A little over four years ago, Joe Cabray arrived home to Ireland from America where he spent a short amount of time working with NXT. Upon his return, Cabray began crafting a vision that would forever change the face of the independent wrestling scene in Ireland.
“As well as trying to build my own wrestling career, I wanted to help others, and I wanted to build a platform where the top Irish wrestlers could be showcased but also to design a place where Irish wrestling fans could come and see great wrestling,” he says.
“It was a kind of wait-and-see situation – wait-and-see if we could draw enough people to pay the bills of the first show, wait-and-see if we could do a second show, wait-and-see who showed up. Is there a fanbase of Irish fans who wanted to see Irish wrestling? There were so many questions. Would it be embraced by the people? Was the talent there in Irish wrestling?”
In 2014, this vision was realised when he launched Over The Top Wrestling and, in October 2014, OTT launched their first event – the aptly named ‘OTT: F**k PG‘
OTT would go on to run one more show in 2014, before running a further 10 shows the following year – including the debut of what has become their biggest show of the year: ‘Scrappermania’.
OTT has gained traction in Ireland for its unique blend of technical and high-flying wrestling, as well as more comedic aspects – with Angel Cruz, B Cool, and the ‘Session Moth’ Martina proving wildly popular due to the entertainment and hilarity they bring to every OTT show.
“We never had an idea of doing just straight-laced wrestling. We wanted elements of comedy as well as a place where people could see solid wrestling,” Joe says.
"I think it is important to have a variety for everyone. If you go to an OTT show, you might not be into the real technical wrestling but you might be into the high-flying or the comedy."
Ireland's International Pedigree
While OTT shows feature a fair share of comedy, it should not be underestimated how many world-class independent wrestling stars have mixed it up with Ireland's finest. Names including Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, Jeff Cobb, Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate, Trent Seven, Ryan Smile, Marty Scurll, Tommy End, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and the Young Bucks have all graced the OTT stage - with Omega and the Young Bucks competing at 'Scrappermania 3' in the National Stadium.
In 2016, OTT made a giant leap into the mainstream wrestling conversation when - just seven months after the pair shattered traditional wrestling preconceptions surrounding athleticism and story-telling during NJPW's Best of the Super Juniors - Ricochet and Will Ospreay squared off in the main event of 'The Dream Before Christmas'.
"It was definitely one of those moments where we were starting to turn the corner on being recognised as not just Ireland’s top wrestling promotion but one of the top promotions of Europe," Joe Cabray says.
"[Will] Ospreay vs Ricochet was massive for us. We also had Finn Balor make an appearance on the show so that event was a massive, massive turning point for us and was a very important moment in the history of OTT."
More Than Women's Wrestling
Another aspect of the promotion's presentation that has proven popular among Irish wrestling fans is the utilisation of inter-gender wrestling. OTT went so far as to set up a Gender Neutral Championship at 'Being The Elite' at the tail end of 2017.
'Session Moth' Martina became the first-ever Gender Neutral Champion at the show. While Joe Cabray does see value in the new title, he admits that the fact that Martina was Women's Champion at the time meant that the women's division was neglected as a result.
"I think our women’s belt has become a little bit neglected. Unfortunately, because Martina was the Gender Neutral champion and the women’s champion, we were kind of neglecting some of the women’s matches.
"I think that it is very important that we can showcase these women."
Cabray went so far as to say that OTT's all-female show - 'Defiant' - in April was his way of relaunching the company's women's division, a division which he feels deserves to be showcased.
"I think that it's important to showcase women’s wrestling. I think it got a bad name for years when it was put into wrestling shows by the WWE during the Attitude Era to showcase their exterior rather than their athleticism.
"For me, I look at wrestling for what it is – an art-form. It is not like UFC where you have some guy trying to beat the s**t out of a girl, it’s an art-form so why can’t we have a girl mix her style of pro wrestling against a guy? At the end of the day, it is about making a match. There is no true competition in it so why can’t we mix the genders?"
From NLW to OTT
Before OTT made history with the 'Defiant' show, the Irish promotion kicked off 2018 at 'Homecoming' where they introduced their very own world title: the OTT World Heavyweight Championship.
Jordan Devlin capped off what had been a memorable 12 months by being awarded the championship after he successfully defended the NLW title which he had won at 'Being The Elite'.
"When I see a match with Jordan Devlin, I see a guy who is not just one of the best in Europe, he might be one of the best in the world," Cabray says.
"I think he moves so well and, speaking to him, he’s a well-spoken, intelligent lad and someone you would want representing your company."
As a result of Devlin relinquishing the NLW title after being awarded the OTT title, the NLW title will now be used as the top title for the 'Contenders' - OTT's answer to NXT or NJPW's Young Lions.
"I think the title does have a lot of significance because it used to be the title that we travelled with when we did shows around Europe. You had guys like El Generico, and PAC wrestle for that belt. It’s been held by RVD, by Rene Dupree, by Pete Dunne, by Ryan Smile, and myself.
"The belt has the deepest sense of history in Irish wrestling. I find it fitting that it is put on the future of Irish wrestling," Cabray says.
Trouble at the Tivoli
As OTT has grown over the years, one thing that has remained the same is the Tivoli Theatre being the promotion's home. While OTT has put on events in the 2,500 seater National Stadium - as well as shows in Limerick and Belfast - it is the Tivoli Theatre, which houses less than 1,000 people, that holds a special place in the history of OTT. In many ways, the Tivoli is to OTT what the Hammerstein Ballroom was to ECW.
"I don’t think you can talk about OTT being where it is today without the Tivoli," Joe says.
Unfortunately, the Tivoli faces demolition in the near future, a fact that Cabray believes could have an impact on the future of OTT.
"I think the Irish government needs to take a look at what is going on because we seem to be tearing down our venues and replacing them with hotels and car parks which are probably needed but what about our arts? We’re looking at this now as actually having no home to go to after the Tivoli.
"It’s a sad issue because if you go to any other capital city like London or the major cities of Europe like Berlin and they all have these amazing venues, several of them. We don’t even have one anymore."
Optimism Among the Uncertainty
While there remains uncertainty as to where OTT will call home upon the closure of the Tivoli, there remains plenty of optimism around OTT.
The promotion has proven to be a very effective proving ground for up-and-coming Irish talent. Jordan Devlin has become an all-round elite performer within the confines of OTT, while 'Session Moth' Martina has become the face of a burgeoning women's wrestling scene in Ireland.
Then there is the 'Contenders' system, which has allowed young talent such as Scotty Davis, Curtis Murray, Nathan Martin, LJ Cleary and many others to hone their skills before becoming the new wave of exciting Irish wrestlers.
While the success of Finn Balor, Sheamus and Becky Lynch helped shine a light on what the Irish wrestling scene could produce - with OTT leading the way and the country's biggest ever show coming in a matter of weeks - Irish professional wrestling is getting ready to show the world what it does produce on a regular basis.
You can watch past and future OTT events on ottondemand.com for just $8.00 a month.
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