Friday, December 19, 2014

An inside look at the Philadelphia-based Extreme Rising

World Wrestling Entertainment is the biggest professional wrestling company in the world today. It will be in that position for quite a long time.

An inside look at the Philadelphia-based Extreme Rising

Extreme Rising promoter Steve O´Neill. (Photo courtesy of Steve O´Neill.)
Extreme Rising promoter Steve O'Neill. (Photo courtesy of Steve O'Neill.)

World Wrestling Entertainment is the biggest professional wrestling company in the world today. It will be in that position for quite a long time.

At the head of the company is Vince McMahon and underneath him are hundreds of people who are great at their specific job within the company. It is a massive feet.

There is only one WWE. There are hundreds of other wrestling companies in the world. None of them compare to the glitz and glamour of what McMahon has built.

On the opposite end of the bright lights of the WWE, is the dim, or sometimes malfunctioning lights of independent wrestling — the kind of wrestling you do not see on major television networks with high-definition cameras and tens of thousands of spectators.

The Philadelphia-based Extreme Rising is one of these promotions. At the head is Northeast Philadelphia native Steve O’Neill. Underneath him is virtually no one.

So Steve, how many people are working for Extreme Rising on a day-to-day basis?

“You’re looking at him,” he said.

When O’Neill does feel the need to delegate some responsibility within the promotion he usually looks to his brother and his wife.

“I try to not put too much on other people,” O’Neill said. “Not that I don’t trust people. I don’t want to over-tax them.”

O’Neill said he does the bulk of the work for the promotion and his virtual solo efforts will culminate Saturday, Dec. 28 at the former ECW Arena in South Philadelphia.

O’Neill will have to worry almost everything — from the shape the arena is in, to starting the show on time. The latter is apparently easier said than done on the independent scene.

He’s already had to deal with the difficulties with the company’s PayPal account, which didn’t allow fans to purchase tickets to the show properly. More problems may arise as the show nears.

The show Dec. 28 will be called “Unfinished Business.”

The title is very fitting, as the promotion quite literally has a lot of unfinished business. Dec. 28 will be the promotion’s first show in nearly a year and will not only attempt to put some life back into it, but to also re-gain the trust of those in and out of the wrestling industry.

That’s will also be easier said than done as the promotion saw some dark days in the beginning of 2013.

O’Neill himself grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from Archbishop Ryan High School. He said that he was always a wrestling fan, but his childhood dream was to get into the music business.

O’Neill eventually got into the music business as a disc jockey playing club music. He loved the music from 2 Live Crew out of Miami so much, that his DJ name was “Mr. Miami and wanted to move to Florida and start a radio career.

When O’Neill wasn’t spinning records, he watched the World Wrestling Federation and the National Wrestling Alliance during the 1980s.

O’Neill took a break from wrestling before stumbling upon the Universal Wrestling Federation, which was run by “Cowboy” Bill Watts.

After UWF closed its doors, O’Neill said he stopped watching wrestling again. O’Neill admitted he was never a huge fan of the WWF as he saw it as a cheesy product.

But one night while DJ’ing at a bar, he looked up at the television and saw a two out of three falls Extreme Championship Wrestling match between Rey Mysterio and Psychosis.

O’Neill said that he couldn’t take his eyes off the screen and fell back in love with wrestling, mainly ECW.

“I never saw anything like that wrestling wise before,” O’Neill said. “Then this match is two out of three falls on TV? Like this whole thing? It was crazy and the crowd was nuts.”

O’Neill was one of many fans that missed what ECW represented thought there was void left in the wrestling business when the company closed its doors in 2001.

“Why isn’t there a company that has the extreme spirit, that ECW spirit,” O’Neill asked himself. “I think that can still work today.”

“It’s not going to necessarily compete with Vince McMahon, but it doesn’t necessarily have to either,” he added.

He said that he then shared his idea with Kevin Kleinrock while the two worked for the Urban Wrestling Federation.

Kleinrock advised him to get in touch with a good friend of ECW legend Shane Douglas to see if Douglas would be interested in being a partner in the company.

O’Neill said that he met with Douglas and pitched him his idea for a new extreme wrestling company.

According to O’Neill, Douglas wanted to start an extreme promotion overseas. O’Neill said that he’d thought it would be better to start in the United State first and then make their way to other countries once the promotion gains a good footprint.

