While WWE and TNA may be the only wrestling companies some fans are familiar with, there are countless independent promotions that provide sports entertainment to local markets. This Saturday, indy wrestling in Ontario will be celebrated through one of the most unique shows of the year.

The Ontario Indy Wrestling Awards ceremony will kick off at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall in Oshawa at 6 p.m. on Saturday, January 9th. The event will see a wrestling card, presented by Great Canadian Wrestling followed by an awards ceremony and banquet.

The show is the brainchild of one of Ontario’s biggest independent wrestling fans, Emmanuel Melo, founder of OntarioIndyWrestling.com.

Melo, a wrestling fan since he was a child, started the site in 2003. In 2005, he started a thread on the site’s message board, calling for fans to name their favourite indy stars, and from there, the idea was born. The idea grew year over year including this year which will see 15 awards presented, including Wrestler of the Year (male and female), Tag Team of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Match of the Year, Most Hated, and Best Gimmick.

“The first few years,” Melo told SLAM! Wrestling, “the awards didn’t have much structure to them.” As a result of the informal voting process, fans were able to vote multiple times. Over the years, the voting became more formal and fair. “Nominations are open to any fans or workers,” he explained. “and the top five nominees in each category are on the final ballot. I then send out the list to most of the wrestlers, referees and promoters in Ontario, as well as others close to the business, and super fans who travel across Ontario to see a number of shows across the entire indy scene. Essentially, a winner has been voted as the best by his peers, which I believe means so much more.”

Longtime Ontario indy veteran Tyson Dux agrees. As one of Ontario’s mainstays, Dux is arguably one of the most famous indy names in the world. Though unsigned to a major company, Dux was included in the top 100 wrestlers in the world in the recent Pro Wrestling Illustrated Top 500 issue. An OIW award, he says, is an excellent feather in the cap of any up-and-comer.

“When a new kid gets recognized for his or her effort over the year, it’s a nice boost. A lot of these guys, they don’t do it for the money. They’re doing this because they love it, and it’s good for them to know they’re loved back. It might not be an Oscar, but it’s a good way to gain some exposure, which is so important.”

Indeed, many stars in both WWE and TNA started as indy wrestlers in Ontario, and toiled for years in smaller promotions across North America before being signed to the big leagues. The list is immense: Edge, Christian, Eric Young, Gail Kim, Traci Brooks, Taylor Wilde and Chris Sabin are only some examples of the major names that are currently employed by WWE or TNA. Many more still, like The Highlanders, Kizarny, and Petey Williams, had been signed at one point and have since returned to the indy scene.

Three such wrestlers will be squaring off in a triple threat match in the night’s main event. “Dangerboy” Derek Wylde, who was with TNA in that company’s early years, will be facing recent TNA departee Cody Deaner, and Shawn Spears, who went by the name Gavin Spears when a WWE/ECW superstar.

The six other matches see many of Ontario’s indy veterans like Dux, Jake O’Reilly, “Canadian Crazy Horse” Michael Elgin and Ashley Sixx as well as some of the province’s fastest-rising up-and-comers such as Ethan Page, RJ City, Scotty O’Shea, and Anthony Fiasco in action.

The show will kick off what is expected to be GCW’s biggest year ever, according to President Dave Wyldstar. In March, the company will celebrate its fifth anniversary and 100th show. In addition, the company will once again hold a show at the Anime North convention in May, an event that thousands of people attend every year, and exposing them to independent wrestling.

A strong believer in the importance of indy wrestling, Wyldstar said he is honoured to have been asked to integrate the OIW awards show as part of his event.

“The Ontario independent scene has seen countless success stories,” he said. “Many of our wrestlers have been recognized for years of hard work that they have dedicated to professional wrestling. GCW prides itself on being able to offer this unique platform to help carry on that tradition.”

Recognizing that the indy scene comprises many companies in addition to GCW, Wyldstar agreed to include stars from other promotions on the show; companies such as BSE Pro and Border City Wrestling will be represented as well, both in the ring and as nominees of the awards. That was primarily at the request of Melo, who wanted to show to be truly reflective of the Ontario indy scene.

“Dave allowed me to book most of the card,” Melo explained. “I wanted to have a stacked card with the best of the best, and was allowed to bring in guys that aren’t necessarily GCW regulars. Everyone who is booked is so excited about the show and promised to tear the roof off the building. I’m sure the main event will be a top contender for Match of the Year in 2010!”

Promising to be one of the biggest shows of the year, the night would serve as a tremendous introduction to independent wrestling for any fan at a very reasonable price. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door to attend the wrestling event only. To attend the show, the awards banquet, and the after-party, the cost is $40, or as Melo puts it, “a cheaper night than the cost of dinner and a movie, and a chance to see a fantastic night of wrestling action.”

2009 Ontario Indy Award Winners
– Newcomer of the year: Anthony Fiasco
– Tag Team: The Flatliners
– Best High Flyer: Xtremo
– Most Improved: “Midnight Special” RJ City
– Hardcore Wrestler: “Bloody” Bill Skullion
– Technical Wrestler: Tyson Dux
– Manager of the year: Jessy Jones
– Referee of the year: Dave Linton
– Best Character: Sebastian Suave
– Derek Wylde Fighting Spirit award: Sebastian Suave
– Next Breakthrough Star: The Flatliners
– Most Hated: Jake O’Reilly
– Fan Favourite: Sebastian Suave
– Female Wrestler: Cherry Bomb
– Male Wrestler: Tyson Dux
– Promotion: BSE Pro