Dynamite Cup: The World's Youngest Booker Is For The Children
Almost every story of a wrestling fan begins with,
"When I was little..."
A little over a year ago, a video from an independent wrestling show, the Dynamite Cup 2017 was brought to my attention. The premise of it alone was enough to give me all sorts of warm tinglies; the booker of the show let one of his young sons, Nolie, book the entirety of a battle royal. It was appropriately named the Nolie Rumble. I was delighted for the rest of the day and felt the need to share this video with at least six people via text message. The consensus was unanimous: this was one of the cutest and most heartwarming things to happen in this dumb, dumb pastime. I immediately followed the booker, Tom Green (not that one), on Twitter and was pleased to confirm what I hoped to be true: that he was an all-around good guy who cared a lot about the growth of independent wrestling in his home of Indiana. But even stronger than that was his love for his children, and his desire to create a space where they and others could enjoy wrestling in a space that was safe, kind, and inclusive. With the Dynamite Cup 2018 approaching, I reached out to Tom to talk about independent wrestling, the ins and outs of booking an event on your own, and how fatherhood impacted his perspective of creating all-inclusive spaces.
Talk a bit about your history with indie wrestling. How did you get into it in this capacity?
To make a long story short - I thought I knew what I was doing until someone else did too.
In 2007, my friend Mikey Blanton (now promoter of Black Label Pro) wanted to start running shows, and brought me on to bounce ideas off of because he knew I watched everything on the indies obsessively and was very opinionated about wrestling online -- clearly an excellent reason to hire someone for wrestling duties. I had just graduated high school and was not nearly smart or mature enough to be involved. We ran two shows under the Fight Sports Midwest banner (both on YouTube in full) that were clearly run by two kids who had too much money at their disposal. We brought in Samoa Joe during his hot TNA run with Kurt Angle to wrestle Eddie Kingston, Tiger Mask IV from New Japan to wrestle Mike Quackenbush, Marty Jannetty to work with the-now Seth Rollins, Bryan Alvarez to wrestle Larry Sweeney - very weird and very expensive matches.
To be honest, it might have had a chance in 2018 now that indies are succeeding by running weird dream matches with clever online marketing. But the world wasn't ready for it (and neither of us were mature enough to make it work).
A few years later, Billy Roc (Indiana indie wrestler, trainer of stars like Ruby Riott, and the namesake of the Dynamite Cup) asked me to help with some video production for a small indie he was helping book here in Lafayette. After things went south with Billy and this group, he began sporadically putting together projects and events for his training school - the School of Roc - that he was kind enough to ask me to help with. If you look on YouTube, you can find my one and only appearance as a ring announcer on a School of Roc event, where I accidentally stalled the show when I dropped my cards and couldn't see them under the bright lights.
From that, we began Class Wars - an online/YouTube project for his students to establish their characters, get promo time, and essentially have a ton of free video resume material for promoters. I believe it was one of the first wrestling shows to embrace the season format (13 episodes), as well as the "talking head" promo format that wrestling took from documentaries and reality shows. I absolutely am not delusional enough to think anyone stole either concept from Class Wars, though I am humbled by how many young wrestlers and fans tell me they watched Class Wars during its run in 2012.
That all ended when Class Wars became the Wrestling is Heart live events (a sub-division of Chikara during their shutdown storyline in 2013), as there was no need to have me around to write and produce video when the Chikara infrastructure was involved. I took time off, as being involved in wrestling full-time was awful for my mental health. It made me a mean, impatient person who probably would have destroyed his marriage if he didn't get out when he did.
After my break, I took on a couple of commentary projects for Illinois-based VWAA and Underground Wrestling (the latter of which I was lucky enough to be able to help do some booking for) for short periods of time, but was able to keep it limited as I came to grips with my anxiety and depression (which I'm currently coping with, through both therapy and medication).
So, that's a long story about how I did some things. I don't know how important it is on the grand scale, but it's important to lay out for the Dynamite Cup picture to find out how I made contacts and friendships that made the annual shows happen.
A lot of new fans struggle with understanding what it takes to run an independent promotion or event. What do you think would surprise a new fan the most about how things go on your end?
