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A Leadership Lesson from the Wrestling World

I’m not going to name names because it’s not important. You can fill in the blanks on your own, or go read Bluegrass Brawlers. I’d rather you look beyond the names, though to learn something about leadership.

A certain independent promotion was offered the chance to become the training ground for a national wrestling promoter. The opportunity had a huge upside for the tiny promotion: more money, more prestige, better talent, and big names. Soon the tiny wrestling promotion was filled with new students, all of them under contract to the bigger promotion. These new stars became an integral part of the weekly touring, television tapings, and storylines, and the little independent promotion flourished.

But there was a problem in the relationship between the big promotion and the little. Before long, a man at the corporate office began calling the man in charge at the little promotion and saying, “We need Wrestlers A, B, and C on the road this weekend!” The man at the little promotion would tell him, “Wrestler A is our champion, and B and C are in the main event of a show we’ve been promoting this weekend!” The man in the corporate office said, “I don’t care! These are OUR wrestlers, not yours, and we need them!”

You see, the man at the big corporate office hundreds of miles away never kept up with the action at the little promotion. He didn’t watch the show. He didn’t know who was a heel and who was a babyface. And you know what? He didn’t care. The man at the corporate office only cared about his own problems, and he didn’t care if solving his problems made trouble for the little promotion.

I’ve come to see that a lot of organizations end up like these to wrestling companies. Leaders and directors and bosses become so distanced from the action, they forget what it’s like to interact with customers and employees at ground level. They see their spreadsheets and flowcharts. They don’t see how their decisions impact lower managers, or employees. Or customers.

A good leader never forgets where he or she came from. They welcome the opportunity to be reminded of their roots. They take the time to look up from their computer screen, to go back to the beginning, to listen to the people doing the work.

Just a few thoughts for anyone who aspires to be a truly great leader.

No More Rasslin’ on WHAS: 1953

A few months ago I posted a story here about how WHAS began broadcasting live wrestling from the Columbia Gym in Louisville. The show went on the air in the spring of 1950 and was abruptly canceled in September of 1953. Turns out there was a reason for the show’s sudden disappearance.

The weekly wrestling program presented by the Allen Athletic Club was the highest rated show in the Louisville television market, much to the delight of sponsor Fehr’s Brewery and much to the dismay of the so-called defenders of good taste. Those who longed to see the show yanked from the air got their wish thanks to an on-air interview not with a wrestler, but with a fan.

WHAS sports director Jimmy Finegan, who called the action during the weekly program, would interview fans about the action in between bouts. One week, a fan who was upset over the actions of a negligent referee became a little too colorful with his language, and as it turns out… that was that.

The Allen Athletic Club had a brief run on WAVE-TV a few years later when they ran on Friday nights, but it only lasted a few months. One of the aforementioned defenders of good taste wrote a scathing article for the Courier-Journal in 1961, celebrating the demise of professional wrestling on the local air waves so many years before. Little did he know that Memphis would come to town nine years later, making live and televised wrestling bigger than ever in the River City.

Incidentally, Fehr’s Beer is poised to make a comeback in the Louisville area just a few weeks from now. A recent post on their Facebook page promised that the first batch of Fehr’s XL, made from the original recipe, will be available shortly after Thanksgiving.

You can read the original story about wrestling on WHAS by clicking here.

A Louisville Slugger in Japan – Day 3

Update from Austin, who got to watch the NXT Dallas special with Masato Tanaka, who tweeted the photo below of Austin and several other trainees staying up late for the show.

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“Day 3 in Japan. Day 2 of training. The training is tough, but the dojo is like a family. We live together, eat together train together and wrestle together. Everyone has been very open and helpful. I have learned so much in just one day.

“Wrestling here is 100% different than the states. Everyone does their part, from the young boys to the gaijin all the way to the veteran Japanese wrestlers. It’s a great atmosphere.

“Exploring the city and temples was amazing. There is so much to experience here and so much to learn. Its still crazy to me that I’m here. I woke up this morning and could not believe where I was and what I am doing. I am humbled and honored to have this opportunity.

“A few people for people state side too look up. D-man (Canada) Shaun Guinness (Ireland).”

