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" The Gravel Pit "
Interview with Dan "The Dragon" Wilson
Posted by Jay Doring on Sep 16, 2003, 14:46
Ask a typical wrestling fan who the best announcer in wrestling is, and you'll usually get a pat answer like Jim Ross or Mike Tenay. However, ask a fan of independent wrestling their opinion on the top announcers, and the name Dan "The Dragon" Wilson almost always comes up. The play-by-play commentator for "Wildside TV," which airs in syndication on 16 different stations nationwide (check Wildside's Official Site for listings)was kind enough to agree to a candid in-depth interview with TSM's Jay Doring, discussing his thoughts on all the major indy promotions (Wildside, TNA, ROH, CZW) and the issues that everyone involved in the business faces.
Jay: How did you first develop an interest in professional wrestling?
Dan: I first developed an interest in professional wrestling thanks to my great grandmother, Ruby Wilson. God Bless her she turns 94 this Christmas Eve and she's been a diehard wrestling fan ever since I can remember. She actually turned me on to wrestling at about 3 years of age and I've followed it non-stop since then. She doesn't watch "TV rasslin'" much anymore because "they do to much talkin' and not enough rasslin'". She's been a fan probably since it first started airing on TV, and I think some higher ups in the big leagues should be listening to her. I also found out through her that I had a great uncle by marriage who was a wrestler that lived in Nashville at the time. That ended up being Gypsy Joe, who was a heel in Memphis when I met him. Meeting him at such a young age turned my facination into an obsession.
Jay: Besides Gypsy Joe, was there anyone else you idolized growing up, from the NWA territories or the WWF?
Dan: Oh god yes... I was your typical mark, having family in the business didn't detract from the fact that I absolutely loved wrestling and everything about it. Of course being from the TN area, you had to be a mark for Lawler. I was a die-hard Hulkamaniac as well. The only heel that I ever really liked as a young kid was Ric Flair. I can remember me and my sister going to a WWF house show in 93' ( I was 12 years old at the time so the heel fan in me started coming out more and more). The main event was a world title defense by Bret Hart against Ric Flair and my sis got so mad at me that I brought a Ric Flair sign...hehe. He's still the greatest of all time, by the way.
Jay: Did you ever entertain thoughts of being a professional wrestler yourself?
Dan: EVERYONE and I do mean everyone that aspires to be in the business in some facet or another wants to be a wrestler. Unfortunately everyone can't. I had a bad back and was recently discharged from the military when I first started trying to get into the business so training to be an actual wrestler, I knew, was out of the question. Fortunately for me, I was always able to run my mouth. It was pretty hard watching a group of my friends get trained and even though they were coming to me for advice I wanted to be in there with them....I just knew it was physically impossible for me. I'm not saying one bump will kill me as anyone that's seen me take my occasional beating on Wildside TV can vouch for that, but the long term health effects were just too risky.
Jay: How did you first break into announcing?
Dan: My buddies and I had lots of fun with some good ole' backyard wrestling when we were in high school. (The stuff we did was on a trampoline and relatively harmless. We were just having a good time......these kids today are just stupid)I'd always do the "play by play" on our tapes and I could tell then I just had a natural feel for it. I wasn't any good at all, but knew if I worked at it, someday I may have a shot at doing it.
Well one night we all took a trip to the only local Indy wrestling show we could find. It was a place called Georgia Xtreme Wrestling and it was far and above the worst wrestling show I'd ever seen, but at least it was a start. They had some guy announcing the show and doing Play-by-Play over a live mic. He read some advertisement during an intermission. Well a friend of mine jumped up and told him he sucked...(great way to make friends, right). He asked if anyone could do it better, and my buddy graciously volunteered me. I read the ad and got a standing ovation from all 20 people in the crowd.....they proceeded to ask me if I wanted a spot as the other announcer.
Jay: Besides announcing, you also did some work as a heel manager earlier in your career, what was that like?
Dan: It was fun but I was atrocious at it, especially at the time. I've learned so much about the overall psychology of wrestling that I think if I tried it now I'd be a lot better, but announcing is really my calling and I'll leave the managing to people who can do it, and DO IT WELL! (Which is the subject of another rant entrirely.)
Jay: Even with a bad back, you probably still had to take bump training, what was that like?
