When I first began attending pro wrestling shows in the mid 1980′s, the overwhelming majority of the independent events I attended were of the grim, oldies circuit variety (a 1985 Queens collision between a heading-downhill-fast Bob Backlund and a very tardy/grumpy Larry Zbyszko comes to mind). Sparse crowds, indifferent workers, crying kids, no attempt at production, even on a smaller scale, etc. Though a number of independent promotions in other regions had reputations as either feeder organizations or simply for creative booking, it wasn’t until the emergence of Philadelphia’s ECW that I saw with my own eyes that an indie need not be a state fair freakshow or a hollow imitation of the big guys.
(above : Jared Wayne, showing Jonathan Papelbon the right way to address the public)
In the two decades since, the independent circuit in North America has continued to evolve. There’s obviously been some financial failures (and more than a few aesthetic disasters, too), but it would be no exaggeration to say a number of today’s best and most popular workers honed their skills and characters in Ring Of Honor, CZW, the former WWE development co., Ohio Valley and others. More importantly, some of the outfits in question put on shows that need not be viewed thru the prism of “how’s this compare to WWE or TNA?” — storylines, characters, etc. are fully formed. OK, not always, but often enough that you’d ignore ‘em at your own peril.
So with all that in mind, it’s pretty cool that we’ve got a new independent promotion launching here in Austin, TX this weekend. Though Anarchy Championship Wrestling’s Sunday marathons at the Mohawk have provided ample entertainment the last few years, the newly formed Inspire Pro Wrestling could well raise the bar for what Central Texas has come to expect from an independent promotion. Their inaugural show takes place this coming Sunday, July 7 at Marchesa Hall, and Inspire Pro’s creative director Max Meehan graciously submitted to the interrogation below. Having already staked a claim as a modern renaissance man with his screenwriting, film presentations, movie blogging, record label and booking of Beerland, Meehan’s newest gig might be the one that takes best advantage of his unique skill-set. Either way, we’re gonna find out!
*- DISCLOSURE – IT’S WHATS FOR DINNER : the author has on many occasions done (non-wrestling) business with Meehan.
Q: Tell us a bit about the genesis of Inspire Pro — a lot of people openly fantasize about starting an independent wrestling promotion, but relatively few actually do so.
A: Inspire Pro was actually the brain child of Joshua Montgomery, who’s been wrestling and booking shows throughout Texas for many years. I was approached to be a part of the company by Justin “Biss” Bissonnette, who’d previously worked behind the scenes and as commentator for Anarchy Championship Wrestling, and still does stuff with various branches of the NWA. Both guys are loaded with integrity and experience, and I’m really fortunate to be learning from them. Why they chose me? I think a lot of it had to do with spending time with Biss, wherein I graduated from loud mouth fan to a guy he could see really appreciated the sport and its history on a deeper level. He’d come over for iPPVs, and we’d stay up til way afterward talking about other local promotions on a critical level. I also haven’t been jaded by the business. Plus, I bring an interesting set of skills to the table as a guy who’s been booking and promoting punk shows for many years.
Q: You’ve long had insights / strong opinions about other promotions’ booking. Now that you’re the guy making those decisions (and perhaps this is early to say), do you have greater empathy for those who’ve done the job previously?
A: Fuck, no. Another reason I was brought in might have to do with my background in progressive storytelling. I’ve been writing screenplays on a professional level for about 11 years now. It’s a process that relies on rolling with the punches. It’s early in the game for me, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a creative challenge.
Q: There’s a old cliche about directors, authors, bands, etc. having a lifetime to make their debut, but only say, a year for the followup. In your case, you’ve far less time to plan a 2nd card. How far down the line are you thinking? Obviously there’s pressure to make a great first impression on July 7, but I suspect you wanna tell a story that’ll resonate for more than a few weeks.
A: I was given a rough idea for the talent budget, and some names we were using, and from there Biss and I fleshed out the first six cards. So, we’re good there. After that we’ve got about a year of basic elements and stories we want to follow. Nothing is concrete of course. There are always changing variables. Guys get injured, or life comes up, and you have to think on your toes or make radical changes. But like I said, you take it as it comes. Right now, we’re most concerned about promotion and growing the audience.