The biggest surprise would be all of the logistics work. It's not like you can feasibly order 20 plane tickets and have your dream card's worth of wrestlers only do your show on any chosen weekend. They are real people who get in cars and drive long miles for their trade. You need to keep in mind routing with other shows on the same weekend, who can ride with who, who asks to bring other wrestlers with them for a look-see, and so on. You don't just dump a bunch of human action figures in a gym and have a show.
as someone who suffers from terrible anxiety issues - putting on a wrestling show will test your anxiety at every waking moment
Along those lines, you also need to be able to earn everyone's trust. The performers, your ring crew, the building coordinator, and the fans. You can't just tell a wrestler you want them to do X, Y, and Z the first time you talk to them. Learn how to word your ideas and be up for collaboration - but also have a backbone. As nice as a lot of wrestlers I have encountered are, it is generally easy to sniff out someone who just wants to play booker, or who looks at it more as a fan than a businessperson. That's how you end up with cards where everyone gets to do their own thing and nothing gels.
Also - as someone who suffers from terrible anxiety issues - putting on a wrestling show will test your anxiety at every waking moment. Even on the one-shot Dynamite Cup shows that I do, I have cried more times than I care to admit because of how scared I am of literally any and every detail not working out. Be honest with yourself and make sure to engage in self-care often.
The Dynamite Cup is coming up in about a month, and one of the things that’s interesting about it to me is that it primarily will feature talent from the Midwest. What inspired that choice? What’s the Midwest indie scene looking like these days?
the goal of the Dynamite Cup is to be that sampler platter for the next wave of Midwestern indie wrestling talent.
You look to Illinois - the GALLI Training School in Villa Park (suburb of Chicago) is turning out some wonderful wrestlers in the pure lucha libre style. The school itself is probably best known from Mustafa Ali's great 205 Live promos and Twitter videos he's made of himself practicing lucha techniques. But you have wrestlers like DJZ and Gringo Loco (of AIW fame) - along with genuine luchadores from Mexico - pumping out a ton of great young athletes. Take Pat Monix - who reminds me a ton of a young Seth Rollins. Great look, good size, and as athletic and creative as any wrestler out there. If I'm a talent scout, he's "can't miss".
A lot of talent are finding their ways onto better and better shows with experience, but most promoters want to invest in bigger stars - "the sure thing", if you will. Artistically, the goal of the Dynamite Cup is to be that sampler platter for the next wave of Midwestern indie wrestling talent and show promoters and fans that these guys are capable and ready to carry promotions and events.
Another thing that’s fascinating to me about this show is that proceeds from the Dynamite Cup are going towards Together We Rise, which rules. You don’t hear too often about shows acting as fundraisers, was this always part of the plan?
Yes. There has never been a point where the Dynamite Cup was not planned to be a fundraiser.
After pulling myself out of working regularly in indie wrestling, I would commonly get "the itch" to produce a show(s) of some kind, but they never got beyond me jotting ideas down in a Word document because I did not have that extra bit of motivation.
A couple of years ago, my wife Alex and I became parents - adopting our sons Eric & Nolie through foster care. Between their stories, the tales you hear from other foster parents, and the training classes you have to go through, it's hard not to want to move heaven and Earth to help more kids. But, it just isn't possible for us logistically. The idea came up in our house to do something to give back to children in foster care because of how our family found each other and became whole through it. That idea rolled together with my itch to want to produce wrestling - and here we are.
I am extremely lucky to know some of the most talented performers in indie wrestling, beginning to grow some incredible followings of their own. On top of their talent, they are also some of the kindest individuals who are willing to give their time and talent to help us help these kids who were dealt a bad hand in life. I firmly believe in serving others before self, and I'm so thrilled that I know others who feel the same way.
Your son Nolie plays a pretty fundamental part in the Dynamite Cup. You have a pretty unique position where you get to combine being a promoter directly with being a dad. Has having kids in your life impacted the way you think about wrestling?
Nolie has completely changed the way I look at wrestling. Getting to be involved on the other side of the curtain is a huge honour, but a terrible curse at the same time. It's hard not to get jaded by the experience. Watching Nolie fall in love with wrestling - without any of my biases or experiences - has been one of the biggest thrills of my life. It isn't uncommon for children in foster care to take an extremely long time to bond with new parents. Nolie clung to me quickly, and a big part of that quick bond was him discovering wrestling and us getting to share that passion.