Dan: I wouldnít call it training, but I took quite a few. I just watched what the guys were doing and did it. First they were horrible but I worked on them. It wasnít like I had to sell a hurricanrana or anything, typically it was a babyface punching me and me taking a big flying bump. I donít mind taking bumps now as long as it helps get someone over and it means something. In Wildside, (not counting Friday night shows where we were goofing off) Iíve been roughed up by Murder One and I got mugged and had my head shaved by the NWA Elite, which included taking a Spinesplitta from Rainman and a clothesline and big Elbow from Iceberg (The clothesline hurt like a bitch). The scariest bump Iíve ever taken was when I took the F-Bomb from Tank on a show in Dalton, GA. I was fine as Tankís a total proÖ..but when your straight up and down and a 300lbs man is dropping you on your head you tend to have second thoughts.
Jay:How did you get into NWA Wildside?
Dan: I was working on Friday nights at a show in Dalton, GA called Tri-Star Wrestling ran by Doug and Peggy Watkins. (great folks, by the way....the most pay we ever got was a hotdog, but the experience I gained there was invaluable.) Adam Jacobs had gotten his start there as well and had come back to Dalton to get his ring rust off because he'd been touring with WCW back when they actually had the same crew of security guards on a string of shows. He was a part of the R & B (Run-in and Bump) security deal that Bert Prentice and Bill Behrens had arranged with WCW, and he was about to go back to NWA-Wildside as a regular. He liked my work and suggested that I get a tape to Wildside. I rode with he and Air Paris to a show or two, and finally met Bill Behrens and gave him a tape. I got a call a couple of weeks later about doing ring announcing on a house show.
Jay: I've been told there's a funny story about your first night as a Play-by-Play announcer, what happened?
Dan: Well after I did the Athens, GA house show as a ring announcer I got some polite reviews. Wildside had hired a different ring announcer (some dude that looked like Larry Bird)for TV and I was cool with that, hell I was just happing to be advancing somewhat in the business. Bill, however, told me to come in and do Play by Play on the dark matches to see if I could fill in for Prazak while he was on vacation. The ring announcer that was already there saw me in my suit, quit on the spot and backed out of the parking lot in a rage.....almost flattening me in the NCW arena parking lot. I don't mind telling you that would've been a shitty way to die.
Jay: Was there anyone specific you patterned your announcing style after, at first?
Dan: I got a lot of heat for being a "Joey Styles" copycat, but I'll swear to this day I've never once tried to emulate Joey. I appreciate his enthusiasm for his product, and always did, which was one of the most appealing things to me about ECW. He really made everything that was supposed to be important, seem important and I definately wanted to give viewers the same feeling. I really stole more in the beginning from old Vince McMahon play by play routines than I ever did from Joey. I thought Vince was a great announcer, and in the same fashion, he kept the excitement level at 11. As I matured into my role I started really studying the great announcers and their pacing, timing, and explanations. It was non-stop tapes of Gordon Solie, Lance Russell, and Mid South era Jim Ross. I learned many more things at that point and really began developing my own style. I learned two of the most important things every announcer should know at that point 1)That it's not what's in the ring but how you present it, and 2)that fans are only going to think things are as important as you make them out to be. Your job as announcer is to serve no other purpose than to put the talent over to the best of your ability. You should pimp their strong points to death, and rarely if ever mention their weaknesses.
Jay: How much of a set format is used when announcing for television, do you ad lib most of your material?
Dan: I usually take down a few bullet points that I want to mention and if I come up with something I think is clever during the week I'll jot it down. Otherwise ad-lib is the only way to go. So much of the art of wrestling has been lost over time due to newer wrestler's inability to improvise. If everything you say and do is scripted right down to the letter than it comes out as forced, whether you mean it to or not. In turn that takes a very distinctive edge off of a viewer's ability to suspend their disbelief. That also goes for the wrestlers. Many of todays young stars are really lacking in that area, when it comes to matches and interviews. They wanna call the entire match in the back! That's all well and good, but when one of your 34 choreographed spots goes awry then you become lost and your work looks like shit. Wrestling isn't about how many cool flips you can do, it's about taking those flips and making them mean something. It's about making an emotional connection with a crowd. The fans came to be involved.....they didn't come to watch a bunch of stuntmen go over a routine.
Jay: Was it difficult working with Steven Prazak at first, in terms of chemistry, getting on the same page?
Dan: Steve and I clicked really well almost right away. He was kind enough to lead me through the timing aspects of calling a match, the things that I never knew existed. Once he felt I was comfortable with that he let me run with the ball and I really appreciated that and still do.
