On August 7 and August 8, 2015, Rossville, Georgia will be the site of the Scenic City Invitational tournament. The Chattanooga metro area shows will take place in the Empire Arena, the home venue for Empire Wrestling Entertainment, one of the best run independent wrestling promotions in the Southeast. While independent wrestling promotions running 16-man (or more), multi-day tournaments is nothing new, the SCI is different in one major way — it appears to be the first show(s) of it’s kind to take place in the South.
This is not to say that no other quality wrestling tournaments have occurred in the region, nor is it to say that Southern talent has never been spotlighted on similar shows in other promotions. In fact, Southern bred wrestlers like Trevor Lee andrew Everett, Chase Owens and others have done quite well for themselves in recent invitational-style tournaments. Still, as a long time fan of Southern independent wrestling the SCI has the potential to fulfill a long time dream of mine by raising the profile of both a top flight Southern promotion and several top flight talents that simply haven’t gotten the exposure they deserve.
At the time of this writing the SCI has eight entrants: Gunner, Gunner Miller, Kongo Kong, Moose, Mark Vandy, Chip Day, KT Hamill and Jimmy Rave. This field not only includes people from several different promotions, but also looks to be an extremely diverse group stylistically and aesthetically. Speaking for myself, I consider all eight of the announced wrestlers to be solid in ring performers at minimum and three of the eight (Rave, Hamill and Kong) would probably rate in my top twenty-five performers in the World so far in 2015.
I recently had the chance to interview the promoter of the Scenic City Invitational Scott Hensley by email. Though the interview does not have the give and take of an actual conversation, Scott answered every question in detail and the exchange that follows left me even more confident that the SCI will be a tremendous event.
How and when did you become a fan? Who were some of your favorite wrestlers and wrestling personalities growing up?
I grew up watching wrestling on TV in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. I watched WWF, WCW and USWA in Middle Tennessee. My grandmother was actually a wrestling fan and took me to my first show in 1994, where I saw a young Rob Van Dam (as Robby V) face Lord Steven Regal (better known now as William Regal). I met the Junkyard Dog that night and had him autograph my program, which I still have. The moment I most vividly remember watching on TV as a child that probably got me hooked on being a wrestling fan was Shawn Michaels kicking Marty Jannetty through the barbershop window.
My favorites growing up were Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan but once TNA started up in Nashville then I guess I really started discovering independent wrestling and I fell in love with the X division guys like A.J. Styles, Low Ki and Jerry Lynn.
How did you get involved in the wrestling business? Has it changed the way you look at wrestling, or do you still approach it from a “fans” perspective?
There’s two parts to my involvement story. The first one came about because I went to a PWE show in Canton, GA in 2007 and saw this cool guy named Ace Rockwell beat Claudio Castagnoli (now WWE’s Cesaro). I was in college in Chattanooga at the time and he was announced from Chattanooga so I talked to him and he invited me to come help out at a show he was doing right outside of Chattanooga. I ended up getting thrown in as a referee for Chip Day vs Jimmy Rave along with Abdullah the Butcher & Nemesis vs Tank & Iceberg. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I wanted to work in wrestling.
A while passed and I began paying attention to a promotion in Alabama called FTW. They brought in guys like Sterling James Keenan (WWE’s Corey Graves), Chris Hero and Samoa Joe but also featured some really talented area guys, one of them being Chrisjen Hayme — who was traveling to places like Chikara, IWA Midsouth, CZW and wherever he could get his name out. I began talking to them about my opinions on their show and they’ve since told me they all thought it was cool to have a “smart fan” who liked and sorta covered their promotion from a couple of hours away. I found out Chrisjen was working a show closer to Chattanooga in Scottsboro, AL and went to see him there. I showed up early to hang out and was approached by “Wildthing” Will Owens and asked if I could ring announce because their announcer had skipped out on the show to go watch Hardcore Holly at another show. I tried it out, they tried me out and for the next couple of years I worked with Ultimate NWA all over Alabama with guys like Chrisjen, Will, Adam Roberts, Patrick Bentley, Adam Jacobs, Corey Hollis, Amos Moses, Justin Envy and later on Tank, The Reverend Dan Wilson, Shaun Tempers and Seven.
