I spent many years wrestling for some decent-to-worst-of-the-worst-promotions in the state that raised me: West Virginia. There we’re a lot of places holding events within an hour of my house and I was consistently getting booked. In the beginning, that easily accessible sandbox helped me tremendously. Later, it stunted my growth. My dream of becoming a well-respected star in professional wrestling was beginning to flat ine, and I had contented myself to a life of being one-of-the-best-locals, when I messaged Tony Givens who was running a promotion called (simply) Championship Wrestling out of Kingsport, Tennessee.
My message was probably something along the lines of “Hey, if you are ever looking for some new faces to mix in, I would love to come down.”
I remember, Tony replied promptly and said, “Look, I know this is going to sound like typical promoter bullsh**, but I’m being serious when I say: as soon as I can clear up a spot, I want to book you.”
Luckily for me, a spot cleared up right around the time that Championship Wrestling added Alliance to their name, and had picked up NWA Anarchy’s national syndication TV deal, which meant that my debut match would be seen all over the country.
Before the match, I was sitting in the locker room with some other new faces, when Givens yelled, “Hey, Kincaid!” Then added, with a conspiratory head nod, “C’mere.”
I walked up beside him. He leaned in and whispered loudly, “Those are ‘TV guys’ you’re sitting with, I don’t want my roster to see you as a job guy (author's note: easily beatable opponent), because you’re sitting with them.”
I replied aloud, “Okay. Thanks for the advice.” Inwardly, though, I said, Oh, they’ll f***ing know better. And once Tony was distracted by other matters I returned to my seat in the “TV guy” section.
Using my debut to my full advantage, I did all my best (at the time) sh**, and was lavished with praise from a very kind commentary team of John Hawkins and Matt Rhodes. When I came back to the locker room, I looked at the faces of the established guys and thought to myself, they f***ing know better. All of a sudden, the heartbeat of my dream began to make bleeps on the monitor of my mind, once more.
A couple years later and Tony Givens would push me to his rebranded NWA Smoky Mountain promotion, making me the face of a well-respected promotion for the first time.
I say all of that to say that I owe Tony a lot of credit: for helping me get my name out there, for putting me in a top spot, for being amazingly unblaming when he got injured in the ring with me - in a way that a lot of people could have blamed me for, for booking me against some of the top names in independent wrestling, and for being a great friend. I’m grateful to be able to share some of his wise insights with you, now.
Without further ado, here is my interview with someone that I believe anyone set on learning how to advance in independent professional wrestling (whether wrestling or promoting) would do well to listen to.
WHATEVER IT TAKES:
An Interview With Tony Givens
By Jason Kincaid
Tony, as far as I know, you basically started the trend of bad-wrestling shaming social media accounts. Before (at least before I was aware of) World Famous Flea Market, before Trash Bag Wrestlers, there was You Are NOT Getting Booked; which I thought started out with semi-positive, beneficial-for-the-community intentions: to point out what people do poorly when trying to apply for the position of professional wrestler with a promotion (company) that they want to compete for, so others would learn and not make the same mistakes. The Internet being what we have come to realize it is, though, it sort of spiraled into a Burial Ground of warring negativity, and eventually, I believe, you decided to pass it off, walk away, and concentrate on more positive endeavors. Am I correct there? Any reflections on those days you would like to share?
"Yeah, I passed the page over to some fans years ago... I actually regret doing it. When I started the page in 2010, I wasn’t the same person I am now. I tend to take a more positive approach to life and to the business now. Then, I was angry at the world and selfish and the page was a reflection of that.
At first it was cool to be known as the “You Are NOT Getting Booked” guy. It was the most notoriety that I had gained as a promoter up to that point. Eventually, when NWA Smoky Mountain started taking off, I was in a constant struggle to prove that I was more than just the guy from the page that buries bad wrestlers. At some point, I finally did become more well known for NWA Smoky Mountain (Now Innovate Wrestling), but a lot of that is thanks to you, Chase Owens, and others working so hard to establish the company as something special."
I’m sure you’re still getting a ton of not-so-well-thought-out emails from aspiring Innovate Wrestling roster members, for the benefit of young, up-and-coming wrestlers who might have talent, but maybe not much guidance, would you mind giving a couple simple dos-and-don’ts that anyone who doesn’t want to hear “You Are NOT Getting Booked” should listen to?
