A little more than 11 months ago in this space,it was suggested that “the newly formed Inspire Pro Wrestling could well raise the bar for what Central Texas has come to expect from an independent wrestling promotion”. Nearly a year later, after Inspire Pro has showcased a stunning array of regional and international talent at Austin’s Marchesa Hall, it felt like a good time to catch up with the promotion’s creative director, Max Meehan to assess what’s gone down and what’s on the horizon on the eve of Clash At The Bash.
(*- DISCLOSURE – NOT JUST AN ARTIST I WOULDN’T LISTEN TO ON A BET : the author has on many occasions done (non-wrestling) business with Meehan).
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months since Inspire Pro’s debut. Though I’m hesitant to say I’m surprised at the promotion’s rapid growth — you guys were clearly pretty ambitious from day one — this doesn’t have the vibe of a company that’s only a year old. The fan reception has been wildly enthusiastic, but how do you guys feel about where you’re at right now?
Thanks for the kind evaluation. We’re all incredibly pleased to see our little girl growing up to be very pretty. We knew we had to break the whole dozen in the first year to make our mark. We have a lot of incredibly talented people from different corners of the world interested in working with us right now, which is a surreal honor. The NWA affiliation wasn’t necessarily a goal, but I’m shocked and proud that we are working together. We have become a company that creates moments. At “In Their Blood,” I was standing in the back of the room with Mr. Brandon Stroud watching Jojo Bravo and Tadasuke put on a total joy of a match, and I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe we’re doing something at this level.” We’re doing wrestling that the fan in me is excited to see. While we didn’t necessarily hit every goal we had on paper for the year, but we did aim high, and we cleared maybe 75% of what we set out to do. I’m extremely proud of where we are at and what we have become in such a short amount of time.
Though the blend of veteran talent and new has been pretty masterful (much like the mix between regional talent and international stars), you can take special pride in the development of several roster members who were largely unknown out of the state. A few of ‘em — and I’ll let you fill in the gaps — weren’t necessarily earmarked for success by other Texas promotions. If you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about the process behind establishing a Sammy Guevara or a Ricky Starks and elevating them to the point where they’re as synonymous with Inspire Pro as a Mike Dell?
When I first saw Ricky in Austin, he had been relegated to an odd and unsuccessful tag pairing. He has an undeniable charisma. It didn’t take much digging to discover that the guy was a phenomenal talker with a big personality. He just hadn’t and wasn’t being given much of an opportunity to be that guy here. Ricky’s success is inevitable. He just has to be given the opportunity to show people what he can do. Sammy is another guy who is no secret in his respective neck of the woods. We all watch matches from all over, and if we see someone who catches our eye, we’ll try to bring them in and give them an occasion to rise to. Andy Dalton is another guy who’s well-known in North, Texas, but many people down here hadn’t had a chance to see him. All he needed was an opportunity to shine in front of a crowd. He’s undeniably talented. Every single person on our roster has the ability to succeed. I like to think we maybe make better use of some of these guys than others do, and challenging them is part of that. I’m grateful that a lot of these phenomenal talents have given me an opportunity to have any hand in what they do.
(Sammy Guevara in flight against ACH, “Light The Fuse”, February 16, 2014)
I won’t pretend that I’ve done a scientific survey of every paying customer, but it feels like as the crowds at the Marchesa have grown, you’re beginning to draw from more neighboring communities if not surrounding states. Has there been any discussion about taking Inspire Pro to other cities?
We have nearly tripled our audience since July, 2013. It’s really humbling to have people drive from hours away to see what you do. We had about eight people drive down from Alabama for the last show. I love that guys who are on the roster, but not booked, will drive from out of state just to WATCH our shows. That is an extreme honor. We’re going to be testing the waters very soon on a co-promoted event in another city. We’ll see how that goes. But right now, we’re focusing on our home turf.
