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Rise and Fall of NWL St. Louis

It happened. The St. Louis “team” of the National Wrasslin’ League is done. NWL owner Major Baisden announced on Facebook Friday morning that “NWL will never run another show in St. Louis.” In fact, the NWL St. Louis Facebook page is no longer and if you try and to go to fightstl.com it directs you to NWL Kansas City’s page. The reactions have been swift and wide ranging. No matter how you feel about NWL and their business model I can assure you having one less wrestling promotion is no good for anyone.

NWL was started by a very successful businessman, Major Baisden. Obviously a wrestling fan he decided to bring back old school-type wrestling with a slight twist: city versus city. Kansas City versus St. Louis to be exact. Each city would have its own unique roster of wrestlers who would carry their own storylines, have their own individual champions, and still compete against each other by keeping track of wins and losses. All of that with its very own performance center. An ambitious idea to say the least.

NWL Titles

The whole idea behind teams and keeping score isn’t new to pro wrestling. Many promotions, including WCW, have tried similar gimmicks. In short, they’ve all failed. The reason I wasn’t a huge fan of this idea because pro wrestling isn’t a legitimate sport. Before you tweet at me let me explain what I mean by that. Wrestling, as I hope you know by now, is predetermined. This puts the “losing” city in the rivalry in a very awkward position every season. If your city loses that means that the characters you were given by NWL are lesser than. Why is the other city better? What did our city do wrong? Why should I continue to root for St. Louis versus St. Louis matches when both guys aren’t as good as KC (or vice versa)? Basically you alienate half of your audience. I love the idea of NWL having multiple sites much like the NWA. I do believe that you could use the old NWA model on a smaller scale. When NWA was king you could only watch whatever promotion was in your area. Now, you’re able to watch NWL KC, St. Louis, and wherever else they had a company from your computer, phone, television, etc. You can travel around with your favorite NWL KC wrestler.

A lot was said about NWL before they even opened their doors. They made big splashes in both their markets by purchasing city staple promotions like Metro Pro in KC and St. Louis Anarchy. This is business. Purchasing those companies was a wise move depending how much was spent. They were able to acquire talent, tools, and, one would assume, a fanbase. Promises were made that from the time NWL started everything would be top of the line. That promise was delivered and then some.

Leading up to the very first show back in January in Kasas City there was a lot of hype from NWL, their talent, and basically everything surrounding the promotion as there should be. They signed talent to contracts, held press conferences, gave all the talent new names and characters, and put out incredibly well done vignettes. I was pretty excited. Weeks before the show I had tried multiple times to try and set up some interviews through the proper channels with NWL. I received one response saying that we would set something up when the show got closer. After that my DM’s, texts, and phone calls were not returned. Yea, I was a little salty at the time and when I think about it now I still get a little pissed. But who am I? Really no one. I’m one of many fans with a website, laptop, and podcast mic. I get it. When I got to Kansas City I messaged two contracted NWL talent, Mac and Joe, collectively known as The Union. Here in Des Moines we know them better as Mark McDowell and John West, The American Bulldogs of 3XW. They were more than willing to give me an interview when our schedules matched up that day. Full disclosure, they’ve always been super cool to me and everyone at Pro Wrestling Iowa. They’re hard working guys so there new characters fit them perfectly. My only concern was, and is, that it sets a company back when you rebrand guys that have already established themselves in the Midwest. I know that what NWL was trying to do was control their own characters, merchandise, and even Twitter accounts. I get that. But if I’m someone from Des Moines who wants to see Redwing, American Bulldogs, Devin Thomas, and many more I would have virtually no idea they were in NWL.

From the time I walked in the doors at the Scottish Rite everything was high quality. The merchandise, the venue, and everything production was way better than any independent promotion I have ever seen which includes the early days of NXT when they were only in Florida. I went there to see the most anticipated Midwest indie promotion debut show. I was honestly flabbergasted by what I was seeing. My expectations started to grow even further.

As I waited for the doors to the actual theater area where the show would be held I grabbed some beer and started chatting with fans as anyone who has ever been to an idie show does. I talked to A LOT of Metro Pro regulars. They conveyed to me two things: their incredible excitement and their concern over ticket prices. This was something I was expecting. I bought tickets for myself and my brother-in-law. For tickets that were not in the front row, but not in the balcony it was $30/ticket. They weren’t bad seats, but they weren’t the front row. Maybe I’m spoiled. Thirty dollars is a lot of money for a debut show with no huge independent names on the card. This was the feeling from the Metro Pro regulars as well. They conveyed to me that they were used to snatching up front row tickets at a reasonable price. They were disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to afford front row tickets any longer and didn’t want to sit in the balcony for the same price that they used to be able to touch the mat for.

I don’t have a Master’s in business, but it seems to me that a little bit of good will was lost due to ticket prices. To me it seemed as though they were passing the high cost of contracting wrestlers, buying promotions, high cost production, etc. off to the consumer. I’m a cheap SOB, so I don’t even like paying WWE $30 for shows. Yes, NWL started offering discounts and even tier based season tickets, but I think the damage was done. It definitely seemed from that first night that the high ticket prices seemed to scare some people off. The Scottish Rite in KC is a HUGE building. It’s really hard to gauge how many people were there because it looked as though a lot of people chose to go with the cheaper balcony seats. Those were above me so I really didn’t get a good look at how many people were up there. From my view however, the crowd seemed enthusiastic, but scattered.

