Canada's 'Speedball' Mike Bailey sees independent wrestling as purest form of the art

There's no hiding the excitement in "Speedball" Mike Bailey's voice when he speaks about wrestling in front of a live crowd instead of for a television audience.

"Oh, man, this is my favourite question in the world. And it's my favourite part of professional wrestling to talk about," said Bailey. "In fact, I've done seminars on this very specific part of wrestling."

A mainstay on nationally televised Impact Wrestling, Bailey is a former X-Division champion who earned laurels in 2022 as the X Division Star of the Year and one half of the promotion's match of the year against fellow Canadian Josh Alexander. He has top billing against Kellan Thomas at Fight Life 9 in East Greenwich, R.I., on Wednesday, the first time the independent promotion will be on FITE+, the combat sport streaming service.

Bailey, from Laval, Que., said that he's excited for the smaller promotion to have a commercial-free broadcast because it will allow fans to see professional wrestling in its purest form.

"When you're watching it on TV, you're watching a TV show, it is very much a production. Sure there's a live crowd. But for the most part, it's a TV show, right?" said Bailey. "You see a near fall, right? One, two, and then there's a kickout and what happens? The action comes to a halt, which is necessary for television.

"The producers will do a close-up on the guy who kicked out, his shocked face at the kickout, then we'll hear the commentators tell the story of what was behind the move that just happened, then we'll pan to a shot of the audience that may or may not have been taken live, then we'll return about after like 30, 45 seconds to the wrestler."

Live wrestling that doesn't have to cater to TV cameras and the whims of directors and producers or commercial breaks is more exciting, Bailey says.

"Independent wrestling is made for the live audience. Wrestling as an art form is and always has been about having a live crowd there," he said. "It's about changing the script in favour of the audience.

"You're having direct feedback on whether what you're doing is good or is bad from the audience's reaction. I really think that the art form of pro wrestling is for the live crowd."

Bailey, whose wife Veda Scott is also on Wednesday's card, said he's very happy to be a part of Fight Life Wrestling's move to a streaming service.

"I'm a strong believer and supporter of independent wrestling. So much so that I don't believe we should be using the term independent wrestling," said Bailey. "I think that independent wrestling should just be wrestling and the wrestling that happens on TV or in another format should be the one that's qualified because the majority of wrestling that happens right now is indy wrestling.

"Fight Life is just a fantastic example of an independent promotion that has done things right. It started small, it's slowly grown organically and now, to see it on a bigger platform, just means that the system works."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press