NWA Owner Billy Corgan Says He’s Not A Huge Fan Of Surprises In Wrestling 

NWA Owner Billy Corgan Says He’s Not A Huge Fan Of Surprises In Wrestling 

Billy Corgan’s lifelong passion has been writing and performing music. As frontman for legendary rock band the Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan has carved out a hall of fame career behind the mic, guitar in hand. When he’s not moonlighting in music, however, an equal passion that fuels the Chicago native has been professional wrestling. Corgan has long had a hand in the business, and most notably in 2017, he purchased the National Wrestling Alliance. 

A storied promotion for decades, the NWA was largely cast aside in the mid-’80s when the World Wrestling Federation juggernaut swallowed nearly all in its path. Corgan’s purchase of the company signaled a new era for the NWA, and the retro feel and old-school style of its “NWA Powerrr” program caught the eyes of wrestling fans old and new. A hiatus due to the pandemic derailed some of Corgan’s momentum with the brand, but since returning in early 2021, the NWA has regained its footing. On Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 the company’s flagship anniversary show, NWA74, is set for the historic Chase Ballroom in St. Louis and will air simultaneously on pay-per-view. Trevor Murdoch, Tyrus, Matt Cardona, Chelsea Green, Bully Ray, EC3, Kamille, KiLynn King, Homicide, The Pope, Kerry Morton, Thom Latimer, Nick Aldis and many more will be in action in the two-night event. For Corgan, the success of NWA74 will rely on everyone involved. “I think you have a lot of key matchups there,” Corgan said in a recent interview for Web Is Jericho. “And it’s up to the talent to go out and prove it.” 

“The NWA has to be great from top to bottom. That’s why I’m not even a huge fan of surprises. I get it. It’s very much the modern wrestling ecosystem, ‘Oh my god, so and so is here, you’re never gonna believe what happened.’ I’m in a different mindset, which is when you look at that card for NWA74, you’ve got to believe that Harry and Doug vs. La Rebellion is gonna be worth every ounce of your attention. If you don’t, and it takes me bringing 17 people through the curtain and people exploding in mid-air, I just don’t feel that’s what’s going to be the difference maker in NWA.”Billy Corgan

As an example, Corgan referenced the tag team title match featuring The Commonwealth Connection (Harry Smith and Doug Williams) and La Rebellion. “I think they’re in a wonderful position to go have a world class tag team match in a world that does not always celebrate and wrap its arms around tag team wrestling,” he said. “Tag team wrestling is one of those things where oftentimes it works on particular formulae to get the crowd involved. The best tag team wrestling matches in my mind, it seems to kind of break the formula. Particularly on a pay-per-view, can they take advantage of the moment, the crowd, the live audience? Can they bring something that maybe they don’t even expect to bring in the moment. That’s kind of what I look for.”

Corgan said the main event matches of NWA74 will hold their spots fine, but he’s looking to the other bouts “as to really be the difference maker as to whether or not 74 is something you’re really gonna remember or you’re just gonna say, ‘Oh, that’s when so and so won the belt and this thing happened.’” 

For Corgan, “The NWA has to be great from top to bottom. That’s why I’m not even a huge fan of surprises. I get it. It’s very much the modern wrestling ecosystem, ‘Oh my god, so and so is here, you’re never gonna believe what happened.’ I’m in a different mindset, which is when you look at that card for NWA74, you’ve got to believe that Harry and Doug vs. La Rebellion is gonna be worth every ounce of your attention. If you don’t, and it takes me bringing 17 people through the curtain and people exploding in mid-air, I just don’t feel that’s what’s going to be the difference maker in NWA.” 

Corgan talked at length about the NWA and its place in the wrestling business as well as some of his most cherished wrestling memories ahead of NWA74. 

Here’s Corgan on …

What the NWA brings to the table that perhaps other wrestling companies do not: “That’s a great question. I’m glad I don’t have a prepared answer. I think what we’re doing that’s different is we’re probably the only professional wrestling company at this level that’s just letting talent go out and let it rip, especially on promos. We don’t script a lot. By extension, I think it also goes to letting people figure out their characters and be their characters in the ring without a lot of overt supervision. I think I saw Chelsea Green saying something nice along the lines that you have so much freedom in the NWA, and that it’s a really fun and enjoyable place to work on a creative level. I’m not saying we’re doing it better than other people, because that’s unfair. There’s a lot of people doing it at the top level. I’m saying we do it in a way that creates a different sort of magic. And I think you see that now in the product. One thing I really learned working with someone as talented as Matt Hardy, is there were things Matt Hardy was doing during the deletion angles that only Matt Hardy could pull off. What I mean by that, is Matt Hardy is so talented, he could take something really weird or really different — one of my favorite promos we ever did, Matt was looking at the camera just chattering his teeth for three minutes or something like that, and he did it, and it was so weird. And I thought, ‘There is probably only one guy on the planet that can pull off a promo without even talking and it gets over,’ right? The point I’m trying to make is that talent has a way of taking little things and making them important things and making them magical things. When I look back on my own life as a fan in my youth, the things that stick out aren’t the big, famous match. It’s the way somebody held their cigar or the way Harley Race talked down the television lens. The NWA is probably doing the little things better than anybody else.” 