Q: Without naming names (UNLESS YOU WANNA), what missteps have you seen other promotions make that you’d like to avoid?
A: I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was a kid, and one of the things that always bothered me was when an angle would completely get dropped because it wasn’t working. I always found that really insulting. Even if something isn’t working, you can’t just act like it never happened. You should respect the audience enough to see it through. Other than that, there’s nothing worse than a company run by people who think they are above the fans; that they know what’s best. There’s nothing worse than a company that doesn’t acknowledge its fans reactions. If you book a show, you should be there to see how the crowd is reacting to what you’re feeding them. A good booker takes the collective reaction of their audience and works it into the fabric of what they’re creating. I’ve seen some shows down here where the audience responds strongly to something, and the momentum is simply swept under the carpet. Or worse yet, they respond to criticism by telling the audience that they don’t know what’s good for them. People don’t pay money to be condescended to. The curtain that once separated audience from the industry is pretty moth-eaten at this point, but a lot of people who are on the inside still really look down on their audience. Amongst many wrestlers and promoters, there is an odd sense of superiority about being on the inside, even though the audience is very much aware that an inside exists. We really want to be there for the fans, listen to them, and even play off of them. The interactivity of the pro-wrestling audience, where they vote with their booing and cheering, is what makes this a very unique art.
Q: Conversely, is there another promotion (independent or otherwise) that’s set a standard, if not to emulate, at the very least to respect?
A: I am a Gabe Sapolsky guy. I was really blown away by what he did with the original Ring of Honor product, and I absolutely love Dragon Gate USA. I am a huge fan of Chikara, but that is a product that you can only admire. It’s impossible to emulate. Pro Wrestling Guerilla is also fantastic, but much of it hinges on the quality of the workers. Honestly, they put on the best pure wrestling product in the world today along with NJPW.
Q: Austin — big enough for two promotions? Or more accurately, two that anyone cares about?
A: Absolutely. Philadelphia is an incredible example of a city that is really known for having a great and fruitful pro-wrestling scene that produces a lot of talent. Students flock there from all over to reach the next level. They had CZW, Chikara, and Ring of Honor, all running regularly at one point. The cooperative spirit of all those creative minds working together is what made that city so vital. We’re not here to compete or steal anyone’s audience. We’re here to make it grow beyond what it is, which benefits everyone. I was really disappointed by the reaction of some of the other people running shows down here. We’re here to contribute our own style of professional wrestling. And quite frankly, no one’s doing anything on the level of a PWG, DGUSA, or Chikara down here. I’m not so arrogant as to say we’re going to be that company, but I feel like a lot of companies have hit their respective glass ceilings, and they’re satisfied with their level of success. It’s not fair to Austin or the talent down here.
Q: Anyone following independent wrestling, either regionally or nationally has to be impressed at the talent you’ve assembled for Inspire’s debut card. Is there anyone else — irrespective of cost, travel logistics or existing relationships — that you wish’d you could’ve brought in or would like to in the future?
A: No one I care to name right now, but we’ll be bringing in a lot of talent that have never been to Texas before. We’re excited to give fans the opportunity to see some of the indy stars they’ve always wanted to see, and in the process help elevate some of our local talent.
Q: There’s a number of prominent guys in the wrestling business who were mega fans long before they set foot in the ring, put pen to paper or spoke into a microphone. For those of us who know you, this is a big moment. But you’ve crossed a line here. I’m not saying you’re no longer a fan, far from it. But from this moment onward, something you’ve been very passionate about is no longer a pastime. It might be a stretch to call it a career, but at the very least, it’s a craft. Is there any trepidation about what going “pro” with something you love might mean?
A: Thanks, that actually means a lot. This has been a dream of mine for many years. I can torch the bucket list now. I’m really sad that I won’t be able to sit with my friends and enjoy these shows anymore. I feel like Ghost Dad, now. I’ve passed on. I’ll be doing what I can to make sure all the awesome people I’ve gotten to know in the independent wrestling scene stay happy. It’s really similar to putting on an amazing show at Beerland. Putting on the best parties are a stressful pain in the ass, but the power of a good time can really influence people in remarkable ways. It’s really valuable. It makes it worth it.