Ben Veal talks to the three founders of UK-based Future Pro Wrestling, a promotion that is looking to instil good old-fashioned family values back into the world of sports entertainment…
Ah, to be a wrestling promoter, wouldn’t it be bliss?
Calling the shots from behind the scenes, giving genuine talents the big pushes that they deserve, and not making the creative mistakes of, say, a Vince Russo?
Most wrestling fans have, at one point or another, dreamt of setting up their own promotion. But while many fans may have romanticised views of one day becoming the next Vince McMahon and building a pro wrestling empire, the reality of setting up an independent wrestling promotion and turning it into a success is rather different, and no mean feat.
Three childhood friends from Surrey, England have done just that, however. Matt Burden, Lee Elmer and Steve ‘Heavy D’ Evans have successfully made the transition from wrestling fans to wrestling promoters; not only that, but they are also looking to play a role in shaping the industry by setting up their own wrestling academy, training the stars of tomorrow.
With their first anniversary show fast approaching, we spoke to the three about the company’s rise, and how it all started with Chinese Karaoke…
Going back to the beginning, what first attracted you to wrestling?
Lee: Survivor Series 1990, featuring the debut of The Undertaker, was the first event I ever watched. I’ve been a fan ever since!
Matt: It was in the early 90s; I used to walk home from school with Lee and his younger brother. I would stop in at his to play video games and watch wrestling. I was hooked right from the off. These were real-life superheroes doing battle in front of an audience! I’ll never forget Lee coming into school and explaining The Rockers’ break-up and the ‘kick heard around the world’. Great times.
Steve: I was about 11 when I started watching the WWF, and from there used to have matches with friends when we were younger as I am sure most people have done before. After that I first got into the training side of wrestling at the age of 21, through Paul Ashe and Philip Bedwell (who have worked an FPW show as The Breed); that session was a massive eye-opener and from then even more so I was hooked for life.
Making the move from wrestling fan to wrestling promoter is a big jump. What motivated that, and how did FPW come about?
Matt: After leaving school, I worked part-time at a video store with Lee for a while, and we kept in touch for a good few years before losing touch around 2000. Three years ago, my wife got a lot of friends together for my 30th birthday party, and both Lee and I picked up right where we left off with talk of Star Wars, Aliens, Predator and, of course, wrestling. Soon after that I bumped into Steve and we exchanged numbers. In the run up to Christmas in 2010, I got in touch with a bunch of friends to invite them to a Chinese Karaoke place in Morden and low and behold, Lee and Steve turned up. It was at that get-together that the idea was originally discussed.
Steve had been training off and on since his early twenties and had amassed many contacts in the industry, and he’d also done some theatre. I had trained to start a career in radio once upon a time and was just getting into some presenting with shows on iTunes and YouTube, whilst Lee had kept up his love of graphic design and an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of wrestling history. Steve looked at the two of us and put forward the idea.
He had just wrestled his first show to a crowd of 50 people and felt on reflection
that had he been the promoter, he would have drawn in bigger numbers. So he asked if I would host and compere the events and help spread the word via social media and the podcast community. Lee was let loose on creative and the task of picking a name for our company.
He said right from the beginning that “it needs to have an F in it”. We all hold the late 80′s and early 90′s in a very nostalgic place so it made sense to include that letter! I had recently watched ‘The Rise and Fall of ECW’ documentary and was taken with the sense of local pride that came out of those chants that used to ring out from their crowds; you never hear a crowd chant WWE. I wanted 3 letters that would be easy to chant and also invoke that same sense of pride. And so during our first meeting in Steve’s flat, Lee shouted out “Future Pro Wrestling”, and so FPW was born.
An artist friend of mine, Simon Price, offered his services with logo design, and he also came up with character sketches of the three of us which we’ve used in all of our posters and videos ever since. My cousin Jon Hooper is an incredible computer animator and an amateur film maker; he produced 3D rendered versions of our logo and animated bumpers to edit in at the start and finish of our videos. His contribution has been essential for putting us over as a professional outfit online.