Jay: Most promotions, most notably WWE but including places like Wildside and Ring of Honor, have abandoned the traditional face/heel announcer dynamic. Do you think that dynamic is outdated?
Dan: No, in all honesty I don't think it's outdated I just think it's difficult to find people who can do it correctly. It is very difficult to be a heel announcer. You have to really know the psychology of a heel to put that part of the match over, and you have to do it to where a) you don't come across as if you're constantly putting yourself over, and b) you can take shots at, but in the same process not bury the babyface. In fact even as a heel announcer you need to get the babyface over in your own way. I think the position has been abused to the point that no one wants to even try it any longer. But like just about anything in wrestling, if done properly....I believe it would still work.
Jay: Do you think there's still a place in 21st century wrestling for kayfabe, seeing as how the proverbial "curtain" has been blown away?
Dan: DEFINITELY! Jim Cornette said it best when he posed this question: Are they smart to the business or are they smart to YOUR business? Kayfabe may be out the window but in order to salvage at least some of the fans' suspension of disbelief I think it is a must. ESPECIALLY when at a show. If it was up to me everyone would kayfabe the entire time they were at shows. There would be no socializing with even the diehard fans after the shows....at least not on the same property that you're holding the show. If you wanna hang out with some fans that are your friends as well, awesome.....but do it somewhere besides the arena. Although I'm admittidly of a very oldschool mindset.
Jay: What was your all-time favorite match to announce, the one you're most proud of? What is the best match you've ever witnessed, period?
Dan: The match I'm still proudest of to this date is the NWA-Wildside Freedom Fight '02 "Holy Wars" match. When a match is that long and complicated, you have to have your story telling shoes on. Wildside's done matches similar to that before (as far as a match that had to tell a long drawn out story that involved several different personalities....)and while I feel the calls have been good (4 Way Junior Elimination at Hardcore Hell 03' and 6 Way Double Jeapordy at Version 5.0), I've yet to be able to recapture the zone I was in during that match.
Jay: One of the strangest occurrences in Wildside was the surprise reappearance, and just as fast disappearance, of Air Paris. What happened?
Dan: There was a time when he and I were really good friends but I haven't heard from him in a LONG time. Frank has his own priorities and it's just difficult to tell what they are sometimes. He had only agreed to do the program with Todd Sexton and he did that and left. I don't have any personal animosity towards Frank in the least, and I can't speak for other people but I wish him the best. He was always a blast to work with and always got over very well. It was just a matter of knowing if he was going to be there the next week.
Jay: When Jason Cross made his return to wrestling, revealing himself as the "Green Guy," was there any heat over his abrupt disappearance/retirement?
Dan: Haha....well you could say that. Actually we all wanted to lynch him. There was some very strong heat there, albeit briefly. We just couldn't believe the guy did that to us. He apologized to everyone and has redeemed himself since returning to the fold. Sometimes you have to put personal feelings aside to do what is best for business, and believe me, Cross is good for business. He's one of the most amazing cruiserweights I've ever seen and when his head is screwed on right he's simply priceless to have on any roster. If he could only stay away from those Hooter's girls!
Jay: In your opinion, what was Wildside's best show?
Dan: That one is a toss-up for me, but it's a tie between Freedom Fight 01' and Freedom Fight 02'. Each show had certain key events that put Wildside and many stars within the company on a different level.
FF01: What happened that was important:
The overall Wildside product began to change. The bigger guys that had dominated the cards and worked at a slower pace began to fade away. This was actually started by the Suicidal Tendancies stable and the Air Paris vs. A.J. Styles feud in late 2000. But as 2001 progressed, the entire roster began to change up and down. Younger, more charismatic stars began emerging and Freedom Fight 01' was really the first big show where the style that Wildside is known for now was incorporated up and down the card. It signified our new identity and help us begin to establish ourselves.
What it did for the talent: Blackout, TNT, Caprice Coleman, Jimmy Rave, and Tank made their first BIG IMPACT on Wildside.
They were all up-and-comers and look at them now. All went on to be involved in some of the company's most memorable angles. All went on to have major championship runs in some capacity or another and all have ventured outside of Wildside attempting to further broaden their horizons. I couldn't be more proud of that crew. For G-d sakes, Jimmy Rave just made Kendo Ka Shin tap clean in the middle in the ECW Arena. I remember when the kid was working at the same shows in Dalton, GA just like me looking for a break just a few years ago, look at him now. Rainman, for my money, has been the most consistantly excellent hand in the business for the last year...And Tank became the first man to ever hold the Wildside Tag titles with 3 different partners. Caprice, Murder One, Todd (Sexton) and even that goober Tony (Stradlin). They're all excellent and the sky is the limit.
