Pro-wrestling isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when discussing Smashing Pumpkins’ mastermind Billy Corgan.
But the leader of the influential, Grammy-winning alternative-rock group has actually been working behind the scenes in the wrestling industry for almost a decade. As president of TNA Wrestling, he oversaw 2016’s most-buzzed-about story arc (“The Final Deletion”); and in 2017, Corgan purchased the National Wrestling Alliance, which oversaw regional promotions in the U.S. from the late 1940s to the late ’80s, when the WWF and the WCW went national.
On Saturday, the NWA teams with Ring of Honor Wrestling and the Crockett Foundation to resurrect the Crockett Cup tag team tournament, which will stream on Fite TV live from Cabarrus Arena. In addition to its title matches, the event includes appearances by Crockett Legends Magnum TA, Nikita Koloff, The Midnight Express with Jim Cornette, and The Rock and Roll Express. The latter also will compete.
The Observer spoke to Corgan — who will be in town, too, and will participate in a VIP event on the afternoon of the tournament — on Easter Sunday about his foray into the squared circle, and about respecting wrestling’s history while moving forward in a changing entertainment landscape.
Q. How did you get into this? Did you always have it in the back of your mind that you wanted to do something in pro-wrestling?
Not at all. I was really into it when I was a kid. Around the teenage years, I fell out of it. It wasn’t something I thought I’d ever come back around to. In the late ’90s, I started paying attention to the Attitude era with The Rock and Stone Cold (Steve Austin), and the war between the WWF and WCW. I started going to some of the events, and was allowed to go backstage. I started talking to some of the wrestlers, who were so intellectual about the business.
Q. Since wrestling was regional when you were growing up, what were you exposed to?
I had no context for what I was watching then. We got the best of both Chicago and Minneapolis, which was Verne Gagne’s AWA. We had The Iron Sheik and Bobby Heenan before they went to WWF. We got a lot out of Turner — what would have been Mid-Atlantic.
Q. It seems like Mid-Atlantic and NWA are almost interchangeable in this area, although it was just part of the NWA. What does NWA mean to you now?
You could argue the Mid-Atlantic was not only the most important, but the most influential. It had a lot of what became WCW. It bears mentioning that the McMahons (who own the WWE) were part of the NWA. What a normal fan constitutes as pro wrestling stems from what the NWA built. If you want to own something that has history, the NWA was the only thing that you could point to. Yet it was so devalued in the marketplace. It was both a restoration project and it tied together all that history under one roof. A history that is distinct from what is the hegemony of the WWE. The NWA allows me to tread into the historical.
Q. Tell me about bringing back The Crockett Cup.
We went very respectfully to the Crockett Family and asked, “Would you support us doing this?” We don’t own that, but it’s important to the NWA’s history, especially to a more modern fan. I’m excited to be coming back to the spiritual home of this event.
Q. Where do you see the NWA heading?
It has a lot to do with the changes in the marketplace. If you look at what Marvel was valued at in the ’90s before the comic book movie craze kicked in — wrestling is similar. There’s a deep lineage, and a contentious fan base. Wrestling fans are some of the most engaged (people) on the internet. That’s playing into wrestling’s hands. Having the IP of NWA, you have a destination and a continual content driver. Wrestling is cheaper to produce than network TV. Changes in the business in the ’40s, ’50s and late ’60s (and beyond) always coincided with TV viewership.
Q. What about things like “The Final Deletion?” Do you see things moving out of the arena more?
My argument there is that wrestling needs to be updated to more of a 21st-century consumer, as far as they connect to storyline. The most successful TV now is episodic, running six or eight episodes. I think there’s interest in growing a wider swath as to how you promote the matches and do off-grid promotional build-up. The way UFC had build-up. We’re also in the age of spoilers. At live events, there’s always someone tweeting. There goes the element of surprise.
Q. Where do you see the industry heading overall?
Every day it’s a moving landscape as to who is setting the agenda. You have money being thrown around and opinions as to what’s going to be the future and what fans want to see. Wrestling was like the circus 40 years ago. The big attractions were the Andre the Giants. I was just at Wrestlemania, and the biggest match of the night was Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan, two six-foot guys. It’s more about the ability to tell a story in the ring as opposed to the giants of the earth.
Q. Do you still consider yourself a fan?
Even though I’ve worked in the business for seven years, I’m still identified as a fan first. I don’t know if that’s meant to be submissive. I don’t feel like a fan anymore. I wouldn’t be on my way to Baltimore to meet with Ring of Honor on Easter Sunday if I was just a fan.
NWA and ROH present The Crockett Cup
When: 7 p.m. Saturday. There’s also a VIP event from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. featuring panels, photo opps and autograph signings.
Where: Cabarrus Arena, 4751 Highway 49 North, Concord.
Tickets: $30-$75; $150 for the VIP event.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com