In your capacity as Empire’s booker, you are also a regular “performer” as a babyface authority figure. In other words you are basically a kayfabe and non-kayfabe “matchmaker.” Do you enjoy this dual role, or is the “on air” authority figure a gig that you see as a necessary evil of sorts?
I do enjoy it. I still get to interact with the fans and the performers. Most importantly, I get to help tell the stories. That’s one thing I’m still capable of doing. When doing promos or vignettes, I can help guys with less experience get through them. There will always be things to work on. No one knows everything there is to know in the business. I just want to make sure that I’m doing SOMETHING to make wrestling in this area better than it was when I started in 2001.
It also helps because it finally leaked out that I was the “booker”. I would have loved to have gone literally forever without that being known. I like to try to protect the business in some ways. I know that’s silly in this age and even doing this interview goes against that, but that’s just the way it is now. I can’t change that. But now when it’s said that Andrew Alexander booked the match it’s because Andrew Alexander, the on-screen character, booked the match. So it doesn’t things like this don’t bother me AS MUCH. If that makes any sense. LOL
Georgia is a state with a ton of different promotions that run regularly, or semi-regularly. For my money what sets Empire apart is the emphasis on long term storylines, where the fans are rewarded for coming week after week (or bi-week after bi-week as the case may be). What are the challenges of booking long term storylines for an independent promotion in 2015? How far out in advance do you plan things, and what sort of process do you go through when trying to map out how to best utilize the talent roster?
I won’t pretend that it is easy. It’s tough. It’s stressful. You have things planned and guys can’t make shows or something crazy happens and things have to change on the fly. I think we’ve done such a great job of turning chicken sh*t into chicken salad so many times. Countless times. Guys decide Empire isn’t right for them and quit right when you’re going to do something big with them and you have readjust, sometimes in as few as two hours. When you work, you worry about one match. When you book, you worry about every match that ever happens. You can do the math.
Different things are booked in different ways/time frames. I have a better understanding of why major promotions like to hotshot some things, build to the blowoff, and move on. Everyone’s attention span is shorter. People want more and more and new and different. I try my best to build things and make them mean more. Even the smaller things. It’s even harder when you want to have multiple stories with multiple people. I also do little things. Sometimes very little things. If people that come every week watch and notice later one it will make them go “Ohhhhh. Now I get it.” I’m fully aware that sometimes the average person isn’t going to catch it. But what if that one guy that cares enough to keep up with the small things sees it and appreciates the detail. Then the goal is accomplished. You can probably tell how long winded I am by reading this. When I tell someone a story, every detail is important. When you read a book or watch a movie, do you want the bullet points or the details? If you’re interested, you want every piece to put the puzzle together.
When I started booking, it was “Okay. Let’s build to a big show and have a War Games blowoff.” Clearly a formula I took from my days spent at Anarchy Wrestling in Cornelia, GA. It was six months in advance. The started booking in the fall of 2011. I knew who would win the title in December of 2012 on the first day. That’s 15 months. Shaun Tempers was undefeated champion for almost 18 months. I debated who would dethrone him for about 3 months and knew would do it for 15. Do I know the majority of the card for Tooth & Nail 5 in April of 2016? I sure do.
We build to the four Mega Events. They are known to be “Can’t Miss”. But we do some amazing things at the weekly or bi-weekly shows as well. Do the big pieces first and then fill in the blanks. I toy with ideas that can get us where we need to be. I get suggestions from other people sometimes. A lot of times, I reject the ideas, but a lot of times I don’t. It just depends on what feels right at the time and for the situation. Not every guy gets to shine bright at every single show. But I definitely try to give every guy a chance to really shine at some shows.
As far as best utilizing the talent, I try to give people a chance. I don’t want to judge a book by it’s cover. If you give a guy a shot and he totally tanks, that’s not your fault. He has to re-evalueate himself. Sometimes guys can really give you something though. Learn their limits. Find a way that they can give you something extra. If they show up, listen, and try, that’s the ONLY thing I need to give them opportunity. We have/have had guys that COULD NOT work. I mean have zero clue about the psychology of the sport. That doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the show. That doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to learn and improve. We’ve had guys that so many people wanted to write off. I mean had no faith in. I could see the effort though. They showed up. They listened. They tried. They knew enough to know they didn’t know enough. What do you get a few years later? A solid locker room that I would put up against any independent promotion on the planet.
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Empire, and your work as a booker. That said a lot of the readers of this interview are probably unfamiliar with the promotion. In fact this is generally true of Southern indie promotions, regardless of how well booked they are or how well they draw. What do you think has hindered the visibility of independent wrestling in the South relative to independent wrestling in the Northeast?
