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Cageside Seats Interview: Sal Corrente of WrestleReunion

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On January 29, 30, and 31st, California will play host to the state’s largest wrestling convention to date, WrestleReunion 4.  Event organizer and promoter Sal Corrente was kind enough to sit down with Cageside Seats for an interview in the week leading up to the event. 

Earlier in the day that I interviewed Sal, the wrestling industry received the news that a longtime fixture of the pro wrestling community, journalist Georgiann Makropoulos had passed away.  Sal wanted to open with some remarks about her passing.

Sal Corrente:   The wrestling world got a little bit more bad news tonight.  Around 6:30 Easten time, I got a call from Bob, a guy I’ve known for my entire time in the wrestling business.  He was a photographer for Georgiann Makropoulos, who was a journalist as well, and known throughout everybody, pretty much, in the wrestling business.  We heard she passed away tonight at the age of 69.  It was extremely sad and shocking to hear.  Of all the wrestling deaths, that was actually the one that cost me the most off-guard, because I spoke to her about every day, and I just wasn’t thinking about it. 

That’s generally not the way you start off an interview like this, but I did want to mention it, and I think you’ll be hearing about it for several days through the industry.

But to get back to the WrestleReunion convention, this is the first time, really, that a convention like this is being held in Los Angeles.  The other WrestleReunion conventions were on the East Coast, which is where most wrestling conventions are, so this is kind of a new thing for you folks out there on the West Coast.  We hope that it’s well-accepted.  We’ve got RVD wrestling [which is a] rare occasion in the US.  We’ve got legends like Bruno Sammartino.  We’ve got guys from Japan and guys from Mexico.  The Great Muta and Jushin "Thunder" Liger and Super Crazy.  We feel like we’ve got a great mix of people.  Demolition and Scotty 2 Hotty, Larry Zbyszko, Stan Hansen. 

We feel like we’ve got a good, solid lineup of talent.  People will be there signing autographs, but the truth is, if you’re familiar with the WrestleReunion conventions, when we first had them, the autographs were the big thing.  We had a lot of wrestlers and you could get a lot of autographs.  Our first convention, we had 95 wrestlers, then we had around 65 at the second one, and everybody wanted autographs.  I really think in the five years [we’ve been doing this], we’re starting to see now, it’s not really about autographs anymore.  A lot of the guys – Muta and Liger – they ‘ve not done things like this.  For the regular convention-goer, getting those guys, it’s huge.  Even legends like Sammartino, Nick Bockwinkel, Demolition; these guys have been to a number of conventions, so if you’re one who travels to conventions, you’ve probably met those guys before.  I don’t think you’re going to find a lot many people, if any, who attend conventions who have met Muta or Liger, but what we’re finding, and what WrestleReunion is always trying to do, is to create an experience for people that they’re not going to get at any independent show, or pretty much any other convention.  We have some things here for the Superticket holders, where they can do video promos with the wrestlers, and we have some photo opportunities built into the packages.  But then again, if you’re more of the contemporary wrestling fan, and you really just want to see matches, we’ve got the Ring Of Honor show on Friday night, and we’ve got the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla show on Saturday night.  There’s something for everybody.  Or if you’re just a person who just wants to experience the weekend from beginning to end, you can do that and pretty much stay busy the entire time.  You know, Muta wrestling and Liger wrestling at the show is kind of going to be a big deal for some people.

I just believe that the weekend now is more about the events than the autographs.    Really and truthfully, I can remember the first WrestleReunion convention in Tampa, people lined up with bags of items to have signed.  Truth is, we got through it all, but I really do think the experience has somewhat changed.  I know there’s a lot of rain out there in California, and that’s a unique thing, and I think the WrestleReunion convention will be a unique thing as well.  If you’ve never been to one, it’s really hard to explain it, but it’s a very cozy type atmosphere in many ways.  It’s not like going to San Diego Comicon.  It really is a totally different thing.  The wrestling conventions usually are.  I don’t think anyone will come away – if you paid for something, I think you’re going to be satisfied.  If you pay for everything, I truly think you’re going to be satisfied.  Think about this: some wrestling fan could potentially – if they’re one of our VIP SuperTicket holders – they could be sitting in a video with Sunny and Terri Runnels, and having the girls fight over them, or having Jimmy Hart and JJ Dillon fight over you.  There are so many different things.  You can take that video home with you and have that for life.  It’s an interesting thing, I think, for the people that are really kind of like me; growing up, just die-hard wrestling fans.  Every week, I remember I couldn’t wait for Saturday at midnight for WOR out of New York.  I would have done a lot of things at the time to meet my heroes of the day.  At the time, that would have been Ivan Putski and Austin Idol, and now we’ve got Austin Idol coming out to this thing.  The important thing is, if this is an experience that you’d like to have, it’s there, it’s accessible.  You can go to www.wrestlereunion.com and get all of the information you need right there.  There’s an email address right there, and if there’s any question you have that’s not covered on the site, by all means you can email your question in and somebody will respond to you with an answer. 

