Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Things They Don't Teach in Wrestling School: Part 1

The older I get the more I see that young people in our business of wrestling have so little regard for its history and traditions. A big reason for this that they simply aren't taught about the way it was and why. Most of the wrestling schools that are out there are run by guys who never experienced the territory days up close. So here we go with the first in a series of "Things They Don't Teach in Wrestling School."

In the days of the wrestling territories, wrestlers lived by a certain code of conduct. That conduct was reinforced by the various wrestling offices, who were, by and large, thriving businesses that ran regular circuits and where wrestlers could make some semblance of a living.

When Vince McMahon took the then WWF national in the mid-80's, regional territories simply couldn't compete and those offices gradually disappeared. Without full time territories, there were many areas of the country still under served by live pro wrestling. This was the real birth of what we now refer to as "independent wrestling." The "indies" are really a relatively new phenomenon in wrestling.

Where once there were territory owners and veteran stars to teach younger wrestlers, and steady work in front of crowds from which to learn, the standards suddenly dropped. Ex-wrestlers opened wrestling schools. Now you had a bunch of "wrestlers" running around who just wanted to wrestle, so in the tradition of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, they put on their own shows just so they could work. Some of those guys then opened up their own schools, so they could charge other kids a few grand a pop, and those guys would run their own shows, so their students could work. The "business", if you want to call it that, became more about working for the sake of working, than about running a successful business.

"Independent wrestling" is a broad term that covers a lot of ground. Not all independents are the same. It used to be that an independent was any company that ran live events, but had no TV and did not run a regular circuit. There are a few independent companies that do have local TV and do run regular circuits, but they are the exception.

Generally speaking, independent wrestling companies break down like this:

"The Sold Show" Promotion: This is the kind of company that only runs fundraisers and events that a third party pays them to do. This was the way independent wrestling operated for the most part in New England for years before NECW came along. The formula was simple: Get two or more ex-national stars to headline and use the local boys as filler underneath. Most of these shows would take place in high schools and in the 80's and 90's, it would not be unusual to get 1,500 to 2,000 fans in a high school gym for shows of this type. In the late 90's, when WWF came out with DX and Steve Austin and the halls of our high schools were filled with kids doing the crotch chop and flipping the bird, many high schools forbade wrestling from coming back and this killed that type of business.

The Wrestling School Promotion: This is the current popular type of structure. A wrestler opens a wrestling school. He gets 20 or 30 students who each pay anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 to train to become pro wrestlers. The school owner uses the tuition money to float small scale shows, which he makes the students appear on for little or no money. Because the shows are so cheap to operate, and because the labor is practically free, Mr. Wrestling School Owner is now a promoter too.

The Vanity Press/Weekend Warrior/Fantasy Promotion: Wrestling school dropouts who weren't good enough to be booked by major companies or guys who trained for a while and just want to go out and have fun decide to put on some shows. They know they aren't going to be making a lot of money if any, but that's not the point. This is the pro wrestling equivalent to poker night or bowling night for the boys, except they take bumps and charge admission. This category also includes the non-wrestler who dreams of being the next Vince McMahon but knows little or nothing about how a real wrestling business is operated, expect what he or she sees on TV.

The Modern Day Territory: These are the companies that aspire to be thriving businesses. They run regular shows. They sometimes sell shows. They try and run their business the old school way in the modern world. This is the category NECW falls under.

It should be noted that none of these categories is necessarily a bad or evil way of doing business. Unfortunately, if you're not on TV, the general public sees all independents as equals and can't discern between one or the other.

Sadly, a lot of wrestlers see it that way too. The "a show is just a show" mentality is pervasive in today's business. It is often difficult for a company that strives to be taken seriously to operate under old school traditions, because the talent doesn't even know what old school tradition is.

For instance, we had a tag team that was set to debut for us recently. We spent months building up their debut with TV promos, promos that screened on our tron at our live events, even a live angle where they appeared on tape. We shot and aired promos specific to who they were debuting against and had a couple of programs already mapped out.

After all this build up, said team - I won't mention their names now - sent us an e-mail saying that they got some dates in Florida and that they can't afford to come back.

This team just wasted months of effort on our part. They screwed up our booking, as well as programs involving other workers. Old school tradition dictates that you NEVER blow off dates you've shot promos and have been built up for - especially your debut! Even WWE lets you play out your commitments, if they sign you. That move was the ultimate disrespect - to the promoters, as well as their fellow workers. We could never trust these goofs again, nor would we suggest any other promoter do so either.

I'll have more on this in future entries. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 29, 2007

SNOWBRAWL Thoughts, Books & DVD's and more

What a great night we had this past Saturday in Quincy, MA! A packed house kicked off the year for NECW and I was so happy to meet a lot of new fans over at the Armory.

