Over the next two weekends, Maryland Championship Wrestling will be holding two events, their annual Bodyslam Austism event, and Xtreme Measures.
I had a chance to talk to MCW owner Dan McDevitt about these events, as well as his views on the good and bad about independent wrestling, Lita thanking the company in her Hall of Fame speech, and the wrestlers on the roster he feels could make it to the top of the business
Q: This Friday is the annual Bodyslam Autism event. This is the fourth year you've run it. How did that start and become a yearly event for MCW?
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A: One of my best friends in wrestling, he wrestled as Jimmy Cicero, and his name is Matt Bowman, his two sons are severely autistic. He started out on a mission to bring awareness to autism. When you become a father, things like that really change your perspective on how you view things. Matt started out on this mission several years ago, to just bring awareness to it, and to do things to bring awareness to autism and how much of a problem it is. He had started doing a thing called Bodyslam Autism and putting it on shirts. He asked me about doing it, and I of course said that I would love to help. So we just kind of started doing it as a yearly event. We give charities out to different charities that work with autistic children, and we have a couple booths being set up with literature to help boost awareness. That's kind of how it started. It was really Matt's brainchild.
Q: Autism awareness in general has been on the rise lately. While you may be only a very small part of that, how much pride do you take in the fact that you do contribute?
A: I take a lot of pride in it. The credit more so goes to Matt. It's a pride thing too, but also, when you're a parent, it was eye opening having conversations about what he has to go through on a daily basis. It's hard enough being a parent when the child is healthy, I can't even imagine what so many families go through with this. Absolutely it's a point of pride, especially being so close to it, and having a really close friend deal with it. I'm just happy to help. I think sometimes with wrestling, even if we're not like the WWE, on TV on a weekly basis, we have enough exposure that we have a few hundred people come to our events and we can get the word out about things like this. So I almost feel like we have an obligation to do that when we can.
Q: Is this just something to raise awareness, or will you also be raising money for autism charities?
A: For this show, part of the ticket sales will also go to the Baltimore Chapter for Austism Awareness.
Q: At this point, MCW is considered to be fairly prestigious amongst regional independent organizations. How did it get to this point?
A: Mainly a lot of hard work. There are so many terrible independent wrestling organizations. So many of them probably just shouldn't be around. When the territories ended, over the past 15 or 20 years, and states started to be deregulated by athletic commissions, it got to a point that if you could go rent a national guard armory and rent a wrestling ring, you could run a wrestling show. So many have become watered down over the years, that it's a situation where the cream just rises to the top. The better organizations just continue to outshine a lot of them. I'd say there are four or five hundred organizations right now in the United States, and there are 20 to 25 that are viewed as the top. I think it's fair to say that we're in that group.
It also has to do with a standard of what I allow and what I want in the company. I don't just allow guys in the ring because they'll sell tickets. I expect something out of it. There are a ton of local wrestlers that probably hate me, because I won't use them on shows, because I just don't think they're very good, and not up to the level of quality that I want to see. My thing is simple: I ask all the guys in my locker room, and all the guys who call me about working on my show, one thing, and that's 'what do you want out of your career?'
The worst answer a guy can give me is that he's just content being around here and just wrestling at the Joppa Market or the Green Room. I'm not going to be interested in that guy. I want people that want more for themselves. I want guys that want to take that progression and go to Ring of Honor and TNA and the WWE, or Japan, to make a living. I try to maintain a locker room that wants more for themselves, and aren't just happy main eventing a bingo hall once a month. Guys who actually want to make it and become stars.
Unfortunately, a lot of promoters just care about if a guy can sell 50 tickets to a show. They don't care about how bad they are, they just care if they can sell tickets. That's probably the mindset of these independent groups out there. That's a real short-term business plan. I don't do that. I've had local guys tell me they can sell 30 or 40 tickets, and I don't care. If you're terrible in the ring, and don't look like an athlete, even if you sell 30 or 40 tickets you're going to bring down the quality of the show down. What are your 30 tickets that you sell going to do when you cost me 60 tickets for the next show because fans think that we have a bunch of guys who don't know how to wrestle? I think that's the big difference-maker, and a lot of indies are run like that, while we look at the bigger picture.
Q: Does that also make it hard to keep a stable roster, knowing that all of your guys are trying to move on to bigger things?
