On Saturday, July 11, Empire Wrestling Entertainment presents their third major show of the year, Crazy From The Heat, from the Empire Arena in Rossville, Georgia. The event will not air live on iPPV, though it is likely that it will it become available to the public either through the Empire website (where last years CFTH is available, as well as this years Tooth and Nail event) or on DVD (as is the case with this years Long Cold Winter show). It is also likely to be one of the biggest independent shows in the state of Georgia this year.
Running bi-weekly out of the aforementioned Rossville, Georgia, Empire is one of the most well respected, and fastest growing promotions in the American South. Operating in an area with literally dozens of wrestling promotions of varying size and quality, Empire stands out from the pack in large part due to the episodic quality of their shows, and their focus on long-term storylines. In an age when so many independent groups promote around dream matches or major names with big price tags brought in to pop a house, Empire focuses on delivering quality wrestling events, that build from show-to-show, with quarterly climactic shows which serve to settle old scores and set up new feuds. This formula has helped to create a loyal fanbase, who turn out in especially large numbers for the “big” shows like Crazy From The Heat.
To a large extent this model can be attributed to the efforts of Empire’s award winning booker Andrew Alexander. Though Alexander is not the promoter of Empire, he has been handling the book for most of the promotions run. In this time promoter Drew Delight has brought in some of the best talent in the Southeast — men like Kyle Matthews, Ace Rockwell, Shaun Tempers, Chip Day and others — and Alexander has presented this talent in such a way that Empire has become one of the most well regarded promotions in perhaps the most wrestling rich region of the United States. A talented in ring performer in his own right, last year Alexander’s in ring career came to an end when he booked his own retirement, losing a Career v. Title match to then Empire champion Shaun Tempers in a match that was a critical piece of the year and a half long reign of “The Temptation.”
This week I was able to conduct an email interview with Alexander where we covered everything from his time in the ring, to his philosophy as a booker, to the rationale behind some of the matches that are booked for this Saturday’s Crazy From The Heat event. While the finished product is long, Alexander’s answers to my questions were remarkably honest and detailed, something you rarely get from people inside the wrestling business. What follows is the complete and unedited text of the exchange. -Dylan Hales
It’s a cliche to start off an interview like this, but of course I have to ask — how did you become a wrestling fan? Building on that, was there a singular moment where you decided that you wanted to go from pro wrestling fan to pro wrestler, or was it more of a gradual process?
My grandfather was a wrestling fan. When I was about 4 years old, I can vaguely remember whining and wanting to watch cartoons on Saturday morning, but I had to wait until wrestling went off. My then step-father was a fan as well. I guess if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I just became obsessed. It literally took over my life for the next 25 years.If I would be playing with other kids, it was a safe bet that I would be trying to get them on the trampoline or try holds and moves on them. If wrestling was coming on, I made sure to be inside when it started. No matter what. I made list of every move I saw. When I say every move, I mean EVERY move. I would practice them endlessly. Until kids would say it looked real, just like on TV. If I couldn’t get anyone in the neighborhood to let me practice, I would use my little sister. If couldn’t convince her, I would use her oversized stuffed Pink Power Ranger. Pillows…Bean Bags…Nothing was safe.
I always knew, but constantly heard “You’re too small” or “That’s a silly dream”. When I was twelve, the Ironman Match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels sealed the deal. The whole story of “A 12-year old boy’s dream” and then seeing the match. I made the decision that wrestling was the only thing in life that mattered or would ever matter.
The first time I can remember seeing you in the ring was over a decade ago. You were working for a promotion called UEW based out of East Ridge, which was run by “Crazy” Eddie Griffin, Terry Gordy’s uncle and first tag team partner. If memory serves the promotion ran weekly or bi-weekly. My brothers, uncle and cousin were regular attendees at those shows and I tagged along a few times during the brief period I was living in Chattanooga. Was UEW the first place that you worked? What was it like working for a guy like Eddie who had been promoting shows in the area in some capacity for decades?
UEW was the third promotion I worked for on a weekly basis. At the time, it was the standout show in the Northwest Georgia area. I started at TWA in Dalton, GA. It was run by longtime promoter, Doug Watkins. From there I went to a place called GXW. It was kind of seen as the black sheep of wrestling in the area. I had a lot of leeway there. Too much leeway looking back.
I worked up the courage to go to UEW one night and try to get a spot on the roster. I barely knew a few people there. One of those people was Tank. He always, and has always, made the younger guys nervous. He didn’t owe me anything, but I asked him if he would put in a word to the booker of the show. He pulled Richie Dye aside and said this is Andrew Alexander. He wants to work. He’s okay, I guess. As I reflect back, I think that was sort of a pretty big compliment considering the source. Dye thinks a second and says “Oh I remember you. You’re one of those faggy boys from Doug’s” This is when I was doing the 80’s hairband gimmick. So I proudly stated “Yep. That’s me.” He said come back next week.
I technically worked for Eddie Griffin, but had very little interaction with him. Between him not being there a whole lot and me being pretty sure he didn’t care for smaller guys too much, I can’t provide much insight on the man. I had more interaction with his son, who was a good guy. Working these shows helped me start the learning process. Sometimes teaching me what to do. Most times teaching me what NOT to do.
