Smashing Through: The Rise of SMASH Wrestling

Derek Harmsworth talks to James Kee, one third of the team behind one of the biggest up-and-coming promotions on the planet, Canada’s own SMASH Wrestling.


There has always been a sort of unique charm surrounding independent wrestling.  You don’t get the flashy pyro, the ultra bright lighting, super comfortable chairs, or big air conditioned venues.  But you do get an atmosphere unlike anything else.  It’s a group of people who come together as fans, sometimes attending venues that aren’t exactly on the easiest of transit routes, to watch a group of performers who come together and pour their heart and soul out onto the canvas.

In short, independent wrestling, and all the camaraderie that goes with it (between both the fans and each other, and the wrestlers and the fans) is everything that is good and pure about professional wrestling.

At the very heart of this idea is Smash Wrestling.

Founded in 2012 in Toronto, Canada, the promotion strives to bring together the best independent wrestlers the world had to offer, all in a family friendly and inclusive environment.  “I didn’t start Smash Wrestling”, James Kee tells me.  Kee, alongside two other partners, makes up one third of the management team.  “I had gone to a show through a mutual friend of those involved with Smash Wrestling and really got the sense of something special.  I sort of fell into it from there-worked very hard to help build brick by brick with Alan and Sebastian.”

Though the idea that the company is ran via an management group may seem unique, Kee says their mutual vision allows the partnership to work seamlessly.

“It’s funny because I think we have same core vision, and that is to put on the shows that we wanted to see (as fans).  All three of us have different nuanced auxiliary goals, but I think that’s at the core of it.  And it just so happens that people want to see the shows we want to see as well.”

With a roster featuring stars Tyson Dux, Tarik, and Kevin Bennett, and appearances in the past (and occasionally present) from the likes of Matt Cross, Chris Hero, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Rich Swann, Kevin Steen, and Johnny Gargano, the company was able to put on dream matches fans had long since clamoured for.  Combine that with an unparalleled women’s division, an exciting tag division, and a fan-friendly atmosphere, and Smash Wrestling was destined for big things from the word go.

The management team have also made it a point to have themselves and the stars of the company visible and active in the local Toronto community, something that has not only enriched the area but strengthened the bond between the fans and the promotion.

The company has seen incredible growth.  Running about nine shows in 2013, the company nearly had that number tripled some three years down the road, unleashing 27 events unto the independent wrestling world including a two night event in conjunction with the stars of Progress Wrestling.

“We also strive to be the best”, Kee says when speaking about the ever forward determination of the company and all involved.  “And I’m not going to sit here and say that we are.  That’s for the external audience to decide.  But in everything we do, from the smallest detail to the biggest task we need to execute, we all maintain that drive and passion to be the very best at what we provide in Canada.”

The company currently runs a tour of Southern Ontario, with several stops throughout the year.  They also have an impressive online shop and the fantastic Smash On Demand digital service, allowing fans all across the globe access to their programming for one low monthly fee.

Kee is proud of the company’s reach, which has surely been aided by the service.

“Just how far our reach has grown as a company…  To be able to have Smash Wrestling’s work reach so many different places and have fans all across the world, it’s really incredible.”

Perhaps most importantly, they also have a brand new television deal.

Still in its infancy, Smash Wrestling on Fight Network has been a breath of fresh air into the world of professional wrestling.  The weekly, one-hour program allows fans new and old to experience the best Smash has to offer, while developing the company’s top stories and stars.

When I ask Kee what he’s most proud of during his time with Smash, the answer doesn’t come easy.  Which is to say, the large amount of things he is proud of comes forward in a flood.  Narrowing it down to just one is the seemingly impossible task.

“There’s so much that has happened in the four and a half years I’ve been involved in Smash, it’s hard to know where to start.  The Fight Network partnership is pretty amazing.  That’s a TV network that exists in over 30 countries and 3 million homes.”  He’s also acutely aware that getting the time slot behind GFW (which is a top program for Fight Network) is a big deal.  “We’ve been blessed with the time slot right after Global Force Wrestling: Impact.  That’s pretty cool and something that seemed to be a pipe dream of sorts at times.”

The television product itself is also incredibly smooth and well delivered, something that many will tell you is no small feat to accomplish in such a short amount of time.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Smash Wrestling as a whole right now is it’s rabid, dedicated fan base.  A group that has been loyal since day one, the company has always been a place people want to be for a myriad of reasons.  The wrestling is top class, sure.  Always has been.  But Smash Wrestling also offers fans a place to feel wanted, to feel safe and included, and to feel equal.

Since their inception, they’ve been fervent supporters of the Wrestling Is For Everyone movement, and have even partnered with “PWGrrrlGang” an initiative which promotes inclusiveness for all at live events.  The group’s mission statement says they “connect marginalized wrestling fans, promote open discussion, and connect individuals looking to avoid attending indie wrestling events alone.”

“With everything going on today we want to ensure we’re an all-inclusive company”, Kee states proudly.

“There’s no judgment.  Leave your hate at the door.  We welcome people from all walks of life and encourage a very communal atmosphere.  When you come to a Smash Wrestling show, you know that not only are you going to see a very good wrestling show, but you’re now part of a shared community that is really quite remarkable.” He finishes the thought by stating “they’re the best fans, honestly”, and you know he truly believes it.

The management team of Smash Wrestling themselves are at the forefront of these efforts, which include but are not limited to the occasional smacking down of a sexist twitter troll trying to undermine the work of their backstage correspondent, Alicia from A Music Blog, Yea? (Who is, no question, one of the best interviewers to come around in a long time).

