Friday, June 8, 2012

Double Trouble: Interview with Indy Impresario Drew Cordeiro of Beyond Wrestling

If you live in the Cleveland area--or can hop a freight and get to Cleveland next weekend (June 16th)--you owe it to yourself to get your ass to Beyond Wrestling's Double Trouble show. BW is teaming with St. Louis Anarchy and Absolute Intense Wrestling for what promises to be a breakout show, featuring a tiptop slate of wrestlers, including ACH, Mark Angel, Chase Burnett, Johnny Gargano, Drew Gulak, Jonny Mangue, The Pitboss, and Zane Silver. It may or may not be the wrestling equivalent of the Stones' 1969 Hyde Park concert, but I think I can promise you it will be something special. I've followed Beyond Wrestling for a couple of years on this blog. Their videos are raw, rambunctious, like nothing else I've seen. These are up-and-coming talents eager to knock everybody's socks off. BW's impresario Drew Cordeiro (aka Denver Colorado) has long been a friend to this blog, and in this interview from this past week, promoting this historic show, he shares his thoughts on his audacious upstart promotion, the situation of gay fans in the pro wrestling world, and the not-always-flattering side of the independent pro scene.

(The photos, taken by Wayne Palmer, are from Back in Flesh, last fall, Beyond Wrestling's second live fan-attended show. You can buy the DVD here. Free weekly matches are available for viewing here.)

Joe: Tell me about how Beyond Wrestling got started.

Drew: Beyond Wrestling really started as a self-indulgent vanity project designed to benefit a very limited group of wrestlers. This was a collection of talented athletes, don't get me wrong, but for one reason or another, the majority of these guys didn't really fit in with the political landscape of the scene at the time. We planned on renting out a small wrestling school and running three or four weekend-long tapings each year. All of the wrestlers would be granted total freedom to do what they wanted. It was intended to be wrestling as pure artistic expression. That was the endgame for us, really. These events would act as a safe haven, where those involved could escape the mind games and unnecessary hardships they were faced with every weekend at other shows.

Joe: I hear the business often exploits young wrestlers starting out.

Drew: I think it is very important to point out that there is a big difference between paying your dues and being used. Sometimes wrestlers will allow themselves to be tortured because they think it is the right way to do business. In reality, as sad as it may sound, there are many workers that feel that it is their job to not only take advantage of the fans, but other wrestlers and promoters also. This is a practice that needs to stop.

Joe: So Beyond Wrestling was supposed to be kind of a refuge for new talent?

Drew: Of course, that all changed at our second ever taping when a hostile Chris Dickinson blew down the doors and grabbed Beyond Wrestling by the balls.

Joe: I think Chris's face is what drew my attention to Beyond Wrestling. He's quite mesmerizing as a character ... in the ring, especially. What was your previous experience in pro wrestling?

Drew: When I got out of college, I scored a position at Kaiju Big Battel in nearby Somerville, Massachusetts.

Joe: Don't know that one.

Drew: Imagine adorable art students creating detailed outfits that resembled movie monsters, suiting up, and then doing their best pro wrestling impersonation in front of a crowd of thousands. That shit was hot. It was a great gig. We were treated like rock stars. I was given a lot of responsibilities very quickly. Maybe more than I could handle at the time. But I still learned a lot about entertainment. The problem was that I wanted to learn about pro wrestling!

Joe: Uh-huh.

Drew: Kaiju Big Battel had a very loose working relationship with a growing Philadelphia-based wrestling promotion at the time, and I did everything in my power to strengthen that relationship. Even though I was originally hired to position Kaiju Big Battel in a way that it would better appeal to wrestling fans, I think some of the changes I wanted to make were too much for those who were involved in the project long before me. I was canned in the summer of 2008 due to "creative differences," but had established enough of a connection within the wrestling industry to move forward. I did what I could to help anyone that wanted work with me, which included writing press releases, securing sponsorships, and reaching out to charitable organizations to donate extra tickets to family-friendly events.

Joe: Beyond Wrestling has changed a lot in just the last year. For one thing, you're doing shows before live paying audiences now. How has this change affected the company's original spirit and mission, if at all?

Drew: Beyond Wrestling's unique atmosphere unexpectedly attracted wrestlers from around the country. Guys wanted to come in, do their thing, show up their peers, and use that as a platform to build a network of connections. Established wrestlers that were burnt out looked at it as a low-pressure environment where they could have some fun or try something different. With all the wrestlers remaining ringside for each bout, the competitors were challenged to perform at a more advanced level. In order to "pop" the other wrestlers, the men in the ring had to pull out the stops. The byproducts were physical, intense, progressive matches that were too good not to share with the world.