A: Yes, but that's what I want. I want to get guys opportunities with Ring of Honor and try to take that next step. I think that's why this year, in 2014, I had one of the WWE Hall of Fame inductees thank me in their Hall of Fame speech. Lita thanked me personally and thanked MCW. That's pretty cool that someone getting inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame thanked me when they're up there at one of the biggest moments of their life. I want that for people. Does it sometimes make things harder? Yeah, it can be. It was actually worse before. Around 2000 when WCW was still hot, WWE was hot, and ECW was hot. To use Lita as an example, I didn't have her for very long to work with her, because she was snapped up by ECW so quickly.
It happened more back then when there were three major companies. Guys like Joey Matthews [Joey Mercury in WWE], Christian York, Orlando Jordan, who was my student at Bonebreakers. People got a look at him and all of a sudden Rocky Johnson flew him down to Florida and then he went to WWE. As soon as guys started to get a little bit of buzz on them, they were gone. It's not as bad as it was back then, just because that was the peak of the Attitude era and the business was really hot. But at the end of the day, I just looked for the other guys in the locker room to step up. It may cause a little bit of a problem, but it's a good problem. I'd love for all the guys to go on. That's what I want for them. I want people who want to get to that point.
Q: Speaking of Lita, what was that like to hear her thank you and MCW in her Hall of Fame speech? Did you know that was coming and what was that moment like for you?
A: I had no idea that was coming. She's always been very appreciative towards me. She's done a lot of favors for me where she's come in for shows and refused to take a penny from me and things like that. But I had no idea she was going to do that. I was actually at a bull roast, and all of a sudden my phone starts blowing up from Facebook notifications and text messages from people congratulating me. I had no idea why they were congratulating me. Finally, Shawn Credle, who does our booking, sent me a message saying congratulations and I texted him back saying 'What the hell are you congratulating me for?' And then he told me. After I got home I went back and watched it and it took a second to sink in at how cool that is that she thought enough of me to thank me in that public place. It was really awesome, and I called her the next day and thanked her. To me, that's what it's all about, that people think enough of me that I had a small piece to do with them making it and having the career that they had.
Q: So often you hear stories about, like you said, the really bad promoters and organizations who screw over their wrestlers. How much of a negative impact do you think those stories have on independent wrestling as a whole?
A: I think the worst thing about it is that it makes fans gun shy to give independent wrestling a shot. You hear of crappy shows, or shows getting canceled and fans not getting their money refunded. And now in the world of social media, that spreads. One of the big things about this state is the Maryland State Athletic Commission. Every year you hear someone say that they wish the state would deregulate wrestling. I don't want them to deregulate wrestling in Maryland. In states like New Jersey, or Florida, that have deregulated, you hear that there's basically a different show on every corner. If they deregulated in Maryland, anybody could rent a bingo hall and wrestling ring and run a show. I'm glad the Athletic Commission is around because it prevents that from happening. When shows are run badly, it's a slap in the face to all of independent wrestling. If you're an average fan, giving independent wrestling a shot for the first time, they see WWE as on a pedestal by itself, which it should be, but then they just see everything else below it as lumped together. So as far as the fans go, if these promoters run things badly, it's a huge negative for all of us. ... And that's why promotions like ours stand out, because they know I'm not going to do anything like that. The wrestlers that work for me know that the money is going to be good and I'm not going to cancel shows. I think I've had to cancel three shows out of 200 shows that I've promoted.
(Just after this interview was conducted, another independent organization, Extreme Rising, canceled two of their shows suddenly. Maryland Championship Wrestling quickly offered free admission to Bodyslam Autism for any fans who had tickets to their events)
Q: Your shows tend to have a balanced card between the regular MCW guys and then the more established guys, like Sean Waltman [X-Pac in WWE] on Friday or Matt Hardy at your following show. How do you keep that balance on your cards?
A: The reality of the situation is that it's the only way to get people who have never been to a show to give you an opportunity. If we just ran a show where we had our MCW guys, not that this is a knock on them at all, but we might have our three or four hundred regulars that follow our guys. But to take it to that next level and continue growing, the only way you can get some of these fans out there is for them to look on a flier or the internet and see “Oh wow, Matt Hardy and Rikishi are there?” It's a necessity. You have to mix it up and keep things constantly changing to keep those people interested ... I balance it out, and try to do one or two a show, depending on how big the building is, or where I'm going. You can't load up the card with too many big guys, or all of a sudden you're losing money on the show. It's really just a judgment call that I make based on my time in the business. I cringe when I see some of these shows that advertise for 20 or 25 big names. I'm just thinking 'My god, if they don't have 5,000 people in the audience, there's no way they're going to be able to pay the bills.' It's necessary to do what you need to do to pull in the influx of people.
Q: At your last show, Jake Roberts wrestled and after the match, he gave a speech that got a lot of mainstream attention, not just in the area, but all around the internet. What was your reaction to that speech, and has that brought any extra attention to the company?
