Billy Corgan has worked tirelessly to keep the National Wrestling Alliance brand alive since acquiring the company in 2017. The Smashing Pumpkins rocker endured a series of setbacks including a raging pandemic. Despite the challenges, he has stayed the course while still adapting to the current landscape. When hearing him talk about the product, it’s clear he remains passionate about the venture.
The owner is ready to celebrate the company and where it’s going during NWA 75th Anniversary weekend on August 26-27. History will be made over the course of two nights at The Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis. Here Corgan breaks down the cards, as well as where he wants to take the NWA next.
You booked NWA matches on some of your Pumpkins’ “The World Is A Vampire” tour dates. How has that been going?
Billy Corgan: It has been a really cool thing. We did 10 in Australia and stop in Mexico City. That one had 30,000 people. I love doing it. I’ve been really pleased to see the NWA talent has enjoyed it as well. They see the advantage of reaching an audience that wouldn’t normally encounter wrestling in the flesh. You would think fans would head to the bars to grab a drink in between bands. Many of them instead watched the wrestling and really enjoyed themselves. It’s a labor of love, but I’ve enjoyed all the events we’ve done.
The NWA has a big milestone coming up. You’ve been such a champion for this brand. What are you most proud of since acquiring the company?
I’m most proud we put respect back on the name. When I bought it, people thought it didn’t make sense at all. I’ve had to navigate issues through that. People think it’s an old-school throwback brand. I’ve said transparently that I’m trying to navigate this thing into the 21st century. Since I’ve taken over, you’ve also seen changes in the marketplace with TNA rewriting itself as Impact Wrestling, Jeanie Buss back with WOW (Women Of Wrestling), and Tony Khan entering with AEW. Plus, WWE sold for $9 billion. A lot of shifting, but through it all you’ve seen the durability of pro wrestling as an entertainment offering in the digital era. It bodes well for everyone involved. I’m proud to stand there and weather different storms. There have been a lot of interesting things along the way. It’s not always a Sunday walk in the park. It’s a rough and tumble business, but it has been worth it. We have other good news coming any minute. So, I feel like I’ve done what I set out to do. I’ve passed the point of just survival, which was the biggest hurdle. Now we are at the point of questioning if we can hang in the upper tiers of the content game.
You figure if you can survive after the pandemic, you can take on anything.
I don’t want to give myself any clickbait here, but if you can survive COVID plus certain talents along the way. I’ll just leave it at that.
With the different TV-related strikes going on, networks may be shopping for more content. Have you found an increase in interest in the last couple of weeks from networks or content platforms?
We have stuff in place. We’re not able to announce it yet, but we are sort of in that. It is certainly a situation where people are saying this thing can go on for a while and will probably be to the benefit of a lot of live event sports. Certainly, I emphasize what people are going through. The encroachment of AI into the creative space is not just on writers, directors, and set designers. It’s obviously a massive issue. I was there when the strike actually started. I had some interviews where I had to go through some of the strike lines. Not like I was breaking any strike, but it’s pretty wild. A lot of people’s livelihoods are on the line. We have AI coming into music now. There are a lot of challenges ahead, but what is crazy is wrestling once more will be immune to all this because you need the talents in the ring to do what you can’t do with a video game.
We have the big two-night card coming up. You have Violent J of the Insane Clown Posse to work with the clowns’ team known as Brothers of Funstruction. How is it having him involved?
We have a personal connection. J was dating someone who I worked with professionally. They unfortunately died recently. Laney Chantel. I didn’t know this at the time, but they had been dating for a while. We occasionally connected. J reached out to me on a private level. He was mourning this person he loved. This idea hung out there. Then Vampiro came in to work with La Rebelión. We got to talking about the clowns, Brothers of Funstruction. Not only is Violent J going to be managing them, but he has done a theme song for them. It’s awesome. He did it on his own. ICP are self-starters with everything they do. And their love for pro wrestling is well-documented. I’m excited to have him as part of the NWA. That’s what I love about the NWA. We are this open-source network.
Can we expect some surprise appearances? Matt Cardona does have an open challenge. Anything you can tease?