Joe: The early releases I saw had a rare, bizarro kind of energy to them. Irresistible.

Drew: Not only were the wrestlers getting direct feedback from their peers as soon as the match ended, but their efforts were now being presented to a worldwide audience, which would help them secure high profile bookings with the top indies. The fans that were supportive of the efforts wanted more, and who could blame them? We really had no choice but to run a live event. We wanted to authentically replicate the atmosphere so the wrestlers remained ringside for every contest, just as they would at a studio taping. This added a totally new dynamic since the fans now had a direct line of communication with those individuals they had supported all along. Our live events are billed as "the most interactive pro wrestling on the planet," and based on the feedback we've received over the last year, we can confidently stake that claim.

Joe: Nowadays, the shows are attracting bigger names in independent wrestling, Davey Richards, for one. Does the presence of a big name affect the attitude or performance of the regular wrestlers on the roster?

Drew: It's a case-by-case thing. There have been times in the past where we have worked with names that only served to hurt morale based on their own behavior. It's not hard to tell when someone is coming in to collect a paycheck, even if working with them raised the profile of our organization. Sometimes it's just not worth putting up with the bullshit. It's just one of those things that is always going to be difficult to balance.

Joe: That's a shame. Disappointing.

Drew: On the flip side, someone like Super Smash Bros are always awesome to have around. Not only are they the very best tag team in independent wrestling, but they are very supportive of the project. They put in just as much effort at Beyond Wrestling as they do everywhere else and that help to validate our efforts. That demonstrates to the other wrestlers that we're really onto something special. Everyone wants to have the very best match on the card, so working with world-caliber athletes raises that bar even higher.

Joe: I'm excited to see you will be working with Johnny Gargano in your Cleveland show. I saw him live last month and was totally impressed with him, his moves, his charisma. Have you worked with him before?

Drew: Gargano first worked with Beyond Wrestling at Back In Flesh in October of 2011, competing in a round robin against Davey Richards and Jonny Mangue. I can't say enough complimentary things about him. He's a very humble individual. He is a total professional through and through. Constantly looking to improve every aspect of his game. He deserves all the opportunities he has received and more. I'm really eager to work with him again on Saturday [June 16th] when Beyond Wrestling returns to Gargano's hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, in conjunction with St. Louis Anarchy and Absolute Intense Wrestling. Gargano is scheduled to compete for the first time ever against ACH, who is having a breakout year. If you like smart, athletic, compelling wrestling, this is a match worth going out of your way to see.

Joe: You're making me wish I lived in Ohio, Drew. What I love about Beyond Wrestling is your unconventionality, your high tolerance of risk combined with excellence of technique. You guys push ... this is a cliche, I know ... but you all push the envelope of what pro wrestling can be. I remember that a while back you caught some flak from other promoters you were working with for using the words "gay wrestling," as a joke, but a conscientious one, in the title of one of your releases. Under some protest, as I recall, you yielded to the objections. Now, just a couple of years later, a number of the big promotions (WWE, for one) have teamed with GLAAD in taking stances against gay bullying; Ohio Valley Wrestling has Paredyse, who has evolved the old "gay gimmick" into something positive and affirming; and at ROH Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis recently took part in California's NOH8 Campaign. Am I right in believing we're beginning to see a change in how professional wrestling views its gay, lesbian, and bi fans? Or is there still a great deal of resistance to the idea that there even are gay fans of wrestling?

Drew: You know, that's really hard to evaluate. Not to discredit gay fans, but I don't think many wrestlers or promoters are even aware of a gay wrestling community. If they are, I don't think it has much effect on their business decisions or creative direction whatsoever. I know of instances where wrestlers will use derogatory terms towards homosexuals in an ironic fashion as a way to decry those antiquated practices.

Joe: Perhaps not so antiquated as you think. But I wonder, really, whether the use of derogatory terms for other populations in the audience are used as frequently ....

Drew: That's not exactly the best way to show support, either. I think it is wonderful that some wrestlers are using their minimal celebrity to support gay rights, and I hope to do the same as we build our brand. One stigma that needs to be eliminated is the misconception that gay fans are only interested in "custom" matches, especially since websites like Ringside at Skull Island prove that there are gay fans that want to see good wrestling!

