Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Smashing Pumpkins' Corgan reboots Nat'l Wrestling Alliance

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Billy Corgan has a plan to resurrect an old favorite, a project tinged with nostalgia, yet firmly with an eye on sparking a new generation of fans.

Ah, yes, reuniting the classic Smashing Pumpkins lineup?

Not quite ó at least, not this weekend.

Corgan is set to reboot the National Wrestling Alliance, founded in 1948 and the once proud stomping grounds of Ric Flair, Lou Thesz, Harley Race and other wrestling legends, injecting the forgotten company with a 21st century flavor.

Up first, the main event: NWA champion Tim Storm defends the belt against British star Nick Aldis on Sunday at a Championship Wrestling from Hollywood show.

Corgan, the Smashing Pumpkins frontman and longtime wrestling executive, said there's a place for essentially a startup NWA to become a major player in the crowded alphabet soup world of pro wrestling.

"We are going to target the general fan," Corgan said. "Wrestling needs to get younger in terms of the audience it's after. I think wrestling as a business a lot of times kind of shrugs its shoulders how they track the 15- to 25-year-olds. I would argue if you can't do that, you're not going to have much of a future anyway."

The NWA has eschewed the traditional TV model for now and promoted its comeback with a "Ten Pounds of Gold " digital show on YouTube. Storm and Corgan are among the featured subjects in the four-part series that goes behind the scenes on the NWA's road back to relevancy. The NWA's Twitter feed is sprinkled with classic clips featuring Flair and others to give new fans a taste of what the company once represented.

"You have to accept that you can't throw the three letters around and expect things to happen," Corgan said. "You have to protect the tradition and you have to respect the tradition, while at the same time understanding that to many people, it could be any three letters you pick out of a hat."

The wrestling universe is still led by WWE. But turn on basic cable and pro wrestling can still be found most nights from the Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Impact Wrestling promotions. Digitally, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and NOAH are putting on some of the best bouts in the industry. And the brightest all-around star, from promos to five-star matches, isn't in WWE ó it's Canadian great Kenny Omega, who mostly wrestles in Japan.

"Wrestling has become kind of more insular and I think that's hurt the business overall," Corgan said. "Now to somebody who's more of a hardcore fan, you could argue they're getting more of what they want. But I would certainly argue that it's hurt wrestling overall with the general mainstream fans."

The NWA made its home for decades on Saturday nights, where Sting and Dusty Rhodes starred for what was once the largest governing body for the numerous territories that comprised professional wrestling. The NWA brand was a household name for wrestling fans until it petered out in the early 1990s and become overshadowed and obsolete for most of the last 30 years. The NWA name was licensed to other companies and considered a dead brand by fans.

"I know what the company stood for and I know what it can stand for again," Corgan said. "I understand this isn't necessarily relevant to this particular generation. But at least I can sort of tell you what is relevant to me and maybe there's a translation point that can excite people."

Corgan isn't just some celebrity throwing his name and cash into a side gig as a lark. The 50-year-old Corgan spent years as the backstage brains for Resistance Pro Wrestling out of Illinois and later spent more than a year developing story lines for TNA Wrestling . Corgan and TNA had a bitter split that landed in court, and a settlement was reached in November 2016.

"The way the whole TNA thing went down, I felt pretty strongly there for a while there that maybe I should just get out of the business," Corgan said. "Like the music business, there's a lot of people in the wrestling business that aren't really interested in the business moving forward. Their interest is self-interest. Which is fine, that's capitalism. When you try to be a figure in wrestling that's actually moving the product forward out of love and good business acumen, you face a lot of strange political forces that are more about fiefdoms and the way things used to be and all kinds of weirdness that goes on."

Corgan forged ahead, his love of wrestling so ingrained that he couldn't just walk away. After a long courtship, Corgan agreed to purchase the NWA earlier this year and the company officially became his last month. He brought on veteran wresting writer and friend Dave Lagana to help shape the creative direction.

There's not much to shape at the moment. The NWA champion is booked for a show next week in Nashville but there is no roster and no other champions. Lagana said the NWA hoped to sign about five wrestlers early in 2018. With no TV deal to produce needed revenue, the NWA will continue to produce digital content and perhaps find its future broadcast home on a streaming service. There are no scheduled NWA live events.

The NWA bout on Sunday will be on its Facebook page and additional content is on YouTube .

As for his other gig, Corgan wraps a tour this weekend in Los Angeles and planned to hit a Nashville studio later this month to record another solo album.

"And next year, obviously, there's the possibility of the Pumpkins reuniting ," Corgan said.

Imagine that, a fan favorite from the past coming back for one more round in 2018.

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