As I mentioned before, I am so lucky to know so many wonderful people who work on all levels of the wrestling industry. Every single one of them have been incredibly wonderful and welcoming to Nolie, bending over backwards to give him unique positive experiences. When I was 4, I only knew of wrestlers as these quasi-cartoon characters in a TV box. My parents tried their hardest and gave me a lot, but I came into their lives at a point where they were looking to slow down. I didn't get to do a lot of cool bonding stuff with my dad. My brother-in-law took me to a couple of live events, but you could only get so close to the action at WWF & WCW events. I'm extremely thankful for what I was provided with, but I'm in a position where I can give Nolie so much more than I was able to experience.
Nolie has gotten to meet so many of his heroes. He is genuinely friends with some of his favourite wrestlers. Heck - he has a finishing move that he has done to a wrestler during a wrestling show. What preschooler has a finishing move?
Imagine being a child and knowing that someone who is practically a superhero to you is your friend. There are performers that regularly appear on WWE TV that know who he is and have built relationships and bonds with him. That's SO cool. That would have been heaven to a lot of us as kids. On top of the thrill of being able to experience these things, I want him to see this proof that you can grow up and live your dreams. It isn't impossible, and these wrestlers he gets to befriend are proof of that.
(As a side-note - if anyone reading this has a hookup with the Power Rangers, please let me know. My older son Eric doesn't care one bit about wrestling, and I feel awful because I can't make things happen within the Power Rangers world for him that I can within wrestling for Nolie. I want to give my boys the world in healthy doses. My biggest joy in the world is seeing their joy in discovering the world, and I hope everyone reading this can feel that type of happiness in their lives.)
With the Nolie Rumble, it started as a silly idea - every tournament show on the indies has some filler multi-person match with no consequences as a buffer before the finals. So easy a kid could book it, right? As a goof, I started asking Nolie for ideas on what he would do with a battle royal. At three years old, he laid out a pretty decent-sounding, simple match (with some editing, of course). So, I gave him the reigns. Obviously, he's not giving out his Paul Heyman "Welcome to the Dance" speeches, but I sit down with him and have him give me ideas. It's up to me to book talent that either fit within his ideas (last year, he asked for giants - I got him a 7-footer and a dude who stood 6'9), or people he specifically asked for (like his Uncle James, who occasionally wrestles as Big Sue Jackson), and slightly modify his ideas to work within the context of a wrestling match.
Occasionally, conflicts have arisen. This year, he asked if we could put our dog Archie in the Nolie Rumble. I tried explaining to him that it was not safe for doggies to be in the wrestling ring, and he wasn't having it for a while. I finally showed him some pictures of an Indianapolis-area wrestler named Shawn Kemp who does a dog-themed gimmick and he thought it was funny. Problem solved.
But other than some slight edits, the match is 100% from the mind of the world's youngest booker.
Independent wrestling’s kinda become a bit of a space for 18+ smarks, or at least in my own experience. But when I think about that, I always say to myself, “Geez, kids would probably go nuts for this.” Especially considering that indie tickets are usually miles cheaper than WWE Live events. Where do you think the all-ages show fits in today’s wrestling landscape?
There are some areas where it still very much is that way, and often aren't covered as well online because the online wrestling fanbase consists of those adults mentioned.
Professional wrestling is one of the most kid-friendly artforms in the world. Good guys fighting bad guys, bright colours, simple stories, over the top characters - it's a cartoon you can reach out and touch. Rarely do you hear of a wrestling fan who found wrestling as an adult. Almost every story of a wrestling fan begins with, "When I was little...".
Occasionally, conflicts have arisen. This year, he asked if we could put our dog Archie in the Nolie Rumble.
Family-friendly indie shows need to exist as a gateway for new fans. You can go to WWE twice a year in your home state, but you probably won't be close to the action. With indie wrestling, every seat is practically front row. You can yell at a bad guy and they'll yell back at you. You can cheer for the good guy and your energy can help them fight back. You can't chant for Spiderman in a theatre and have Spidey look at the camera to make sure you know that he's feeding off of your energy. At an indie wrestling show, that's possible.
These popular indies who cater toward older fans are awesome and necessary. We live in a world where niches can exist within niches. You need a PWG or a Beyond Wrestling to exist to keep you engaged after your tastes mature. But you also need the starting point where the magic can grow inside of a child's heart.
You’ve been pretty outspoken on Twitter about making sure that the Dynamite Cup is a safe and welcoming environment. What do you think we as fans and other promoters can do to help make wrestling an all-inclusive place for everyone?