Joe: Part of the fault belongs to gay fans as well ... not attending shows, as was my case till just this past year, and not being very open. I went with a lesbian couple to the ROH show last month in Richmond, none of us looking much different from the hetero crowd. In other words, we could "pass." At the autograph-signing table, I made a point of thanking Maria for her and Mike's work on NOH8. Later, we struck up this conversation about the show with this guy sitting next to us. At one point he worried aloud that one of the matches was going to be a "little gay" for his tastes, and my friend Elizabeth just popped up with "It's the little gay parts we like!" The guy, hardly a slobbering homophobe, got the message and perhaps tempered his subsequent remarks. I'm curious, though, are you aware of gay or bi wrestlers that you have worked with? You don't have to name names.

Drew: I know of a handful, but have never worked with a gay or bi wrestler in Beyond Wrestling to the best of my knowledge. In general, wrestlers bust balls and tease each other all the time, so the gay wrestler I worked closest with (although never directly) would sort of make the jokes before anyone had a chance to. It was an obvious defense mechanism, but it also worked to prevent the comments from escalating to a point where that wrestler may be offended or feel uncomfortable. At the end of the day, wrestling is all about trust and respect. That wrestler is competing because he likes to wrestle, not because he wants to get off on the physical contact necessary to execute a match. He is a professional and deserves to be treated as such. To the best of my recollection I have never encountered a situation where a wrestler was not booked because he or she was gay or bi, although I'm sure it has happened.

Joe: Is there anybody you haven't worked with yet that interests you for Beyond Wrestling?

Drew: That's hard to say. Some of the best wrestlers in the world still compete on the indies. The question then becomes whether or not they would be a good fit for Beyond Wrestling. Would they be interested in competing at the studio tapings without any fans in attendance? Would they object to staying ringside to interact with the fans at the live events? I know for a fact that some of the elements that set Beyond Wrestling apart from any other organization in the world have also prevented us from working with certain wrestlers. With all of that said, I think TJP would match up well against like Chris Dickinson, Drew Gulak, Darius Carter, and Mark Angel.

Joe: I would love to see Perkins in the ring with Gulak! That would be an awesome match. For me, one of the most exciting wrestlers at Beyond Wrestlers has been Hailey Hatred, who gives and takes with the best of the male wrestlers. 

Drew: Funny story about Hailey Hatred. She was very vocal about how good she was, to the point that she had earned the reputation throughout the Midwest for having a big ego. I honestly don't remember exactly how her match against Chris Dickinson came about, but some of the wrestlers had instructed him to really push her so that it would expose her flaws and humble her. She kept up with Dickinson the whole match. To this day it is one of the best matches we've ever run, and nobody has questioned her ability since.

Joe: Agreed. Do you think women's wrestling is redefining itself away from the old G.L.O.W. days? [I just discovered, to my embarrassment, that G.L.O.W. still exists ... or exists again. Jackie Stallone (Sly's mom) is a co-founder. Since 2001, it operates under the leadership of Ursula Hayden, who once wrestled with the company as Babe the Farmer's Daughter.]

Drew: This might sound like a strange statement, but the fans we hope to attract are the fans that like the type of matches we put out. We want to continue to do our own thing, which I personally think is appealing enough to a larger audience, even if it's not for everyone.

Joe: What type of matches do you like personally?

Drew: The ones that feature good wrestling. I don't care if it is a man or a woman in the ring. Women's wrestling doesn't need to be categorized differently from men's wrestling because then the genre is judged by a different set of standards. For years people complained that WWE only pushed good-looking, muscular dudes, despite their ability (or lack thereof), so there shouldn't be a double standard for women's wrestling. If someone has a good look ... male or female ... they are going to have an advantage in wrestling, but they shouldn't be granted opportunities based on their appearance alone.

Joe: Yeah, I think physical attractiveness is one part of the spectacle of wrestling, along with gear, trash talk, holds, angles, and so forth, but it is not the only factor that counts ... or even the most important. Though, it can't be beat for posters and other promotional graphics. 

Drew: For the female wrestlers that don't want to be treated as a special attraction, organizations like SHIMMER and WSU exist. Those platforms were unavailable six years ago. That's a step in the right direction. But when reports come out saying Vince McMahon hates the Divas matches but feels like it is imperative to have them on the show, what message does that send to the fans? Why should the fans care about women's wrestling if the biggest wrestling promotion in the world doesn't care? Why wouldn't WWE devote the time to improve the division if they aren't happy with it? I'll tell you what, and mark my words: Women's wrestling is going to change in a BIG way over the next two decades because HHH has got three daughters sitting at home. You better believe that, if they decided to get involved in the family business, they're not going to get tossed by the wayside.