You mentioned that California has not seen many wrestling conventions like this in the past.  Last year, I went to a convention in Fremont, California, which was put on by Big Time Wrestling.

SC: Yes, Kirk White.  He’s actually the one who’s bringing Bret Hart as a vendor to WrestleReunion.

That event was hosted by Bill Apter, who will also be hosting WrestleReunion 4.

SC: Quite honestly, I’ve known Bill Apter longer than I knew Georgiann Makropoulos, but that’s because Bill is one of the very, very first wrestling people that I ever met.  He put his name out there on the first WrestleReunion to stand behind me.  He’s known me a long time and was willing to do that, and it was kind of a big deal and I really needed that at the time, because the biggest problem I had with WrestleReunion was no one believed it was going to happen. The things that I was advertising, people said it wasn’t possible. 

Kirk has certainly done signings, but I we’re talking about a little different thing here [with WrestleReunion].  We’ve got a full three-day weekend and pretty much, other than getting to sleep around midnight, the activities don’t end until Sunday at around 4:00.  And you’re talking about, just at the Superticket level, about 17 guys, and then you’ve got about another 10 guys or so as vendor guests, some big names, like Bret Hart.  We certainly have gotten a tremendous amount of feedback on Bret Hart and how many people want to come here to see him.

The real wrestling fans know there was an attempt at a convention in San Francisco that didn’t go well, and we certainly had to deal with some of that, in discussing this convention with the stars.  Quite honestly, the Great Muta and Jushin Liger were supposed to be a part of that deal in San Francisco at the Cow Palace [2007’s Wrestle Fan Fest], and that was the hardest thing about getting them to commit to this; once they heard the word "California," it changed their whole opinion.  Luckily, I had some Japanese people that were willing to stand behind my word, and we were able to get those guys to commit.  But that San Francisco scar, even some of the American guys at least mentioned it.  California really caught a bad name off of that mess out there, and we’re hoping that doesn’t happen again, and it’s not going to ever happen with WrestleReunion. 

I was actually at the Wrestle Fan Fest.  What went wrong there, and how damaging was it to reputations in California?

SC: I can’t speak for the fan perspective, only from the talent perspective.  What I can tell you is this: a friend of my in the wrestling business was approached by these people initially about putting his name and reputation on the line with this event.  They were throwing around stories like they had $3 million in the bank to run a convention.  Well, I can tell you that I ran the biggest wrestling party ever, the last weekend in January 2005, 95 wrestlers, and it didn’t cost $3 million.  Did it cost a lot of money?  Yes, it did.  Did it cost anywhere near $3 million?  No, it did not.  I had advised my friend point-blank to tell these people, because there was a lot of work involved, they wanted him to use his bare influence to everyone from Hulk Hogan down there, to anybody in the world.  And I told him, "This is crazy.  You shouldn’t even consider this."  A lot of times people just want to be involved.  There’s a good payday involved, supposedly, and I said, "Look, let me talk to the person for you."  I spoke to them, and they’re telling their story.  The first rule of thumb is that anybody who has $3 million in the bank generally isn’t telling anybody they have $3 million in the bank.  I advised my friend, if he insisted on being a part of it, that he at least needed to tell those people that he needed a $10,000 advance.  Because there was a lot of work that was going to be involved, and he was putting his name on the line.  Well, those people told him, "No no, we weren’t planning on paying you; we were just going to split profits with you."  At that point, you pretty much know that there was nothing happening there.  So to me, the event was a dead event from that minute.  But, you know, everybody’s always chasing a dream, and these guys were telling a pretty story.  That’s really that.  Did it hurt?  Yeah.  We’re still hearing about it now with some of the talent.  But it’s one of those things where with each event that goes by that’s successful, it’ll be forgotten about.  [Laughing] It was a little harder with the Japanese guys.  You’re certainly dealing with an entirely different situation there, with the Japanese people.  They know nothing [about the events], all they know is "California".  Luckily, we had the contacts to push the deal through.  But with an event like that, which was the biggest bomb, people are going to ask questions.  Maybe it won’t stop them from doing anything, but they’re going to bring it up.  Believe me, it gets brought up and brought up and brought up. 

