First Edition – "RIP FWA"

by on 11th September 2008

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Hello and welcome to my first “Ask the Guru” on line column. When I first begun writing my monthly articles for Fighting Spirit Magazine I was unsure what sort of response they would get. I mean who else has done something so Kayfabe breaking that it explains in great detail many areas of the business that a lot of pro’s on the current scene fall sort of grasping? I now meet fans that have a better understand of match structure then several top end UK pros I know. I realised that the articles would create a backlash and that some people would simply hate them but I figured that if for every person that disliked the pieces, just one liked them, then that was good enough for me. As the months went on something strange begun to happen. People begun coming up to me at events I had promoted around the country or seminars I was running and started telling me with a real passion just how much they liked these articles. I would go so far as to say that for all the things I have done in this business, the articles in FSM have received the most genuinely passionate compliments from their audience. As I sit here now with the benefit of hindsight I wonder why I ever thought it would be any different. The one thing that no one can take from me is that for any man, let alone one my age, I have done a great deal in this business on a European level. I have immersed myself in all aspects of wrestling more than anyone most wrestlers I can think of. Since I was 13 years of age at my first training session I have lived, slept and breathed every facet of this industry. There may be many people who have done better in one single area of the industry than me but I can think of very few, if any, who have had the success or experience in all areas of the business that I have. As far as Europe goes I have been a top level wrestler, promoter, teacher and now writer. I have ring announced, referred, been a one man ring crew, designed posters, written and sung my own entrance music, hosted my own national wrestling radio show, run and booked my own top UK promotion, written and produced a weekly TV show and have been the go to go for wrestlers and promoters all over the world when it comes to Great Britain. Do I tell you this to show off? Ok maybe a little but my real intention is to point out that when it comes to this business and helping myself and others make a success of it I am somewhat of a a Guru. Finlay Martin of Powerslam recently referred to me as the Yellow Pages of UK wrestling and everything I have outlined above should help you see why. Both wrestlers and promoters alike call me everyday asking for contacts, advice and the inside scoop on the latest bit of gossip. To be honest, as proud as I am of this small it of respect from my peers you can bet that my Mum would rather I was a doctor so its only fair that I get bragging rights out of it at least.

This brings me to my new on line article. When the guys from TotalWrestling first contacted me and asked me about it I felt I wanted to do something useful. The net is full of people giving their opinions on why Promotion X is rubbish these days or the reason wrestler Y isn’t as good as he was last year. This is all based on opinion and can be read on every wrestling forum around the world. I thought about it and even though my views might carry a little more weight than the average fan to some, it really shouldn’t. We are all watching the same product and that makes us even when it comes to what we think about it. Why should my review of this weeks Impact or the latest TNA PPV be any better than yours or anyone else’s? No, if I am going to make this column worth someone’s time to read then I really should cover topics and areas that most internet writers lack the experience to cover and those who do have the knowledge to do so just simply don’t. So this is why this article will be called “Ask the Guru”. Bi weekly I will be answering your questions on the issues as complex or as simple as you like. If you’re a promoter wanting to know a few little tricks to pull in extra hundred fans or to run your first arena show then ask the guru. If you’re a wrestler wanting to know how to increase your bookings or get that all important first date abroad then ask the guru. If you’re a fan looking to break into the business but don’t know how to and even what position you could occupy even if the chance came up then ask the guru. Maybe you just want to know why a certain wrestler is so highly rated even though you don’t see what others do in them then ask the guru. I can offer a unique view on all areas of the wrestling business and will attempt to peel back as many layers of this onion like business as I possibly can. As this is the introduction to this column it will be around three times the size of the subsequent pieces. With this in mind I just want to pre warn you that you may want to print it off and read it that way.

As this is part one and there’s been no time to ask the public for questions yet I have decided to start with the most commonly asked question I received when people talk to me about FWA. A lot of people ask what my favourite matches were or to pick out the highs and lows but more often than not those within the business who are eager to learn always ask me the following question.

