December 4, 2011
@GaryMehaffy on Twitter
An interview with Bill Behrens
Date of interview: November, 29th, 2011
Before we get into the wrestling side of things, you were involved in the TV industry prior to becoming involved in it. What was you role there?
The long story short – I hope – is that initially I was a television programming syndicator, but really I grew up in a family that was involved in television. My dad, Bob Behrens, was a TV syndicator after being a disc jockey back in the earlier days of television – so the 50’s as a disc jockey, the 60’s in television – and then he became a producer, and both produced and distributed his own children’s programmes, in which my sister and I served as cheap labour! I had never had a goal to be in the business, but years later and after I had gone through college and got a degree in psychology and had done one year of law school, where I learned that I wasn’t going to enjoy the legal profession as much as I though I was, I was back in Atlanta working at a job and my mom and dad came in to town to a convention that happened to be in Atlanta, where I lived. They called up and said “Can you get free to help us out to help keep people occupied, because there’s only the two of us, and it gets busy, blah, blah, blah?” So I went in and helped at this convention – which was the National Association of Television Programme Executives, NATPE – and when it was over my dad called up and said “Everybody liked you,” and I went “Ok,” and he said “and they think you could really do this well and I’m wondering if I paid you this amount of money and taught you how to do this would you go out on the road and sell the TV show, because it’s better you doing it than me? I’d get more done back in the office editing the show and producing it out on the road if I didn’t have to go sell it too.” At the time, even though it wasn’t a lot of money, it was more than I was making at the job I was doing, and so I went “Eh, I’ll try it!” And so he took me out on the road. My dad is an excellent salesman, one of the best, and he spent two days on the road showing me the presentation for the shows we were doing at the time and then on the third day he went home! Basically, you better be able to swim because now I’m throwing you in the pool! Fortunately, within a few days of plotting my way through it, I closed my first deal and on we went, and for the first part of my career I worked as an executive in my father’s company, so there was a little bit of nepotism – sort of like the Bischoffs! But then inevitably, we got to the point, after being somewhat successful, that me being the only guy doing it and the product not changing a lot I had gotten to the point where I had hit the wall. I wasn’t delivering. It’s exacerbated by when you work for your family – the frustrations ca get higher and the hurt feelings can get larger. So, finally, picking my spot as best I could, on Christmas Day, I went for a walk with my dad and I had a resignation letter in my pocket. I’d had it for ages, but I hadn’t executed it because I kept trying to buy time, hoping things would get better but they didn’t, and then finally my dad pissed me off and I resigned from the company, which was sort of hard because the company is the family, and so that was a little rocky time. At that point I was unemployed, but after everyone had calmed down my dad said “Well, would you at least go to the convention in January,” - so NATPE was sort of my beginning and end – “and help us out because we don’t have a back up plan?” And so I did, and we did fine there, but while I was there another guy who’d gotten into the business through his dad – his dad was Dick Colbert, who years ago had distributed the shows Tic-Tac-Dough and Jokers Wild – Rich Colbert, had just been placed in charge of a new start up company that had good backing and good product called Access Syndication. He and I were just talking as we’d both been featured in an article about kids of executives that are in the business. We were just reminiscing about that and I told him my story, and the end of the story is he ended up giving me a job when my only credibility was selling one kind of programming all over the world for my dad. That worked out fine, except that company went out of business, went bankrupt, when the company selling its commercial time went bankrupt and all of a sudden we’re out on the street, so I set my own company, ShowBusiness Inc. That was in the late 80’s………I began sub-contracting myself, and eventually got hired (through) a friend of mine I had gotten into the business got a good job with what was then ITC, that eventually became PolyGram when purchased, which eventually became Universal Television when purchased…. At the same time, and during this, I had half-assed gotten involved in wrestling, but not in any big way. Initially, it was just helping local shows out here and there, because I knew guys in stations and stuff like that, until 1003 when I began to get more aggressively involved, because I had written a letter to the Pro Wrestling Torch, which at that point was just a little publication that a kid in college was writing, Wade Keller. The letter had to do with a taping that had been done by Crockett in Texas in High Definition