TAMPA ― Rock ‘n’ roll helped turn the WWE mainstream.
In the 1980s, musician Cyndi Lauper became an on-screen character for the promotion when professional wrestling was a niche form of entertainment. MTV profiled her exploits and showcased matches in which she was involved as a manager.
That coverage led to the first WrestleMania, which propelled the WWE to a global promotion.
But, as the WWE ascended, the National Wrestling Alliance, once the marquee brand in professional wrestling, descended and became an afterthought. Decades later, NWA is coming back, this time with the help of another music industry star.
The NWA’s owner? It’s Billy Corgan, frontman of The Smashing Pumpkins.
Fans can get a firsthand look at his product when the NWA films three shows in Tampa — a pay per view event on Feb. 11 and YouTube episodes over the next two days.
“It’s a unique opportunity to see the show live and how we make television,” Corgan said.
When he purchased the NWA five years ago, Corgan said, it was akin to a “band who no one takes seriously.”
Since then, he’s started streaming series and pay per views, signed recognizable former WWE stars like Trevor Murdock and current NWA world champion Tyrus, and established himself as an onscreen character to bring mainstream attention to the promotion as it builds up new talent.
Now, he said, the NWA is “the equivalent of a band playing clubs and small theaters. We’re building an audience, brick by brick, around the country. The NWA can rise again to international prominence.”
Longtime local fans are likely familiar with the NWA.
Beginning in the late 1940s, it served as a national umbrella organization for regional promotions, such as the Tampa-based Championship Wrestling from Florida that made stars out of performers like Dusty Rhodes, Jack and Gerald Brisco, Boris Malenko and Eddie Graham.
“The idea behind the NWA was that the territorial promotions were going to recognize one wrestler as the world champion,” said George Schire, a professional wrestling author whose books include “Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling.” “Up until that time frame, various promotions all over the country listed so and so on their card as a world champion with no background to why they were champion.”
Other national organizations emerged, including the WWE, then known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, but “the NWA remained the largest through the 1960s and ’70s,” Schire said. But, by the 1980s, as top stars joined the growing WWE, it became harder for the NWA’s regional promoters to continue running their cards.
Many territories, such as Tampa’s, stopped operations. The NWA never recovered.
That’s around when Corgan, who grew up watching wrestling in Chicago, said his fandom went on hold.
“The Attitude Era got me back,” he said.
The Attitude Era is when, in the 1990s and led by the Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion, the industry took on an edgier style that, when adopted by the WWE, helped make global stars out of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Corgan had a story about the first time he met ECW owner Paul Heyman. “He cut a five-minute promo on how I influenced his wrestling promotion. It was the grunge version of wrestling.”
That led to Corgan appearing on an ECW show to crack a guitar over a wrestler’s head in 2000.
Fellow musicians looked down on his involvement, Corgan said. “The moment I saw rock ‘n’ roll disapprove of my love of wrestling, I was all in. I’m a contrarian. I caught the bug and learned about the business.”
In 2011, he helped form the Chicago-based Resistance Pro Wrestling promotion that seemed destined for bigger things when, in 2014, AMC planned a reality show following Corgan’s behind-the-scenes exploits.
“Then AMC canceled all unscripted programming,” he said. “I thought that was the end of my time” in professional wrestling.
But, a year later, the Total Nonstop Action promotion asked Corgan to join the writing team for their cable television show.
“That was a unique opportunity to be a part of wrestling from the inside out,” he said. But, when he left the promotion in 2016 due to financial disagreements, he thought he was really done with professional wrestling.
A year later, the NWA opportunity came up.
“And here we are,” Corgan said. “It was like that old house on the market that everyone knew about, but no one wanted. I came along and saw real value in it. Five years later, we’re producing 100 hours of television and five pay per view events in 2023.”
The success is in large part due to Corgan, said Mike McCord, a Tampa native who wrestled as Austin Idol for the NWA in its heyday and now, under that name, portrays an on-screen manager for the promotion.
“Billy’s a genius,” he said. “He’s extremely passionate. He’s taken it from the ashes to something new that is getting a lot of attention.”
One change is that it’s no longer an umbrella organization, but rather its own promotion.
A similarity from his days as a wrestler, McCord said, is “the physicality. You have to be tough to be in the NWA. They’re not baking cupcakes out there.”
It’s portrayed as legitimate competition rather than a soap opera.
“I am told repeatedly that our style of wrestling is antiquated,” Corgan said. “Yet, when I talk to fans, they recognize the style is why the NWA is growing again. I like to think the UFC stole what made wrestling great — the physical ‘you versus me’ nature of it all.”
If you go
The “Nuff Said” pay per view event is at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the Egypt Shrine Center, 5017 E. Washington St. in Tampa.
Tapings of the streaming shows “NWA Powerrr” and “NWA USA” are at 2 p.m. on Feb. 12 and at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 , at WEDU, 1300 N Boulevard. Both shows are taped each day.
The public can attend all three events.
Tickets are available at NWATix.com.