I honestly can’t answer that question. I don’t understand it. I don’t really understand either side of the coin. I don’t really get why promotions in the South don’t draw by the thousands. Especially the good ones. Sometimes I think wrestling has just been presented so poorly in the South that people hear the word wrestling and think of a broken down ring with both extremely overweight or underweight guys having a fake fight. Doesn’t sound too appealing to pay money to see. I also don’t see how a lot of promotions in other areas of the country do so well. I’m not a huge fan of the “ROH” style. I’m not knocking those guys. They’re amazing and some of the best wrestlers in the world have come from that system. It just seems like the guys are very similar. The matches are kind of similar. The presentation is similar. Every guy is “the best wrestler in the world”. How many “best wrestlers in the world” can there really be? I hope that makes some sense. It does to me. I know “that style” is all the rage and everyone wants to reproduce it, but I like to see a little mixture of things. Maybe it’s simply because they’re able to go to different towns and get the group of fans that like that style to come out and we’re in the same general area every week.
Being unbiased, I think the Empire product should be seen by so many more people. I just know if we took our weekly show and put it in front of 1,500 people, they would enjoy it and feel they got their moneys worth as much as the 150 people we may see on any given Saturday. It’s not just Empire that doen’t get the crowd it should. Any promotion in the Southeast that is giving any kind of quality, should be seen by more.
Fans can see matches anywhere. Some bad, some good. Empire gives something different. We have had countless great matches. “Five-star Indy Classics” that people love so much. But we’ve also had some great stories. Real emotion. Tears of sadness. Tears of joy. We’ve had some hilarious moments that anyone could enjoy. Bloody brawls…Technical masterpieces…Action…Drama…Comedy…I try to consider a little bit of everyone when shuffling through ideas. I’m a very tough critic. So if I’m pleased, I think that could work for the majority. I prefer to see the majority’s faces Saturday night rather than the minority. Maybe that’s a flaw of mine.
Despite that last question, you might be interested to know that there are people all over the globe watching at least some Empire matches. For example, I know someone from Ireland who absolutely loved the Shaun Tempers v. Logan Alvey Cage Match from this years Tooth and Nail show. How does it feel to know that there are people on the other side of the planet who are watching and enjoying shows you have booked?
That goes back to part of my last very long answer. Our product could hold up to a lot of people. I’m not saying we should be on the WWE level, but I have zero doubt that a few thousand people could really sink their teeth into our product. I honestly didn’t know we’re reaching fans all over the world. I’m starting to hear that. First it was some fans in the Carolinas are coming down for the big show. Then it’s some guys in England hit up the Facebook page. Now this. That’s insane to think about, but drives home the fact that we do a good, quality wrestling show.
I take a ton of pride in leading the charge. I don’t do it alone. Not even close. I don’t want to ever, ever have anyone think something like that. I may call the plays, but I have guys and staff that run the plays beautifully. Some of the talent referred to the match you mentioned as “a work of art”. I don’t surround myself with brown-nosers and people know I’m honest and want honesty. I assume they meant the whole build and the reaction of the finish of the match, but we told a good story. A nice, intricate little wrestling story that anyone could understand. It’s beyond amazes me that people outside of the Southeast, much less the country enjoy what we do.
I have heard you say in the past that Gunner (of TNA fame) and Gunner Miller (former UTC football player, and Empire regular) were the two guys you have worked with who you felt absolutely belonged in the big leagues. I don’t want to put you in an awkward spot, but are there any other guys you have worked with or booked over the years who you thought belonged in the WWE, or at the very least deserved to be on a bigger stage?
Not an awkward spot for me. I would have no issue telling anyone what I think their strengths and weaknesses are. The two Gunners (TNA and Miller) are the only two guys that I have worked with that I KNEW the WWE would be making a mistake by not at least hiring and giving a chance. But I’ve worked with more than a dozen guys that could shine on brighter stage. If the business was a little different (less cosmetic) or it was a different era (more places to work) a lot of guys would be on TV somewhere.
Look at the Iceberg and Tank from ten years ago. Could they possibly do some great stuff in the WWE now? Probably. Could they have worked with Hogan and Savage the way The Twin Towers did? Absolutely. Look at some of the Anarchy talent I worked with. Judas is a monster. Jeremy Vain is just an amazing top-notch performer. Azrael and Slim J are so creative. Truitt Fields and Patrick Bentley could go and also looked like a million bucks. Billy Buck is such a good old-school baby face. Jeff G. Bailey is as good as 90% of the managers that have ever existed. Hell, Dan Wilson is too. Adam Jacobs may be the biggest waste of talent I’ve ever seen. Waste meaning not paid thousands of dollars per match. Bobby Hayes is in that same league. Steve Walters has made it to NXT (Dash Wilder) and he’s a guy no one would have really picked to get to that level. That is in no way a knock on him. I love that guy. It’s just that the talent pool was so damn deep. His old partner, Derek Drivers wasn’t human. He was this odd alien sent here with the perfect body and endless abilities. Sometimes, sadly, it’s about luck and seizing an opportunity.
