When Billy Corgan purchased the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 2017, the Smashing Pumpkins frontman heard the naysayers. The rock star saw the headlines with questions about what he could possibly do with a property that had fallen into relative obscurity after 70 years in existence.
Corgan was a lifelong fan known for attending events, even appearing for ECW back in the 1990s. The proud Chicagoan decided to start his own local independent promotion in Resistance Pro Wrestling with plans for an unscripted series that didn’t really pan out. Corgan went on to have a turbulent stretch working on creative and talent development for Impact Wrestling. He brings that experience, both good and bad, to formulating his vision for the NWA. One that the boss wasn’t sure would continue to take shape amid a crippling pandemic.
We sat down with Corgan as he looks back at the NWA’s journey in finding its identity today heading into the NWA 74 two-night event at The Chase’ in St. Louis.
First I want to applaud you for the “Together and Together Again” charity show you’re doing on July 27 at 9 p.m. ET to benefit the Highland Park Community Foundation’s July 4th Shooting Response Fund. Entertaining viewers streaming on the Smashing Pumpkins YouTube Channel and providing a way for viewers to donate.
Billy Corgan: It’s a whirlwind of emotions. On one hand, you’re dealing with the stresses of putting on a show real fast and knowing it’s for charity. There is also the trauma of the local community that is beyond measure. You’re grappling with that. Every time you turn around you run into someone you know or someone’s family who went through this horrible day. We want to raise money for the local charity, but at the same time, open the doors and invite everyone in this world. That was important to us.
Much like music, pro wrestling is known to be an escape for people. Did pro wrestling help you escape a dark time in your own life?
My love of wrestling was rekindled during the late 1990s when I was going through a really tough time with the band and my personal life. One day I was just flipping channels at our old recording studio, and I found Raw at the height of what we call now “The Attitude Era.” I hadn’t watched wrestling on any kind of consistent level for probably 20 years. Suddenly, I’m watching “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock, Mick Foley and I’m backstage talking to them. I got sucked into this crazy world I’m in now all these years later.
Fast forward and you purchase the NWA. To think about what would have happened if WWE had acquired the library and brand, we wouldn’t have what we have right now. There is some momentum building.
I thought seriously during COVID that this was too much for me to handle because of the challenges involved in me trying to run a company. But when I made the commitment to double down on it and roll up my sleeves, I put my full effort in. I got much more involved in the production and talent relations departments. I think when you set that tone of putting in the hard work, others pick up on it. I’m operating on a particular business plan and creating a transitional space from what the NWA was in everyone’s minds and bringing it into the modern era. Part of that is doing a large amount of beta testing. I’m spending a lot less money than my competitors, so I have to figure out how to maximize the talent we have and the opportunities we have. I think what you’ve seen in the last six months is we are finding our own voice and own stride that is more distinctive. That will be the seed of future success.
I can’t remember the last time wrestling has been this collaborative. It’s very much a throwback to the territory days.
I think it’s a great point. I feel we are back into a form of a territorial system. That it is a business and behooves everyone in the space.
You’ve been adding and bringing back titles including the United States tag team titles. What is your thought process for bringing more gold into the fold?
We made a real commitment to tag team wrestling. If you don’t give them something to fight for, we’re sort of spinning our wheels. That combined with the fact NWA USA airs on Saturdays and has been gaining momentum as we used it to feature younger talent. I think it’s a perfect opportunity. With titles, you have to be careful. It’s how, when, and where you do these things, so you don’t burn out the audience. You have to pick your spots. These titles will be featured on the USA show and then pick our spots on when they will be defended.
When the Matt Cardona injury happened, you vacated the NWA championship. Was there ever talk of an interim champion like what Tony Khan did in AEW?
We talked about it. It was certainly worth exploring. I can certainly understand why in Tony’s and UFC’s case they’ve done it. I felt given all the things at play that it was best to do what he did. Matt was fantastic and a pleasure to do business with. I think that came as well as it could. We took a very difficult situation and made the best of it. I think this has only given Trevor Murdoch more steam than if we had an interim. We’re fighting for attention in a very crowded ecosystem. I think the best thing we can do is make sure our champions are strong.
Fans are so connected to the current champion Trevor. The perfect example of someone who is getting a second chance after WWE to show their stuff. This further demonstrates how important it is to have options like the NWA.
I think Trevor is the perfect example of a super-talented professional wrestler who hasn’t always been given the opportunity to find his footing and do his best work. Now you’re seeing his best work. I’m very proud of him as a person and think the best is yet to come. If you look at the NWA champion and don’t see the meanest, toughest one in the room, then I think you’re missing an opportunity. I think now we have figured that out and have a voice of who we are as a company that will define us down the road.
Tell me about the decision to take Nick Aldis out of the NWA 74 main event NWA title match.
Nick is the highest-paid person in the NWA. He of course has a lot to do with why the NWA is where it’s at. But to burden my saddle with Nick Aldis, there comes a point where I can’t do it. Some inside baseball and out in public, but we reached a point where I had to make a decision.
What else can you tease about what is planned for NWA 74?
Kamille is seen as a legitimate world champion, making her worthy of the main event draw. We’re going to have the Burke Invitational for the second year. The women’s gauntlet where the winner faces the female champ on the second night. Barry Windham, JJ Dillon, and Baby Doll are coming in. You know it’s something when you announce Baby Doll and get a text from the wrestlers saying, “Can she manage me?” We’re really catching our stride when you look up and down the card. I feel so much better where we are at as a company today, which is more in line with what I hoped to do.
So you’ll think we’ll see NWA on cable TV or network?
Absolutely. I’m already having those conversations. I had those conversations when I first got the company because I wanted to fish around to see what was out there. Most kind of shrugged four or five years ago when wrestling was in a weird lull before WWE started getting these mega TV deals. Of course, before Tony fired up AEW. Now we are in this new ecosystem. Now those conversations are quite different. Before I was the celebrity guy buying a wrestling company with a historic lineage. Very different conversations now.
Will we ever see the Pumpkins perform on the NWA?
If I put the Smashing Pumpkins in something and drew the two worlds together, I would want to wait for the right moment for that. I would say never say never. Look, where was I a few weeks ago? I was backstage at an Impact Wrestling show standing next to Dixie Carter having a lovely conversation. The point is never say never in wrestling. I wouldn’t want to pull that lever unless I thought it was really important. But I’m about to do something potentially that you’ll definitely want to talk to me about.
NWA POWERRR, Tuesdays, 6:05/5:05c, FITE TV
NWA USA, Saturdays, Noon/11c, FITE TV
NWA 74, August 27 and 28, 8/7c, FITE TV and Pay-Per-View