What’s your involvement with Ring Of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla during WrestleReunion weekend?

SC: They’re just presenting the event.  Obviously, it’s a co-marketing campaign, and there’s some WR matches presented, but basically it’s their wrestling event.  They did add the Larry Zbyszko/Scotty 2 Hotty match to the Ring of Honor show.  WrestleReunion is providing a few matches.  As most people know, WrestleReunion has been, in the past, about the autographs and Q&A’s and all those things, but it’s also been about huge legends wrestling shows.  We chose to go a little bit more contemporary with things.  The show’s not under our control, it’s their show, it’s their event.  It’s their stuff that they do on a regular basis. 

Can you compare and contrast ROH and PWG and give fans an idea of what they can expect from both events? 

SC: To be quite honest with you, I’m not an expert on this stuff.  My stuff is mostly with the Legends.  What I can tell you, on the first night, what I can speak about is Scotty 2 Hotty vs. Larry Zbyszko match with Jonny Fairplay as the guest referee.  I’m sure, like everything, it will be vintage Zbyszko in his performance.  We’ll see what Fairplay does, and S2H, I’m sure at some point he’ll break out The Worm.  In the other events, Great Muta’s going to be in a tag team match, Super Crazy’s going to wrestle, and of course both nights you’ll see Jushin Liger wrestle.  I do have to say, I apologize, but I’m not an expert on ROH or PWG by any means.  What we do know is that Pro Wrestling Guerrilla has a good, strong following there in Southern California, and Ring of Honor had never been to the LA market, so they chose this time to do their debut.  People that are regular fans of the product, the matches have been announced, and I’m sure people have already talked about seeing RVD in the ring with Roderick Strong and things like that.  And I guess these kids The Young Bucks, this will be their last appearance before they go to work for TNA steady, so there’s some special things happening on those cards.  I’m sure that these guys aren’t coming all the way to Los Angeles from the Ring of Honor group to leave without being noticed.  And the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla group, this is a little bit different venue for them, but because of the fact that everyone will be there, all of the Legends and everyone being exposed to the product, I’m sure that some of the regular PWG fans will be there, but I’m sure that they’ll also get some new fans exposed to the product that have never seen it before.  They may not be household names, but I’m sure that, in their minds, they’re going to want to make sure that you left there remembering them. 

I’m told that you’re a referee.  Will you be reffing any matches this weekend?

SC: No, no, I won’t.  I really haven’t refereed very much.  My career, briefly: I started out as a referee back in the 80s.  I toured Arabia, Egypt, and different places; Bermuda, Australia.  I was broken into the business by Afa the Wild Samoan. After that, I became a wrestling manager and then a wrestler.  My wrestling name was "The Big Cheese."  All throughout that time, I always promoted different things.  I came up with this WrestleReunion concept and I have been messing with that, mostly.  But I also did some work in Memphis with the Assassins on the Memphis wrestling program in 2007.  My hands are a little bit in everything.  You can still see me in AWA on ESPN Classics.  They have some of the old angles from the matches from the Showboat in Las Vegas, and I’m still a part of those.  I’ll get instant messages from announcer Lee Marshall… "Hey, I caught you on AWA last night."  Whenever it’s on, someone will email me, instant message me, or let me know that it’s on.  I really haven’t refereed in quite a long time.  Actually, I’m not even sure the last time I did it.  I certainly was in Australia in 2001, after that…

So I spent about six or seven years doing that, and then managing, and maybe a guest referee spot here and there, but other than that, I haven’t.  Quite honestly, there’s a lot that goes into a convention.  It’s not like you come into an arena, sit in your chair, and when the matches are over, leave.  There’s a lot of dynamics going on.  Fans all over the place, trying to interact, and when you’ve got that many people around, there’s always something that comes up and someone’s looking for some kind of a direction or someone who’s responsible, so there’s really not a whole lot of time to participate in anything else.  Plus, the wrestling talent, it’s not as simple as "Show up and go sit in the dressing room and wait for your match."  I’ve always been a firm believer in one thing: it takes a lot of people working very hard to give everyone the Disneyland experience.  It’s the same type of thing at a wrestling convention.  There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and hopefully making it look easy, but also making it look fun.

Thanks so much for taking to time to talk to us, Sal. 

For more information, please check www.wrestlereunion.com

You can also go to www.rohwrestling.com and www.prowrestlingguerrilla.com for detailed information on the performers and cards for Friday and Saturday, respectively. 

And be sure to subscribe to our Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/cagesideseats as I will be livetweeting from the ROH and PWG shows this weekend.