WrestleMania 32: The Show The Indies Built

The guys who filled rec centers on the weekends will fill an NFL stadium this Sunday.

On April 6, 2014, Bryan Lloyd Danielson’s many years of training, working for minuscule crowds, and the long road trips to get there culminated into a deafening “Yes!” chant from the 75,167 adoring fans in attendance at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana as he made four-time WWE World Heavyweight champion Batista submit to his “Yes!” Lock to capture his WrestleMania Moment and the company’s crown at WrestleMania XXX.

A year later, in the WrestleMania 31 main event that featured champion Brock Lesnar defending his throne against the hand-picked face of the WWE, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins—who was beloved by fans as Tyler Black during his days in Ring of Honor—stole the spotlight and cashed in his Money in the Bank contract.

A curbstomp to Reigns later, ROH alumni had won professional wrestling’s richest prize at the industry’s biggest show for a second year in a row.

While this Sunday’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship main event won’t feature an indie darling, most will agree its the supporting cast of former weekend warriors—AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, and Sami Zayn—that will have the WWE Universe tuning in.

Before Owens was a two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, he was known internationally as Kevin Steen. Loved by fans for his incredible athleticism despite his large frame, as well as his CM Punk-esque approach to the microphone, Steen worked 16 years for the chance to defend a major title at WrestleMania 32.

The 31-year-old competed in Viking Hall for Combat Zone Wrestling, American Legion Post #308 for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Hammerstein Ballroom for Ring of Honor, and everywhere in between.

During that time, Steen was the antagonist in an epic that’s still in draft. He will meet the story’s protagonist, again, on Sunday.

Generico vs. Steen

El Generico (Sami Zayn) defends a strike from Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens) at an ROH show. (Credit:

From the point of turning on tag-team partner El Generico at CZW Cage of Death VI in 2004 to defeating the unmasked luchador in 2015 for the NXT Championship, the two have authored one of professional wrestling’s best unfinished tales—the next chapter to be written in the Ladder match at WrestleMania 32, where the Owens-Zayn saga will be broadcast to millions of viewers.

Another newcomer to the “Show of Shows” made his name elsewhere and kept it, for its four syllables translate to one word: Phenomenal.

AJ Styles left Total Nonstop Action after 11 years as the company’s most decorated performer and became professional wrestling’s hottest free agent. After a stint with ROH and maintaining his stardom in New Japan Pro Wrestling as the leader of the Bullet Club, Styles got the call from WWE. This time, it wasn’t to face or .

On Sunday, Styles will take on one of WWE’s most iconic egomaniacs, Chris Jericho, for a third time since debuting at No. 3 in the Royal Rumble in January to one of the loudest pops since the return of Brock Lesnar. The clash of pro wrestling excellence hasn’t disappointed in their prior meetings, and under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium, the two could quite easily steal the show.

The veteran of the pack, Dean Ambrose, will compete in his third WrestleMania. The stakes have gotten higher each year for the “Lunatic Fringe,” who competed for the Intercontinental Championship last year. But on Sunday, Ambrose will go up against four-time WWE World Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar in a Street Fight.

The stipulation favors Ambrose, who is no stranger to steel chairs and barbed wire.

During his days in the indies, Ambrose built popularity wrestling under the name Jon Moxley for CZW. A company known for the amount of blood that has hit its ring’s canvas, Moxley was one of CZW’s best from 2009 to 2011. After making it to the semifinals of CZW’s Tournament of Death VIII in 2009, losing to ultraviolent icon Nick Gage in a Fans Bring the Weapons match, Moxley went on to win the CZW World Heavyweight Championship in 2010.

His wild antics and his anything-goes style hasn’t been lost in the PG Era. Ambrose still closely resembles his Moxley gimmick and it’s a character that has become widely popular with the WWE Universe. Ambrose enters WrestleMania 32 as the company’s top babyface.

As more independent talent gets added to the WWE’s developmental roster with NXT, it begins to shape the future of a company with an uncertain one. With talent like Styles, Owens, Ambrose, and Zayn, they’ll fill the void until the next star is formed at a rec center near you.

Mark Whited
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Mark Whited

Founder / Editor-In-Chief at
An avid writer and fan of wrestling since he was eight years old, Mark Whited founded in May 2014. While hoping to one day step foot in a wrestling ring, he also writes for a number of outlets, including The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Mark Whited
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