“If you could go back to any point in FWA history and change one area that would have enabled the company to still be profitable and thriving today then what would it be?”

Before I get to the actual answer I really want to make it clear that the FWA was never meant to be forever. For me personally it was an important chapter in my young life as it also was for British wrestling. The effect it had and the things it achieved will be imprinted on the UK scene for a long time to come. However I was a young man when I took the company over and was still only 25 when I decided to call it a day. I can sit here now just a few months shy of my 29th birthday and say that I have no regrets at all on the way FWA went down and when. It was a fun time for everyone involved and for all the hardships that it caused those involved (for which I have received an equal share) we all had some great moments and have been left with some unforgettable memories. But if I did have the benefit of hindsight back then what would I have done differently to turn the company around? Would I have used less imported talent? Would I have decided against running our first arena show at the Coventry Skydome? Would I have not signed the TV deal that we did, essentially giving away all of our potentially profitable VHS releases for free? No, I would have still done all of the above without issue if I could have changed just one small thing.

Back when I took over FWA there was zero money in the company. I mean, seriously zip. I always used to chuckle when I read these morons on the internet saying that the FWA had money backers etc. Later on we had a few outside promoters who ran a handful of events but I can tell you now that we never once had a money backer. I was a 21 year old with a concept to take the company (which Mark Sloan formed in 1999) to the next level and that concept was British Uprising One, our first Supershow. I had seen the success of Revival at Crystal Palace and knew that rather than using former WWE names as Tommy Boyd had done with Eddie Guerrero and Brian Christopher, there was another untapped market out there. That market was the old fans of ECW. I figured that by using two stars from the now defunct promotion and one new Indy darling to appeal to the other internet fans we could likely pull a crowd that may be smaller than Revival but would be much bigger than any past FWA event. I booked Jerry Lynn as our “wrestler” and Balls Mahoney as our brawler. They were complimented beautifully by a brand new star on the Indy scene who had never been to Europe before but that I knew was going places. His name was AJ Styles. I pushed the event on my weekly Talksport show which I now hosted since Tommy was fired. I referred to it as “The event they are calling Revival Two”. This is a very simple manipulation technique called “silent allies”. It’s like when an advert says “nine out of ten people prefer…….”. Who are these ten people? They are an advertisers invention designed to manipulate you into thinking that public opinion sways in the favour of the product they are marketing. I read about this tool three years after I used the exact same technique on national radio for weeks to pull FWA’s first big crowd in October 2002. I guess good promoters are natural born manipulators huh. Thanks to a combination of these factors, the planets aligned on October 13th and from that date the FWA was now considered a force to be reckoned with on the UK scene. We may not have sold out our venue, the prestigious York Hall in Bethnal Green, East London but the 900 plus strong crowd set a record that night. They were the first fans in history to pay £50 for tickets to see a UK wrestling show. This set a new level for British wrestling which had previously been £10 for the best seats in the house. Myself and my mentor Dino Scarlo knew that if we gave the fans the best show we could no one would even question it. Going into the show even my own wrestlers thought I was crazy for doing it, let alone the personal attacks I received from the fans for it. However by using top quality lighting, sound and pyro all that was forgotten by the time the final bell sounded on that show and what a show it was. Anyone who was there will tell you, without exaggeration, that they knew they were part of something extremely special that night. No matter what critics have said about me in the past be they angry fans or jaded ex employees, they can never take away what I have contributed to British Wrestling and they can never take away the fact that British Uprising One is still pound for pound one of the greatest British Shows of all time, even six years on. So why is it then that I would go back to this one point and make a drastic change that would have reshaped the very foundations of the UK scene today?

