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Backstabbing in the Indy Promotions
by Ric Drasin on 2001-10-23

Going back as far as the early 1970’s when I ran my first promotion there was a jealousy and pettiness among promoters that destroyed a lot of independents. I started wrestling in 1965 at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles and at that time the Olympic was owned by a lady by the name of Ilene Eaton. Her son Mike LeBell ran the Wrestling side of the business and she ran the Boxing end. The Olympic is a landmark and holds about 14000 seats. It had Wrestling on Wednesdays and Fridays and Roller Derby on Thursdays. In those days the Athletic Commission was in full control of both Boxing and Wrestling. You had to have a license to Wrestle, Box and Promote. They had stringent rules and you had to adhere to them or you didn’t work.

This was pretty much rule of thumb throughout the U.S. There were territories being that the NWA had most of the West Coast and then it’s other side had the East Coast. Boys were sent back and forth to work each area. In the middle, you had your independent promoters. The West Coast encompassed from San Diego to San Francisco and all the cities in-between. If someone ran a small show outside of the NWA you were considered a Renegade and you no longer worked for NWA. We worked NWA 5 to 7 nights a week for $25 to $35 per night and then on Saturdays was Channel 13 which paid all of $15.00. But was considered a promo for a house show where you could pick up $100, if you were fortunate enough to get booked on it. There were a lot of local ‘boys’ who worked occasionally and wanted to work more under better conditions. The tried to for a Union for Wrestlers but failed since there were those who would always ‘scab’ and work anyway. Much like today. I worked almost every night for NWA back then along with John Tolos, Freddie Blassie, Mr. Moto, Buddy Austin, Pedro Moreles and almost every big name that came through there. In fact I had one of my first matches there with Terry Funk (who’s 1 month younger than me) and we’re still friends today. I took it upon myself to form a Federation back then called West Coast Wrestling and set up some shows. I arranged a show at the Civic Auditorium in Bakersfield, pulling in every independent wrestler that I could find. There were plenty.

I hired the Director from Channel 13 at the time to shoot tapes for me as he was shooting for NWA also. I got the famous ‘Dick Lane’ to sit ringside and do color. I dotted every I and crossed every T to make sure that I went by the book with the Athletic commission. What I soon realized was that the Commission was being paid off by the Olympic Aud. to sabotage me at every corner. They did not want me to run a show. IN a democracy where competition is allowed, it’s basically NOT allowed. They called the papers, changed my dates, threatened TV Stations not to run Wrestling and did just about everything they could to discourage me. I ran 2 shows and ran 3 weeks of one hr. tapes in that area. Drew a fair crowd of 400 people which was pretty good back then. But couldn’t fight the battle with the Olympic and commission so I dropped it. This was my first hint of jealous promoters. Eventually Mike LeBell called me and asked me to run a few towns for him as he liked the creativity and energy that I had to promote. I declined.

Later in the 80’s after Vince McMahan declared wrestling as entertainment and got rid of the Athletic commission in California, I started running more shows under the name American Wrestling Federation at Strongbow Stadium in Bakersfield. I picked Bakersfield because it has the oldest standing arena in the round. It’s a masterpiece of nostalgia and should be picked up by movie studios as it’s got a lot of history and great atmosphere to run shows. I really had no problem at this point with shows as the Olympic Auditorium was out of business, there was no NWA out here and basically no competition. But the commission did show up and asked for TAX on the show, or they’d close me down. I told them to take a hike, kiss my ass and leave. They had no jurisdiction. They said that now they wanted Entertainment TAX. What ? Kiss my ass again and leave or I’ll throw you out. They left, sent me a bill about 2 weeks later. I sent it back and said ‘stick it’ and never heard from them again. I knew my rights! But what I didn’t expect was that there were other small promoters such as myself who in their petty ways were upset and told any wrestlers who worked for them not to work for me. They’d give them $20 not to show up and leave me with a few ‘open’ spots on the card. I couldn’t believe people would do this, but they did. I continued to run shows and would weed out the good from the bad

. The rise of WWF and WCW and the popularity across the country can ONLY enhance the interest of the small promotions and make them better as FANS want to come see wrestling. They don’t care where it is or who’s on the show. They just want good Wrestling entertainment. I’ve proved that here in LA without using Big Names. Now today in 1999 I’m still running shows as AWF here in Los Angeles and mostly at Schools and Organization using them as Sponsors. This way it’s much less expensive, I get a deposit up front and they sell tickets and provide the Venue. My smallest house was 610 people. My next show is expected to be a sell out at 1500. I still have one problem and that is with other small promoters up and down this state who feel they own the rights of Wrestlers that work their shows.

I recently worked a show with my Son in San Jose for a promoter who’s just getting started. IT was his first show. His name is Bruce Collins and a hell of a nice guy who looked to me for advice. I don’t normally travel to do someone else’s show but I could see he was lost and wanted to help. I sent him 7 of the Wrestlers that I use, including my son and myself to work the show. I guided him through the advertising process and the Do’s and Don’ts of the business. He was very appreciative. The big problem that I found was he had two rivals up there APW , Roland Alexander (which is mentioned in Barry Blaustine’s ‘Beyond the Mat’) and Big Time Wrestling , owned by Kirk White. These two men did everything possible to completely wipe out his show. BTW rented him the ring, and then called the Athletic commission to close him down, told wrestlers not to show and on the 2nd night, said his ring wouldn’t fit in the building and there wasn’t enough room to walk by to the restroom. This was false but the show was cancelled anyway. APW showed up and created problems with the promoter because he didn’t use his ‘boys’ and then wrote a terrible article (one man point of view) on the internet about the show.

The show was good.

Not as many people as expected but this was because of the undermining of these two other promotions. Bruce Collins was a little discouraged, but I told him that we were all behind him and would help him do another show and make it a success. We’ll get him a ring so that he doesn’t have to rent from his competition as they will screw him over every time. This is the pettiness that I speak of in independent promoters. These small groups feel that they own the wrestlers that work for them and want them under contract to not work for others. For what? $20 a show? And some don’t even get paid. That’s sad. Independent means just that. Independent. To work as an individual anywhere you want. I think the independent promoter has lost touch with what that means. At least in this end of the U.S. I draw from about 40 wrestlers here and use them when they’re available. If I know someone else who can use them, I call them and let them make their own deal. They want to work and I would not deprive them of that. I Coordinate many TV Shows and Commercials where Wrestlers are needed. I call them in and get them as much money as possible.

I take NO Commission from them. It’s their gig and I just offer it to them. This is the way it should be. If independent promotions could pull together, we could run territories like the old days and everyone could work. Wouldn’t that be great? I’d love to be able to work a few nights every week and have fun like the old days without someone getting upset that you worked for someone else. Hopefully the bad will be weeded out and the strong survive.

APW and BTW got a bad rap in “Beyond the Mat’ and this exposed what kind of cutthroats they are. Either they will take a good look at themselves and straighten out or go under.

I know that there are many Good promoters across the country and I’m sure that they will stay on top. This was just aimed at those who aren’t and I’m sure we all know who they are. I will continue to run successful shows in my area and try to do the right thing by everyone. Treat everyone with respect and as professionals in hopes that the rest will follow.

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