Best For The Business—WrestleZone’s annual celebration of the people in the wrestling business that have made the “one true sport” a little better this year. This year was a completely different year that no one expected, and so much has radically changed in the past twelve months and still does each day in 2020.
COVID-19 affected the entire world—individuals, countries, industries—and it certainly took its toll on the professional wrestling world. All of the attention and buzz the independent scene created was gone, and many major promotions elected to halt tapings altogether as a precaution. Despite all of the setbacks, cancellations, and everything that went along with this year, we’re highlighting some of the names on-air and behind the scenes that helped make an unprecedented and uncertain year in the wrestling business a little better.
“Best For The Business” is Wrestlezone’s look back at some of the most influential people, promotions and brands that changed the wrestling business in a positive way in the past year.
Warrior Wrestling, a Chicago-area independent promotion is in a unique position in that the promoter, Steve Tortorello, is also the head principal of the school that hosts their events. Warrior Wrestling not only had to a find a way to continue to operate within the wrestling world, but had to contend with local and educational parameters.
Tortorello found a safe way for families to enjoy live events, and Warrior had the honor of hosting the first live pro wrestling event with fans in the COVID era. Introducing the Stadium Series this fall, Warrior Wrestling hosted three events in September that followed strict social distancing guidelines on the football field at Marian Catholic High School. Not only does Warrior provide entertaining “dream match” level events, but they donate all proceeds from their shows towards fundraising and providing scholarships for local students in need so they can attend the school.
Warrior started in December 2017 and hosted the inaugural event in May of 2018, and combines Tortorello’s “two passions in life—education and helping kids, and pro wrestling.”
“I had originally pitched the idea to my boss, the president of our school. [I said] ‘What if we took a crazy idea for a fundraiser and we held a wrestling show at the school?’ So we held the first show in May of 2018 and we’ve now done 12 shows over the course of the last three years. It’s really grown into a life of its own. It went from a one-time, special, crazy thing to becoming an ongoing promotion. And as you said,” Tortorello said, “the money goes back to the school to help kids with scholarships and the way it happens varies.”
Tortorello explained that the first several shows saw donations of dollar amounts depending on the gate, but now it’s been split into a separate LLC that donates profits plus a flat amount to avoid liability to the school. This year, COVID-19 threw a huge wrench in everyone’s plans and it presented new challenges and responsibilities for people, especially for Tortorello as an administrator and promoter.
Warrior was the first promotion to run an event with a large-scale crowd [550 fans] in the ‘social distancing’ era, Friday Night Lights in August. Tortorello explained the challenges of minimizing the risk for fans and talent in this situation, noting that a ‘super indie’ like themselves would normally average flying in an average of 20 wrestlers, but went to four for that show. (Brian Cage, Lance Archer, Joey Janela and Jeff Cobb)
“It was a lot of logistical challenges, but at the same time, that’s part of the fun. That’s part of the challenge—can you do this to your normal standard with these hindrances put on you? Bring it on.”
When asked if that’s an approach he wants to continue next year for lineups, Tortorello said they probably will and noted that his team jokes that “we book every show like it’s our last.” He said that their Stadium shows were run successfully and helped complete their goals financially, but went into it knowing that they’d probably be waiting until spring to run again. Noting that they can’t viably run indoor events in the winter, Tortorello says they’ll be back again when it’s safe to do so, and that is always the key.
“It’s the same discussion that we have at my day job at school—if we can do it safely, then we should do it, and if we can’t do it safely, we shouldn’t do it. That’s the difference, and it’s not binary. It’s not ‘you’re either doing something and it’s unsafe’ or ‘you’re not doing it and therefore it’s safe—if it can be done safely and you can do everything right, then go for it. I say that to all other promoters and other people too. Go for it. Give it a shot,” Tortorello said, “if you’re committed to doing it safely.”
“I think for us, when we launched the Stadium Series [the three shows hosted at Marian’s football stadium], Friday Night Lights was the ‘proof of concept.’ Then we said we’re going to do this three more times before the weather turns cold here in Chicago because we were up front, we said we’re probably done until [May 2021] because we couldn’t foresee how we could do it safely indoors and in a way that’s economically viable,” Tortorello explained, “and we still don’t. We can’t put on the caliber of show that Warrior Wrestling likes to be with 50 paying fans. The school would lose money, it doesn’t add up economically. We knew ahead of time that the way to do it safely was outdoors, we crammed three shows outdoors and we ‘packed up the circus’ for the winter. We’ll be back when we can do it safely again, almost certainly outdoors. That’s the key.”
Check out our full interview at the top of this post; the other interviews in our Best For The Business series can be found on the list linked below: