The COVID pandemic has impacted all promotions, big and small, across the wrestling business in the last 16 months. For New York’s premier indie promotion, Empire State Wrestling, this July sees them run a show for the first time since the pandemic started, with ‘Brawlfest‘ on July 31st from Buffalo RiverWorks launching their return. We spoke to ESW publicist and referee David Jarka about ‘Brawlfest’ and what we can expect from Empire State Wrestling’s return.
Sports Obsessive: Empire State Wrestling returns to action after a 16-month hiatus with ‘Brawlfest’ on July 31st. What can we expect from the show?
David Jarka: Brawlfest will feature many of ESW’s regulars and also several new faces making their debuts. With such a long layoff, you will see a roster full of wrestlers eager and hungry to restart ESW’s legacy of putting on the best indie wrestling cards in all of Western New York in one of the area’s premier entertainment venues for the first time. I think this will be a “can’t miss” show for all our fans.
SO: 16-months is obviously a long time to be unable to run a show. I understand the NYS Athletic Commission treats pro wrestling as a combat sport rather than a performance, which meant the insurance costs involved made the possibility of running empty arena shows unprofitable. To what extent has the pandemic affected the promotion and has this changed how you operate moving forward?
DJ: The COVID restrictions made it unfeasible to put on the type of shows fans expect out of ESW. But with the infection rates significantly lower, an above-average vaccination rate in New York – even more so in Western New York – and the generally wide availability of vaccines, I’m personally optimistic that we will continue to run fairly close to our regular style shows for the foreseeable future.
SO: Has the pandemic affected what talent you still have access to moving forward, what with talent trying to grab work where they can? Has it allowed you to book any new faces that you’re excited about?
DJ: Being along the Canadian border, there has always been an influx of Ontario-based wrestling talent in our area. Unfortunately, there are still enough border crossing restrictions that make it difficult or impossible to bring in Canadian wrestlers at the moment. Hopefully, as the Canadian vaccination rate rises, it will become easier for wrestlers to make it across. Same for many of our Canadian fans too that regularly attended our events.
SO: For any of our readers who haven’t come across Empire State Wrestling before, how would you describe the promotion’s ethos? What is Empire State Wrestling all about?
DJ: ESW has been described as “indie wrestling’s best-kept secret”. We feature a good mix of the best Western New York talent, top independent names and the occasional wrestling legend. I think that combination has created a product that’s appealing to fans across the wrestling spectrum. It’s a family-friendly product but also one that diehard wrestling fans can also sink their teeth into.
SO: There’s a lot of talk about “forbidden doors” and cross-promotional relationships in wrestling at the moment. Are there any companies that you work with currently and would you entertain working with other promotions in the future?
DJ: In the past, we partnered with Xcite Wrestling in Binghamton, N.Y. as well as SMASH Wrestling in Toronto, Canada to bring in talent. We have our events available to watch on SMASH’s streaming channel and on PROGRESS Wrestling’s on-demand service. We also have our shows on other streaming services like Independent Wrestling TV. Collaborating with other promotions is something we’d continue to be open to moving forward.
SO: Empire State Wrestling was once part of the National Wrestling Alliance, working with NWA Upstate to form NWA Empire. You held some big matches, including an NWA World Heavyweight Title Tournament match between Daniel Bryan and Fergal Devitt (now Finn Balor). What do you make of the NWA’s rise under Billy Corgan over the last few years?
DJ: Overall, I think it’s a positive thing. It helps extend one of pro wrestling’s richest legacies into the modern era and gives wrestling fans another option.
SO: The likes of Adam Cole, Orange Cassidy and Brodie Lee, amongst others, have all come through Empire State Wrestling in the past. You’re obviously no strangers to great talent. If there were just three Empire State talents our readers should check out, who would they be?
DJ: It’s super hard to pick just three. There’s a lot of great talent on our roster that we’re proud of. I think there are three ESW regulars in particular that are on the cusp to breaking out nationally on the indie scene: “Big Time” Bill Collier, “The Remix” Kevin Bennett and “None of a Kind” Anthony Gaines. If you seek out their matches to watch, you will be pleasantly surprised and wondering why they’re not on bigger stages already.
SO: What can we expect from Empire State Wrestling in the future?
DJ: Being the first event back after the start of the pandemic, Brawlfest will be the show that helps get ESW’s momentum back. In the future, we hope to build off our new relationship with Buffalo RiverWorks and to continue to bring our product into the heart of the City of Buffalo.
SO: Any last words for our readers?
DJ: For many people working on Brawlfest, this will be our very first wrestling show back in well over a year (myself included). This was my longest layoff in between referee bookings for myself and I imagine also for several others on the roster and behind the scenes. Thus, I think this event is going to be filled with a lot of determined talent that will be excited to perform in front of our fans in attendance and watching on one of our video streams. I think emotions will be high and the atmosphere will be electric. Brawlfest will be a memorable time for everybody.
A big thank you to David Jarka and Empire State Wrestling for giving us the low down on Brawlfest. We’re excited to see the promotion get back on its feet and get back into action. Brawlfest will be available to stream on IWTV and the Highspots Wrestling Network shortly after the event has been recorded, so make sure you check it out and support great independent wrestling!
Sports Obsessive wishes Empire State Wrestling and David Jarka every success for the future.