television in the early 90’s. Of course, we know High Def. didn’t ever make it until recently, so among other reasons I thought the guy was stupid, that he’d a bunch of money for no good reason at all. Interestingly, out of that I got two phone calls. The first was from Jerry Jarrett, and Jerry had met before and remembered me, and said “You seem to know what you’re talking about, and uniquely you seem to understand television AND understand wrestling.” He got me involved with USWA and a little after that I got a call from Jimmy Cornette, who was doing Smoky Mountain, saying basically the same thing. I began working with those people, and while I was still doing it I was still with Universal. By the time we got to 1997 and USWA had changed ownership and Jerry Jarrett was no longer involved, I was even, with no experience at all, helping book, or booking, some of the television, which was ridiculous as I’d no experience! Fortunately, I got to work with Dutch Mantel and I learned a lot from him, which was a blessing. Not as much with Smoky (Mountain), there I was helping just with the TV. When SMW went out of business and USWA eventually died through just stupidity, in 1997, I had a deal at the time and had had a deal off and on with all of the big leagues. Jerry Jarrett had set up a deal initially with WWE, where the show that we did they distributed and they retained the commercial time, and they paid me – even though it wasn’t my show. Jerry had initially gotten me involved to get his son Jeff into promoting, but Jeff didn’t want to, and Jerry said “I’ll figure out a way to get you paid.” And he did – he got me a contract with WWE and got me paid. For him it was no expense and it meant more distribution. We always had a half-assed deal with them developing talent for WWE at that time – in fact Vince McMahon first appearance as a manager was in the USWA. For a brief period of time Jerry went and consulted in WCW and when he went I went with him there, and spent about a year, year and a half there, and then I went back to WWE. In 1997, when everything had gone out of business, I was still under contract to WWE but I woke up one day all of a sudden without a TV show. Then I went into business, at Jerry’s suggestion, with a guy I had met and had had more of an antagonistic relationship with originally, called Bert Prentice, who was an old school promoter, which means that he does whatever he can to draw a house and honesty be damned, sometimes. We set up a company first called Music City Wrestling, then I joined the National Wrestling Alliance in 1998 and we changed it to NWA Worldwide, and for a period of time we had a very large distribution. It didn’t quite get all over the world then, but by the time the distribution got transferred to Georgia and by the time I had set up shop at what became NWA Wildside, that distribution was seen even in the United Kingdom on The Wrestling Channel.
Yes, I’ve seen it.
We were all over the United States, more or less only 50% of the United States, but still as far as little companies went producing on a shoestring we had very wide distribution and slowly but surely the people we were showcasing were getting larger jobs. The first example of that was a group we created in Nashville called The Bad Street Boys which was Christian York, Joey Matthews, Shane Helms and Shannon Moore, and all of them ended up getting development deals and at three of them went on to do quite well. Were it not for injury to Shane Helms he would still be active, Joey Matthews as Joey Mercury had a good run, got clean after rehab and is now one of the trainers down in FCW and Shannon Moore is in TNA. Christian York is still wrestling, but more on the indys – he’s the only one that really didn’t break out which is a shame, he’s a talented kid. That was the beginning of where I realised where my spot was, which was talent development. With Wildside we gained a greater relationship in that and at that point I ended up under contract with WCW in their talent development area. We did that until it went out of business and I did Wildside, basically, as a development area with television and we had an awful lot of people who are now out there that came through that little building in Cornelia, Georgia. AJ Styles is the most well known, we had the monster Abyss, ‘Hot Stuff’ Hernandez, Lance Hoyt, Jimmy Rave, Ron Killings, the list goes on and on. We wee blessed to have helped people, and that became kind of my spot. I came into TNA while doing that in 2002. AJ was their first contract signed (from Wildside), David Young, another person we helped develop, was their second, and I ended up joining TNA and functioning in 900 different ways in the early days and enjoyed myself, but lost money in the process. Eventually, WWE came to me and wanted me to join them to set up the Deep South area, which initially was going to be mine and then eventually became a cluster with me, Jody Hamilton and Bill DeMott, which never worked. When I left, I went back and started producing shows again in Cornelia under a new owner, under a company called Anarchy at that point and this time I went back simultaneously for several years with TNA, but this time with a very specific job I was doing. This was as their booking agent, and