The Foundation of the Wrestling Web Series

Before Nick vs Matt, there was Swampy vs the Philadelphia PD

Being the Elite celebrated their 200th episode this week, a lofty accomplishment for any web series airing after the year 2010. Over the past 3 years, BTE has followed the Elite from NJPW and PWG through the creation of AEW, and has helped to widely increase the group’s reach with wrestling fans. Without the series’ hardcore fans, All Elite Wrestling most likely would never have even been a concept. BTE’s wacky shenanigans, devotion to their fan base, and frequent digs at WWE have built an increasing interest in the Elite and given them their lifelong fans who now dedicate themselves to calling you names if you say you weren’t super enthralled by Dynamite this week.

But years before Being the Elite debuted, there was another, potentially more Lynchian wrestling web series generating buzz. In 2012, Taurus legend Chuck Taylor released The Gentleman’s Club, a series following the antics of the Chikara based stable, consisting of Taylor, Orange Cassidy, Drew Gulak, Dr Colonel Nolan Angus, and the Swamp Monster. Out of the group, I don’t think the Colonel ever wrestled, and Swamp Monster seems to have been played by a variety of Wrestle Factory trainees. The show made use of Taylor’s film degree, an invaluable tool considering how many wrestlers today still don’t edit out turning the camera on and off when they’re filming promos in their backyard. The short episodes (most under 5 minutes) covered everything from the discovery of Swamp Monster in the woods to Orange Cassidy losing a match in 30 seconds. There’s even a music video where St. Elmo’s Fire is rewritten as an ode to Gulak (sung, very passionately, by Taylor and Cassidy), and a look inside Chuck Taylor’s personal wrestling academy, featuring future BET award winner Malcolm Bivens.

(As a fair disclaimer, the show also features a series of slurs and some offensive humor. The Colonel’s whole gig is being a racist, which, to be honest, is also the real life deal of many wrestlers.)

However, unlike Being the Elite, where concrete storylines are created and often play into the character’s development on actual shows, the Gentleman’s Club didn’t lean so heavily into the writing (if there was any at all.) There’s generally no clear story from episode to episode, no narrative sense to be made beyond these guys thought something here would be funny. It feels less polished, more DIY; bridging the gap between the more grungy indie wrestling of the 2000’s (which, if filmed at all, had all the quality of a Motorola Razr) and the slick video packages everyone and their mother can get produced today. It lets us explores these characters outside of wrestling, without making it a clear “wrestling show”. Like Zack Ryder was discovering right around the same time, fans want to go beyond the ring. They want to know these characters as people. It’s great if you can do a triple moonsault, but if you can’t, you can get yourself over with a lot of personality and a video camera from Staples. It’s not just wrestling that makes a great wrestler, it’s also your ability to connect with your audience. Or, in the case of The Gentleman’s Club, you ability to pretend to snort cocaine while your buddy refuses to do sit ups.

(If you want to think about how strangely the world works, the Where’s Trent? segments aired right around the same time as The Gentleman’s Club, which, honestly, should have prepared us for anything Poppin Dogs revealed down the line.)

It’s especially wild to watch these episodes in 2020, while knowing where most of these guys ended up. Chuck Taylor and best friend Trent(?) are staples of AEW’s tag division, while freshly squeezed Cassidy remains one of the most talked about members of their roster. Gulak is teaching Daniel Bryan intricate rituals on SmackDown, and honestly I have to believe Swamp Monster went onto great things as well. Outside of the Kentucky Gentleman and his frequent companions, the show features appearances by multiple then-popular indie wrestlers and now-multiple time WWE/NJPW/AEW champs. Roderick Strong and Adam Cole share a beer in Chuck Taylor’s dreamscape. The Young Bucks, future stars of their own web show, refuse to share merch space. Uhaa Nation teaches Chuck a lesson in cultural appropriation, and El Generico even pops up a few times. It’s a who’s who of the early 2010’s indie scene, with nearly every wrestler who would eventually be scooped up by WWE or AEW making an appearance.

For even more PWG based nostalgia, check out the Kentucky 24/7 Hardcore title for some very familiar faces, some very confused bystanders, and a Sliced Bread #2 off a fake boulder at a mini golf course. Not for nothing, but Chuck Taylor was kind of a self promotional genius.

Before creating your own content was really a big thing in wrestling, the Gentleman’s Club was helping to pave the path. Letting each wrestler go as big and as weird as they’d like to show off their comedic chops, it helped promote a side of these guys that fans might not have ever seen otherwise. There’s no better way to endear yourself to fans than to commit to the bit as intensely as these guys did. It’s hard to imagine a show like Being the Elite not at least taking inspiration from Taylor’s (admittedly, primarily drunk) character exploration. The story, the characters in wrestling don’t go away when the show is over. They just go home to watch Fast Five. Over, and over, and over.