Bruce Tharpe, who had been running the National Wrestling Alliance, confirmed a PW Insider story on 5/1 that Billy Corgan is buying the group.
“As everyone knows by now, Billy Corgan and I have agreed on principle regarding his acquisition of the NWA brand. This decision comes after many weeks of negotiations and deep consideration.
Although Billy Corgan may be a fresh face to wrestling, he is an extremely successful businessman and has a deep admiration and respect for the NWA. He is also putting together a very strong team.
With the capital and business acumen that Billy Corgan brings to the table, I am confident that he has the ability to take the NWA to the next level. And I have promised to do all I can to help him succeed. I ask you to join me in supporting the new NWA regime in the future.”
David Lagana, who left TNA as head writer when Corgan didn’t get control of the promotion, confirmed that the deal hasn’t gone through but has largely been agreed to. At the time, it was expected that Corgan and Lagana would get back involved with a wrestling company together.
Lagana said that all options are open regarding what the plans would be, but that they are going to take their time and be patient. He said that he doesn’t expect they would run any wrestling shows in 2017, although it was possible they may, and are going to try and navigate the changing technology and come up with a business strategy. He said that when the sale was completed, that Corgan would likely publicly talk more about the project.
Lagana said that Corgan got the brand for a very affordable price and that one of the ideas is to produce content telling the story of the old National Wrestling Alliance and its world champions during the period from 1948 through 1983 when the NWA championship was considered the major championship in the wrestling business, even through its last 34 years with periods of both relevance and irrelevance as the business changed. While the National Wrestling Alliance name dates back to a promotion in Iowa in 1940, and the National Wrestling Association world championship dates back farther than that, the NWA of its heyday was created in a hotel room in Waterloo, IA, with several leading promoters who decided to work together and exchange talent, with the driving force being Sam Muchnick of St. Louis, who at the time was the No. 2 promoter in his market and having to battle the power of Tom Packs.
Packs later sold his promotion to a group of investors headed by Lou Thesz, with Martin Thesz, Lou’s father, in the public position as promoter since to the public the idea that the promoter and world champion was the same person wouldn’t look good. Even the idea that the promoter’s son as world champion could have raised suspicions, but with Lou Thesz’s reputation already built, that actually was never an issue.
In 1949, Thesz and Muchnick agreed to join forces and privately merge. For years they operated to the public as two different promotions that did different shows, but used the same talent and storylines. But Muchnick was the promoter and ran the business while Thesz was the top star as the world heavyweight champion.
Muchnick, a former sportswriter who was big in the sports community always had it thrown at him that pro wrestling was a joke because unlike in boxing, which at the time only had one world champion that everyone knew, pro wrestling had multiple world champions. Their belief at first was for the credibility of pro wrestling as a sport, it needed one world champion. Muchnick in time convinced most of the promoters in the U.S. and Canada, as well as EMLL in Mexico, to work together, and recognize one touring world champion. By the 70s, the NWA had both leading promotions in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific area promotions as members, Puerto Rico, Central America and even the WWWF. Verne Gagne, who headed the AWA was not a member because the rule of thumb is that you couldn’t bill anyone but the NWA champion as the “World heavyweight champion” (a rule that was at times enforced and at times not enforced, but is the reason the old NWF and later IWGP championships as well as the PWF championship in Japan, now part of the Triple Crown, and even the WWWF and WWF championships were not called “world” champion, even though it was implied, during the period those promotions were NWA members). The term WWF champion, as opposed to WWF world heavyweight champion, is because of the NWA membership and it became part of the lexicon of the industry that continued for decades. In time, they also worked together to keep outside promoters from getting a foothold, and even blacklist talent, which led to a government investigation of the NWA in the 50s.
While there are romantic views of that period, it was always a struggle. Muchnick considered disbanding the NWA many times due to the work involved and the inability to get promoters on the same page. Much of the true secrets of the NWA in the 50s, 60s and 70s have been taken to the grave as only a few people would have known the true story. Jim Barnett, who was a key figure during that era, and actually not an NWA member since the Alliance wouldn’t allow a gay promoter, although Barnett was a key player in the NWA as Fred Kohler’s assistant, always remarked that he wanted to write a book before his death since there was so much of historical knowledge that would die with him.
Muchnick booked the world champion through 1975 and demanded the championship be protected from too many gimmick finishes, which is why so many 60 minute draws were booked. After Muchnick became fed up, and quit as President, or was manipulated out, a variety of new Presidents emerged but Barnett, who became an NWA member in 1968 while having so much success running World Champion Wrestling in Australia, ended up booking the champion for the next several years until he was forced out of the Georgia office due to charges of embezzlement.
After Vince McMahon went national in 1984 and had so much success building Hulk Hogan, the NWA championship, held by Ric Flair, really became the No. 2 belt. Flair toured with different promotions for a few more years, but the regionals began to die off and the NWA name was used by Jim Crockett Promotions, and then WCW after the purchase of Crockett Promotions in 1988.
Because WCW didn’t own the NWA, by 1991, they transitioned away from the NWA and started calling its champions WCW champions. The final split came in 1991 when the NWA recognized Flair as world champion after Jim Herd stripped him of the WCW title after a contract dispute and battles over trying to get him to drop the title. Flair tried to use his leverage as champion to negotiate a new deal and Herd refused, and the lineage was broken, which sounds silly today but was a huge issue at the time. When Flair signed with WWF, the NWA title became vacant.