also the initial booked of their house shows. Because of where TNA was at the time, there wasn’t enough money coming in to put people under the type of contracts that allow you to control them. We came up with a way to do that, by factoring in money from independent promoters. (We were) booking our talent out, receiving the money, keeping a piece of that action against the money we were advancing to the talent, so we were able to deliver guarantees and get that funded a little bit by the independent promoters. That also started getting the talent out, as TNA talent, all over the world. The largest of those deals was the one nearest the end of my run there, which was with New Japan, where we did joint shows with them, did Global Impact shows based on that, and it was a good win-win, a large business funded by New Japan. Initially I got talent booked, for example, with Hermie Sadler, who was sort of doing our initial house shows by booking a lot of our talent. Eventually TNA decided to get into the house show business but for reasons unknown some of management misunderstood the synergy between booking the talent on the indys and the hose shows, and saw the two businesses as butting heads rather than complimentary. Of course, they’re right, you could go head to head with them if you didn’t pay attention to what you were doing. If you did pay attention to what you were doing you could book the house shows and then have plenty of folks available who could be out on the indys, so more people were getting paid! They eliminated my job, and brought it in house, and gave it to the travel agent, Bob Ryder. The goal wasn’t anymore to book the talent on indys, and so all the prices were jacked up and fewer guys got booked on the indys as a result, but in the long run house shows increased. At that point I went back into producing TV for several promotions, and also helping them book, and acting as I do as a booking agent for various other wrestlers and I’m the business agent for several people, where I’m like a Hollywood agent for people like AJ Styles, Chris Daniels and folk like that, where I manage their careers, not just book them and take a percentage. That’s the 90 mile an hour Bill Behrens’ history!
You ended up by default in the industry. Were you a fan when you were younger, before this, or……
Oh Yea, I grew up as a fan. I was blessed to have grown up in Florida where Eddie Graham was the promoter and Gordon Solie was the mouthpiece, and the first match I saw was Jonny Valentine killing somebody, and I learned later that he probably did! I was a great fan and then, like Santa Claus, you begin discovering that are inconsistent in your belief and you go “Oh, ok, there’s something else going on here!” For some people, it’s why they move away from wrestling, for me it made me more interested. I got into the willing suspension of disbelief aspect of professional wrestling and the fact that if wrestling is done right, and it even happens today as the business is as exposed at the level it is where nothing is real anymore, by definition, you can still though, in a moment, capture an audiences belief and get them emotionally involved – and it’s the Holy Grail of all forms of entertainment. If a song makes you cry, if it makes you happy, if it makes you angry. If you’re watching a movie and you get caught up and are either sad at the end or……..males that watch Brian’s Song in the U.S. usually cry at the end of the movie, because one of the guys dies and everybody blubbers and feels like an idiot! Or you watch an action adventure and you want the good guy to win and the bad guy to lose. In essence, wrestling is all those things and it has the added factor that it’s being done extemporaneously. No matter how much people talk about staging there’s only so much you can rehearse when you’re going live and you don’t know what you’re doing until the night you get there. Wrestling has always been more analogous to stand up comedy or improv theatre than it is to anything else, yet it ties in tremendous athleticism and risk. It’s unique in entertainment. When you can get people to buy into it, what you’ve done in that match or that show, then you’ve really accomplished something. Some of the greatest moments I’ve had have been moments where belief has occurred. Where somebody is lying and they’re hurt and the audience is quiet and believes, or somebody turns on somebody else and the audience is truly angry, where somebody is so afraid an ambulance is called, or the police are called because something they believe is so vile has happened……..those are the Holy Grails, and either you like that and it sucks you in and you get into the creative aspect of wrestling, or you don’t give a damn about it. Wrestling is a love/hate business, there’s no grey area. There was a time in the mid 80’s when, and again when WWE and WCW were head to head, where it was just popular to be a wrestling fan, but those kinds of things are fleeting for every kind of entertainment. That part of it (the suspension of disbelief) is awesome. It’s why I enjoy developing the wrestlers to give them a chance to do it. Rarely do people get into wrestling if they’re not passionate about it. Guys that just get in thinking they can make money don’t survive.