“Let’s use ECW guys that can still go. Let’s book guys that if ECW was around today they would be in ECW,” O’Neill said he told Douglas.

From this meeting formed a five-way partnership with each partner having their own set of responsibilities and duties.

Douglas and his friend were to handle the old ECW wrestlers and take part in media interviews for the promotion.

O’Neill’s brother was to handle what he called the “street team” duties, which is essentially helping to promote the company at the grassroots level.

Kleinrock was to do what he does best, licensing and some occasional booking. O’Neill’s job was to promote and market the company on a larger scale.

The first Extreme Reunion show took place at the National Guard Armory at 2700 Southampton Road in April 2012, and was considered a major success from a business standpoint. The show drew around 2,000 people and garnered quite a bit of buzz from wrestling fans.

Creatively, not everything on the show was well received, but for the most part the show came off as a success.

“We basically started with no money,” O’Neill said. “I put a few bucks up to get some things started, but for the most part we did it as a calculated risk. It was a great risk. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”

The promotion looked as if it had hit the ground running, but despite creative improvements, attendance wasn’t very stellar on the next couple of shows.

Adding to those problems was the fact that poor tickets sales forced a series of cancellations that not only cost the promotion money, but also cost the company a lot of good will it had with the fans.

The promotion was forced to cancel three shows around WrestleMania this past April due to lackluster ticket sales and lack of arena availability.

“If we would have went through with the show at WrestleMania we would have been hurt beyond repair,” O’Neill said.

The damage had already been done, however. Douglas removed himself from the company, which forced the promotion to take a hiatus.

O’Neill said that he had took it upon himself to fix all of the damage caused with the cancellations — even if it mean doing it alone.

“I had to take this over because I’m in a financial hole and I need to correct it,” O’Neill said. “I need to be able to do things and not have red tape and not have other people questioning things.”

Before he could put on a show, he had to ensure the performers that working for him at some point would be worth their while.

Because of this, some of the talents were reluctant to work for the promotion again because of the cancellations in the spring.

“They all want to believe,” O’Neill said. “Its not just wrestling, it’s entertainment in general. Things get canceled. Ticket sales were not good. What do you want me to do? You want me to do the shows in April? You come in and we have crappy houses {attendance). The morale would be down and then I can’t pay you. Then I would have to work out payment arrangements and you’re still going to be pissed off.”

O’Neill said the veteran performers took the cancellations in stride whereas the younger talents were the ones who were more vocal with their frustrations.

“I remember some of those guys,” O’Neill said. “I put on my Facebook page that I will remember the people who stand by me and I’ll remember the people who won’t stand by me.”

“There are some people who are directly not booked on this show and I don’t care of use them any time in the near future,” he added.

Despite the hurdles, O’Neill was able secure some big-name talents such as Matt Hardy, Stevie Richards, Sabu, the Blue Meanie and Rhino. He also landed some up-and-comers such as Luke Hawx and Façade.

“I think for the most part right now we have everybody on the show that we’re able to have on the show,” O’Neill said.

With a number of talents signed and a sell-out crowd expected, everything seems to be in place for Extreme Rising to come back in a big way on Dec. 28.

Despite the accomplishment of getting the promotion back off the ground, there are still many challenges that lie ahead of O’Neill.

He still has a lot to work to do for the Dec. 28 show and has to start gearing up the promotion on the company’s show in Pittsburgh Feb. 8.

O’Neill also has to oversee the promotion’s one-hour television show, which is scheduled to debut Saturday, Jan. 1 at 10 p.m. All subsequent episodes are scheduled to air on Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

But until then, O’Neill will work countless hours making sure that everything is running smoothly within the promotion.

He said his body clock wakes him at around 4 a.m. most days and he began this particular one (Dec. 4) doing ticket orders and interview requests with the various wrestlers that are working for the promotion.

“I don’t plan to do wrestling forever,” O’Neill said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to do it. I would like to see Extreme Rising be able to do arenas that are 1,500-2,500 people. I don’t need to do more than that.”

Vaughn Johnson Sports Producer
About this blog
The Squared Circle is a one-stop shop of pro wrestling news, recaps and observations. You can also enjoy interviews with some of your favorite stars from the world of professional wrestling both nationally and locally. Reach Vaughn at vjohnson@philly.com.

Vaughn Johnson Sports Producer
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