Last Monday, we had a 3/4 page color photo spread on our Sunday, January 21 World Women's Wrestling event in The Boston Herald. My phone rang non-stop and the e-mails came flooding in after that.

This past Saturday, The Boston Globe ran a full color picture of WWW Champion, Tanya Lee on the cover of The Globe's Sidekick section. That was a real boost, and as a result, we had a lot of fans come who hadn't seen us before.

Those fans saw a heck of night of action. I'll let you click on over to the show report on the NECW website for all the details, but the most remarkable thing about promoting New England Championship Wrestling is having the chance to interact with the fans and talk to them. As I promoter, I like to be visible and accessible to the fans as much as I can. After all, they are the lifeblood of our business. I think showing them that you care about their experience gives them the feeling that they spent their money well.

I got what I consider the ultimate compliment from one of our fans Saturday night. He came up to me and said, "Mr. Goldberg, you make me look like a hero to my kids every time we come here. I'm a divorced father with 3 boys, ages 12, 8 and 5, and for me to be able to come here, buy them tickets, soda, a slice of pizza and have change left from a $100 bill... That's just a great thing that you do. You don't realize what a great thing that is." I was touched by what he said, because that is something important that few other businesses do - provide a quality live entertainment experience at an affordable price. Seeing people enjoy what we do with NECW and WWW, and getting their gratitude, as well as their patronage, is what a business should really be about.

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Recommended wrestling books & DVD's:

"Wrestling at the Chase" by Larry Matysik is a look back at Sam Munchnik and St. Louis Wrestling. Matysik, who was the play-by-play announcer for the St. Louis promotion, and later became Sam's assistant and eventual heir to the business, gives a loving and informative inside look at the promotion and the pro wrestling business of the era. For those of you who are students of the game, this book is a real education.

"Heroes of World Class" by Brian Harrison is a must-have DVD that chronicles the rise and fall of Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. This is just a phenomenal piece of work that covers the whole thing from top to bottom. It may not be a slick as the WWE releases, but all the great moments and clips are there, as well as great interviews with some of the key players of that period. A new 2 disc version is out now, distributed by Big Vision Entertainment.

"The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA" is one of the better WWE DVD releases. DVD's are something WWE tends to get right and this one is just tremendous. I am so glad this was done by WWE after buying the footage from Verne Gagne, because it's a history that needed to be told in a forum like this.

Right now, I'm reading the Bill Watts bio "The Cowboy and the Cross", co-written by Watts and Scott E. Williams, who wrote the excellent chronicle of ECW, "Hardcore History" (another must buy).

I am anxiously awaiting Tod Gordon's book, which I am told is pretty explosive. The whole ECW story is fascinating stuff and a real education. The WWE DVD "The Rise & Fall of ECW", the Jeremy Borash produced "Forever Hardcore" and Scott Williams' book are all great pieces of the puzzle that was ECW. I regretted not getting to know Tod better at the time of my involvement with ECW, as he is someone I have a great deal of respect for. I'll update this when I've read Tod's book.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Omissions from Last Night's Blog

Just a few additions to last night's blog which was written very late last night.

With regard to NECW talent, I neglected to mention The Canadian Superstars as being the dominant tag team in the promotion for the entire year. That's no small accomplishment in today's "He's (She's or They've) held the belt long enough. Let's switch it to (insert talent's name here)" world. Busta and Cole are still young and will get even better as time goes on. Manager Brian Cairo is a great pairing with this talented duo.

Speaking of managers, Sean Gorman may be hard to like as a personality, but as a talent he is hard not to admire. Why this guy was not voted "Manager of the Year" on The Burning Hammer is a mystery to me, because in my not-so-humble opinion, he has no peer in the world of independent wrestling.

I don't want to risk offending the rest of the NECW/WWW roster by omitting them from my remarks. Collectively, our current roster is the best in the history of the promotion, and it will get even better as time goes on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wrapping Up 2006, FAQ's & More

Apologies for not being more faithful to this blog. Trying to cover all bases isn't easy and I don't suspect that's changing any time soon.

2006 is in the record books and it was a great year for NECW. Between the merger with PWF Mayhem and the launch of World Women's Wrestling, it was a triumphant year with so very much to look forward to in 2007.

This has also been time for those end of the year awards you see on many of the major wrestling web sites. The oldest and most respected awards list in our business is Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Awards. These are voted on by readers and Dave does a great job presenting these in his newsletter.

While I am very fond of Dave and have the utmost respect for his work, I have lost some respect for the Observer Awards this year. The reason is that mixed martial arts and pro wrestling are voted on together in many categories and they are clearly two different things. MMA should not be compared to pro wrestling in this way. Have MMA awards and pro wrestling awards, but don't mix the two. When Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock win "Feud of the Year," that's just plain wrong.

