Major League Wrestling is offering an alternative.
That is a term constantly touted in pro wrestling, but MLW CEO Court Bauer is living up to his word about wrestler safety as the company has yet to run a live event during the pandemic.
As COVID-19 disrupts the lives of talent in WWE and AEW, shows have continued to take place despite legitimate concerns of virus breakouts. Bauer remains steadfast in his belief that MLW should not return to action until the likelihood of contracting the disease significantly decreases.
“I will wait until we are sure it’s safe to return,” said Bauer. “We’re doing that for our fans, our athletes, and our crew, and all of their families. We do not want to put anyone at harm. We’ll see what the NBA looks like once they go live with their season, and we’re seeing what is happening with WWE. This [battle with COVID] is far from the rearview mirror. Our decision to proceed will be dictated by science and experts in the medical world. Until we know it’s safe, we’re going to be as judicious as possible.”
Right now, without a crowd, wrestling is structurally and fundamentally disjointed. As the industry continues to seek the best fit for production in the empty-arena era, Bauer has taken a different approach. MLW has reached into its archives to create the Anthology Series, which includes MLW footage of the legendary Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, and CM Punk, as well as matches with more recent stars like Pentagon and Fenix. There is also the weekly digital series in Pulp Fusion highlighting MLW’s current stars, a roster that includes Alex Hammerstone, Salina de la Renta, the Von Erichs, Savio Vega, Myron Reed, and the CONTRA Unit faction featuring MLW World Heavyweight Champion Jacob Fatu.
“We started to look at our business and our creative,” said Bauer. “We knew there was an interest in our older footage from 2002 to 2004, and that is part of the Anthology Series. I’ve also been able to work with our young talent and coach them virtually in promos for Pulp Fusion, and that’s been a fun opportunity for fans to remain engaged in our product.”
With MLW’s live events temporarily on hiatus due to the pandemic, the decision was made to focus internally. Bauer restructured contracts, resigning Hammerstone and Richard Holliday, as well as signed new talent, most recently with Calvin Tankman. MLW also announced a media rights deal with DAZN, a live and on-demand sports streaming network.
“MLW has always been positioned as a combat sport, so it is a perfect fit for DAZN,” said Bauer. “They have over eight million subscribers globally. That’s a partner that fits us like a glove.
“And we’re just about to close another domestic media rights deal that should hit before or right after the Fourth of July. That is our strategy for the rest of 2020–build out more media rights deals, domestically and abroad, and emerge from this pandemic in another 15-20 international markets by the end of the year.”
MLW Fusion streams previously aired footage for free every Saturday night at 6:05 p.m. ET, but for those hungry for new content, MLW cornerstone “Filthy” Tom Lawlor is back in action beginning this Friday. Lawlor is part of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Lion’s Break Collision series on New Japan World, and Bauer addressed whether there is a working relationship between MLW and wrestling giant New Japan.
“All I can say is that the arrangement was worked out office-to-office as opposed to independently,” said Bauer. “I’m a big fan of what New Japan is doing, and we’ll see where this relationship can take us.”
Bauer is open about his concerns about wrestling in the pandemic, but remains confident in Lawlor’s safety at the New Japan shows because of their focus on safety.
“Tom had a talk with New Japan and they explained the process of sterilizing the rings and testing, and I left it up to Tom whether he wanted to pursue this,” said Bauer. “There was no pressure, and we let him know that. A lot of our talent have been performing elsewhere during this pandemic. I always caution them to take all the safety measures possible for themselves and their families.”
Bauer’s experience in the industry includes working for WWE as part of Vince McMahon’s creative team, as well as history with Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, and AAA. He also served as a co-executive producer for Combate Americas MMA, which has helped embed a contest-heavy, combat production within MLW.
MLW has done an extraordinary job fielding talent, as a number of WWE and AEW stars, including MJF, Matt Riddle, Isaiah Scott, and MVP were all part of a championship tourney that culminated in April of 2018. A key for Bauer has been identifying undervalued and undiscovered talent, then putting them into the MLW system with a goal of maxing out their strengths and abilities. One particular MLW success is Davey Boy Smith Jr., who has been presented in a realistic and intimidating manner as a singles star.
The current objective for MLW is to keep wrestling fans engaged during the pandemic, as Bauer promises big plans and an increased focus on women’s wrestling–when his company returns to live action.
“Stick with us,” said Bauer. “So much of our digital content on Pulp Fusion is setting the table for our return, and it enriches the current storyline. If you love good promos in that old ECW montage style, this is for you. Our digital shorts are fast, they’re eclectic, and you see everyone from Kevin Von Erich to Mance Warner with a bear. It’s unorthodox, but it’s really fun.”