Allowing wrestlers more freedom in their position: “As a talent myself, and I don’t mean wrestling talent, I mean musical talent — I don’t like to be micromanaged. I was in a meeting once with someone who ran a very big theatrical agency, because I was looking at some point to maybe write some music for a Broadway show. I was up for something pretty big with some famous names, and the person said, ‘I don’t think you can do this.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘You’re a big rock writer, but I don’t think you could write for Broadway.’ I said, ‘That’s like telling somebody who is really good at cooking Italian food that they can’t cook Peruvian food or something.’ If you’re talented, you do have adaptable skill sets. So when you’re talking about a Chelsea Green, who I met when she first came into TNA years ago and has improved so much. She’s probably the most improved professional wrestler I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. From where she started to where she’s at now, she’s absolutely a top female in the entire world. The talent shines through, so my job is just to put the talent in a position, wind them up and let them go. That’s the magical part. I don’t want to be micromanaged, and I don’t want to micromanage Chelsea Green or Matt Cardona or Nick Aldis or Trevor Murdoch. They’re there because they’re talented. They know themselves better than I do. Now, can I help tweak and say, ‘We probably could’ve done it this way?’ Absolutely. But at the end of the day, the fans are into them for a reason, because they’re stars.”

Pressure to do more gimmick matches like AEW and WWE: “I’m very focused in carving out our own identity. I’m stubborn in the sense that I know there’s things we can do that would probably get us a little more attention, but I don’t think that attention would necessarily last. In essence you sort of become addicted to the thing you needed to do to get attention, and now you’ll have to keep doing that. I think the argument of a Jim Cornette, and I’ve worked with Jim and known him for years, I understand where he’s coming from. If you don’t do the things that really matter fundamentally on the level of the wrestling business, you’re never going to draw the money that those people back in the day used to draw. In essence, you’re dealing with kind of an artificial stimulus to the wrestling program. I’m not here to criticize anybody, because unfortunately I don’t get to watch enough of other people’s programming to know whether or not I would have an opinion on it. But I do get the sense when you see a lot of things, you think, ‘Is it necessary? Is it the conclusion of a storyline? Or is it being used to artificially amplify a storyline of which the public doesn’t have a lot of interest in?’ Speaking as more of a performer, I don’t want the talent to feel that I don’t have enough faith in them to get the little things done and the foundational things done to where I’ve got to throw them out in gimmick matches to get stuff over. If they’re not the talents that can pull off the basic, fundamental stuff, then they’re not the right talents.” 

Who among the NWA roster has surprised him the most: “I would say in recent times, Kerry Morton and Colby Corino. We had a look at Colby Corino a few years back, and he didn’t really stick. He came in with George South, who is like a father to him and a close family friend to the Corinos. He’s one of our brightest stars. P.J. Hawx, also a young star, son of Luke. Odinson, of The End, who is working for us right now as a singles. You find people where you go, ‘Wow, there’s this other gear there.’ Everybody I just listed, I don’t think they’ve hit their ceiling. When you look at a veteran wrestler who’s been in the business for 15 years, they’re pretty aware of what they’re good at and what they’re not as good at. So the goal is, can you find shades in there they maybe haven’t been touched upon that put their wrestling into a different perspective and will get people to appreciate them in a different way? Tyrus is a perfect example. Tyrus is never gonna win a race. He’s not fleet of foot. But you’re taking a 6-7, 375 pound man who is very bright, very skilled on the mic, very talented, has an incredible mind for wrestling. You put him in the right situation, suddenly a guy who used to just stand there and have his arms crossed behind Matt Hardy or EC3, suddenly is a main eventer. That’s where you sort of have to work things through and have patience with certain talents, because sometimes talents are judged in a particular way and somebody says, ‘That’s all you are, and that’s all you’ll ever be.’ Trust me, as a talent myself on the music side, there’s nothing more frustrating than having somebody say, ‘Oh, you’re just the ‘rat in the cage’ guy, and that’s all you’ll ever do.’ It’s sort of like, ‘No, no, no, don’t underestimate me. I’ve got more to offer to this business.’” 

If the NWA hopes to do live shows on a more timely basis in the future instead of taping multiple shows at the same time: “Yes, very much so. We talk about that a lot, and I’m hopeful in 2023 we see a lot more of that. It’s strictly an economic issue. I think the last time we were together, there were 113 NWA office, support staff and talent in the building. Trying to get 113 people anywhere, let’s say every other week, that exponentially increases the cost of running the NWA. I’m so focused on making sure we have top tier talent, that I have to kind of pick my spot. I could have less talent and run a little more frequently, and probably spend the exact same amount of money. I’m more on the side of I want to present to the public the highest quality product with the highest quality talent I can. Hopefully I’m in a different position soon, but that’s kind of where we’re at right now.” 