"My advice, when it comes to sending out resumes and videos, is to NOT send out resumes and videos. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that everybody needs a resume and videos that they can send out UPON REQUEST. But I think that there needs to be an initial message that is more personal than just a copy and pasted resume.
If I was just starting out, I wouldn’t even ask a promoter to book me. I would contact them, introduce myself and ask to come to the event and help out with whatever they need. If you aren’t established and you message a promoter and ask for a booking, out of the blue, there is a 90% chance they won’t even respond. But if you offer to put up the ring, it is nearly a lock that they will invite you to the show… Then when somebody cancels or they need somebody, you are already there and ready to take advantage of the opportunity. You can’t get in the game, if you aren’t at the game. So the goal should be to get at the game."
Speaking of Innovate, imagine that I’ve been living in a cave in the middle of the woods (not far off in my case), and have no idea what Innovate is about, give me the quick-pitch of why I should drag my ass out of the cave, gather up my long-lost family, dig up my rainy-day rasslin funds, and buy some tickets to your events. What makes it special, and thus worth my effort and money?
"Innovate Wrestling is pure. No fancy lights. It’s not a big overly produced spectacle. There are no corporate sponsors. It’s not ran by somebody who made money elsewhere and then decided to get into wrestling. It’s ran by a guy that started a promotion with nothing but love for professional wrestling.
Innovate Wrestling is old school fundamental storytelling mixed with cutting edge pro wrestling with no restrictions… It’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s just wrestling and there is nothing wrong with that."
You literally wrote the book on promoting professional wrestling (Promoting Pro Wrestling 101: Whatever It Takes), in honor of Tax Refund Season, what is the most common mistake you see inexperienced promoters making?
"Rookie promoters want every event to be Wrestlemania. They want 50 guys on the card and every big crazy gimmick match possible in one single night. There is nothing wrong with starting out with a solid 6 match, 2 hour card, where the fans don’t get burned out, and everybody gets paid. Then you do that a few times and establish the wrestlers and build the audience, then you can go a little crazy (Not too crazy though)."
The older sibling to Innovate, NWA Smoky Mountain produced myself, who is now grinding it out, trying to make a name for myself in EVOLVE, and Chase Owens, who is now a worldwide star for New Japan Pro Wrestling, I know you have the rest of the roster’s feelings to consider, but (f*** ‘em) who do you think will be the next break-out wrestler grown out of the Givens’ Garden for Greatness-aspiring Grapplers?
"It is a race between Axton Ray and Elliott Russell. Both of them are starting to get their names out there a little bit.
Axton is a third generation wrestler and literally the nicest and most respectful 21 year old you will ever meet. He is a college athlete who received a scholarship in both athletics and academics. He is currently Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling TV Champion.
Elliott is a guy that went from being an overweight teenager to a muscle bound professional wrestler; simply because he loved professional wrestling and that’s what he had to do. That takes a lot of dedication. He’s a student of the game and has true passion for the business. He’s a lot like me and my brother were growing up: Wrestling has always been his “end all, be all”. He is currently ½ of the AML Tag Team Champions with his partner Sigmon and they have also been 4 Time NWA World Tag Team Champions."
What do you think of the state of professional wrestling, as of right now (late-Winter 2018)?
"I think wrestling is in a phenomenal place. Never has so much emphasis been placed on the in-ring aspect of the sport. Instead of WWE hiring bodybuilders and failed pro athletes, they are hiring from the independents. That has created a renaissance in independent wrestling because fans aren’t seeing their local wrestlers as guys that play around anymore. Fans are coming to independent wrestling events looking for the next WWE superstar in the making. Indie promotions are getting bigger, the wrestlers are getting better and it is taken more serious as a whole."
Dream match you would book if you had unlimited funds?
You and Kazuchika Okada vs. Chase Owens and Kenny Omega
Somebody get this man a big-money sponsor! Anything you would like to add?
"I know this is my interview... But I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the years of hard work, loyalty and friendship that you have given to me. Working with you has been one of the greatest honors of my career."
Believe me: the feeling is mutual, my friend. Thanks, so much, for your time!
You can follow Tony Givens and INNOVATE on Social Media:
Twitter: @tonygivens - @innovatepw
Instagram: tonygivens1982 - @innovatewrestling
Facebook: facebook.com/tonygivensisprowrestling - facebook.com/InnovateWrestling