The show seemed to be loved by everyone. Much like what NWL had promised they delivered. The characters were definitely an homage to wrestling of the 70’s and 80’s. Guys like Niles Plonk who is a wine connoisseur, the Swoll Patrol who are a tag team of what are meant to be gym enthusiast meat heads complete with Zubaz, and Ken Dharma (better known as 2009 PWI Rookie of the Year, Mike Sydal) who is a yoga master. These were hit and miss for me. It does take me back to my days as a kid when wrestling was basically a combination of my favorite comic book and Saturday morning cartoon shows. As a 30-year-old it wore off pretty quickly. I expect that type of thing from WWE, but not from an indie. For an independent promotion I want good fucking wrestling. I don’t care who it is, what their schtick is, or if they’re a villain. If the wrestling is good then I’m all in. This wrestling was pretty good. Virtually everyone impressed me. Especially Jeremy Wyatt who I hadn’t seen in a while. They didn’t change his name, tweaked his character just enough to be different, and gave him a manager to get some extra boos. Sammy Six Guns was now “Mile High Magnum” Dak Draper. That dude is a top of the line talent and he was/is treated as such. This I liked.

Since then they have brought in more guys and changed their names. Devin Thomas is Thor Theriot in NWL. He’s still the badass we’ve all come to know and love. They’ve also switched up some of their booking techniques by having guys like Bob Holly, Kyle O’Reilly, and ACH come in to fill a few more seats. This I thought should’ve been done from day one. If you can get a few more casual viewers there to see Bob Holly then get them hooked on your regular show then all the better. This has been going on for decades. It’s kind of Indie Wrestling 101.

Not too long after NWL debuted they were put on Kansas City television at 30 The Spot. I don’t live in KC, I don’t get that channel, but any TV is good TV for wrestling. I’ve been able to keep up on their shows via YouTube. No matter if it is in St. Louis or Kansas City the wrestling has been great. The Royal Blood (Riegal Twins) against The Howletts (my favorite NWL characters) in a Tables Match was tremendous! I just watched Thor versus Michael Strider, Wyatt’s aforementioned manager, in a No DQ match complete with thumbtacks. It was a crazy good match! You can tell from my exclamation points that the wrestling is there.

It seemed to me like NWL as a whole was really starting to find their footing and get into rhythm. That’s why I was surprised, but not shocked to find Major Baisden has shut down NWL St. Louis. From Baisden’s Facebook posts it seems like there were a lot of different reasons for closing the doors on the eastern side of Missouri. He wrote today how one reason was they were sponsoring a segment on a local radio station that, I guess, made fun of a regular on the show who may be mentally disabled. Lots of people stated the individual is beloved on the show which pokes fun at everyone regardless of who they are. I can see both sides of the coin on this one, but I am with Major on this one. The show could get anyone they wanted to talk wrestling and make fun of, but it seems like they selected this individual BECAUSE he is mentally disabled. That’s shitty no matter what spin you put on it. I gathered from the vagueness of Major’s post that he wasn’t quite in love with the city of St. Louis itself. I’m not sure exactly what caused this, but if I was a fan of St. Louis Anarchy I would probably be pissed. From the comments on Major’s post, they are pissed. Their promotion was bought out, promises were made, then it was shut down after less than six months. However, it’s Major’s company and he can do with it what he will. Whether it was losing money or he didn’t like how things were running it was his decision which I’m sure he made because it was best for NWL.

I’m not here kick anyone while they’re down. It sucks NWL STL shut down. No way around that. A lot of guys who were depending on that promotion are probably very confused. I root for NWL. I truly want them to succeed. It’s only good for the wrestling world if they do. Clearly they have learned some hard lessons in their first five months. I don’t think they’re down and out. I think they can do better and they will strive to do so. Everyone should now keep an eye on the now stacked NWL KC roster. I hope with the closing of NWL STL this lights a fire under the ass of the talent, production, and Major Baisden himself. Put that fucking chip on their shoulder and put on the best shows they can. You have our attention, NWL. Do something with it. Until then: RIP NWL St. Louis. We hardly knew ye.

by Luke Raven (@ravenluke)

4 Comments on Rise and Fall of NWL St. Louis

  1. From what I understood about his Facebook Live session, the STL workers that had full time contracts still do. No full time person lost their job. The part time wrestlers still have the invitation to work at NWL shows, wherever they may be going forward. The part time support staff (referees, ring announcer, etc.) are still up in the air, but as in the past they have the ability to work with other promotions. The only thing that is apparent is that Major Baisden could never get a decent venue in a good location in the St. Louis are. Most places that independent promotions work in the Metro St. Louis are have short ceilings or are too small for the target crowd he needs to survive (500+). Any other venues turned them down because it was “rasslin”. Even the big places where wrestling was held in the past. Sad. Could have been a big money maker for the venue. 26 guaranteed dates a year with big crowds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I watched the Q&A late last night. I understand the venue issue. It actually raises a lot of questions for me. I’m going to ask other STL promotions to see if they’ve had similar issues. I do think the Facebook Live did more harm than good. I applaud Major for biting the bullet and taking questions live. At the same time I’m not sure calling people dumb and blaming the market he chose for NWL STL’s shortcomings were wise. It definitely seems the experiment left a bad taste in the mouth of STL and Major. I hope this only helps to improve NWL KC.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rick Murphy // June 26, 2017 at 5:25 pm // Reply

    Loved this piece. How do u e-mail the author directly. If no way then I will post a comment but I am wordy(plus old so don’t do facebook ect) and just find e-mail easier.

    Like

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  1. Notes on the End of the NWL STL | Hook the Leg, Man!

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