I’m still completely a fan. I love professional wrestlers and the guys that do it. When I was a kid with action figures, I’d have my own wrestling promotion with them, complete with stables, tag teams, feuds and angles. I never really had any other job I wanted to do outside of work in professional wrestling, so I certainly know more now — sometimes too much — but I still appreciate what the guys do in the ring and try to be a cheerleader for the guys that really work hard.
Who are some of your favorite performers from the East TN/North Georgia area? Have there been any matches or moments in the last few years that have really jumped off the page where you thought “man that was great?”
I’m a big fan of the guys that work the “Ring of Honor” style but I also appreciate characters, stories and personalities. I could listen to The Reverend [Dan Wilson] read the dictionary so he may be my favorite overall performer. He is one of the rare guys that can really sell something with a promo. I really enjoy watching Kyle Matthews and Corey Hollis. I’m impressed by Fred Yehi. I’m looking forward to see what Gunner Miller has to offer. “The King” Shane Williams is phenomenal. I’d watch The Washington Bullets wrestle air because they’re so talented and entertaining that they could make that work. I think the three best, most established guys in Chattanooga though are Ace Rockwell, Shaun Tempers and Tank. I’d put those three guys up against anyone. A couple of my favorite moments were The Devil’s Rejects (Tempers & Seven w/ The Reverend) debuting in Scottsboro, AL and hanging Adam Jacobs and Patrick Bentley(I think) over the ropes with bags over their heads. People were screaming and crying… it was chaos and it was beautiful theatrics all at the same time because it’s so hard to get deep reactions out of people now. I think my favorite match may have to be Andrew Alexander vs Ace Rockwell at NWA Chattanooga. They did a lot of promo work and had family members involved and emotional and for the moments those guys tore at each other inside and outside of the ring, wrestling was real.
Over the last several years Empire has developed a very loyal following in the East TN/North GA area. On top of promoting strong shows in their own right, Empire has paired with other promoters for special events in the area and the Empire Arena has hosted other promotions and women’s only shows. How closely are you working with Empire in promoting this show? Are you working with any other promoters and promotions?
I love Empire Wrestling and the people who run it (Drew and Susan Mullinax, along with booker Andrew Alexander). The Empire crew built the foundation for which the Scenic City Invitational is lucky enough to get to stand on for our event. They produce top notch shows with nice video packages and good in-ring action that hides weaknesses and plays to strengths, as needed. I try to keep a good relationship with everyone in wrestling, which is hard sometimes. When Drew and Susan were approached about doing this tournament, they were excited and will help us in whatever ways we need. They’re supposed to be working on some video packages for us, which I almost always enjoy. They’ll also go ahead and start selling tickets for the show, which is a huge help as well. We want to make their fans, our fans but we also want to bring new eyes to their product and they know that.
I’m also working as the ring announcer for IWA Deep South, which has their Softcore Tournament coming up on July 18th in Middle TN featuring Chikara talent, Chuck Taylor, Cliff Compton and Joey Ryan so that should be interesting. Not really working with any other promotions for this event though.
I’ve personally got some other irons in the fire but they’re not ready to be talked about yet. I hope to be a big part of independent professional wrestling for the rest of my life with some projects I have in the works. I’m just getting started.
As someone who probably pays an unhealthy amount of attention to indie wrestling it seems that there are two different audiences that make up the bulk of most successful independent wrestling shows. The first are families, often times headed up by long-time fans, who are looking to see a fun, affordable show that is kid friendly. The second are the hardcore fans. The type who read news sites online and are interested in watching wrestling from a variety of different places. Assuming you agree with this observation, do you worry about trying to strike a balance between these two audiences when promoting an event of this size?
Somewhat but not really because the common bond of being professional wrestling fans will win out. I’m a big proponent of clean shows without sexual content or bad language. A guy can throw someone through a table or bust someone’s head open with a weapon and that’s part of the show but when people start expressing vulgar things with their words or gestures then it gets to people and may cause them not to come back. I want everyone to have a good time and when professional wrestlers are allowed to wrestle and are talented enough to talk in a way that is going to entertain people without offending them then I really do believe that both groups can be satisfied.
If I have one criticism of independent wrestling in the Southeast it is that I don’t think promotions do a good enough job utilizing social media. So far promotion of the SCI seems to be built around social media, as you are slowly rolling out the tournaments participants via Facebook based on the amount of likes the page gets. This social media strategy/slow release of talent has been a great tool for other promotions in terms of creating a buzz about their shows. What do you hope to achieve with it?