When Bill Watts was put in charge of WCW, he and New Japan’s Seiji Sakaguchi decided to bring the NWA name back with the idea of creating world champions that would be recognized by both companies. The NWA Board of Directors, which still existed, was behind that. But that alliance only lasted a few years. After that fell apart, New Jersey independent promoter Dennis Coraluzzo went to revive the NWA name with Bob Trobich, the Charlotte lawyer who had worked with the previous Board of Governors, a group of old international promoters. They revived the championship and set up a touring champion who would work for independent promoters, and at times major promoters internationally. For years, they used Dan Severn, a former UFC champion, and Naoya Ogawa, an Olympic silver medalist in judo, as the champions with the idea that the NWA champion was still a legit shooter and trying to hang their hat on that.
Later, the NWA title was used for TNA’s early years, and at first TNA adopted the same mentality in making Ken Shamrock their first champion.
When Tharpe took over, the structure changed. Instead of a series of NWA dues paying members who would vote on things, he took full control of the NWA. He licensed out the name to independent promoters, but there was no more voting on things.
Lagana noted that he and Corgan were always planning on getting back into wrestling after Corgan’s attempt to take control of TNA failed. They saw this existing name with historical importance and felt it was a start point. He noted that nobody under the age of 35 has any affinity for the NWA today and that everything would have to start fresh.
The belief is once the deal is official, that Corgan will make a public announcement, but right now the line is that they are exploring any and all options. The idea is to try and create history to explain the NWA and value of its championships. A major issue is that virtually all the key video footage is owned by WWE.
Tharpe and Valerie Boesch, the widow of Paul Boesch, do own the Houston Wrestling collection which would have footage of many of the major NWA champions. Due to complications in their deal, and that the NWA on Demand subscription website never gained any kind of significant traction, it was not part of this deal, and Tharpe will continue to operate it. Tharpe at times has had talks of selling the collection to WWE, but the sides could never agree on a price, which was one of the reasons they attempted to market it the way they did.
Tharpe has controlled the name since 2012. Tharpe had gotten the name by threatening a lawsuit against the old NWA, which Charlotte attorney Bob Trobich, who kept the name alive with Coraluzzo and Howard Brody after WCW and the NWA board had their falling out and stopped recognizing the name in 1993. Coraluzzo passed away in 2001 and Brody had moved on years later. A number of different promoters along with agent Bill Behrens were at the helm, and at one point TNA revived the name using the NWA name for its championships before the sides split up.
Tharpe, a Texas-based attorney who grew up in Florida and decades ago was a ring announcer for Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling from Florida, threatened legal action over an issue with insurance. Rather than spend money in legal fees fighting the suit, Tharpe gained control of the NWA, which was what his lawsuit was designed to do.
Trobich had licensed the name annually to smaller promotions around the world for decades for a membership fee. Tharpe had various champions working in mostly smaller Southern groups and an upstart promotion in Japan that didn’t seem to get much traction. The last hurrah was when the NWA singles, tag team and junior heavyweight titles were used in mid-card matches on New Japan major shows with Tharpe leading the way as a heel manager. He was very good in the role of campy American NWA head, but New Japan at some point evidently felt it had run its course and stopped booking the NWA a few years back.
The NWA name meant something in Japan because it was the championship Lou Thesz came to Japan with in 1957 when he did a series of stadium matches with Rikidozan, and was regarded into the early 90s in Japan as the real world championship. At times, different smaller Japanese promotions paid for the rights to championships but with the new generation of fans, they knew the name really had no major league relevance any longer, although New Japan gave it some life.
Tharpe didn’t comment more on the sale, past noting to us that the sale doesn’t include the NWA on Demand streaming service which has the old Paul Boesch Houston wrestling library that Tharpe is in control of and there’s no word how that fits into this.
Over the years Tharpe had some TV meetings, including with Spike, trying to get an NWA television show, but couldn’t make a deal.
Corgan had made sure to get it put in his contract when he settled with Anthem over the money owed him that he wouldn’t have a non-compete, and had indicated at least thinking about doing something in wrestling as he really wanted control of Impact. Anthem was able to make the deal with Dixie Carter since Corgan was going to get rid of Carter so she didn’t want it in Corgan’s hands. As it turned out, Anthem got rid of her anyway.
The idea of doing a live workrate promotion that runs every few months in a city that doesn’t have one seems like a formula that can work right now on a small-time basis. Trying to do a televised angle-based promotion is much more difficult because of the difficulty in getting television, as Jeff Jarrett found out when he tried to sell GFW shows. The Young Bucks and others have shown the ability to produce inexpensive video pieces, similar to what UFC does with Embedded, and garner significant viewership on the Internet. But those aren’t revenue drivers, as much as sales tools.
In addition, with WWE becoming more aggressive when it comes to talent, not to mention TNA, New Japan, Lucha Underground, WWN/Evolve/Flo Slam and ROH having signed talent, there is very limited top tier talent available for a new promotion. And the ones who aren’t signed to a television promotion that are top tier aren’t signed because they don’t want to be signed.