Over the past 12 months, relations with other promotions have not been totally harmonious. Things have been said publicly and privately about Inspire Pro and a lot of it runs contrary to the goodwill you’ve established with wrestling fans and the workers. Are these just isolated instances of sour grapes, or is there an especially steep mountain to climb when dealing with other promoters/bookers who consider themselves lifers?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to address this issue, honestly, so thank you. I must preface by saying that since day-one, our primary interest was in CONTRIBUTING to Texas wrestling rather than competing against anybody. We’re working with Mr. B at TCW. We’ve worked with Brandon Oliver at RCW – a relationship that Sammy Guevara crushed, unfortunately. We’re working with Jax Dane at BOW. We’ve just opened up a working relationship with Tony Brooklyn and Bruce Tharpe of NWA. As my business partner Justin Bissonette always says, “When we all succeed, the business succeeds.” I think I even said during last year’s interview that we just wanted to create another place where guys can polish what they do and make money. At the end of the day, it’s more ring-time for these guys, and that’s integral to their success. I think we’ve made it very clear that we’re open to working with anybody that we can to heighten the profile of Texas wrestling. However, there is some acrimony on the part of one Austin promoter, and I think a lot of that stems from his past relationships with some of the people who are involved with our product. He’s spent a lot of time disparaging us both publicly and privately, and it’s been very difficult to sit by and watch this guy belittle the efforts of people who are simply working hard to make their dreams come true. That’s what it comes down to: Brandon Stroud, Eamon Paton, Josh Montgomery, and Justin Bissonette all work incredibly hard for this company, and so it really bothers me to see someone belittling that effort. Everyone’s entitled to try and realize their dream, and no one has the right to be negative toward anybody who’s trying to create something positive. No one’s out to get this guy or his company. No one wants to see him fail. In the end, if he does fail, it’s one less place for these guys to go and work. I think it’s very clear to anybody with a brain that he’s bitter toward us. Every time he publicly posts something directed at us, or something he’s said gets back us, it’s very clear that there’s something personal there. It’s bizarre and oddly humorous to watch him try and deny it. The reality is there to anybody who’s even half-literate. All I can say is, if you’re upset you can call me, dude. Let’s talk like Alexander Graham Bell intended: as human beings. Anybody who knows me knows that I am a very reasonable and friendly guy, but there’s still a limit.
Many of the folks reading this are probably familiar with the National Wrestling Alliance from prior generations, but not so versed on what the NWA means in the post Jim Crockett era. Can you explain how the affiliation came to be and what it means for Inspire Pro going forward?
What I am most excited about is exchanging ideas and learning from a lot of great promoters who are obviously very successful at what they do. I am endlessly impressed by Mark Vaughn of NWA Main Event, and Aaron Presley of NWA 360. What I love about these guys is that they are embracing new ideas and new methods of promoting shows. So many people have this antiquated mentality about what pro-wrestling is that’s based on a template that was forged in the 70s, but time marches on, and you have to march with it, or you become a memory. You have to try new ideas to stay relevant. The NWA has had its fair share of stormy weather over the last several decades. The company’s been around for some time. It has a valuable legacy that won’t ever die, no matter the blows it’s suffered in the past. Tony Brooklyn and Bruce Tharpe are doing their best to restore its honorable reputation. I want to be a part of that, and we’re all going to be a part of that. I like to think that Bruce and Tony recognize that we’re bringing something unique to the company in terms of flavor. I believe they recognize our work ethic. The partnership means a lot of exciting things, such as broader access to NWA talent, and the opportunity to host sanctioned NWA title matches. We’re very proud to be able to be a home for Barbi Hayden and her NWA Women’s Title. We think we can help make that title even more exciting and help raise its profile.
The Marchesa’s been a terrific venue. Are there any plans to go elsewhere in town?
It’s getting pretty tight in there. Our goal was always to outgrow our venue. If you’re just sitting in the same place, catering to the same number, and your goal isn’t to grow your audience, then you’re not helping out anyone on your roster. Yeah, we’re looking into other venues, but we have several good months left at Marchesa. It’s going to be near-impossible to find an equal in terms of its quality. But even if we have to move, I’d love to do special events there, and I know Tony Brooklyn thought the place had tremendous potential as a TV taping venue. It has a lot of technological capabilities that a lot of people aren’t aware of that make it prime for that sort of venture.
There have been a handful of suspensions or other punitive actions in Inspire Pro’s short history, but it does seem as though the performers have tremendous free reign when it comes to establishing their personas (though some were more previously established than others). The “Jensentivity” promo was pretty amazing but has anything come up — either at your suggestion or someone else’s — that simply couldn’t be employed?
We have had some ideas that some people thought were too crazy. We’re really excited to innovate and try new things. We had one angle we were going to run that was so outrageous that it caused several roster members to quit. I’m more determined than ever to make it happen now, just to prove that it can succeed. I just have to rebuild the pieces now, which will take time. Generally any idea that leaves our staff uneasy winds up being a great call. We’ll do something that everyone thought was a really bad idea, and it will get over, and I’ll hear, “Don’t ever let me doubt you again.” Sometimes, you gotta put convention over your knee and give it a good whack. Luckily, we have some bold collaborators on our roster. We’re trying to be a fun company. Not just fun for fans, but fun for the guys working there, and I think we’ve become that place that’s a smooth experience for everyone involved. No doubt, this is a hard job for everyone involved, but there are no trivial or petty differences that get in the way. It’s not high school.
Greatest achievement in Inspire Pro’s first year? Biggest disappointment?
Biggest disappointment? Well, it could have always be bigger than it is at this point. But I’m not disappointed in what we have accomplished. We didn’t quite hit our target, but we came pretty close. Close enough to where I’m excited about what’s coming in YEAR TWO. Greatest achievements have been hosting Chris Hero vs. Ray Rowe, striking a deal with Smart Mark, launching a real women’s wrestling division, and seeing the crowd grow with every show. We’ve seen a lot of people who viewed wrestling as this super alien thing become enthralled by it. In the end, that’s the primary goal: turning people on to having fun watching good pro wrestling.