Now that my moment of self indulgence and scene setting is over it is time to cut to the chase. The FWA was all show and no go. I was not a business man. I was a young man, just out of my teens, who wanted to give Britain a top notch wrestling promotion. I was not thinking about profits, business plans and projected revenue streams. I was just thinking “I bet we can do this if we try”. It was fun for a while but as the companies biggest strength I was also its biggest weakness. Would FWA have been as big without me? We will never know although I hazard to guess it wouldn’t have been. Was I a huge part in its demise? Absolutely. This is the reason that some of my former friends STILL so many years on hold resentment towards me. However there comes a time when a man has to stand up and take accountability for what they did wrong as I am here. If you are unhappy because you blindly followed a wrestling geek in his early twenties trying to pursue a childhood dream and wonder why you are not rich now because of it then I can only say sorry. I really am. Yet, walking away from the FWA and growing into the man I am today has made me see that British Uprising One was the point in the whole process that the slightest bit of foresight could have made everything very different. So what do I think would have made such a change to the company’s fortunes? I simply would have raised the money to invest in a few thousand pounds worth of varied wrestling DVD’s. Alex you drag this on for how many pages and that is your answer?” OK, so let me explain. Back before The Wrestling Channel, tape trading was big money here in the UK. I would sometimes see people leave FWA shows with £400 worth of bootleg DVD’s. It was completely ridiculous but I understood it. Why? Because I used to be one of those fans myself many years back. In fact I helped break FWA manager and RQW commentator Dean Ayass into the wrestling business by inviting him down to my old wrestling school in 1994 but I first met Dean as a tape trader. I would spend hundreds each month on VHS’s from people like him and Rob Butcher until I was about 18. I must have bought about 2000 of them in the period between my 14th and 18th birthday and had a job before I anyone else I knew just to pay for them and my wrestling training. In fact tape trading once saved the biggest show in FWA history at the time. Let me tell you a funny story which some of you may have heard before. I always knew that Ring of Honor would someday be a big deal within the wrestling world. Because of this I was desperate to do a joint show with them all the way back in 2002. I was pitching a deal to Rob Feinstein for ages hoping that he would split the costs as the FWA really had no money at all at this point. After months of talks, Rob came back and said that he would love to do it but they just didn’t have the money. I was beaten but not out. On one hand I knew that without ROH paying for half of the show we simply could not afford to do it. Yet on the other hand I have just never had any sort of concept of money. I don’t mean I’m bad with it I just think the way people view it is bollocks. People say things like “He doesn’t know the value of money” like its some rare and precious substance. It’s fucking paper and ink you morons! “He thinks money grows on trees” is another classic. Now before I begin I just want you to know that when I was growing up I was REALLY poor. I come form the worst council estate in London and my family was one of the poorest on that estate. My Dad was an alcoholic who was unemployed for the first 13 years of my life after being sectioned when I was one years old. My mother worked multiple jobs to support me and my sister and I have never had a family holiday. I am not telling you this to feel sorry for me because I actually love it and it makes everything I’ve done mean now so much more. What it does do however is to express that my feelings towards money and it meaning nothing did not come from me being rich. They came from me resigning myself at an early age to the fact that I was never going to have any so why set goals based around it.

Money is simply an energy which allows you freedom, nothing more, nothing less. The more energy you use, the more money you make. So why does a solicitor who works 4 hours a day make ten times what a factory worker does if that is the case? The answer is simple. If money is energy then what is the biggest energy source any human posses? The answer is simple, their brain. If you are working your body to the bone, which in comparison to your brain is as weak as can be, then don’t be surprised if you’re making tiny amounts of money compared to what you know you really have the potential to achieve. Very similarly there is money that came from good energy and money that came from bad energy. Growing up where I did I saw first hand the effects of money made from bad energy and it was never good. My best friend when I was a kid, who I used to wash cars with, is currently inside for 14 years for a heroin smuggling bust. The trail of shit that followed the money he made was immense and even lead to my next door neighbours 50 year old mother being shot as she was linked to one of the prosecuting witnesses. Trust me, money carries a charge be it positive or negative. I don’t mean the actual paper but the feeling that you attach to it yourself. Money is energy, plain and simple. There is a whole chapter about this in my upcoming book “The Unholy Babble” so look out for it but until then just remember that money as we know it has no physical worth. It is only worth what we are told it is worth at that point in time. If all £50 notes were replaced with a new design tomorrow and your old ones were not valid anymore, then the only thing that your money would be good for it wiping your arse or lighting a fire. Just remember this when you are taught to put so much emphasis on an imaginary god like entity such as we do in today’s world. That mind set will either leave you poor and scrambling for cash your whole life or rich and to tight to enjoy what you have.

