Two years ago, Wrestlepalooza was called the "best kept secret in wrestling." Now, the secret is out.
F1RST Wrestling will return to Minneapolis' fabled First Avenue for the 8th incarnation of its independent wrestling extravaganza, with each having proved more popular than the last.
Tickets for this Saturday's show have sold out. In fact, not only have they sold out, they've appeared on ticket reselling sites at 350 percent markups.
That's the sort of thing you normally expect to happen with WrestleMania, not a smaller production like F1RST Wrestling, albeit one that features the very best of Midwestern wrestling talent.
The production is the brainchild of local wrestler and promoter Arik Cannon, who started F1RST in 2007, hoping to put a different twist on traditional wrestling shows.
"I wanted to start F1RST Wrestling to bring something new, something fresh and fun to professional wrestling," Cannon told BringMeTheNews. "But especially, the scene here in Minneapolis."
The inaugural F1RST event in 2007 played out in front of just 200 people at First Avenue, before Cannon launched Wrestlepalooza at the same venue in 2013.
Even then, that only attracted 350-400 people, but word got around to the extent that it's become increasingly hard to get your hands on tickets.
"I honestly think the rise in the popularity of Wrestlepalooza is due to the fact that we are all in on it," Cannon said. "There's no wool to pull over anybody, we all know it's a show, and we are all there to have fun. Fun, smiles, laughter – that stuff is contagious!"
Wrestling, rock music and burlesque, all in one show
The key to Wrestlepalooza's success is not only to provide spectacular wrestling matches heavy on characters, humor and weapons, it's to do it in a bawdy, raucous and – importantly – casual atmosphere now sorely missing from bigger, more staged productions like the WWE.
At Wrestlepalooza V, there was a surreal scene as masked wrestler Jervis Cottonbelly started jiving in the ring to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" at which point his opponent, the "Kentucky Gentleman" Chuck Taylor rushed at him and – well, you can guess what scene they replicated next.
The shows are sponsored by a beer (PBR) – unthinkable for the increasingly PG WWE – and wrestling isn't the only thing on the card.
This Saturday will see rock band The Copyrights take to the stage, not to mention the customary appearances from burlesque performers Queenie Von Curves and Sweetpea.
It's this kind of irreverence that strikes a chord with those crammed inside First Avenue and is attracting new followers to the legendary Minneapolis venue.
"There are so many moving parts to our whacky show, you don't even have to be a wrestling fan to come out and have a good time!" Cannon said. "And because of that, people are telling their friends, and we are creating more new fans, every time out! And that's pretty cool."
Getting and creating big names
As the promotion's exposure grows, professional wrestling bigwigs are sitting up and taking notice of F1rst Wrestling and Wrestlepalooza.
In attendance as a special guest on Saturday night will be Scott Hall – who wrestled as "Razor Ramon" in WWE (then WWF) and shocked the wrestling world as a founding member of the New World Order in WCW, alongside Kevin Nash and, infamously, Hulk Hogan.
But Wrestlepalooza is not just attracting stars – it's creating them as well.
One of the headlining acts at recent Wrestlepaloozas has been Minneapolis' own "Sheikh" Ariya Daivari – who performs this Saturday and is brother to former WWE superstar Shawn Daivari.
The high-flyer headlined Wrestlepalooza V in a brutal bout with Cannon, and earlier this year the WWE announced he had been selected as one of 32 competitors to compete in the company's first ever "Cruiserweight Classic" tournament.
There have also been rumors that Chuck Taylor could be making an appearance in the WWE's developmental show, NXT, in the near future.
At the first event F1RST Wrestling event a young wrestler competing under the name "Tyler Black" took to the ring – he went on to be known as Seth Rollins and until recently was the WWE World Champion.
"I think their work within F1RST Wrestling is valuable to them, in the sense that Wrestlepalooza is the premiere event in Minneapolis." Cannon told BringMeTheNews. "The exposure, the coverage, the word of mouth, the huge rabid crowds... It all plays a part in contributing to getting their names out there."
While his shows now sell out, Cannon thinks the promotion's future is still at First Avenue.
"I love First Avenue. We'll stay, as long as they'll continue to have us," he said.