It was around the time when Smoky Mountain was just about to finish, I remember that James E. was in WWE at the time, that Vince brought some of the NWA titles onto Raw. Do you think this was just his was of proving his dominance over the industry?
At the time, Jim Cornette was up there and involved in creative which benefited the idea. The idea was simply – and he (Vince) did it again with ECW – it was the invading force concept. The problem is that Vince gets interested in those things, gives lip service at some level, the immediately starts going “Wait a minute, this isn’t mine, it’s somebody else’s!” and gets ambivalent about it. Similarly, he has not yet to date embraced somebody that started in TNA and might have become available. He’s brought a few in like Lance Hoyt and a few others, and they’ve had a half a minute in developmental and maybe a couple of matches, but he doesn’t really get behind them. It’s like if he didn’t create the star and it doesn’t have his brand on it he doesn’t like being perceived as needing anything else. So, the NWA thing started with great intentions. Dan Severn was already there, he could come out, Cornette could bring the Rock n Roll Express in, create a new Midnight Express, Jeff Jarrett we’d create a belt and he’d become the North American Champion, it was all a good idea. But then they softened on the idea, so whatever potential there was wasn’t realised even if the idea was good. A few years later they did the ECW invasion, with Mr. Monday Night, Rob Van Dam, and they gave that half a minute and again Vince soured on it - much like when he established ECW as a brand. He soured on it because it wasn’t WWE. There’s a lot of that mentality that goes through WWE over the years, and always has. It occurred in a lesser way, and it should have quite honestly, in TNA when they embraced the brand (NWA) which they did from 2002 – 2004/5. The idea was a valid one – it gave them a history without having history, because they could draw on the history of the NWA. and they did a good job of that by putting over the old timers, and bringing in some of the old stars and showcasing the titles. The X Division was created as NWA originally – a lot of good hand gone on – but inevitably I knew, as the guy that helped set up that deal, that eventually somebody was going to wake up one morning and realise “What brand do we own and what brand do we licence?” The brand they owned is TNA, the brand that’s chanted is TNA, not NWA – NWA is a sanctioning body with history. Once TNA had a few years under its belt it sort of had its own history and it became a good idea for them to move forward. NWA has ALWAYS been a brand, it never has been a promotion. There have been NWA branded promotions. That’s a misunderstanding a lot of people have about the NWA. I have pleasant arguments with people all the time saying “NWA is not what it used to be!” and I say “Nothing is what it used to be!” If you’re saying that the wrestling business has changed dramatically – yea! Back when the wrestling business was hot on a regional basis there were 3 or 4 TV stations in every major city. not 9 million satellite or cable stations, and there weren’t as many entertainment outlets, now there’s tons, so when you don’t have that much competition and there’s no cable you can run a circuit. It’s easier to have 5 or 6 towns that you’re running every week doing the same stories because nobody knows! Obviously that changed, so of course the business changed. And with the suggestion that wrestling isn’t ‘real’ well, then. Some of the foundation that kept wrestling valid back then changed dramatically, and it became more of a sensational business. Instead of television driving to house shows – which used to be the mechanism for primary profit – television drove to pay-per-view before house shows – and merchandise. Different branches of a tree that used to exist in the smaller theatre. There was a different reality occurring as wrestling went forward, but the NWA, if you go back to the beginning, was a sanctioning body that controlled a world champion and that people embraced, and worked through, in their regional markets recognising the same world champion and various other champions over time. That’s always what it was – it’s what it is now, it’s just the business is different. Now our members aren’t running a circuit, they’re all running a town here, a town there in the area they have, because that’s all you can do – you can’t run a circuit anymore! When I joined USWA we were still running 4 days a week. When I created Music City Wrestling we were running 3 to 4 shows a week. Even in the early 2000’s when I had a deal with WCW we were running 3 or 4 shows a week. Now, its hard, if not impossible, to find a promotion that is profitably running multiple shows a week.
