by Dr Debonair, Esq.
Great Bear Promotions is a wrestling company based in Cheshire that recently took a short break but, very much like its namesake, has now come out of hibernation and is hungry.
When Great Bear Promotions was established in 2012, what was the plan and did it all go to plan?
“I think when we established Great Bear the plan was to be a melting pot of British wrestling, where guys from the Midlands wrestled guys from the North etc. Obviously it went to plan as we started with matches that saw Sam Bailey take on Pete Dunne that were pretty novel at the time. Obviously the crowds weren’t great which didn’t help!
Whilst most promotions seem to have gone for a combination of “wrestling” and “entertainment”, Great Bear Promotions certainly chose a different format. How would you describe it?
Yeah the whole ‘Not Terribly Conventional’ thing comes from the fact that we’re a bit of a mash up of Puro, Indy and being frustrated hipsters. We’re not too big on angles which is why there isn’t too much of the entertainment side, I find a lot of ‘indy’ angles cringey. We stick to what we do best!”
Where did the name come from?
“A very strange brainstorming session! I think the initial idea was to give it a Japanese name similar to CHIKARA, then we worked round to Great Bear. I think we decided that as we were ripping off PWG we might as well use an animal in the name!”
Looking back at the first two years, what were the standout moments for GBP?
“I think our three big moments in the first two years were
- Zack Sabre Jr vs. Jon Gresham – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2GftfgmIC8 – Probably one of the best matches to take place in British Wrestling in recent history, it really demonstrated technical wrestling works with casual fans.
- Chris Brookes vs. Tyler Bate – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38Fehi9nFiQ – First steps for two of the breakout talents of Great Bear
- Tyler Bate vs. Ilja Dragunov – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ywsny8-O9K0 – Again a mix of two of the best young up-comers in Europe, also probably the best bit of comedy we ever pulled off.”
What caused GBP to go on a brief hiatus in June 2014 and what has brought it back?
“A couple of factors, I was pretty busy with other things in life and didn’t feel I had the time to fully commit to promoting the company. There was a bit of burnout from running shows without huge crowds too. It was always the intention to come back at some point, but it was the response that really brought us back.”
Were you surprised by the response to this from fans and wrestlers alike?
“We were! I think during our hiatus we started getting massive views on YouTube and e-mails from fans asking when we were coming back. Obviously the guys that had worked for us were eager to come back, we’ve always been unique so I think that’s counted a lot for us!”
Now that GBP is back and establishing itself once more, what’s the plans for the near future?
“We aren’t back running full time just yet, we’re on a bit of ‘Saturday Night Special’ schedule this year, so maybe 3-4 shows, moving on who knows!”
GBP has used some of the best up and coming talent and put them with very talented names, instead of pairing together “known names”. Was this a conscious decision and have there been any surprise moments?
“It has, there’s been a lot of cards that have names thrown together because they are ‘known names’ and they are just soul destroying to watch, there’s no thought about chemistry, styles or long term booking. Furthermore, what good does do it do? Who does it develop? Getting lads who are developing to work with established names is vital if the industry is to carry on long term. I think CJ Banks vs. Kenny Williams (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=719DrVb7MZk) is probably the best example where that worked for us.”
Who has been the real breakout talent(s) in GBP and what, in your mind, makes them as good as they are?
“We can’t take all the credit but Tyler Bate made his wrestling debut here and has really shone. Obviously he’s in fantastic shape and is such an amazing athlete, but he’s also got an excellent understanding of ring psychology beyond his years.
I think Chris Brookes really broke out in the north too thanks to exposure via Great Bear. He has a very unique style which helps him get over with crowds.”
For those new to GBP, which matches would you say show off the spirit of the Bear the best?
“Three matches I’d say that show us at our best are:
- Axel Dieter Jr vs. CJ Banks – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlK4qbOtOeo – This is probably a demonstration of what we do best. Axel comes in as a total unknown to a casual crowd and gets over massively as a face in a match that shows show excellent bits of technical wrestling.
- Vulture Squad vs. Dunne & Vendetta – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flqtGAh_EqQ – Again, it’s bringing a couple of niche styles of wrestling (intergender, indy) and making them work in front of a casual fan. I don’t think the video gets how over this was with the crowd on the night because it was loud!
- Kenny Williams vs. Josh Bodom – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWVoPWpmZ8g – Two young workers going at it to put on an excellent match, obviously Kenny has had a brilliant 12 months since this and Josh goes from strength to strength, but it shows the sort of guys we really try to showcase.”
What’s been the weirdest moments as a wrestling promoter?
“I’d like to present to you the story of the last show before we went on hiatus ‘The Neon Offensive.’ The entire tale is amazing, even if certain elements have to be omitted.