FF02': Freedom Fight 02' was when we started to become popular with the internet fans. We'd gotten little to zero love from that particular group of fans until that time and that show had a great lineup from the get-go so it all worked out. It was also a show that had the main event changed with about a week left to go due to two major players leaving the company. It was originally supposed to be the traditional Freedom Fight War Games match, but of course we had the Jason Cross incident, which put a major damper on that as well as Murder One taking a last minute booking with 3PW. We did the angle where the belt was held up and Bill Behrens came up with the concept of the 8 man match, which I coined the "Holy Wars match". It was just an amazing and memorable match from top to bottom and that most Wildside fans will remember forever. The only thing that hurts the legacy of the match was Adam Jacobs' less than memorable title reign, due to him leaving the company. That show also had that unreal Briscoe vs. Briscoe match which was alot of fun. The crowd totally hated on them at the first because our crowd doesn't follow the internet and all they saw were these two babyfaces wrestling for no reason and they HATED it.....but Mark and Jay happen to be so damned good that by the end of the match the crowd gave both of them a standing ovation. The match itself was just old school nose grinding mat wrestling with a really exciting finishing sequence. The angle was that Freedom Fight '02 was such a big show that the Briscoes said that they'd wrestle each other if it meant getting a match. That was to get them established with our audience, which we did and after that they may have been even more over than the Lost Boys as a team due to that match and the angle with TNT afterwards. That show also saw Slim J and Jeremy V come into their own. Their 1 on 1 match really catapulted Slim J due to his memorable dive on the outside and Jeremy V's accidental head drop that almost killed Slim. V showed his stuff well in that match, but started really blossoming as a single later in the year. It was a very solid show from top to bottom minus the match from NWA-Tri States which stuck out like a sore thumb, but the rest of the show more than made up for that match and anything that happened afterwards, as it was a magical night due to the amazing matches I mentioned above. I'd also be in remiss if I didn't mention Christmas Chaos 02'. From a standpoint of angles it was very important in Wildside history although it didn't have the impact on non-Wildside fans like the previous shows I mentioned. It did however feature A.J. Styles pinning his mentor Rick Michaels to become the Wildside champ for the first and only time, and it also featured the emergence of David Young as a singles star, who carried the top babyface position in the company for most of 02' once Styles stepped down to move on.
Jay: What are your thoughts on the CZW/NWA Wildside "Invasion" angle?
Dan: Well like most invasion angles, I thought it could've been handled much better. I don't fault CZW because it wasn't something that they'd planned on doing a long-term. It started when Gabriel came to do the BOTB tournament and they decided to bring the Lost Boys back. Some of the Wildside guys went with them and they used them in a run-in on the show and that turned into this big "Invasion" angle. The Wildside guys only got two victories in the whole thing to my knowledge and it was over. I personally (and I may be a bit biased, but hear me out) think that had they established the guys as more of a legitmimate threat and brought in the Icebergs of the world to get heat on the CZW guys, then the payoff at the end when they beat us and quadrouple superkicked Bailey would've meant a helluva lot more. And that goes for any invasion angle, it's the reason the WCW invasion failed, it's the reason the UWF talent failed in Crockett for the most part and it is why the NWO worked. The home promotion needs to let the invaders get major heat on their top guys before paying it off or they are never established as a threat to begin with and the fans will care very little. But at least the whole thing got Jimmy Rave if nobody else an opportunity to get an extra booking on his schedule and open his abilities to a new live audience. And for that if nothing else, I'm thankful.
Jay: The longest-running feud in Wildside, and the independents in general, is Jeff G. Bailey's "NWA Elite" faction attempting to take over the company, how difficult is it to keep finding fresh permutations of that feud, keep the continuity consistent and keep it interesting to the fans as an announcer?
Dan: It becomes very difficult at times, but there are 3 things that make it work...
1) The balance of power often shifts. Just when you think Bailey is gonna run the company forever, something happens and he's dethroned and then he is chasing domination and stopping at no cost to get it. So the story is always changing.
2) The talent changes. We make it a point with the Elite to keep a fresh rotation of talent. One faction of the Elite will have a major run and then when we've exauhsted all opportunities we'll begin to shift the mix.