I was going to ask you some stuff in relation to TNA, because there was, to an extent, that towards the end of their relationship with the NWA that TNA felt themselves ‘bigger’ than the NWA……
It’s the wrong word, but I understand what you’re saying. What ended up happening was: 1 – you have it figure in particularly your merchandising. You need to prioritise the brand you own. You need to borrow as few brands as you can. Hulk Hogan, to this day, there has to be $1.98 paid on the ‘Hulk’ name. The ‘Hulk’ name is owned by the marvel people, there’s always a licensing thing that occurs on those. You know how valuable brands must be, because no-one in their right minds would ever confuse the World Wildlife Fund with the World Wrestling Federation. A court disagreed and WWE had to become WWE because they wee somehow confused with fizzy animals! I have no idea how that occurred, but it did. Brands, clearly, is where the value is. That was step 1. 2 – they had to deal at some level under contracts with certain requirements based on getting that brand (NWA). They had to pay a fee, they had to make that champion available to the individual members, they had to pay individual members for certain things, and over time they thought “Well, wait a minute. If we’re going to start doing house shows we’re going to go into where these members are and we don’t need to have their permission to do what we want to do. The baggage of the licensing became counter productive to the growth of the company. On our side, while we didn’t necessarily agree with it, there was always the perception of “We’re not getting enough, we could do better ourselves.” That was stupid, but you know the deal was “We need more control over this, we need better that…” No matter what the deal is, when you have a group of people you’ll see a percentage of people who want to bitch about it. It’s much easier to complain that it is for everybody to cooperate, because cooperating involves working. Bitching simply puts the blame on somebody else for what you’re not doing. When TNA got to the point that they were getting tired of it, pleasantly enough of our group were tired of it, so we were able to negotiate a divorce settlement. I didn’t go into the initial deal thinking this was going to last forever. In fact, the initial deal was a 1 year deal, specifically because Jerry Jarrett and I both thought “Well, we’ll see what happens after a year.” Given TNA’s history, who knew they’d survive the first year!
You have been instrumental in the career of both developing and representing many wrestlers, so it would possibly be a little unfair of me to ask you who you felt was the best of who you had, but……
It’s easy! The best single talent I represent, and quite literally the best talent in the business is AJ Styles, for all of the right reasons. His athleticism is tremendous, his personality is great, he is a religiously based young man, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he isn’t going to get anybody into trouble, he has natural charisma, people want to support him. whether he is a heel or a babyface, his fanbase loves him. His only downside is a) he’s never been to WWE. He’s one of several people that have never done that, other than a brief moment where he had a dark match, but other than Sting he’s probably the biggest star that has never been in WWE. I don’t think that anyone could question that. I think if WWE put the machine behind him he would be as big a star as anybody they ever put the machine behind, although he would be one of the smaller guys they would have done that to.
The flip side to that question is who do you see as the future or wrestling, looking forward 5, 10 years or so?
There’s a lot of really talented kids I help. That’s where it always gets difficult is looking at the guys you’re helping now and identifying them in the future. A guy that’s just getting started and getting a little bit of a push that I’ve been involved in since 2002 would be Matt Sydal/Evan Bourne. He is one of those guys that fans want to get behind that isn’t the cookie cutter of just a big muscle head. He is in tremendous shape and has his own special brand of charisma and athleticism that’s through the roof. Whether he becomes that guy very much depends on how he’s booked and where he’s brought in and being in the spot at the right time. You can be the greatest on the face of the earth, but f you’re not given the opportunity then you won’t be anything. Or you can be pretty good and if the machine gets behind you you’ll become a start, it’s just how big a star. WWE has proved that many times, look at what they’re done. TNA has a lesser ability to develop stars, although certainly AJ would be one start that they should be proud as having developed at some level, because while he was well known, they put him out there and at least one magazine – Pro Wrestling Illustrated – determined him to be the number 1 guy a year ago. As I look at guys on the indys that I help out, there’s a young man that I’m working with, Cory Hollis, who’s only 2 years in the business, and he’s a smaller guy, but he’s got tons of ability. There’s guys that have been around for a while that I think if they were given another strong run would impress, like Jimmy Rave. He would do an exceptional job. There’s guys that have just got a spot that I’ve been helping for years, like Rob Eckos/Robbie E. who is finding his niche right now. There’s guys that had a spot at one time that, if given a spot again, I think would be highly successful. A guy like Bull Buchanan, who I work with periodically. There’s a ton of these people. The key is, there’s a lot of talented people that I’m blessed to work with. One of the most recent would be the Gunner character, who we used as Shatter. That guy, if a machine got behind him, could be a big deal. He will be a big deal for TNA if they do it right. Tommy Mercer, Crimson, is another guy that I worked with for 6 months. He’s come so far so quickly, he’s another one that has a lot of potential. I think Shatter may have a little edge on him, but those are the guys that I’ve seen recently who could have the goods, but there’s a constant flow of new people out there that all they need is just given the ball.