A: I definitely think it did. I got a lot of emails from people who wanted to see it and use it. As a wrestling fan, I was sitting down there at ringside, and the little kid in me thought it was amazing. All night long, Jake was talking about how blown away with the crowd, how many people were there and how into the show they were. It wasn't planned or anything, he just asked for the mic and I was standing out there just like everybody else, and when asked for five minutes of our time, I just went down to ringside and listened to him. It wasn't expected but it was great that he did something like that. He's been through so much, and so many wrestling fans feel like they've been on this journey with him through the years of him fighting his demons and his comeback. It was a really cool moment as a promoter and a former wrestler and a lifetime fan of wrestling.
Q: You're having a show soon in Waldorf for the first time. Is there a desire to expand to other parts of Maryland?
A: I'm not sure if I'd say there's a desire, but I'm willing to. As long as I have partners, for instance, the Unique Sports Academy is partnering with us on this show. If there's partners, then I'm willing to do it. But because there's so much involved in making shows successful, there's so much legwork from getting out fliers and posters, and getting the local businesses to come on board and sponsor us. When it's an hour and a half to two hours away, I need someone to partner with us on the show, because there's so much to do. I'm not out saying that I'm going to do shows all over the state of Maryland, but I'm open-minded to it if someone reaches out to me and wanted to partner up and do something.
Q: You've mentioned all these talents in the past that have risen to the top of the business. Do you think there's anybody on the current roster that you really think has that chance to get to that level?
A: I like all the guys who are in Black Wall Street. Our current tag team champions, Napalm and Solo, have the WWE look, and I think they look like WWE stars. Napalm is a lot more experienced than Solo, but I could see them getting an opportunity as a team. Drolix, who is one of our top guys, has been coming along incredibly, and I could see him get an opportunity.
I think Jessie Kaye, from the divas standpoint talent-wise, is as good and hardworking as any of the girls that are in the WWE right now. There are a bunch of guys who could make it. And Christian York, our MCW Champion. There's a guy that I can't understand why he's not in WWE right now. He's so talented, he's a ring general, he's a locker room leader. If there's a guy that I thought could go on the WWE roster right now and make the WWE money, it would be Christian York. I can't figure out why TNA let him go. But that's the wrestling business. Sometimes over the years you find yourself mind-boggled about what guys made it and what guys didn't.
I've heard Tommy Dreamer say over the years, as a guy who worked in the WWE front office, that unfortunately talent is just a small portion of it, and there is a lot of politics involved. Talent can be meaningless, it can be just a political thing.
But back to the question, that's just a small handful of the guys I think could make it. It will come down to who goes above-and-beyond to make it. There are guys who have a desire to make it, and then there's people who want it as much as they want oxygen. Take a look at the most recent guy to come from us to go to the WWE, Darrick Moore [who is a current referee for WWE] He started out in our wrestling school and worked with us for years. He took that next step and just packed up and moved to Florida. He went to NXT, and worked The Arena this week, and by mid-summer, I think he's going to be on the main roster.
Q: For the fans who haven't been able to experience an MCW show, what can they expect from a show, particularly the two that are coming up?
A: I think they're going to see a combination of everything. We have a variety of guys. Guys who do comedy, guys who are jacked up, guys that can high fly. We have people who will appear to everyone. These are all guys who are hungry and trying to make it. They're not just giving 110 percent, they're giving 210 percent. Not to say we're better than WWE, because we're not, but some fans who come out leave saying they enjoyed it more than WWE because the wrestlers go nonstop. They're going to see talented professional wrestlers, who want it, and want to get to the next level. They're not content, and they're digging, scratching, and clawing to get noticed.
And you can ask some of these fans who have been watching for a long time, you don't know who you'll be able to say you saw. If you went to a show in 2000, you'd be able to say you saw Lita, or Mickie James, or Joey Mercury, or Orlando Jordan. They would have seen all these guys, like Matt and Jeff Hardy back in 1997-98. They wrestled for me. What are they going to see? Guys and girls busting their asses to get a job, and you might be able to see the future stars. Ten years for now, we could be having this conversation about Napalm and Solo or Drolix or Jessie Kaye. What are they going to see? The future of the wrestling business.
Bodyslam Autism will be held at The New Green Room in Dundalk on Friday, April 25 and Xtreme Measures will be held at the Unique Sports Academy in Waldorf on Saturday, May 3. For more information or tickets, you can go to the website, www.marylandwrestling.com.
Any questions or comments? Leave them below in the comments section, or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster