In Defense Of The “Enemy”

And pro wrestling in general……..

Those of you who have known me for an extended period of time know that I’m involved in the pro wrestling business. I started years ago (1997, to be exact) with one of the first radio/internet talks shows that covered pro wrestling, called The Wrestling Guys, along with my friend and partner John House. I later got involved in the promotion of wrestling shows, but remained active in the business in some capacity.

Most recently I’ve been involved in a local promotion called NWA Coastal. We run events near the Jersey Shore (no, Snooki won’t be appearing on our shows), and most of our shows (based in Bayville, NJ) have been sellouts. While we’re not filling thousand seat arenas, we’re giving wrestling fans what we consider to be a solid product, with the emphasis on WRESTLING, rather than the drama that you see on TV these days. It’s an alternative, almost a throwback to the wrestling of the 1950’s and 60’s, but with a contemporary edge. It’s our business model, and it works for us, and for our fans. I formed this organization with 2 other partners (former ECW original Iron Man Tommy Cairo, and long time NWA referee and NWA Board of Directors member Fred “Richards” Rubenstein), and while we don’t always agree on things, our love of the business keeps us going, with the goal of sending the fans home from every show feeling like they got their money’s worth of entertainment. We don’t promote for a living, we have full time jobs, and promote wrestling because we love it.

Enter another wrestling organization called National Pro Wrestling Superstars (NWPS). Their owner, Joseph Panzarino (aka Dapper Johnny Falco) was associated with my partner Fred Rubenstein years ago in another promotion, but split after some differences. I wasn’t privy to what happened between them, but let’s just say that there’s no love lost between them.

Their business model is a bit different. Joe’s plan in most venues is to hire talent local to the area (which aids in ticket sales) regardless of their wrestling abilty, pays little or no money to them, and uses the savings on those workers to hire one or two “name” wrestlers to his shows. Again, it’s HIS business model, and it works for him and his fans. Joe’s been doing this for a long time as well, and the fact that he’s still promoting pro wrestling virtually every weekend indicates that he’s successful at it. He makes a living from it.

So our “rival” organization entered into negotiations with the Barnegat Mariners Lodge (The Masons) to do a wrestling show fundraiser. I was made aware of this in April when my partner Fred Rubenstein called me to tell me that NPWS was running a show in Barnegat High School where we had run a few shows over the years. After confirming with several people, I called Fred back, and suggested that we try to get the show out of the hands of NPWS and into ours. Fred made a call to the Barnegat Mariners Lodge, and left a message that whatever deal was offered by Mr. Panzarino, we’d beat it by 10%. Fred informed me before he left for his cruise that he hadn’t heard from the lodge, so the show was going on as is.

Fast forward a few weeks to our “YOUNG LIONS” show on May 12th. Not our regular lineup, the show was more a showcase for young talent that hadn’t been seen in the South Jersey area. Decent turnout, not our best, but the fans were treated to one of our most entertaining shows. 12 wrestlers gave it their all, and we were proud of our efforts. Imagine our surprise however, when we went outside during intermission to find that the cars in our parking lot were papered with flyers for the June 2nd show in Barnegat being presented by NPWS. It’s common in the business to promote other shows, and many promoters do it as a professional courtesy. We actually had flyers from another promoter on the seats at our show, and announced another show taking place in July. Since we were never asked if it was okay to do so, we removed all of the flyers from the cars, and my partner called Joe Panzarino to complain of this tactic. Truth be known, we didn’t want him to do this show at Barnegat High. We’ve never ventured into the areas he’s run in over the years, and up until this show, he hadn’t ventured into ours.

As you can see on the flyer, former WWE/TNA star Matt Hardy was booked for the show. For those of you who don’t know, Mr Hardy was released by TNA for several DUI’s and having drugs with intent to distribute. We were kinda surprised that they would book a guy like this for a high school where there is a strong emphasis on anti drug programs, but wrestling is a strange business, and we just chalked it up as a bad business decision.

Then some parents found out about Matt Hardy, and contacted the school officials and the local newspaper known as the Barnegat Patch, and all hell broke loose. The paper covered the story of Hardy and his criminal past. My partner Fred, fresh from his recent vacation, still bristling over the fact that we were somewhat “trumped” by NPWS, posted in response to the article, and a pissing match ensued between the 2 promoters. Parents jumped in, and began to not only attack Hardy but went one step further. They began to attack wrestling in general, claiming that it sends a negative message to kids.

The show went on as scheduled, and NPWS via the Patch said that 250 people attended the show, and that $2000 was raised for the Masons. One can never argue when money is raised for a good cause. The Patch covered the show in their online newspaper, and published pictures from the show, including a few pics of resident brawler (and sometimes thug) The Equalizer hitting another wrestler with a chair.

Again, the attacks against pro wrestling in general started.

Anti-bullying and DARE programs have done wonders for our youngsters. Those messages need to be perpetuated, not contradicted by what was allowed to take place on June 2 – – no matter whom the sponsor or event planner might be.

Please tell me what socially redeeming value one person hitting another (on his knees) with a chair has?

Gratuitous violence being brought into our schools sends a horrible message to the same children who are being taught to refrain from such anti-social conduct.

Keep this garbage out of our schools!

So, while I disagree with “Dapper Johnny’s” choice of who he employed on June 2nd (and no, even if we had the budget Joe, I wouldn’t salivate to hire Matt Hardy), I will defend him and his right to run a charity show, even though he didn’t give us any professional courtesies.

In 1963, I attended my first pro wrestling match at the Paterson (NJ) Armory with my dad. The main event was Bruno Sammartino vs. Smasher Sloane. Bruno, the face (good guy) was victorious. Since then, I’ve seen literally tens of thousands of matches, and I’ve never turned into a bully, or ultraviolent, or any of the negative characteristics that were bantered about on the Patch. None of my partners turned out any different than I have. I would also say that Mr. Joe Panzarino and Mr. Peter Rahtjen (the representative of the Masonic Lodge) turned out just fine as well, despite watching all of that “horrible” wrestling.

I suppose that Barnegat High School could have given the building to the Masons for their knitting club fundraiser, but I truly doubt that $2000 would have been earned. Oh, you don’t believe that pro wrestling can earn that kind of money? Take a look at our show last April at St. Mary’s Parish in Manahawkin NJ, where one of our workers, local star Jason “Green Dragon” Pharo (who coincidentally worked on the NPWS show) turned over $2600 to Family Promise of Ocean County. Perhaps the next pizza party in the community could raise a similar amount of funds? I’ll bet against that.

Yes. the general message of pro wrestling is based on conflict. Don’t like what someone says? Take them to the ring and teach them a lesson……..With that said, it’s a message that’s not a lot different than many other sports, including our national treasure – FOOTBALL. Don’t believe me, read the recent stories about the New Orleans Saints, who have been everything BUT saints the past couple of seasons. Matt Hardy looks pretty good compared to some of the guys on that team, but I’d bet that the community in Barnegat wouldn’t be up in arms if Peter Rahtjen had brought in one of the Saints to do an autograph signing.

Pro wrestling gets a bad rap. It’s juvenile……it’s too violent…..people get hurt…..people die…..it’s all about conflict. It sort of sounds like things that happen in life, just magnified, doesn’t it? Quite frankly, I’m tired of these accusations, and whether it’s Joe Panzarino’s organization or ours, the goal is to give people some entertainment, and a little escape from “real life”.

Oh, and even Joe Panzarino will tell you that in the end, good will always prevail over evil…….and THAT is the message that kids should walk away with.

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