There’s some good guys at Empire that I could see on a grander stage one day. Top two being the veterans Shaun Tempers and Ace Rockwell. If Tempers had stay just that little bit more focused on diet and staying in the gym. There was a point he looked great, but not John Cena great. Same with Rockwell. He could get distracted with other goals and personal wants. Things that almost everyone wants, but don’t always mix well with chasing that dream. Kyle Matthews is the best. But how good would he have to be to be signed being less than six-feet tall? Same with a Joey Lynch, a Logan Alvey, a KT Hamill. They could be molded into WWE Superstars one day. What stops Johnny Viper from living in the gym? What stops Matt Fortune from taking the next step. They stop themselves. Some guys want it that much more. Some guys are born with something extra. Some guys just get lucky. Simple as that. Even I could have made a nice living doing some jobs on those old WCW B-Rate TV shows. Not fair to point out other guys short comings, so here’s mine. I wanted it more than anything in the world, but I didn’t want it enough. I waited too long to bust ass in the gym. I waited too long to try to put all of it together. I didn’t stay focused like most of the guys that do make it. People can make it, in anything, but you have to give 100% 100% of the time. I didn’t.
Empire seems to have had great success running as a bi-weekly promotion that builds to major shows once a quarter or so. In some respects this is similar to the old WWF model. I know from listening to the Midnight Black Mass podcast that you co-host with Dan Wilson that you were a big WWF fan as a kid. I have no clue what Empire owner Drew Delight’s influences were, but i’m curious – is this business model consciously based on WWF model of years past or is it something that just naturally came to be? Also, who came up with the names for Empire’s “Big Four” events?
I did grow up a WWF fan. I watched anything and everything, but I knew that WWF was the show. Look at the talent and characters they had in the late 80s and early 90s. So some things are consciously based on some of that old format. A lot comes from what I learned from watching Bill Behrens and others operate NWA Anarchy. A lot I learned there was what not to do as well. I believe that’s just as important sometimes. Another “influence” is I want the product to seem as professional as possible. We have a very strict budget so some great ideas have never and will never see the light of day. But when people hear “pro wrestling” they are going to think “Oh. Like on TV? WWE?” So I want the product to strike people as “This is kind of like on TV”. That doesn’t mean I rip off WWE (ESPECIALLY currently WWE). It just means I want the show to look as large as possible. I have heard fans say things like “That wasn’t like WWE. That was real” or “That was better than the TNA show we went to”. We’ve had crowds larger than a lot of the TNA house shows in recent memory. I’m not saying that we’re a better promotion obviously, but it’s nice to hear and see things like that. Especially since we’ve never really used any “Names” like a lot of shows do.
Building to one “big event” a season is a nice balance. It’s enough time to really tell some stories, but not too long to get bored with it. Outside of the four big events, we’ve done some special shows in between. We’ve traveled to the D-1 training facility in Chattanooga. Every Christmas night we have a pretty big show. The past two years (as well as this year) we feature the Chasing The Grail Tournament with the winner receiving the chance to main event Chasing The Grail and face the Empire Champion for the title. There’s been ladder matches and other gimmick matches outside of the “Big Four”. We’ve done Battlebowl: The Lethal Lottery. Plus we’ve just had “regular ol’ shows” that we left leaving saying “Man that’ll be tough to top at the big show.” I want people to want to be at every show. To need to be.
As far as the names go. I use to fantasy book in my head on long drives. What would I do if I could book a show. I’d have the biggest event of the year called Tooth & Nail. Dokken’s Without Warning would set the stage for the storm that was about to come and break into the Tooth & Nail theme song to get the crowd pumped. Fast forward…..It is my goal, whether we stop at Tooth & Nail 5 or make it to Tooth & Nail 35, that people know and come to expect that that is THE show. We’ve already started planting the seeds. War Games at 1. The Illuminati vs Rejects clash at 2. The career ending at 3. This year Shaun Tempers’ historic title reign ended at 4. We’ve had special “themed” entrances and amazing videos produced. Something I have really NEVER seen at an independent show. That show is my baby. I hope one day, a fan, a wrestler, someone, anyone leaves that show and says “Andrew Alexander did that. He gave us that.”
The others aren’t quite as historic, but have created quite the buzz in their own rights. Crazy From The Heat is probably our second biggest night of the year and in some ways, some matches have surpassed T&N. The name came from the same type of brainstorming years ago.
I love the Winter event. It simply came to be by long time fan of wrestling in the area and cameraman, David Pierce text me after T&N1 and said “You should have a Winter show called “Long Cold Winter”. I replied with “Done.” Chasing The Grail came last and was simply a case of I need a name for this big show. Let’s try to make sure the titles are center stage and go with Chasing The Grail. It’s the final Mega Event of the year, but with the Tournament to crown a number one contender, it certainly sets the stage to go into the New Year with new stories.