WrestleMania is the single biggest wrestling event of the year. The WWE's annual supershow has expanded in recent years to the point where it now includes a week's worth of televised events, a convention center full of displays and autographs signings and a superstore that includes almost every piece of merchandise they sell.
But with tens of thousands of wrestling fans flying into town, from all 50 states and more than 60 countries, other companies have taken notice and taken advantage of having such a passionate, dedicated and captive audience. This year in Orlando, Florida, was no different, with dozens of wrestling shows promoted by companies hailing from all over North America and England, with wrestlers coming from all corners of the globe.
For fans, it's a potential once-in-a-lifetime chance to see certain wrestlers -- some ultimately bound for WWE stardom, but others who are enjoying the peak of their career. For the wrestlers themselves, it's an opportunity to show what they have to offer with a far higher than normal chance that someone with the power to change their lives or their careers is watching.
From Thursday evening through the early morning hours of Sunday, April 2, a co-branded effort between the World Wrestling Network (WWN) and FloSlam, a live-streaming content provider, 10 different events filled the Orlando Live Events in Fern Park, Florida. OLE was originally a Jai Alai venue, but the converted space served as a unique venue to host wrestling. ESPN's cameras were given access throughout the weekend to get a closer look at the world of professional wrestling outside of the WWE.
Joanna Rose, a British actress, serves as the ring announcer for several wrestling companies, including EVOLVE. She looks on with the crowd as EVOLVE champion Zac Sabre Jr. takes on former PROGRESS wrestling champion Mark Haskins as part of the WWN Supershow: Mercury Rising 2017: Evolve vs. Progress event.
Ricochet, real name Trevor Mann, is one of the most highly touted American professional wrestlers in the world today. He's in mid-rotation on a shooting star press after jumping off of the top rope, and about to land on another up-and-coming star in Keith Lee during the EVOLVE 80 show Thursday night.
Mark Haskins sits poised in the corner, awaiting the start of his match for the EVOLVE championship against Zack Sabre Jr. as part of the WWN Supershow: Mercury Rising 2017: Evolve vs. Progress event.
Drew Galloway, a Scottish professional wrestler and former WWE star, foreground, and Matt Riddle, a former UFC fighter, lie exhausted on the mat during their grudge match as part of EVOLVE 80 on Thursday night. Two nights later, Galloway, under the moniker Drew McIntyre, announced he had re-signed with the WWE as part of their NXT brand.
Donovan Dijak, a 6-foot-7, 266-pounder, flies over the top rope onto EVOLVE tag team champions Tracy Williams and Fred Yehi as his partner, Michael Elgin (best known as "Big Mike") gets out of the way. For Dijak, who previously wrestled for Ring of Honor, another major independent wrestling company, this is his debut match with EVOLVE.
Former EVOLVE champion Timothy Thatcher stands defiantly in the middle of the ring during his match with Chris Dickinson (real name Glen Benton) at EVOLVE 80. Though Thatcher is an established entity within EVOLVE, Dickinson only recently became a full-time member of its roster.
Fans reacts to the over-the-top antics at the Kaiju Big Battel show at Orlando Live Events. Kaiju Big Battel is performed by the Boston-based performance entertainment troupe Studio Kaiju, created by Rand Borden and David Borden. The performances are parodies of both professional wrestling and the tokusatsu kaiju eiga films of Japan. These Battels are presented in the style of professional wrestling events, with the costumed performers playing the roles of giant, city-crushing monsters similar to Godzilla and Gamera.
Richochet lands a spinning kick on Keith Lee during their match at EVOLVE 80. This particular contest earned a lot of attention in the days that followed, with those who watched it pointing to it as one of the best all-around performances of the weekend
Drew Galloway tosses Matt Riddle to the ground during their grudge match at EVOLVE 80. Riddle, a cast member of Season 7 of "The Ultimate Fighter" transitioned into a professional wrestling career in late 2014.
Zack Sabre Jr. wears the EVOLVE championship belt just before the start of his title defense at the WWN Supershow: Mercury Rising 2017: Evolve vs. Progress event. This was one of a half-dozen matches for Sabre during a four-day stretch. He's one of the most well-traveled wrestlers in the world, competing on both coasts of North America, throughout Europe and, immediately following this trip, Japan.
Timothy Thatcher prepares to toss Chris Dickinson over his hip during their challenge match at EVOLVE 80. Thatcher is the longest-reigning EVOLVE champion in history, having held the title for 596 consecutive days.
Donovan Dijak swings himself into the air before crashing down upon Tracy Williams with a kick. They're on opposite sides of an EVOLVE tag team championship match that also involves Michael Elgin (Dijak's partner) and Fred Yehi (Williams' partner, and the other half of the EVOLVE tag team champions).
Fred Yehi, foreground, Tracy Williams, right, Michael Elgin, in red, and Donovan Dijak all scramble to get to their feet during the EVOLVE tag team championship match at EVOLVE 80.
Unicorn Party stands at the ready in the opening match of the Kaiju Big Battel show at Orlando Live Events. Unlike other wrestling events, everything from the canvas to the ringside area are transformed to create the illusion of a monster battle amid a cityscape.
Oleg the Usurper stands on one knee in triumph during his match with Race Jaxon as part of Chikara Pro Wrestling's "Turn Left" event at Orlando Live Events Center on Friday.
The ringside area during the Kaiju Big Battel show featured buildings and numerous "giant" alligators that were used as weapons and deterrents. Here, The Powa Ranguru takes one of the alligators up for a serious body slam, during a Kaiju Double Danger Tandem title match.
Rick Roland, one half of "The Closers," a tag team with Sloan Caprice, turns back to return to the ring during the opening contest of Chikara's "Turn Left" event during WrestleMania weekend. While many of the characters in Chikara Pro Wrestling are masked or wear elaborate costumes, "The Closers" are hired muscle for "The Big Deal," aka former WWE superstar Hornswaggle.
Scary Su Yung goes for a kick in the corner on Silver Potato during the Kaiju Double Danger Tandem title match at Kaiju Big Battel's "Civil War Elimination" event during WrestleMania weekend. Yung and Hell Monkey would go on to win the match and the titles.
The major evil force in the story of Kaiju Big Battel is Dr. Cube, and through some disaster, dozens of various replicated Dr. Cubes were created. With hopes of "saving reality," the original Dr. Cube incites violence between the rest of the cubes and an impromptu battle royal breaks out.