3) Jeff G. Bailey: When you have someone who can get over the angles like him, it remains creative. He's constantly coming up with new ways to change up his schtick. The character he's created is literally one of a cockroach. He'll cling to the lowest rung of humanity if he's on the bottom, but he'll never die or go away. If he's on top he makes life miserable for everyone.
Jay: What are your thoughts on Jeff G. Bailey?
Dan: He's amazing, simply put. We live in an era where the ringside manager is typically a useless charicature, or some random tits and ass with little talent. Bailey is a manager out of the old mold. He works the crowd while at ringside at the right times, which doesnít take heat away from the match and he works with the guys in the match. What he does is a lost art. He knows where to be and when to be there and he could be a top talent in any promotion in the world if used properly. I think that due to some of the controversy he's caused, people are afraid to touch him but if that is the case than they are the only ones missing out. If you want people to hate your heels with their dying breath, then you need to look no further than Jeff. He could work in front of the most self-absorbed, know-it-all, smart mark fanbase in the world and he'd have them eating out of the palm of his hand. I know, I've seen it. Jeff G. Bailey is Jeff G. Bailey 24-7.
Jay: A lot of the top talent in Wildside have been getting bookings on the East Coast, for CZW and ROH. How difficult has it been set up shows around their Northeast schedules?
Dan: It isn't at all really. ROH and CZW both go out of their way to stay in communication with Bill Behrens when bookings come up. They are all pretty tight knit in that respect and we're the same with them. We're all openly working together to utilize the best talent possible and also not step on each other's toes doing it.
Jay: What are your thoughts on NWA-TNA?
Dan: Well I hope youíre comfortableÖ'cause youíre gonna be here a while.
I was still working in the Wildside office when TNA came about. Just like everyone else I was excited. WWE being the only game in town was only hurting the industry. Everyone I knew was literally bursting at the seems for TNA to get off the ground.
I even went up to Nashville myself and did ring announcing on the show that Jerry Jarrett first used to scout talent for TNA,(Tojo Memorial 2001) and met Jerry myself. He was very cordial and optimistic about his vision. However once things started to get off the ground, I could tell right away just through who was in the office that Russo was involved and I knew then it was damned to hell from there.
Every last one of us in the business were holding out hope that a new promotion would come along and at least provide one more opportunity for the boys that deserved it to ďmake it.Ē And in many respects, TNA did that, as they offered guys like A.J. Styles the opportunity to be the superstar he deserves to be without being in the WWE. However they were also doing a lot of damage to that opportunity with the out and out terrible booking that they displayed for the most of 2002 and early 2003.
It was unwatchable for me and discouraging in the same breath. People often misinterpret my feelings on TNA. I donít dog them out all the time because I despise them and want them to fail. I do it because watching the product sink into the depths of shit due to stupid booking legitimately makes me sad and hereís whyÖ..TNA may very well be the savior of big league wrestling in the United States. They have multi-million dollar backers that are looking to make a strong investment in them. No one else is even close. If TNA fails, who knows how long it could be before another promotion comes along. And looking at all the opportunities theyíve squandered with the use of name talent and legends that have real ties to the NWA that people remember, combined with the talented indy wrestlers who are now getting an opportunity after being overlooked by the WWE, Jay, it just makes my heart sink to the bottom of my chest. The poor booking has been a horrible setback in their progress.
The thing with TNA is, that due to their format there is room for almost no error. They have to deliver an amazing show every week that makes sense, that is well booked, and that has great matchesÖ.if they donít then casual fans wonít touch them with a 10 foot pole and so far they havenít done that consistently. They have the talent to pull it off and now with Panda Energy they have the resources and it is now a matter of making it work. I did purchase the 1 cent PPV just to see where they stood, because the Russo stuff disgusted me so much I quit watching period. Clipped up and post-produced, it looked like they really had their stuff together but watching Vince Russo no sell those ridiculous baseball bat shots really made me turn my head. There is no doubt Jerry Jarrett is one of the greatest businessmen in wrestling history, I hope TNA succeeds for the sake of everyone trying to make it.
Jay: One of the biggest controversies in recent independent wrestling was the treatment of now-former Wildside Heavyweight champion Iceberg, in Ring of Honor and in TNA. Thoughts on that situation?