They also show no hesitation when asking fans they’ve connected with through Twitter to meet them at wrestling shows (their own, as well as any other events they may be attending in the area.   The WWE stop in Toronto a few weeks ago provided them several opportunities to hang out with fans and supporters throughout the city).

“The fact that we’ve been able to build this community, one that embraces another and includes all without judgment and hopefully along the way has a positive impact on people’s lives is something we’re very proud of.  Whether that’s making new friends at Smash shows, overcoming a social anxiety, or whatever the case may be; if we can make a difference somewhere along the way to one person, I think that’s what I can be most proud of from where I sit.”

Heck, Smash is such a positive place to be that even some of their more famous fans will stand up for you and invite you in as their own.  One, Dan Pierce, even goes so far as to offer anyone who needs a friend at the show for any reason to come hang out with him.  And since he is literally a Yeti, I think it’s safe to assume 1) he’s being serious (yeti’s don’t play), and 2) you would feel safe and comfortable.

Just as the company is reaching an apex outside of the ring, their in-ring work appears to following suit.

In August the company produced “Super Showdown V” from Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Hall.  The event was headlined by the highly anticipated World Championship match between Tyson Dux and challenger Mark Haskins.  Also on the card was a steel chairs match between Tarik and Kevin Blackwood (who are both really good performers, it must be stated).  Bobby Lashley and Braxton Sutter also appeared.

The event is available through the Smash On Demand service, and comes highly recommended.

After a date in London on September 14th, the company will present two of their bigger shows.

“Headlocks and Hangovers” takes place September 30th in Sarnia and will feature Braxton Sutter, Kevin Bennett, and Allie.  October 1st the company presents “Fight Knight” from London, Ontario.  This card in particular is absolutely stacked, headlined by Champion Tyson Dux defending against ROH standout Jay White.

Indeed what comes next for Smash Wrestling is truly up to them.  The sky appears to be the limit.  One thing we know for certain is that the company has woven itself intrinsically into the fabric of Canadian professional wrestling.

The list of accomplishments already achieved, and everything that goes along with it, is not lost on Kee or any of the people involved with the company.  When I ask him what about this whole journey will never stop being amazing, he gives a detailed response about friends, wanderlust, and the rock-and-roll lifestyle that sounds as though it could belong in the narrative of a Stephen King coming of age story.

“Just having the ability to do this.  To live out a version of a dream with your best friends?  That never stops being cool.  Road trips, weekend tours, and all the insanity that comes with it; it’s like being in a rock band sometimes.  It’s cramming a bunch of people into very few rooms, it’s sleeping on floors.  Up early, sleep late.”

That lifestyle may not seem to be suited to everyone.  Hearing Kee talk about it, it’s clear he’s thriving.

“It’s just something I wouldn’t trade for the world.  I’ve been blessed to see so many new new places, and experience so many new things and meet the absolute best people along the way.  It’s priceless to me.”

Next?  When asked about the long-term goals, it’s clear Kee and the group are thinking big.

“Hopefully growth.  We’ve seen what friends of ours who run other companies internationally have been able to accomplish and it’s truly remarkable.”

Before tackling the international stage, Smash seems to still have lofty goals locally that they wish to check off their to-do list.  “I would love to go a special bigger venue in the city and sell it out-like Muzik or something”, Kee says of the famous 3,000 or so seat venue located in Toronto.

He continues on, discussing the intricacies of emanating from such a venue, tipping his hand subtly that this isn’t the first time he’s thought this out.  And it likely won’t be the last, either.

“That would be awesome.  But it’s a lot of work, both on our part and from the fans.  We have to keep grinding and spreading the word.  It’s not easy and there’s a very grass roots, old school style about it. But there’s a certain charm in doing things that way.   We want to continue our path and change the way wrestling is perceived in Canada.  To continuously set the bar and then completely jump over it.”

While they’ve become a fixture of Toronto and Southern Ontario, expansion through Canada also beckons.

“Long term we want to travel more”, Kee declares.  “We’ve established fantastic partnerships with FLQ Wrestling in Quebec and Innovative Hybrid Wrestling in New Brunswick which will help showcase Smash Wrestling talent in those areas, and help to build the best pro wrestling scene.”

The passion and pride for the business drips through every answer given.  No matter what aspect of the business is discussed, it’s approached with a feverish excitement.  It’s an attitude that resonates throughout Smash Wrestling, from employee A to employee Z.

However, as the topic of the next big goal is broached, Kee instinctively circles the conversation back to taking the company to a larger local venue.  The tell from earlier appears again, letting us know he has thought of this bigger venue goal often, and seriously enough, to know what is required to pull it off successfully.

“For me, doing a special bigger venue show (is the next big goal)”, Kee reminds.  “But that involves a lot of things happening before we can explore something like that”, he admits.  But it isn’t an admittance of resignation.  Not in the least.  It is an acknowledgment that everything surrounding a bigger venue show is all a part of the important journey toward it.

“What that entails is part of that overall goal too, I guess”, he says enthusiastically.  “Like tripling attendance for example.  Not that attendance is low now-it’s awesome.  But I’m addicted to the atmosphere they (the fans) create.  So now, my head gets racing and says ‘well, if we put on a show to double or triple the audience, what would that energy and atmosphere be like?’”

For Kee and Smash Wrestling, the answer to that burning question seems to be the next natural evolution.  And for all he and the the promotion have given their fans and the world of pro wrestling over the last half decade, it appears now that he has a favour to ask of them.

“And now it’s like I NEED to know.  So, if you’re reading this-help me make this happen, and put my minds wonder at ease.  Tell a bunch of people about us and come out.  Have a few prints and make 500 new friends with Smash Wrestling!”


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