and actual advertisement, as a Ric Flair impersonator hawks KFC’s Georgia Gold chicken, which raises two questions: was Jay Lethal the Flair impersonator, and was Southpaw just one elaborate ad for KFC?
The result is a hilarious, outside-the-box experience full of jokes and segments that would feel at home on Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job or Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. It’s unlike anything WWE has ever put together, and is worth a look for that reason alone. Other reasons to watch include Fandango playing depressed alcoholic commentator Chett Chetterfield, Rusev and Lana as country bumpkins Big Bartholomew and Christian Joy, and John Cena’s Uncle Rico-esque Lance Cattamaran, who dearly misses his six weeks as an anchor on the nightly news in Utica (and his father).
It’s surreal, even for the already-unreal world of wrestling that it originates from. And perhaps it speaks to WWE’s willingness to try new things in the Internet Era–this sort of production wouldn’t have been possible in the 90s or even early aughts, as it certainly doesn’t fit on Raw or Smackdown, nor would it warrant a DVD release of its own. But in a world of YouTube clips and a company-owned Network, WWE is free to try basically anything and everything at little risk to them, especially when it’s as easy to produce as SRW. In fact, in today’s wrestling climate, experiencing WWE in bite-sized pieces like this may just be the best way to go to cut through the vast amounts of noise WWE’s weekly programming is infamous for. And if this approach results in more risks like Southpaw Regional Wrestling, bring it on.