Dan: As far as the ROH situation goes:
I pretty much summed it up in the column I wrote on the matter. I think it shows just how out of hand the egos of some fans are today. They arenít at wrestling shows to see the show, they are there to BE the show and not one other person in the audience paid to see them. There are literally guys in the ring risking their lives to entertain them and they could care less. It goes beyond the boundries of good taste and pretty much tells me and the rest of the world that people that act like that are worthless scumbag shitsacks. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the reason they act like that isnít about opinion it is about ego. So personally they can go fuck themselves, but professionally, they are bringing more paying customers to an industry that isnít exactly thriving right now so there are some unfortunate positives. Beggars canít be choosers ya know?
In regards to the TNA situation I just think it was another case of a company not knowing what to do with Iceberg. They put him out there, he was a borderline comedy character, he didnít get over on his first couple of outings and they punted. I think that the way they fired him was pretty shitty and youíd think a national company would have more professionalism than that, but nothing surprises me in wrestling anymore.
Heíll be just fine though. Heís enjoying his work in the states right now and also has Japan open as an option due to his relationship with Abdullah The Butcher. Heís the most over babyface in Wildside right now and heíll be just as effective in that role as he was previouslyÖ.I mean the guy is just awesome!! To do the things he can do at his size and put a match together like he can, I personally think heís amazing. Heís just gotta be used right. You canít book a guy that big as just another guy on the roster, he has to be presented as something special, and other promotions canít seem to figure that out.
Jay: You knew Terry Gordy growing up, how does it feel to see Ray Gordy make such a fast progression up the independent ranks?
Dan: I know Terry would be proud. I was lucky enough just this past Saturday night to see an A.J. Styles vs. Ray Gordy NWA World title match and what a match. It just had that ďbig matchĒ feel to it. The atmosphere gave me goosebumps. Ray is an incredibly nice guy and a great athlete. Heís just a down to earth country boy like his dad was, but that isnít an insult by any stretch of the imagination as Iím damned proud to be from Soddy-Daisy, TN. Ray is only beginning to come into his own and heís already turning many heads. Heíll be an international superstar, just like his dad,before itís all said and done- mark my words.
Jay: Wildside has produced some of the biggest indy stars today- AJ Styles, Ron Killings, Jason Cross, Jimmy Rave, to name a few, who else do you think is really close to that "next level?"
Dan: Well, as I stated above Ray Gordy definitely. Iím really surprised Caprice Coleman hasnít been offered opportunities other places, but he was on the verge of doing so when he hurt his knee so hopefully some things will pick up for him. I think Rainman is an incredibly overlooked talent. Tank really hasnít been given the opportunity to show exactly how good he is in Wildside due to being relegated to mostly brawling but he is an excellent pure wrestler. Slim J is on the verge of being in that group but hasnít made it there quite yet, although I think with a little more seasoning heíll be in the same category as Cross and Rave if he isnít already. I think Hernandez has big league potential as wellÖ.oh wait heís already Kurt Angle, nevermind.. (Iím kidding Shawn!)
Jay: How did it feel to see Rick Michaels make his return to the ring at Freedom Fight 2k3?
Dan: It was a great moment for everyone involved and very emotional. Rick really enjoyed it and we all hope heíll be back in wrestling shape soon, although few really know how healed he is.
Jay: In light of the WWE's increasing push for non-wrestlers, how large a role do you think non-wrestlers should have, and what kind?
Dan: I think they have a place, but it has to be a reduced one. This may be a tired phrase, but ďThe name on the marquee says wrestling.Ē It hasnít evolved into some high form of mainstream entertainment. It will always at the end of the day be wrestling, so why not revolve the show around the wrestlers. The wrestlers draw the money, plain and simple. Everything else is a bonus or a detraction, depending on how you look at it. Baseball games draw pretty well most of the time and that is consistently in the same town, and they play 160 plus games. The circus, however only comes to town once a year. There is a reason for thatÖÖand that is once youíve seen the side show, there is no reason to come back. It will be the same side show, with maybe a different act or two. But competition engulfs people, they want to care about who wins and loses. I think that statement (which is another Jim Cornette quote) sums up everything that is wrong with wrestling today.
Jay: What's your definition of "good wrestling?"