The Andrew Alexander that I saw in the UEW days was radically different than the Andrew Alexander that I would rediscover when I first started hearing about Empire several years ago and did some YouTube hunting. I don’t even know that I could do the transformation justice to those who were unfamiliar with your UEW-era gimmick. Having said that, could you describe the transformation of your character, what led to it, and how you ended up as a key player in the Devil’s Rejects group that would become central to Empire in the early days of the promotion?
Oh if you see the 2002 me and the 2012+ me, I’m sure it would be mind boggling. There were transitions though. For the most part it was all very natural. I decided to cut the long hair and drop the hairband character, which everyone thought was a mistake. It’s still talked about to this day in some circles, which is a pretty good feeling. Ego aside, it was good stuff. Because it was real. It was very much the real me. I just wanted to be a better wrestler though. I thought the first step in getting there was to drop the “gimmick”.
After trying to find myself, I very randomly ended up teaming with some young kid and forming The Hollywood Brunettes. We instantly clicked and became a very solid team. I think if we had stuck together and continued to improve, we would have been amazing. But that may not have happened, because our improvement happened because we went our separate ways. Oh, that kid was Kyle Matthews. Someone who most consider the best overall wrestler in Georgia.
At this point, two major things happened. I really began to find myself in the business. I made vast improvements to my body physically and things seemed to click mentally. Soon after that though, I realized wrestling wasn’t the most important thing in life. I lost the desire and the dream. I hung around years past this point. Somewhat out of feeling needed. Somewhat out of feeling like a had nothing else to occupy my time.
When NWA Chattanooga started, it was ran by two friends. “The Rev” Dan Wilson and Aaron “Muji” Grant. I didn’t want to continue working, but I wasn’t going to tell them no. The promotion was a great experience and I had continued to learn and grow. I had a great series of matches with Ace Rockwell and that helped morph into my final character, “The Southeastern Strangler”. I became obsessed with the show Criminal Minds. There was a killer on the show named “The Boston Reaper”. I wanted to do something completely different. Something “not me” that I could have fun with and be different. So I studied Sociopaths like a religion. It was a little scary, because I found out I had more in common with the character than anyone would think. Dan Wilson thought he and I would be a perfect fit since he was only really managing Se7en at the time. He believed in me a little more than I believed in myself at this point. NWA Chattanooga was forced to close, The Devil’s Rejects migrated to the newly formed Empire Wrestling and the rest as they say……
I was actually never really comfortable as a “Devil’s Reject”. The Rev had done such a great job of building a nice little legacy with the group. I didn’t feel I should be mentioned in the same conversation as Tank, Iceberg, Shaun Tempers, or Azrael. When the dust settled though, I think the Empire version of the faction did some really great work.
This will sound insane and obsessive (because it is), but every year I participate in a fan poll where we rate the top 100 workers in the World. I had you rated at number 49 in 2012. Just last year you were in one of my ten favorite indie matches of the year, a dog collar match with Shaun Tempers. That match led to a career v. title match, which resulted in you losing and retiring. As a fan of your work I was legitimately upset to hear of this result, but even more upset that the match has never emerged online. Does the match exist on tape? Is there a chance it will ever become available to the public? More importantly, what led to your decision to step away from the ring? Were you booking Empire already at that point or did you take over that job at the end of your program with Tempers?
That’s pretty cool. I didn’t know that list existed. I try not to get too caught up in those type of things, but it’s always nice to be appreciated in any way. I guess I didn’t realize that match hasn’t seen the light of the day, but it is on tape. We at Empire have focused so much on keeping the current product properly produced, that the past products suffer. The match wasn’t by any means a classic. Of course I didn’t think the Dog Collar Match was either but other disagree. I found out that I would have to step into that match literally that afternoon. I may have some things I “specialize” in, but a blood and guts match like the Dog Collar Match isn’t one of them.
So the final match may not live up to hype from a “work rate” or high spot” standpoint, but the story was pretty damn good. The crowd believed in me. I thought they would know I was going to lose, but we made people believe again. When I lost, there was emotion. Not just from me. People cried. Workers cried. Our crowd gave me a reaction and a farewell that I honestly didn’t deserve. It’s overwhelming to even think about.
The decision to step away was long over due. I wanted to for years. Luckily I didn’t, because the work I put in at NWA Chattanooga was solid. Some of the best stuff I was ever able to do. Titles don’t really matter, but there were two champions there, Tank and myself. That’s a cool thing. The work I put in at Empire was top notch too. From Rejects to War Games. To making and helping young guys to the matches. The ladder matches, the last time facing Kyle Matthews, the last time teaming with Kyle Matthews, to the retirement. It was all really solid stuff. Story telling. That’s what I think the business is. Stories being told. I felt the time was right and we had a very good locker room that could handle telling the stories I wanted to tell. So I bowed out.
I was really nervous about booking the angle. I’ve been the booker of Empire from the third time I ever stepped foot in the building. Any matches I took part in, I booked. So I didn’t want to be “that booker”. After talking to Dan Wilson to about it, I thought it would be okay. I put Tempers over. I helped make his reign mean even more. Therefor I helped make whomever beat Tempers for the title. It was a full year later, but Logan Alvey beat the man that beat everyone and ended a career. Plus Dan said “F**k anyone that doesn’t like it.”