A Shore Special -- Through the Curtain: Pro Wrestling Evo CEO Ralph Fitzpatrick discusses how the independent promotion was established and what it took to put on their first event, Evolution Eight
By Chris Shore
This is part two of my series on new independent wrestling promotion Pro Wrestling Evo. In today's article, I talk with CEO Ralph Fitzpatrick about Evo's origins, and logistically what it took to put on their first show. You can read about their first show in Part one.
I was taught very early in my writing career that there are three fundamental rules to good writing: start at the beginning, keep an open mind, and always tell the truth (even when it's a made up truth). So as I settled into my chair in an art gallery adjacent to the Black Box Theater where Pro Wrestling Evo had just held their inaugural show, Evolution Eight, I laid my voice recorder on the table in front of Pro Wrestling Evo CEO Ralph Fitzpatrick and knew exactly what my first question for him had to be. "Why did you want to start your own wrestling promotion?"
"I didn't. That's not what I have here. Wrestling promotions are terrible things. They are organizations full of ego and politics. I have no time for either. I wanted to start a business, and so I did." I stared at him for a moment. Of all the things I had expected him to say, that didn't make the list. I was unsure where to go next, but I pressed forward keeping my eye on rule two.
"Well, aren't we splitting hairs? I'm sure Vince and Dixie would say they are running businesses too. Hell, Vince doesn't even like the word wrestling."
"No, we're not splitting hairs. I think the distinction is important because it goes to the heart of your question. Plus, I'm not trying to compete with WWE or TNA. And calling yourself a business doesn't make it so. I can call myself the President of the United States; it doesn't mean they'll let me in the Oval Office."
Frustrated, I bit. "OK, what's the difference? And why did you decide to start your own business?
Ralph smiled. "The difference is integrity and honesty. I grew up with a lot of these guys, and I've watched them wrestle all over the East coast in dozens of promotions. And I've learned that somewhere in the past, independent wrestling promotions started treating this business like a side show attraction and not like a business. I have watched promoters stiff people on pay, not pay attention to minor details, and any number of stupid mistakes for years. It frustrated me constantly.
There is nothing worse than some promoter that books a show and builds the show up like it is going to be the next big thing, then when the boys arrive to the venue there are only 10 people in attendance because no one ever got around to promoting the show. And then after the show the promoter tries to explain that the gate wasn’t as good as expected and he can only pay half of the original agreement. That is the average experience for an independent wrestler.
So two and a half years ago, on the way home from a show, I told my then fiancé that I wished I could start my own business. And if I could, I would never take advantage of anyone, and I would respect every person who came to work for me as a business man. In other words, I wanted to do it right. Do it right for me, do it right for the boys, and do it right for the fans."
I was beginning to see he was right. There was a difference, a big difference. I too had seen promoter after promoter book themselves (or maybe their son) as the top guy even though they were often the worst workers on the card. Or stiff guys on $50 paydays with lame excuses about the gate or "unexpected expenses". "OK," I conceded, "that makes sense. So how did it go from this conversation with your wife to what we just saw?"
"Well, August of last year I traveled to Richmond VA with Jake Manning, Cedric Alexander, and Caleb Konley. While traveling I pitched the idea about starting a company and using my business and design skills to make it very professional and stylish. They all agreed that I could make everything look professional but thought that I was overlooking all of the work that goes into owning a wrestling promotion. After an hour long discussion, it just sort of fell to the wayside.
But the conversation really stuck with me. I respect those three guys greatly and they are very smart in the business. So they watered my seed as it were. After that, I couldn't stop the thought in my head. After several months of research and planning, I decided to move forward and launch in October of 2010. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a venue or the right talent, so I pushed it off to January.
I called all the guys I knew that were both class acts and great wrestlers. They all agreed to take the booking, but truth be told none of them thought it would ever happen. In fact people were questioning as late as last week whether I would be able to pull it off.
Once I had my guys, I had to pick a location. Most of us are in Charlotte, but I wanted to bring wrestling back to a dry area. A place that hadn't seen good wrestling in years. I originally settled on your hometown, Winston-Salem. I thought we could make a huge mark there. But no venue owner that was suitable for us had my same vision and wouldn't lease to me. So I had to change cities.
I called 50 to 60 venues from Hendersonville to Salisbury. One of those was the Black Box Theater. I'll never forget the phone call. After pitching my idea, they excitedly asked me to come check it out. One look was all I needed. I loved it. It was dark, and small, and felt like a place where an underground fight club would host their event. The fact that you had to enter through an art gallery was also a kicker.
So now I had talent and a place. But I needed a name. I had always thought Pro Wrestling NOAH's name coming from the Bible was a cool story, so I decided to find a story in the Bible for me. One day I was reading the Bible, looking for my story, when the word 'evolution' popped into my head. I didn't like it at first. Every Tom, Dick and Harry uses that word to describe the same garbage. But the word wouldn't leave.
It made sense. I was proposing an evolution of the independent wrestling business of a sort. But I didn't want to use the word evolution. And then it just hit me: EVO. We would be Pro Wrestling Evo. And so here we are. We just had the first of what I hope is an annual tournament, and crowned our first champion."
Ralph folded his hands to indicate he was done. It was a pretty good story, I had to admit. But there was one thing still nagging me. "Well, did you do what you said you were going to? Did you do it right?"
Ralph never hesitated, "Oh, I'm thrilled. I know I did what was right by me and the boys. They're very happy."
"And the fans?" I challenged.
Ralph gestured towards the door to where the ring was being taken down. "I saw you talking to that little boy with the mohawk. What did he say?"
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