Dan: Iím not real hard to please. Good wrestling to me is something that makes sense, allows me to suspend my disbelief, and tells a good story. I like things about nearly every style of wrestling there is so I donít really have a favorite. When it comes to a wrestling promotion I like simple 1 + 1 =2 booking and a variety of styles up and down the card. I think everyone has something to offer if used correctly and I hate to see wrestling promotions booking guys by just throwing them out there and letting them sink or swim. Weaknesses should always be protected and strengths exposed. Just donít insult me as a fan, basically. If someone gets piledriven on the floor then they should be out for a couple of weeks and come back with a neck brace. If someone gets thrown into a flaming dumpster, then they should be dead.
Jay: The use of drugs (pot, painkillers, sometimes worse) is pretty prevalent in independent wrestling, how do you feel about that?
Dan: Itís pretty prevalent in any form of entertainment. Your Hollywood types are typically way more strung out than wrestlers. But Iím not gonna lie, indy wrestling is a difficult lifestyle. Itís hard to drive 15 hours to a town youíve never heard of for a shitty payoff just so you can gain some experience or maybe meet that one contact that will get you a better opportunity, or impress the right person, and then when the show is over drive 15 hours back home go to bed and get up and work your real job. Itís hard having your family tell you how stupid and worthless you are because youíre throwing your life away on some crap, when that ďcrapĒ is all youíve ever known and loved and youíll prove them wrong if it kills you. Then you have to deal with the prospect of shady promoters, having good good opponents, the inherent politics that come with every promotion, and the pressure of performance. Plus just adding the stress of day to day living whatever that may be, (money, relationships, kids, etc).Now take all that stress and add it to the constant pain that wrestlers live with on a daily basis sustained by regular bump taking alone, not to mention any particular injuries that may be acting up. People need a way to deal with life, bottom line, and some people deal in different ways. Some turn to drinking, some to drugs, some to religion, some to music, some to sports, and some to everything. Drugs make you feel good, if they didnít people wouldnít use them. Some people use them just so they can feel good, others use them to cope with the difficulties of life, and others do both. Wrestling, music, movies, and pro sports always have a percentage of excessive drug use, it comes with the lifestyle. Iím not saying itís right or wrongÖ.drug use is a personal choice. You canít just blame it on the wrestling business, thatís uneducated, irresponsible and plain stupid. Drug use is just as prevalent outside of wrestling as it is within the industry.
Jay: What are your thoughts on the East Coast booking philosophy(like ROH, CZW) vs. the Southern booking philosophy (OVW, Wildside)?
Dan: I was raised in the south on southern wrestling, so obviously Iím gonna prefer the southern style, but as Iíve matured in the business Iíve also found out why I enjoy that style as opposed to the ROH and CZW style.
With a style of wrestling that is so IN-YOUR-FACE and EXTREME. Where everything is BOOM, BOOM, BOOMÖÖyou really run into a long term problem. First and foremost letís look at ROH, lots of great talent but they have a hell of a standard to live up to and in the end, typically they have a zillion head drops a match. Which, no doubt is very excitingÖbut hereís the problem. After people have seen a zillion head drops a matchÖthen how do you make a headlock important? Itís pretty damned difficult if not impossible and it does no favors for the long term health of the wrestlers. So first and foremost that type of style raises the bar to where you have to keep topping yourself and eventually it is impossible to do so. The same goes for the hardcore wrestling. Iíll admit it and proudly so, that it entertains meÖ..but again you run into the same problem. Cutting someone with a weedwhacker is a grotesque display, but Iíll check it out because itís a freakshow. I may even check it out a second time, 'cause itís still pretty nasty. But by the 3rd time it isnít as gross because Iíve already seen it. So in order to get my attention again youíre going to have do something even more disgusting and eventually you can only do so much to get a reaction out of people. Everything has been done, so eventually the only thing that will pop these crowds is pulling out a gun a shooting someone in the ring.
Iím not condemning the companies in the north for doing what they do, because it is their company and they can do with it as they wish, Iím simply explaining why I would do things differently.
Again it goes back to the philosophy of presentation. Itís not what you do, but how you present it and how important you make it. I think it is beneficial because you donít raise the bar so high so quickly and you can focus your program on the importance of the victories and the angles as opposed to the crazy things that are done. In turn youíre able to make an emotional connection with your audience as opposed to trying to shock them to make them tune in. Iím not saying we donít do crazy-assed stunts or head dropping at Wildside either because history will tell you otherwise, BUT, look at where we went on TV the week after the stunt. In MLW Sabu and Mikey Whipwreck have traded fireball shots every weekÖand theyíre doing something similar with Jim Mitchell on TNA. In Wildside, when Azrael hits someone with a fireball itís a major deal. Jason Blackman, Jimmy Rave, etcÖthey all missed a couple of weeks of TV and wore bandages on their face to sell its impact afterwards. Jeremy V wore a neck brace for 3 damned months on TV because we kept selling the fact that his neck wasnít healing properly and it was all because of one head dropping move done by Sal Rinauro. The biggest asset of that style of booking, IMO, is bottom line, you get more mileage out of your talent and your angles, both of which are a good thing.