Austin’s posting photos on his Facebook page daily. Click here to follow him and see what he’s been up to!

Bluegrass Brawlers on tour – September 24

BluegrassBrawlers-coverI’m very happy to announce I’ll be giving my first live presentation based on Bluegrass Brawlers later this month in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The talk will be held at the Daviess County Library in Owensboro, KY on September 24 at 6 PM Eastern. I had the privilege of visiting the same library a year or so ago for a screening of a short film I wrote called The Telemarketer. It’s a gorgeous place, and they’ve got a full calendar with all sorts of special events and speakers. They even had an acclaimed independent horror film made inside that building.

I’ll be sharing stories about Ida Alb, William Muldoon, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Heywood Allen, Jerry Lawler, Jim Cornette, Kenny Bolin, and John Cena. Over 130 years of wrestling history in Louisville.

The event is free, and I will have copies of the book available to purchase. If you’re a wrestling fan and in the area, I hope to see you there!

A few Bluegrass Brawler reviews

BluegrassBrawlers-coverThe Humble Book Giant recently posted a very nice review of Bluegrass Brawlers on his blog. The Giant is a Louisville area native and a wrestling fan, and while he normally doesn’t do sports books, he had some nice things to say about the book.

Read the Humble Book Giant’s review here.

The Pro Wrestling Historical Society reviewed the book as well. They were more critical than most and took exception to the version of the Gotch-Hackenschmidt II match I presented in the book, but they still liked it enough to give it four stars.

Read the review from PWHS here.

My favorite review, though, was one that came up on Terry Garvin’s World Domination podcast recently. Handsome Jimmy Valiant himself praised the book as a great read. I emailed him to thank him for the kind words and he sent back a few more. “I enjoyed your book. A lot of good knowledge in it. You hit it all on the nose. John, you didn’t miss anything, my man.
Congratulations and good luck in the future. Godpseed to all.”

Mercy!

Meet the new owner of HWA

Heartland Wrestling Association holds a special place in the hearts of Ohio wrestling fans. HWA was a developmental territory for the WWE at the same time as OVW in Louisville. Founded by the legendary Les Thatcher in 1998, HWA alumni include superstars like D’Lo Brown, Jamie Noble, Dean Ambrose, BJ Whitmer, Matt Stryker, Lance Cade, Cody Hawk, Chad Collyer, Shark Boy, Solomon Crowe, and Nigel McGuinness.

“It has a place in wrestling and has impacted the lives of the people in pro wrestling so much,” says new owner Philip Stamper. “For some, it was the first independent wrestling company many came to know.”

HWA was almost an impulse by for the veteran promoter, who has been in the wrestling business since 1996. “It was a very sudden purchase. When I saw the announcement about it selling, it triggered a lot of thoughts – Les Thatcher was one of the first promoters I ever talked with and the legacy of Heartland Wrestling Association. I saw a chance to play a role in the next stage of HWA.”

Stamper was very pleased to see an immediate response from fans after announcing his purchase on Sunday, June 28. “Our Facebook likes jumped 14%, and we had nearly the same spike on Twitter. We’ve had a few thousand views on YouTube this week. I think it shows there is still an interest whether you live in the area or are a fan of its impact to wrestling.”

Stamper plans to keep HWA in Cincinnati, but while he knows the fans are ready to welcome them back, he asks for patience as he prepares to re-open the promotion. “I’m not going to blindly run into holding an event for the sake of holding an event. There is a lot of ground work that needs to happen before then.” Stamper also hopes to get the HWA video library organized in the months ahead.

Stamper urges fans to subscribe and follow HWA on social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. Fans can also order HWA videos through their store on Smart Mark Video.

The new boss has his work cut out for him, but he has plenty of reason. “A lot of people want there to be an event tomorrow. It does inspire me to move quickly.”

Glad I didn’t spend $100 last night

Just about every pro wrestler on my Facebook and Twitter agrees last night’s Mayweather-Pacquiao fight looked like a work. What does that tell us about the legitimate sport of boxing?

Sorry to all you “real” sports fans who spent $100 last night. Given what you paid for last night, that $9.99 for the WWE Network looks like a bargain.