His first memory of professional wrestling: “I remember being in my great grandmother’s home probably a good 30 miles from where I lived. They lived in the attic, and the television was in the corner in the front room by the windows. My grandfather was 60 years old, my great grandmother was 80-something and they were watching professional wrestling. I remember thinking it was so strange. Here were these adults, and I was a little kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old, and they were paying attention to this thing. I felt like I was a kid watching adults watching a cartoon. It was Dick The Bruiser and these AWA, NWA characters shouting through the television on a Saturday morning, and I was thinking ‘This is really strange. This is something I should be watching, not them.’ So my memory is forever sealed with how the wrestling connected with me through the screen and watching my grandparents react to it which made no sense to me.” 

The era of wrestling that meant the most to him prior to his current time owning the NWA: “I would think somewhere in the late ’70s into the early ’80s. That’s when wrestling made me a fan for life. Even though I wandered away from it after that point for a while. It’s one thing to talk about Ric Flair, Ric Flair’s last match, Ric Flair at NWA73. All those amazing things where Ric has become a crossover cultural icon. I’m old enough to remember watching Ric Flair on Georgia Championship Wrestling on a Saturday morning, not knowing who Ric Flair was. He was just this guy on television and he’s convincing me why Ric Flair is the ‘kiss stealing, wheelin’ dealing,’ that guy. So I have the sensory memory of watching Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, in their prime when they were not mainstream American household names. They were big names in professional wrestling, but if I went down to school and said I watched Dusty Rhodes, they would say ‘Who?’ They didn’t know who I was talking about. I have this very personal relationship with people who are now legends. I didn’t know that then. All I know is I was connecting with them through the medium of television that made me really appreciate that whatever they were bringing made me pay attention and care about something that for every literal reason I shouldn’t have cared about. Because I liked baseball and I liked music, and yet here I was getting up on a Saturday morning watching Ric Flair talk about all the women and all the jets he’d been on and his Rolex watches. When I was in school, I was about 16-17 years old, I won a free ticket to a Bulls game because I was an honor student. And I’m sitting in this row, and it’s halftime when people go for drinks and stuff. And I look down the row, and there’s Ric Flair with the blonde hair and the suit and everything. And nobody’s bothering him. He’s just sitting there by himself. I was so scared of Ric Flair, the Ric Flair in big letters Ric Flair, that I was afraid to even go say hello. So I just sat there and stared at him. Ric Flair in my mind as a kid was larger than life. He had convinced me that he was this outsized figure, which he was, but it wasn’t like it is now. So I have those memories. That’s what I look at when I look at professional wrestling. That’s the high water mark. And yeah, there’s been other eras that you could argue are even bigger than those eras, but that for me is the high water mark of that emotionality, that discovery, and having great legends come through the television and convince me why they were important.” 

What legendary wrestler he’s learned the most from: “Usually when you work with most big, big name legends, whether it’s Jake “The Snake” or Ric Flair, it’s one day or a couple days. We have the Nashville tapings coming up, and Ricky Steamboat will be there, which is going to be fantastic. We’re gonna have J.J. Dillon at NWA74 along with Babydoll, Barry Windham and Tommy Rich. Of course, I work with Austin Idol all the time, who is a friend of mine. I would say if I’m just rummaging around in my head, Austin Idol, because he’s my friend and I’m able to call him up. A perfect example, I saw a clip someone had posted of him and Jerry Lawler working with the Road Warriors in Memphis. So I called him up and go, ‘Alright. Tell me what it was really like working with the Road Warriors. Because I know the reputation of the Road Warriors, but as a worker in the day, you were a veteran and they were younger guys, what was it like?’ He goes, ‘Greatest thing in the world.’ And I get a 15 minute lecture from one of the greatest talkers in the history of the professional wrestling business, explaining what it’s like to be in the ring with the Road Warriors in the beginning of their prime and what made it so special and how they connected with fans and the angles they ran and the buildings they ran. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that.” 

Licensing music for the NWA (the company previously used Dokken and Pantera for their intro to “NWA Powerrr”): “I tried to license a hit, not a big, big hit, but a mid-level hit from a very famous Hall of Fame rock ’n’ roll band. And it looked like it was gonna happen, but then it didn’t happen. At the end of the day, I came this close to getting this track, and I was very disappointed, because it would’ve been the theme for NWA74. I’m still trying. The problem is, and I know this from my music side, sometimes it just gets into layers of red tape. I don’t know if people know these things — a lot of people are selling not only the rights to their songs but the rights to their catalogs. So now, you’re dealing with a lot of people who are not necessarily in the record business, they’re almost like real estate holding people. So, it used to be you could make a couple calls and cut through the red tape and deal with some stuff. Now you’re dealing with people who I’m not really sure what their thoughts are. Just because you see a house on the corner for rent, doesn’t mean somebody’s going to rent it to you for a reasonable price, so that’s kind of what I ran into here. Actually, there’s another Dokken song I’ve really got my eyes on, so I’ve been thinking about going back to Dokken one more time. I’m always rockin’ Dokken.”

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