Steve: Although I had trained sporadically over the years, it was about two years ago that I got back into it more seriously. After a training session a couple of years ago I got talking to Terry Striker, who mentioned that he would soon be working a show in Luton and was looking for an opponent for his match. I jumped at the chance to do it and so made my in ring debut at that show.
I got to the hall miles too early due to nerves and sat around waiting for others to turn up. When they did I realised I was appearing on the same card as Jonny Storm, James Mason and Snare, amongst others (including FPW’s Bagheera). I sat in the locker room and listened in to a conversation between Jonny and James, who were discussing the lack of promotions in the south London area; my ears pricked up and, joining in the discussion, the guys suggested to me that maybe I should look into setting something up.
After what I can only describe as an eventful match with Terry, I bored my poor other half to tears on the way back to London, armed with the idea and, in my head, the two perfect people to start it with. A week later I was talking to Lee and Matt about making it real, and not long after that we had Jonny Storm, Terry Striker, Snare and Bagheera all appearing on the debut FPW show.
FPW has grown a lot over the past year, and on May 5th you’ll be celebrating your first anniversary. What has been the highlight so far for you?
Lee: For me it’s seeing the look on our young fans’ faces, and knowing that we have already, in this short space of time, positively affected the community FPW has created. There is no buzz like having people enjoy something you have created.
Steve: If I had to pick out a proudest moment then it was after the first show, sitting down with Lee and Matt and realising what we had just achieved. I have to say that without their help and continued drive to make it bigger and better things would not be how they are; I also have to give thanks for the continued support of the FPW fans who turn up to our shows, the professionalism of the FPW roster who work tirelessly during the matches and before hand, and to the support team who help out before, during and after the shows. It really is a team effort, and without the team FPW would not exist.
Matt: There are a couple of ‘goosebumps’ moments that stick out. The day of the first show, I didn’t sleep the night before from nerves, and whilst we’d done all we could as far as marketing was concerned, we had no idea what to expect on the night. About 15 minutes after we’d opened the doors, the three of us were backstage biting our nails and Steve’s sister popped her head around the door and said “we need more chairs”. It was an amazing feeling to know that our families and friends had spread the word to the point that we’d need more chairs put out in the hall.
Also, at the close of the third show I’d never heard the FPW chants so loud. I’ve always wanted that venue to be thought of like a local football club, a place down the road that you know you can go along once every few months and cut loose: boo, cheer and see the same faces. That chant just brings all of that out in me, big softie that I am.
As Lee and Steve have said, we do everything we can to create a big community feel, and the day after every show is always ‘Facebook day’ for us. Our emails literally explode with people tagging us and letting us know what a great time they had, and the community on our Facebook page [which now has more than 1,200 fans] has been awesome.
Also, the positive feedback we’ve had from the workers and others in the industry has been incredible. This time last year this world was completely unknown to me. We’re so thankful that the British wrestling community has caught on to what we’re doing and are so vocal with their approval.
And lastly, there’s our star fan, six-year-old Will Wilkins. Will came along to one of our very first shows with his dad Craig, and he just plain loves wrestling. I did an impromptu Q&A with Will during the half-time period of our last show, and he was brilliant, getting in the ring and doing Hogan muscle poses for the crowd, who made him a star for three minutes. After the show we took him and his dad backstage to meet Mark Haskins. Will’s one of our many fans who turn up time and time again and have just embraced the atmosphere and run with it. We’re so grateful to all of them.
You’ve got some great home-grown talent at FPW, and some very interesting characters on the roster. What should fans expect from an FPW show?