I want people to come from the local area and from out of town; and I want doors to open for the wrestlers involved with our event. Social media is a way to do that and the most interactive way to learn about an event so we’re trying to reach as many people as possible in a cost effective way.
To my knowledge, the SCI is the first tournament of its kind in the region. How closely do you follow other independent groups like PWG and AIW who have had success with these sort of tournament themed shows? Why do you think something like this hasn’t happened before – at least not on this scale – in the East TN/North GA area?
I love tournaments and great independent promotions but there’s so much stuff out there that I often find myself a results reader more than an actual viewer. As far as why it hasn’t happened before, I’d say it never had the right venue, fan base and crew running it. I’ve had LOTS of help getting the talent I’ve gotten. Lots of favors have been called in and in some cases we’re calling in favors to get other guys to call in their favors. Professional wrestling is so relationship-based and it takes most people years to realize that. I want to build bridges and offer something to guys. Wrestlers aren’t getting rich and if they are, then the promoters they’re working with are getting poor. It’s about finding the mutually beneficial ground and helping guys with the “3 E’s” Experience, Exposure and Expenses. Guys have to understand that promoters are usually taking a significant financial risk to put on an event and promoters have to realize that guys are driving for hours and killing themselves to get better and get noticed.
What motivated you to get involved in promoting a two day event of this kind which seems like a pretty massive enterprise on paper? What is your vision for these shows?
I cover the Southeastern wrestling scene pretty extensively and there’s so many talented guys out there. I enjoy fantasy booking and this was an opportunity where some like-minded people wanted to work with me to help the fantasy become a reality. I’m big on networking and I’ve been fortunate enough to make some great contacts over my years working as a ring announcer in Nashville, Knoxville, Scottsboro, Chattanooga and some stuff here and there in Georgia. My vision is to present a product that is family friendly but still impressive to smart fans. I want to increase local interest in professional wrestling. I also want to encourage other talent that is on and not on our event to work harder to get their name out there and take advantage of whatever opportunities they can get.
I know the primary goal of the shows is to get people to come down to the Empire Arena to watch the shows live, but I have to ask: has there been any consideration put toward recording the SCI and releasing it either on DVD or as MP4? Even if the entire tournament isn’t able to be recorded for one reason or another, is there a chance some of the matches could eventually end up on the Empire website?
Empire will be filming the event and will have the video rights. I believe they’ll release a DVD and possibly feature at least parts of it on their website. I think video and written results are very important for recording what happened. If no one records it in a way that can be recounted then it’s like you were either there or it’s like it didn’t happen at all.
You already have some of the top talent in independent wrestling coming in for these shows. At this point it is a very good mix of talent who have worked in larger promotions like Gunner, Moose and Jimmy Rave and the wrestlers who are really the lifeblood of wrestling in that region like KT Hamill, Chip Day and Gunner Miller. And then you have someone like Kongo Kong who is one of the most talented and exciting big men to come around in the last twenty years. Without revealing too much, what else should we expect in future weeks? Following up on that, will brackets for the tournament be announced before the first show?
We’re going to continue to announce a combination of guys who are local favorites and guys that travel outside of our region. There’s some really accomplished guys left to be announced and I believe our 16th guy will be that final deciding factor for anyone who is on the fence about coming.
We will start to announce the first round match ups once the 16 entrants have been announced.
I know a lot of people who are talking about traveling to this show. I myself am coming up from South Carolina and I have talked to people who are planning on coming from Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. I know that the largest percentage of the audience will be local and that is a great thing. But it must be gratifying to know that people outside the area seem to be very excited about the shows. With that in mind, what would you consider a big success for the SCI and is it something that you would consider doing again next year if those goals are met?
If we can create new “local” wrestling fans or give new life to old fans while presenting good matches then that’s a success to me. Numbers wise, I’d love to see a sellout both nights at approximately 400 fans per night but more realistically I’d expect 150-200 on Friday and 250-300 on Saturday.
There are plans to make this an annual event and with enough interest, I’d like to have a tag and possibly even a trios tournament later on under the Scenic City Invitational banner. I want to help those that help themselves and there’s a lot of hungry and talented wrestlers out there that I’d love to see get bigger and more meaningful opportunities; I’d love even more to become known as someone who is able to give those bigger, more meaningful opportunities.
If people are interested in learning more about the SCI, or have questions about the event where is the best place for them to go on the web?