Jay: How important is the TV show to Wildside's fanbase, business and talent?
Dan: Itís everything. It isnít seen on every TV set in the country but weíre lucky enough to be visible in quite a few places. Many people are part of Wildside simply because of the TV show alone. Itís gotten them visibility, itís also gotten them opportunities with the WWE, it gets them a helluva lot of indy bookings as well. Without the TV show, there would have been no Wildside in the first place. I think the company could function without it now, but it wouldnít be the same product at all as youíd lose a good chunk of the talent.
As far as live gate business, the TV is pretty irrelevant but not totally. Weíve had some drive-ins for different big shows based on the TV. Our most impressive was James Toland and his crew that flew in from Seattle FíN Washington to see Hardcore Hell 2002. What a trooper! Weíve also had drive-ins from Florida, Ohio (apparently they really like us in Toledo. If youíre ever in the area, go to Hooters and see whose picture is on the wallÖitíll surprise you.) Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Mississippi off the top of my head. Which is incredible to me, but it still doesnít have a major impact on the gate in the long run. We tried re-running the local TV in Cornelia, but it didnít increase attendance one bit and it was decided to eliminate that cost. There is however, a pretty decent amount of revenue generated through home video sales off of the TV show as well as the 1-800 commercial spots. So it does affect business in that sense, just not much on the live gate.
Jay: Does Wildside ever plan on branching out permanently to other parts of the South (outside Cornelia- like Athens, Atlanta, maybe parts of Florida,
Tennessee, South Carolina)?
Dan: Itís simply a matter of opportunity. We were regulars in Athens for 2 years every month until the building ownership changed and they decided they didnít want want wrestling as part of their routine. After that we just couldnít find anything else that was cost efficient or wanted wrestling on a regular basis. We thought we had found another regular venue with the Athens arena, but the owner turned out to be a mark for himself and in the end wanted to go back on his word. People have said a lot of things about Bill Behrens, but I can guarantee you he will live up to his word when it comes to a business decision. Heís so honest in that respect that heís probably gotten screwed over because of it a few times.
We find great opportunities for outside shows a few times a year and that looks to be that. We have great shows that come up from time to time and we treat them as if they are special since we donít run house shows that often. So my advice to fans that are in the area for a live Wildside show would be to go out of your way to come and see it, because it wonít just be a ďgoing through the motionsĒ house show. It will be an event in and of itself.
If an opportunity came along for us that would allow us to run regularly and it was financially beneficial for everyone involved then we would capitalize on that opportunity.
Jay: You're married with children, how difficult is life in independent wrestling as a family man?
Dan: It can be trying at times but itís worth it. I lived life at 1000 miles an hour for the first few years of my wrestling career so it was nice to slow it down. My wife has been very supportive of my wrestling career, which is more than I can say for many female counterparts in the business. She goes to shows with me a lot and has a good time. Sheís made friends with many of the other ďwrestling wivesĒ so it allows her to have a mild social life as well, and mild is about all you get when youíve got a 4 year old running and tearing about. It pretty well takes away her weekends but sheís used to not going anywhere or doing anything due to being a mother so wrestling in a way has become a treat for her just to get out of the house.
Jay: What are your long-term goals, how long do you plan to stay involved in wrestling?
Dan: At this point my only long term goal is to have fun. Iíd liked to have gotten a WWE gig at least once to say I did it, but that is highly unlikely at this point in my life as Iíve tried and the fact that I donít have a college degree in broadcasting pretty much puts the kabosh on that.. I have a real job that consumes most of my time and my life at a gigantic insurance company. Iíve assimilated myself into Corporate America, as strange as that may seem and Iím just gonna keep doing what Iím doing. I plan on staying with NWA-Wildside for a few more years at least, unless something happens and I just donít enjoy doing it anymore. Iím looking to get back into music for fun and thatís about it. Just hang out, enjoy life and enjoy my family.
Dan Wilson's wrestling opinion column, "Breathing Fire," can be found here
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