It’s official: WWE will definitely be holding its Crown Jewel event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Nov. 2. A number of outlets, including Paste, have written about how the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and its subsequent cover-up, has cast an even thicker cloud over WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia than already existed. With numerous global businessmen and politicians pulling out of Saudi Arabia’s “Davos in the Desert” economic summit, and the removal of any doubt that Saudi Arabia itself was involved in Khashoggi’s murder, WWE’s commitment to running this show as scheduled guarantees the company will take a public relations hit. And it absolutely deserves to, especially if Crown Jewel is as full as blatant pro-Saudi propaganda as WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble event back in April.
The unabashed boosterism for this brutal regime is the most disgusting thing WWE has done in years. It’s enough to make many fans reconsider their support of the company—I myself cancelled my subscription to the WWE Network a few weeks ago, largely because of the Saudi Arabia show. Supporting a company means at least tacitly endorsing its decisions, and it’s hard to feel comfortable with a company so willing to do PR work for a country with Saudi Arabia’s track record of human rights abuses.
Fortunately finding great wrestling outside WWE is easier today than it’s been in a couple of decades. Even if you don’t want to support Ring of Honor, which is owned by the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting (who infamously forces its stations to air pro-Trump and pro-Republican editorials), there’s more than enough wrestling that doesn’t have such odious and easily traceable political ties.
At the top of that list sits New Japan Pro-Wrestling. The hottest promotion among hardcore wrestling fans over the last few years, New Japan continues to make in-roads into North America. Its streaming service New Japan World broadcasts its shows live across the globe, and Mark Cuban’s AXS TV cable station airs slightly tape delayed highlights of New Japan shows every Friday night. New Japan’s also run a series of major shows in America over the last 18 months, and although attendance was down at the most recent ones, they (along with Ring of Honor) did sell out Madison Square Garden for a show in April. New Japan’s American rise has been spurred on by the charismatic superstar Kenny Omega, a Canadian who’s spent most of his career in Japan and speaks their language fluently, and the rest of the “cool heel” stable known as the Bullet Club. If you’re intrigued by New Japan but worried you won’t be able to get into a group full of foreign talent that don’t speak English, well, you shouldn’t be worried about that as wrestling is a universal language, but also you can rest comfortably that stars like Omega, the Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Juice Robinson and more all speak English. New Japan does work closely with Ring of Honor, which, again, is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re trying to remain politically pure in your wrestling allegiances.
New Japan’s main historic rival, All Japan, has been in a down period for years. They’ve launched their own streaming service, though, known as All Japan TV, and it could be what this 46-year-old promotion needs to flourish once more. Unfortunately it doesn’t have any of the legendary shows from All Japan’s ‘90s heyday (that footage is owned by a Japanese TV network and not by the promotion itself), but the current roster has some strong talent and All Japan has slowly been picking up steam with Western audiences since All Japan TV launched.
DDT, another Japanese promotion, also has a streaming service. Don’t expect the serious, sports-like presentation of New Japan or All Japan, though. DDT (which stands for Dramatic Dream Team) is an unreal fever dream of pro wrestling madness, influenced more by anime, manga and comedy than it is Frank Gotch. Its absurd approach to wrestling won’t entertain everybody, but if you have a sense of humor (and also love fast-paced, acrobatic matches) you might love it.
Dragon Gate’s also based in Japan, but its newest big star is one that American fans know pretty well. Neville, the former Cruiserweight Champion who angrily walked out of the WWE last year, has resurfaced in his old promotion and under his old name of PAC. He’s injected some much needed life into a promotion that recently lost many of its top stars. Dragon Gate is traditionally the home of the high-flying style of Japanese wrestling that’s heavily influenced by Mexican lucha libre, and if that sounds like your cup of tea you can check out its brand new Dragon Gate Network streaming service.
Outside Japan, there’s still some great wrestling to be found in America, even if you’re trying to avoid WWE, its affiliated indies, and Ring of Honor. Impact might still have a bad rep, but it’s been a perfectly acceptable wrestling show for most of the last two years. It’s a modest company with modest storylines and a good, if small, core of talent, and the fact that its latest ownership group isn’t bending over backwards to rip off WWE’s presentation and storytelling has turned it into a small breath of fresh air. You can watch Impact on Pop TV on Thursdays at 10 PM ET, catch certain big events free on Twitch, and find both recent shows and a deep catalogue of TNA footage on the Global Wrestling Network streaming service.
Lucha Underground has cooled off over the last couple of seasons, with some of its biggest stars leaving for WWE and other promotions. It’s still running its unique brand of grindhouse lucha, with a charmingly absurd central mythology that’s growing more prominent with every season. The first two seasons are about to leave Netflix, unfortunately, but if you hurry you can probably binge through them, and then try to catch up on seasons three and four on the El Rey Network or through iTunes.
Mexico is still a hotbed for pro wrestling, with its traditional lucha libre enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. CMLL, the oldest wrestling promotion in the world, uploads many of its shows to its official YouTube page. CMLL’s main competition, AAA, has a YouTube page as well, and also streams events on its Twitch page. Lucha can be an acquired taste for fans raised on North American wrestling, but its death-defying acrobatics are mesmerizing, and when done right a lucha feud can be one of the most energizing things in wrestling.
The UK wrestling scene took the world by storm over the last few years, and although it’s not as strong as it was not so long ago, there’s still a lot of great action happening across the pond. Two of the most notable UK promotions, Progress and ICW, are more or less under WWE’s wing now, with their programming rumored to be coming to the WWE Network at some point. Revolution Pro Wrestling isn’t closely affiliated with WWE, and has had its own streaming service, RPW On Demand, since 2016. Rev Pro does work with Ring of Honor, which might give you pause because of the Sinclair connections, but between that partnership and relationships with New Japan and CMLL, it features some of the best talent in the world.
These are just a few of the most notable and easily found alternatives to WWE out there today. There are several other promotions across the globe presenting fantastic pro wrestling on a regular basis, from Pro Wrestling Guerrilla in California (who still prefers to release its shows on home video instead of on the internet), to the burgeoning indie promotions of Australia. And there’s probably at least one local promotion wherever you live, featuring talent from the greenest first-timers to the biggest unsigned names on the indie scene today. If you only support one wrestling promotion, at least consider making it one based in your area. It’s not hard to find top notch wrestling that doesn’t run propaganda for authoritarian regimes, and it’s definitely worth seeking out if you want to enjoy your pro graps without quite as much guilt.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.