It is no secret that pro wrestling has its share of issues with inclusion. For years and years, wrestling has been a club that has been almost exclusively produced towards straight men, often white. Forces within the industry have begun to challenge that in recent years - and progress is happening. But we're nowhere near where we should be. The exhaustion of having abusers, bigots, and hatemongers still succeeding is proof of that.
For years AND YEARS, wrestling has been a club that has been almost exclusively produced towards straight men, often white.
The biggest thing is representation. The easiest way for a fan to connect with wrestling is by seeing someone like them on the screen. It's no irony that more women are watching wrestling now than at any point in years and years, as the biggest company in the industry is shining a bright light on the women on their roster. Every promoter should look at their next flyer. If it's 20 men who look and dress identically - maybe examine your operation. The goal should be to where as many people as possible - regardless of race, background, or how they identify in terms of gender - can see someone in your wrestling ring who they can vicariously live through.
More performers from varying backgrounds are popping up than ever before. The misogynistic, bigoted past of pro wrestling has hurt it for far too many years, and those who have been shunned are starting to push forward against it. Promoters need to embrace them. Don't just disregard them because they haven't gotten the experience to be perceived "as good" as your cookie cutter dudes. Give them the opportunities to either succeed or fail based on their talent and passion.
Every promoter should look at their next flyer. If it's 20 men who look and dress identically - maybe examine your operation.
And we can't settle or pat ourselves on the back just because we made a small step or two. This year's Dynamite Cup lineup is more diverse than last year's, but I can do better. I need to do better. Equality should be the goal. Not the end game - because I don't believe there is an end game with this issue. But we should be striving toward having all types of performers succeeding in professional wrestling.
Here's another hard lesson for promoters in 2018 - fans aren't dumb. You cannot just sweep issues with your talent under the table if you don't have the moral fibre to see issue with them. "They did (awful thing), but they're my friend so I have to give them a chance" doesn't fly nowadays. It is entirely possible to be friends with someone and disagree with their actions or comments. There are a lot more fans than promoters realize that cannot escape into the magical world of wrestling if they know a wrestler has done something awful, or has said something to make you believe that certain people are not welcome around them. It used to be good business to just keep a problematic performer around because of their "name value". As some are finding out the hard way, wrestling fans are the most sophisticated they have ever been about the world's issues, and will not accept an intolerant performer just because they're famous or can wrestle well.
You cannot just sweep issues with your talent under the table if you don't have the moral fibre to see issue with them.
With help and guidance from people of different backgrounds who I trust, I'm crafting a Code of Conduct to test out at the Dynamite Cup. I don't want to scare anyone away with a list of rules per se, but just saying, "Hey, don't be a jerk" doesn't work. We have to establish some sort of system to make sure every fan gets the respect they deserve as a person. Everyone deserves to feel safe and welcome within this community that we all love.
As for fans - it is exhausting. I get it. Wrestling has turned into a minefield - it feels like you can't go one whole day without discovering problematic issues with someone you like. But if you can gather the energy to do so, keep fighting. Don't let any promoter - myself included - slide if they screw up. Silence is assumed permission to continue to bring this negativity into our community. While there are a lot of amazing, wonderful people working in wrestling, there are still people who either don't care about morality or think it's "us versus them" (in that fans are "bullying" wrestlers for calling someone out on their crap). And a lot of those who are setting the industry back are ones who have influence. If fans don't speak up against allowing bigotry and abuse into our community in any way (fans or performers), the whispers of performers and management who either don't care or endorse said bigotry and abuse will continue to be the only voices heard.
I don't know if these issues can go away forever, but if we continue to make the noise, we can keep this garbage at bay.
Where can we find out more about the Dynamite Cup?
We are on Instagram & Twitter - @DynamiteCup. On Facebook, search for Dynamite Cup and our fan page and event page should be the first two pages that pop up in the search bar.
An interview with Nolie:
What’s your favorite part about your dad’s job?
"The fighting. And the wrestlers can be my friends."
Who are you most excited to see at the Dynamite Cup?
After correcting him that Dominic Garrini (who was in last year's Dynamite Cup) won't be there this year, he said "The Carnies".
If you could say one thing to ALL wrestling fans, what would you say?
"There are no bad guys at my Nolie Rumble. Only good guys. 'Cuz I'm the boss of the Nolie Rumble. Of all the wrestlers."