Anyway, back to the story. So because I had no real phobia of money I begun to think about how I could pull off the FWA Vs ROH show without financial help from overseas. I soon realised that the only way to do it and not end up in serious debt or make FWA look piss poor by begging was to blag it. I called ROH and said that I could finance their trip over to the UK if they could confirm a date. They agreed and we set a date. I then provisionally booked the York Hall who gave me 10 days to hold the date while I got the money together to pay for it. Now I just want to make clear at this point that when I say we had no money I mean NO MONEY. Not no money like, a few grand and that is all. I mean bugger all. I then went to Mark Petar from Strong Style Tapes and told him the exclusive news that the show was confirmed. I said that for him to make certain that he got the tapes table at the show he would have to pay the money, unlike previous deals, in advance and rapidly so. Unable to lose the opportunity of over 1000 smart fans in one place at one time, Mark took my offer and paid the fee of (If memory serves me correctly) £4000. This allowed me to pay for the venue and get posters and flyers printed etc. The show was then announced and I was able to pay for everything else once tickets went on sale. The previous sentence is the worst thing any promoter can do and something I always bollock others for trying to attempt because of the huge risk involved. Yet I understand deep down when they do because I did it myself for the greater good once. In my defence I knew that ROH Vs FWA for the first time ever was a sure fire ticket seller though but the risks were extremely high for a 22 year who was still living between his girlfriends and parents house.

So why did Mark Petar pay so much for the tapes table? Because he made an absolute killing on these tables and this brings me right back to what I would have changed in FWA history to take the company to the next level. I would have raised and spent the money I previously mentioned on varied VHS’s and DVD’s in the run up to British Uprising One. In essence setting up our own merchandise business similar to what Mark Sloan has now. The money we made from this I would have invested straight back into new stock. We did this with an FWA merchandise company which Ralph Cardal had good success with but the real big money was always in the American and Japanese promotions stock. I would have then used our live events, which drew in smart fans from all over the UK, to sell this merchandise and make sure that we also became the fans retailer of choice by offering them discounts on live events tickets with each purchase etc. This side business would have allowed FWA to build up a very steady side business which would have enabled us to really increase our annual income. Once we had become the favourite trader of UK fans, I would have used our links with the top promotions world wide to sign exclusive merchandise deals with us. Once this was done and everyone was happy with the situation I would have begun to offer exclusive contracts to some of the top indy talent overseas. This would mean that the FWA must offer them a certain number of European dates per year in return for us having the right to refuse them working for anyone else if we wished. I would have done deals with companies like WXW in Germany to book the US guys through us so that we could deliver the required number of dates without over exposing each individual talent. I would have also offered a similar deal to the top UK workers and would have used the money made form the merchandise company to pay the UK workers enough per show to make this deal worth their while. To be fair the FWA was the first UK promotion to offer the kind of fee that the top UK pro’s receive today and our upper card guys were sometimes making 4 or 5 times what they received elsewhere. Back to the plan, once we had the exclusive deals with the overseas promotions, workers and top UK talent it would have been near on impossible for other FWA copycat promotions to pop up and over saturate the market. We could have used our core audience to maintain a healthy bank balance whilst not being under such pressure to keep toping ourselves for fear of the fans going elsewhere. We could then have focused on attracting new fans and allowing the brand to slowly build its audience never once worrying about financially dropping off the radar in order to do so, which did actually happen several times.