I’m obviously a little biased, as I’ve been a fan of Dave Finlay’s style of wrestling, seeing as he’s from Northern Ireland as well. I wondered given the varied styles that you’ve seen is there one style in particular that does it for you?
I think Fit is a wonderful example of having not just the right style, but the logic and the performance that will allow you to have an extended career. The more wrestlers watch wrestlers rather than high spots, and learn the story telling aspect of it, the more likely IF they get a spot they will have a career. If you get your spot because of a high spot ability, because of your ability to do the thing that generates the ‘holy shit’ chant, like a firework it may brighten you for a while but eventually it’s going to fizzle away and no-one is going to remember it. There has to be something else. Whether it’s unique charisma like Jeff Hardy, because Jeff Hardy, from a pure wrestling standpoint, is not a great technician, his transitions move to move are not as good as Fit’s for example, but he has an unnatural charisma. Whatever it is, when he comes out to shoot it’s something special. There is that element in it. WWE has frequently put large guys out there and then suffered by what they couldn’t do and how much they could not protect them. You have to question would a guy like The Ultimate Warrior, a guy that had extremely limited skills and hurt people right and left and blew up 5 seconds into a match, would that guy be able to get over today? There are people that believe that, because they throw that type of guy at the wall all the time, but the reality you really can’t at this point because you can’t protect that guy as well anymore. There’s a different presentation. I think Fit’s kind of work is the template of what people should do. It’s one of the reasons why, I think, WWE was luck during the time they had him and it’s a shame that for reasons tied to their stockholders and sponsors that he’s not there right now. But the work he did with their women’s division, no matter how well Goldust and Bill DeMott are doing with it right now, it pales by comparison. I witnessed first hand, as Fit came in – the first time I met him – with some of the girls and worked out a WrestleMania match in my little building in Cornelia in 2004. Just watching his patience……..Then when I was at Deep South, a lot of the guys would be sent in to work with the guys here or there and the guy that was the best was Fit, because he brought a guy in the ring and he demonstrated how to do very basic moves, and basically demonstrated “I’m not doing a thing here that’s hurting this guy, but everything I’m doing is making you believe that. The only missing piece is how is that guy reacting? If he’s reacting to what I’m doing I don’t have to put any pressure on.” But, as he would also demonstrate, that if the guy wasn’t reacting I can get him to if he needs to! Just a subtle change of direction. It’s not “I’m a shooter” kind of stuff, rather it’s a “Hey, if this is a performance then you better be able to keep up with my performing or I’ll force your performance a bit.” Heck, they do that in the movies also. You can’t cry? I want you to imagine something sad in your past. You can’t bring it naturally? We’re going to give you a motivation. It’s the same idea. If I was to point anybody out that I would want people to emulate it would be the way Fit wrestles. And I think the fact that the AJ’s of the world throw in the high spots, but they’ve leaned – and AJ has about 5 of them now – to use them as signatures and you don’t have to do them all every tie and you don’t have to take great risks to do them. You don’t need to do ‘flippy dives’ and make 800 turns in the air to get a response from the crowd, you could do a slingshot plancha and go chest to chest with somebody and get the same response. It’s the timing. Instead, do the moves you know you can do. Do your springboard forearm, do the Styles Clash, do the flippy slop drop, do the Pele, do the drop down leapfrog dropkick, all those things. AJ gets a better response from a dropkick than he does from a ‘flippy dive’. That’s sort of the mentality of Fit – he just doesn’t go off his feet. Fit would go in there and tell a story with you, and that’s the key – the story. The high spots are the pyrotechnics. Terry Taylor just said in an interview – and it’s not something he came up with, it’s something we’re all brought up with if we’re taught correctly – there’s only one important pop in a match, the finish. All the others may be good, they may make you feel good, but they’re not going to be remembered. The ‘holy shit’ chant in the middle of the match will be forgotten later. What people remember……it’s the same with a movie. You don’t remember all the explosions but you remember how it ended! That’s where the Fit’s come in to play, because if you don’t learn that then you become more of a pyrotechnician, you become a high spot guy. You just become move into move into move into move, but you’re not telling any kind of story in the process so nobody gets emotionally invested. It doesn’t matter how well executed everything was that you did, nobody gives a damn. The key is to get people to give a damn, and I go back to where I started, my love for the business. Willing suspension of disbelief – that’s the key. That’s where somebody like Fit, who I get to work with now, is tremendous. He’s the kind of guy that if I was going to book a hotshot – and I’ve never been known for that, I’ve never been a payday guy, I’ve been known as a development guy. Experienced veterans were never booked by me, they came because they wanted to and rarely charged me. I’ve had a lot of the names in the business work my shows but on the rare exceptions have I paid anybody. One of the guys I paid I did as a favour to Tony Mamaluke, and that was Nunzio, who is another example of a smaller guy but is a technician. He can tell a story and make you believe, even at his stage, he's an Italian monster. Tony Mamaluke learned from him, as a little, skinny guy, how to get credibility from what he was doing. I have Mamaluke with me at Wildside helping my ‘flippy guys’ at the time, like Jimmy Rave, how to not be ‘flippy guys’. The Jimmy Rave that wrestles now is a move for move guy, not a high spot guy. He’s a story teller. The Jimmy Rave I started with was a high spot guy. One of my big bitches about booker Gabe – Gabe Sapolsky – is he a tendency to, and Dragon Gate is a promotion built on it. They’re built on not selling move to move to move to move, so none of the moves matter. I’m gonna kick your face off, you’re gonna kick my face off and we’re gonna keep doing it until one guy kicks more that the other and wins. Or it’s ‘we’re gonna do a bunch of flippy spots’. What happens when you do a bunch of ‘flippy spots’ is you’re increasing the risk, meaning somebody’s going to get hurt. That’s the only thing that’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when. I’ve told Gabe that for years, and I’m not saying that I don’t have guys that do ‘flippy spots’ too but you don’t book to it if you can avoid it, and unfortunately the promotions that do, the ones that have words like ‘insanity’ in their name, invariably you are saying ‘we are going to have someone get hurt here and we know that and we don’t care’. Whereas in my case I may have used aggressive names like Wildside and Anarchy but the reality is we wanna teach people how to tell a story within the ropes and reduce the pyrotechnics, because that’s what’s going to get you a job inevitably.
I have one final question for you. I think it will be interesting, as I don’t really know where you will lie on this. I just wondered what you see as the biggest detriment to the industry today. Do you think it is the lack of proper territories or unscrupulous trainers/promoters?