We’ve made a concerted effort through the years to stand with what we’ve got as advertised. As a fan, I love surprises. But as a business, I like delivering as advertised on paper. With Cardona, the one thing you know is whatever he going to do, he is going to get the attention. He is very savvy, very bright. I love his mind for the business. I hope to be in the business with him for years to come. No matter what he does. Even if he does go back to WWE, which has been wildly speculated. He certainly deserves to be on top of any game. Whatever he is going to do, people will be talking.
The main event match is Tyrus defending the NWA championship and putting his career on the line against EC3. How do you think Tyrus has done as champion?
He is 50 years old. He has accomplished basically anything he has set out to do. But being NWA world champion may mean the most to him. He wants to prove he belongs at the highest level. He is certainly no stranger to controversy, but I think the most interesting thing about Tyrus is he has been underestimated in everything he has ever done. Somehow he has come out of the other side. He doesn’t win everyone over, but he wins a lot of people over. I think he has had a very credible reign. I like to point out that past all the noise, here is a 6-foot-7, 375-pound man. You have to go through that man if you want to win that title. I like the story that tells. I like his personal journey from where he started to where he is today.
It was not the core of my decision to put the title on him strictly because of the marketing of that title on television [on Fox News]. He did that on his own. He asked for permission, but he did it on his own. I think he says a lot about the NWA and how I want to run the company. Which is we’re going to do it our own way. It’s not for everybody, but you’re talking to a guy who runs his band the same way. It has worked out on that end just fine. Do you know how many times I’ve been pronounced dead on the mat in my career? I understand what it feels like to take the heat, but I don’t think the heat is bad for wrestling. I’m not into this pattycake version of wrestling. I’m more on the Dana White side of the equation, which is these are grown-ass men and women fighting for the richest prizes in the sport. And if you can’t handle the heat and pressure, you don’t belong in there anyway. We have EC3 who at times is also overlooked, underappreciated, and underestimated who has rebuilt himself like Cardona into his own image. He just started his own promotion, and we are hoping to work with him in the future. All these names are self-made talents. The NWA is really built for the modern era in the way we market talents.
Speaking of talent of the modern era, Kamille often doesn’t get her flowers for what she has accomplished with 800 days and counting as women’s champion.
I’m not a fan of quick title changes because you can build with talent and their reign a longer story. Here Kamille went from being a valet, didn’t wrestle for two years, and at one-time storyline-wise didn’t talk. She has become a strong promo and brought her own flair and swagger to her championship reign. Kailey, the real person, is outspoken. She’ll give you her opinion on everything from Tyrus, me, the sun, and the moon. I’m not always a fan of what comes out of her mouth. At times it has not so much to do with business.
The reason she is the champion at this point, the face of the NWA, is because she has gotten it done. She is not a big fan of how we run these anniversary shows because the champs have to go both nights. She has Natalia Markova on night one, who may be the hardest-hitting striker on the female side in all of wrestling. Then she would face the winner of the Burke Gauntlet. I think we have 12, possibly more. That’s the game we play. We want you to look at our champions and say, “That’s a champion.”
As we look to the future, who do we need to look out for as a headliner?
When you ask who is the future of the NWA, it’s Kerry Morton. We have our top young talent under contract. So like a team looking toward the future like my Chicago Cubs, for example, we’re really building off of youth. I love the veterans we work with, but the real backstory of the NWA and coming out of 75 is the youth movement of the NWA. The Page Sisters, Colby Corino, Kerry Morton, and Joe Alonzo, feel very good about where we are going. I think our best years are still to come. It has been frustrating for me at times to not get the attention I think we deserve. There is a real business out here running with people whose livelihood depends on drawing in professional wrestling. A lot of times wrestling media pretends to care about the business, but they really care about the gossip.
Look at WOW. Doesn’t get a lot of love from wrestling media, but WOW is very credible and draws on national television doing credible ratings. Giving people work, and entertaining fans we don’t know out there because they don’t fit into the normal bucket. What I’m saying is wrestling does a poor job at times as a culture of looking past the obvious gossip. Realizing there are the Impacts, WOWs, and NWAs building a business that is necessary for the ecosystem of the entire business plus giving opportunity. I think when it’s all said and done the NWA will be part of the bigger conversation or I wouldn’t be doing it. I think now, especially in the last year, you are seeing the NWA vision pretty clearly.
NWA 75th Anniversary, August 26 and 27, 8/7c, FITE TV