I am not saying that these steps would have meant that the FWA would still be going strong today but I am certain that they would have had a very beneficial effect. The simple fact is that running the shows alone was just not enough to sustain the FWA at the standard we set at Uprising One and never would be without a decent national TV or sponsorship deal. ROH is a perfect example of this as without their merchandise business as the corner stone of their promotion, they would certainly not be running today. They were a merchandise business (RF Video) that set up a promotion and the benefits of this arrangement were obvious fairly quickly. I always tell my students that making money from wrestling is actually easy as long as you are prepared to supplement your wrestling career with something like running a school or promotion etc. The same was certainly true of the FWA. Simply producing the freshest and most exciting shows in the UK was not enough to turn the Frontier Wrestling Alliance into a profitable venture in the long run without implementing the things suggested above. Of course, those things did not happen and FWA, much like ECW before it, was left chasing its own financial tail for most of it’s existence. Paul Heyman was one of my wrestling hero’s (along with Mick Foley and Jim Cornette) and ECW certainly helped to inspire my vision for FWA. Irony is a funny thing and it is hugely ironic that the same company that lent many of its good traits to FWA also lent many of its bad ones. I wanted FWA to be like a mini, British ECW and that is exactly what happened for better and for worse. We provided a fresh and grounding breaking place that for a short time offered fans the chance to see wrestling in this country that had never been offered before just like ECW. Sadly, bad money management and dream chasing over business sense lead to its down fall. Be careful what you wish for and all that? Life is funny like this. They call it the law of attraction or to some people its projection. Those who don’t believe in such things call it coincidence and those people just make me chuckle. It’s funny how some folk just don’t want to believe in the concept of anything “other worldly” when the universe and everything in it is a complete miracle that even the “greatest minds” have to attach the word theory to when summing up how we all got here because they just can’t be sure. I know that I projected FWA, walt’s and all. I am willing to take as much blame for its demise as I did it’s fall but I can also say that NO ONE invested more time, effort, money or passion into it than me. All of us involved had some great times and some not so great, in the pursuit of a wrestling promotion UK fans could be proud of. Despite falling over at some points, on a whole, I think we did what we set out to do and that was change the face of British Wrestling. In hindsight we should have seen early on that this wasn’t going tot make any of us rich and the blame for that cannot rest soley on my shoulders but in the fact the wrestling is misunderstood and brushed off by the masses. The is a great article I have done in this months issue of Fighting Spirit magazine all about why this is so be sure to check it out. Until then I just want to say that I am truly forever thankful to all that were part of making the FWA happen no matter or big or small the role we played. When you look at an old watch with it’s many cogs and wheels you see that no matter how big or small the wheels different wheels may be, if one should be taken from it’s position the entire mechanism grinds to a halt. This is exactly how I fee about FWA and everyone who helped us give the UK scene the shot in the arm it so desperately needed. If you are reading this you will know who you are and the help that you gave and I hope you know what you played a part in. We made a dent in the thing we loved that will last forever and thanks to our contributions there are more Brits making money from wrestling than in the last 20 years. RIP FWA.

Well, if you stuck with it until the end then good for you. From the next instalment of “Ask the Guru” I will be handing over to you. So if you have any questions just email them over to me at asktheguru@live.com

Until then this is Alex Shane saying “Do not go where the path leads, go where there is not path and leave a trail”

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Comments

  1. avatar
    Chris Gorst 11th September 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Great to have you onboard Alex. Great column as always (I am a big fan of your FSM articles also) and met you at the TNA Liverpool shows.

    Can’t wait for future blogs as like this, they will be destined to be a good read

  2. avatar
    Sean York 18th September 2008 at 8:35 pm

    I have been a wrestling fan for close to 30 years and can say I know more about it than most. But in being lucky enough to be spending a day with Alex I learnt more than I would’ve dreamed. Now here once again, he speaks as only he can! His humour, honesty, knowledge and imagination can’t be bettered.

    I think his articles should be required reading for anyone who wants to get into the Wrestling World and I look forward to many more words of wisom form the “Guru”!

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