In terms of just the reality of what in a perfect world would grow a business, if you had a whole lot of really smart people doing a really great job in any genre of business, and you’ve got healthy competition built on quality product, then the end result is the business itself grows over time. If you’ve got a greater quantity of idiots, amateurs and crooks doing it – and an awful lot of independent promoting, once it got out of a handful of people who controlled it years ago, and we got the modern age where anybody believes they can do it, and from a television standpoint anybody can buy a digital camera so anyone can do a TV show, whereas when I started doing it I was know as ‘the TV guy’ because I knew how to do it at a budget that was affordable, now any monkey can do it at an affordable budget – the end result is anybody can put on a show, including kids in heir backyards, literally. That drags down the growth potential of the business, when it’s not better monitored. One of the small ways I try to help out is using the NWA brand, I have 10 associate members in my 3 state area. We have approximately 60 promotions worldwide using our brand, so the largest percentage of places using the NWA brand happens to be within my local area. My theory there is by being selective and embracing these individual promoters and putting them under the brand means, over time, if everybody is a heel the same way in all of those promotions, if everybody is a face the same way in all those promotions, and there’s some synergy between the storytelling we’re not going to recreate the past but we’re going to get a lot closer. I had a conversation with Thunderbolt Patterson, a venerable Georgia legend, and T-bolt, like a lot of the older guys, believes “If we just did it like we used to do it, it would be great again, and trust me I know how to do that.” I don’t want to be disrespectful, but it’s different now. As I tried to explain to him, back in the day what was on TV, whether it was the A-circuit or the B-circuit was the show that came to your town. You’d see at leas some of those stars from TV in every town, so if you were talking about Georgia, what was on WTBS was what you saw, with rare exception. There were a few indys, and they were generally using the people that had been on TV too. Now, though, the guys on TV are controlled by the guys that have TV, so what you’ve got left are, unless you’re booking a lot of those guys and spending a lot of money hotshotting, your local talent. Your local talent is only going to be known by your crew, so therefore expanding that is problematic. Like T-bolt said for one of the guys I work with all we’d have to do is put this TV we have on the Fox affiliate here all over the lace and we could run those towns. Well, no, we’d have to have it on for ages, and people would have to get emotionally invested, before we could do that. Could we go into a town and promote a house? Yea. Could we go in and promote on a regular basis? Who knows. I told Dusty (Rhodes) how hard that was, and he didn’t believe me, and he ended up losing a lot of money in a company called Turnbuckle and getting mad at me, because I’d been right. It’s harder to grow the underbelly of wrestling because there’s so many people doing it badly that’s it’s hard to control and consolidate the people that are doing it better. The more, though, we control – and it’s where the NWA brand can be helpful and provide continuity, even if, God forbid, it’s only he recognition of a champion – the more we can focus an audience on that. Ring Of Honor can have that stability if it pays attention to how to do it, which is difficult for a broadcasting company that doesn’t understand wrestling and a wrestling company that really doesn’t understand how broadcasting works. I sort of understand both, but I’m unique in that. Ring Of Honor is the one that has the best chance of making it work, because they’re producing a show that has to run on their stations, that in theory their local people have to sell and if those sales people are smart they’ll sell it in what is called a value added way. What that means is, they’re not just going to sell commercials on the show to make money for a local advertiser, they’re going to go to the local advertiser and go “Hey, you know what, we’re going to bring a live event into town x number of times a year and you’re sponsorship money will also get value there – value added. We’ll put a banner up, we’ll announce it from the ring, we’ll hand out flyers for your fast food place, or you rental place, or you car dealership, we can bring the stars of our promotion to your dealership…….TNA just cut an advertising deal in the United States where they’re doing that now as part of their house show circuit. That is the way it used to be and Ring of Honor uniquely may be able to let us take a step back, if they recognise whose responsibility is what. For example, the guys that book the TV for the show aren’t the guys that need to make sure there are butts sitting in the seats when they come to Richmond, Virginia. That has to be the responsibility of the TV station who airs the show owned by their corporate ownership, and the guys that book the TV – the Jim Cornette’s and the Hunter Johnston’s/Delirious – need to be responsible to deliver a strong product not be the people getting advertisers involved and people in seats. If they can clear that out and the people with responsibility take it – which is a process that will take a while because broadcasting people will resist the temptation to work hard when they don’t have to – but if the can figure the synergies out they have an opportunity to resurrect the underbelly of wrestling. So, if we can find a way to consolidate the independent promoters under a brand – like I’m trying to do – and/or what Ring Of Honor is doing, and we hope will do successfully, it can give us a better underbelly in terms of development and growth and sustenance of the business. The thing dragging it down is the shit, so that if somebody shows up and they watch wrestling on TV and they go to a show that in no way allows them the same kind of experience – because it’s just a bunch of fat guys in t-shirts or skinny guys in jeans – then you’re not giving them that larger than life experience. It can’t be all muscleheads, guys 6’3, 250lbs, because stardom comes in all shapes and sizes. The more we understand that, the more we’ll grow our business too. Some of the most famous actors in Hollywood are 5’8 or smaller – including Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson. They’re shrimps! But on the screen, they’re bad asses, because they’re presented that way. AJ Styles is 5’9/5’10, but when he’s in the ring it doesn’t matter.