The Burning Hammer, which is a message board that caters to New England based wrestling fans, had its annual Best of 2006 poll, voted on by it's readers. I wish they had put Ring of Honor in a separate category from other local independents, because ROH is not local, nor are they the same kind of independent as others. To their credit, they are a category unto themselves.

A message board awards are bound to have controversy because many of the posters are workers, promoters or staff of local promotions. An early point of heated discussion in the voting was that our own Nikki Roxx had received a large number of the early votes for "Wrestler of the Year."

Bryan Danielson of ROH finally won the category, but as great a year as Danielson had as ROH Champion, Nikki Roxx record of accomplishment is singular and historic. No wrestler - male or female - was a bigger draw in New England than Nikki Roxx. As the first woman to actually be the focal point of an independent promotion, she not only proved her worth as an attraction, but shattered a lot of myths about what does and doesn't draw.

Nikki did win "Female Wrestler of the Year" and deservedly so. Ariel also is deserving, as her feud with Nikki, culminating in the August title unification match, was a major reason that World Women's Wrestling got off to such an auspicious start.

Jason Blade was voted "Breakout Wrestler of the Year." Blade is a top flight talent (poorly booked by ROH, but their loss is our gain) and someone who has paid the dues along the way.

In my own opinion, if you talk about "Breakout" wrestlers, you cannot ignore NECW Triple Crown Champion, "The Human Nightmare" Evan Siks and D.C. Dillinger, both of whom were not considered top level talent by many a year ago, but have proven themselves to be main event players with drawing power.

"Die Hard" Eddie Edwards has also developed into an elite worker and a top star in the region. Mark my words, Edwards is someone who will be a major player in pro wrestling in the years to come.

NECW kicks off 2007 this coming Saturday night with SNOWBRAWL at the National Guard Armory in Quincy, MA. I'm excited about the show and excited about the year ahead. We have a tremendous collection of talent, great booking and we're just warming up.

Taking a page out of Jim Ross' playbook with how he does his blog, here are some questions I get frequently asked:

When is World Women's Wrestling going to tour?

Right now, we have committed to 11 dates at Good Time Emporium for 2007. I am hoping we will have at least two more dates, both of which would be in other venues. This is a promotion and concept that will develop over time. I do expect to spread the WWW joy around to other areas, but we will do so cautiously.

When are you coming out with more DVD's?

This is a tough one to answer specifically. We have very limited staffing and we do a tremendous amount of work just promoting 3 or more live events per month and producing the weekly Internet TV broadcasts. Those things by themselves eat up an enormous amount of man hours from a very few people. We are primarily a house show business, but we are working on ramping up staffing and ways to get DVD production to the point where we have regular releases. It is a priority for us and we are taking steps to resolve that situation. It will take us time before it is implemented.

Are you ever going to do shows outside of New England?

Not with NECW. World Women's Wrestling is another story.

I am often asked about specific talents and why they don't work for us. I don't like answering those questions, because in many cases the answers would involve a personal issue that does not need to be made public or a non-issue that doesn't need to be made public. However, I do have some rules of thumb that might answer some of those questions, without getting into specific cases.

First rule is that we generally avoid booking another local promotion's champion. We take titles very seriously here - both ours and others. It is a disrespect to the wrestler and the promotion they represent as champion to job them out. Even if I disliked another promoter, I would not job out his titleholder and cheapen the worker or the other members of the locker room he represents. That's petty and unprofessional. Promoters who think that gets them "over" another promotion when they job their champ are small thinkers and probably won't last over the long haul. Talent need to understand that titles are to be considered a serious responsibility. A championship means you are the focal point of the promotion and the one person that leads the charge in main events. You are the asset being sold. Don't let yourself be cheapened.

Second rule is that we expect the talent we book on a regular basis to make our dates a priority. We are a character and angle driven promotion. If a wrestler can't make regular dates for us, we will be hesitant to use him or her. There are exceptions to this, but by and large we have a roster that is pretty much a regular crew and that is by design.

Another thing I get a lot of is people who write to me looking to work for us in a non-wrestling position. I can't tell you how many people who write in and say, "I want to write your scripts." WWE uses scriptwriters because they have 4 hours a week on prime time TV between RAW and Smackdown and it is treated like an entertainment show more than a wrestling show. Independent companies don't use scriptwriters, unless they are complete marks.

After 6 1/2 years of doing this, I have concluded that the best thing with people who want to work with us that aren't wrestlers is to start them at the bottom so they can see and understand what it is that we do and appreciate the degree of difficulty involved in wrestling and more specifically, the promotion of a company like this one. No one in any business starts at the top.

For the wrestlers who want to work for us: I hate those mass e-mails that you send to every other independent company saying things like, "Looking for workers?" I always want to write back saying, "Yes, and if you know of anyone good, send them our way!"

It's late here, so I'll wrap this entry up by saying that I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful New Year. More thoughts soon!