Matt: When you’re at an FPW show you will definitely see characters! One is ’The Warden’ Phil Ward. On the surface he’s a slimmer Big Boss Man, but from the first show (where we debuted the character) he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, to the point now where he’s gone beyond heel. Much like Austin Aries and Randy Orton, he’s the guy you love to hate to love. A great character with immense technical ability, the crowd cheer and boo Phil in equal measure.
Bagheera is the same. It’s a gimmick that’s been done before, a boy from the jungle in a Tarzan style get-up who communicates through a series of grunts. But he can pull of high flying moves and reversals like you wouldn’t believe; we always have huge demand to get a photo with him at the end.
What we hope people get is a sense of quality from the product they’re seeing, and a real sense of family too. Not necessarily in a family-friendly way, but more that you can talk to the person in front of you. We don’t want to be labelled with FPW being just for kids. We always put on a show suitable for all ages, but seasoned wrestling fans will not be disappointed by the talent we have on display.
Steve: What can fans expect from FPW? Exciting, high-flying action and a good fun family atmosphere with a chance to interact with the wrestlers and the FPW team.
For us it’s about building a community feeling with people wanting to come back to follow the storylines in our shows; and even if you have missed one it’s not hard to catch up with what’s happened. The best thing I can suggest to see what FPW is all about is to come and watch yourself – trust me, you will get hooked! Young, old, big or small, FPW has something for everyone.
Lee: Fans should expect lots of wrestling of various styles: fast paced and high flying matches alongside the traditional British style and brawling. We’ve already become known for fantastic tag team matches, as well as for the odd innovation such as our ‘Pumpkin On A Pole’ match! In short, as Steve’s said there’s something for everyone: at the heart of it we’re wrestling fans, so what we do is what we would want to see.
At FutureMania you’ll be holding a raffle for Cancer Research UK. This isn’t the first time that you’ve used your wrestling shows as an opportunity to raise money for good causes, is it?
Steve: No it’s not, and it’s massively important for us to raise money for good causes. It reminds us and our fans about other things that are going on outside of the wrestling world. The reason behind Cancer Research UK was a no brainer for me: my Mum was diagnosed with kidney cancer two years ago. She was very lucky as they were able to remove the cancer, but other people and their families are not so fortunate. So this is our opportunity to reach out to our fans and extended FPW family and raffle and auction some amazing prizes in order to raise money to show our support for a very worthwhile cause.
Lee: The raffle at FutureMania will be huge; we’ve now had so many donations from both the wrestling and comic book communities (A Place In Space comic book store in Croydon always helps us out massively) that we’ll actually now be auctioning off some items on the night too. The auction will include prizes donated by Nigel McGuiness, Doug Williams, Mr. Anderson, Colt Cabana, Chikara Grand Champion Eddie Kingston – and signed Hitman shades from Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart! Our fans will be able to bid on some truly unique memorabilia and we still have a few weeks to go – so who knows what else we’ll be able to get our hands on before May 5th!
Finally, the big question – you’re about to celebrate your first milestone as a company; what’s your vision for the company and where do you see FPW in 5 years?
Matt: I firmly believe that British wrestling needs good television coverage; hopefully, at some point FPW can be involved with that happening. I would personally love to see us on TV and playing larger venues to a home-grown crowd. It’s started already with us noticing new faces in the crowd at each show, who have clearly been brought along by our regulars. We have them to thank for our growth.
Steve: Really our goal is quite a simple one: to continue putting on great family shows, to keep growing both internally with the opening of the FPW training academy and externally by taking FPW on the road to new places and different venues, and, ultimately, to put FPW at the forefront of the wrestling scene in the UK.
People say dare to dream. We dared, and so far we are winning, but we will only grow with the love and support of fans, family, the community and the backing of the wrestling scene in the UK – both wrestlers and people who follow and write about it. The power is in your hands!
Future Pro Wrestling’s first anniversary show, FutureMania, takes place at Wallington Hall, Surrey on Saturday May 5th. Find out more and buy your tickets now at futureprowrestling.com.
This article was written by Ben Veal.