Joe: Johnny Cockstrung is one of your wrestlers nobody would have seen back in the 1990s in pro wrestling. Yet he has thrived at Beyond Wrestling. Do you think sexual outlaws have always played a part in wrestling, or are they something relatively new?

Drew: You have to remember I'm only in my mid-twenties, but I'm always surprised when I go back and watch tapes from the 70s and 80s and realize how sexually charged wrestling was, even back then. Growing up, Goldust was one of my favorites. It was brilliant how as a heterosexual male, he would exploit the homophobic tendencies of his opponents to gain a psychological advantage in the ring. There were times when the Goldust character was outright offensive, but that has more to do with the wrongful execution of a delicate idea. I think a character like Johnny Cockstrong exists moreso today because of the popularity of independent wrestling, as opposed to the timeframe. The Cockstrong character isn't designed for a cheap pop, and anyone that follows Johnny Cockstrong knows that his antics are actually rather clever. If anything, wrestling in the late 90s was way raunchier than it is now. Back then he would have been "Dick Ballsinyaface."

Joe: You told me earlier that Beyond Wrestling has a big announcement later this month, one that, and I quote, "will further our quest for equality among wrestlers and fans alike, regardless of gender and sexual orientation." Can you give me some more specifics on that? Or at least a tantalizing hint?

Drew: We will make an official announcement within the next two weeks. In the meantime, our top priority going forward is November's "Tournament For Tomorrow II" taping.

Joe: Beyond Wrestling DVDs have always distinguished themselves in their choice of cover art and cool music. Both consistently awesome, and often surprising. What first drew me to your promotion was that you and the wrestlers talked about wrestling as a real "art form." What, in your opinion, makes pro wrestling artistic?

Drew: It's funny, because pro wrestling was originally designed as a way to make money. Obviously the idea was to stage fights so that participants could fight more often and earn more paydays. It was strictly business. A hundred years later, for some (like me), wrestling is now about artistic expression. There are countless creative elements that have been integrated into wrestling that borrow heavily from other types of media. This can add to the spectacle or pageantry but becomes too much when it takes away from the action inside the ring.

Joe: I couldn't agree more.

Drew: Wrestling is all about stimulating the senses to accentuate the real moments throughout a staged production.

Joe: So what is Beyond Wrestling? "Sports entertainment"? Or something else?

Drew: Entertainment is the marriage of business and art, right? I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to make a living running a wrestling promotion someday. However, that's not my number one priority. I want to do everything in my power to make sure Beyond Wrestling is a viable platform so that we can help deserving wrestlers get bigger and better opportunities. It is tough at times to balance legitimizing our organization while enforcing as few restrictions as possible, but it's my life's work. It's the reason I get up every morning (well, technically "afternoon," since I work a third shift to fund the project). I find it rewarding to help others. I wish I could do more. I honestly hate that I have to be the one to do this interview because I don't want it to take the focus away from any of the wrestlers who risk life and limb each time they get in the ring. I may control the online presence and help organize the shows, but at Beyond Wrestling, everyone is equal. We are all working towards a common goal of pushing wrestling forward so that it can stay relevant in the years to come.

Joe: Well, maybe some of the wrestlers will agree to future interviews, here at Ringside at Skull Island and elsewhere. Where do you think Beyond Wrestling will be five years from now?

Drew: Growing. In order to maintain credibility we always need to be doing something bigger and better. I want to see how far we can push the project. If we build a following as strong as some of the other top indies, cool. But that's not what motivates us. I also realize that nothing lasts forever. I want to see how much we can do before that window closes. The day we stop growing is the day we pull the plug on the project. I don't think that day is coming anytime soon.


  1. Is Chris Dickinson recovered from his injury? I kept waiting, Joe, for you to ask Drew when Dickinson is gonna be back.


  2. My assumption is that Chris is working his character outside the ring now. But you are right: I should have asked. The last word I got on the subject (this past April) is that Chris is healing, but he does not want to push himself, and that he has begun to reevaluate his attitude about (and, I assume, his future connection with) pro wrestling.

  3. Dickinson's return match was against Jonny Mangue at the "Burst The Bubble" studio taping on May 13th. Footage should be online in the next month.




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