As you may be aware ‘The Neon Offensive’ was planned for the day after the 2014 Junior Heavyweight Cup as we had a few guys that had travelled and thought we’d try a double header weekend. We found a venue in Manchester that had a decent reputation as a bit of a thriving community place. Perfect we thought! Little did we know, although that comes a lot later in the story
So the Junior Heavyweight Cup goes off without a hitch, most of us go out in Manchester and have a decent night, booking ideas for the day after start floating about, we might put Chris Egan in a three way with Zack Sabre Jr and Sam Bailey and secured the services of CJ Banks – that all made sense to us. I lived in Manchester at the time so after its all over I go back to my flat while the others stay at a hotel. It’s 4am, and we’re supposed to be at the venue at 10.30, I think my biggest problem is gonna be a few sore heads in the morning. Nope.
So I get up in the morning and call Chris Brookes to make sure people are up and ready to go as I’m leaving my flat. ‘Yeah.. everyone’s up and ready…we have a problem’ the phone cuts out and I can’t get hold of him. What could be up? Has the hotel found out we’d doubled the occupancy? Somebody ill? What’s going on? I ring Pete Dunne who answers the phone and tells me him and Morgan Webster are looking for the police. Why? Nixon Newell’s car has been towed overnight. I get down to the hotel and the road it’s on is being used as the staging ground for a parade. We stand outside the hotel and formulate a plan, I’ll take Nixon up to the car impound the others get taxis. We just need £160 to cover the impound cost. I think I had £120 in my wallet that morning, I put £80 towards the impound and £40 to cover taxis. We then all stand and find £80 between us (and considering we’d been on a night out that was a hard ask) and go our separate ways.
So myself and Nixon find the impound lot, turns out she’d missed the signs that parking was suspended due to parade that was on, she gets her car back and its all good, I realize the time and have to dash to get Toni Storm from the train station. Myself and Toni had spoken via e-mail about the booking, and only going round the station I realize she’s never seen me and we both spend 15 minutes walking around looking for each other. We then have a very awkward stare off before we dare to ask each other who we are. It’s alright though in the end and we head off to the venue.
So we get to the venue, everything seems okay, a lot of people about. A lot of people dressed very smartly for the communion ceremony that’s happening next door that the venue neglected to tell us about. We stand and watch as about 600 people go into the church next door and get a sinking feeling. Not just that but what we’re supposed to be using as changing room is being used as a photo studio, we have to get changed on the car park at the front of the building until about 10 minutes after doors. All the fans must have seen you getting changed right?!
Well, let’s consider two points. There’s a parade on in the city centre and 600 people in a church next door. We weren’t drawing shit. With 15 minutes to go until the show there’s 12 people there. We’re hungover, we need a card change so and I quote myself ‘We can fuck this nonsense off pretty sharpish.’ So a booking committee convenes (I want to say it’s the standard booking committee plus Zack Sabre Jr and Damon Leigh) and we agree a new card with 4 matches. Josh Bodom vs. Tyler Bate, Nixon Newell vs. Toni Storm instead of a 60 second angle Bobby Cash is put into a match with Sam Bailey and then the main is a multi-man tag with the Great Bear Grand Championship on the line.
We go to do the entrances for the first match and find out the sound system is shit, people stood waiting to make entrances can’t hear the music. So the first match starts and goes on for about 2 minutes before anyone realises there’s no ref. I roll into the ring and ref for a few minutes. Apparently backstage Sam Bailey tells Des that the match has started and his response is ‘Oh’ and he carries on getting casually ready then strolls out. The other two matches are fairly decent and it’s a shame they haven’t been seen by more people.
The main event is just wrestling legend due to its’ surrealist nature. You have some of Europe’s top wrestling names wrestling in front of 18 people (a few came in late) in a 35 minute match which sees highlights such as Zack Sabre Jr putting on a technical wrestling clinic with Iain Field (Jet Fashion nowadays) Damon Leigh individually conversing with audience members and spots being called by people not in the match. I can only remember being creased up for most of it, I think if I hadn’t been hungover I would of cried.
We decided to destroy the footage of the match a few days later, I’ve never watched it back and the only person that has felt like it destroyed such a good memory. The build-up and the card for the Neon Offensive deserves to be the stuff of wrestling legend.”
Who do you have your eye on for the future of British wrestling and is there a particular talent (or talents) you think would fit into GBP that you haven’t booked so far?
“We have a close link with Attack school so there’s a lot of decent looking prospects down there. The YOLO Squad look like that have the ability to break out, Ethan Silver did a dark match for us in March and showed he’s got the makings of a solid baby-face.
In terms of guys we’d like to bring in we were hoping to get Will Ospreay in for the JHC but there was a scheduling issue, I think his aerial ability is something casual fans would drool over. Sha Samuels would be an excellent fit for us too.”
With British wrestling seemingly going through yet another strong year – with promotions receiving quality TV time, coverage in broadsheets and tabloids and increased attendance across the country – what are your hopes for the future of British wrestling and GBP in particular?
“I think we need to be careful, yeah we are getting a lot of coverage as a whole and attendances are going up, but the wages aren’t going up for a lot of the boys because promoters are bringing into too many Yanks and paying them a shitload and there’s nothing left for the home-grown boys. I know that might seem hypocritical as I have a champion that I fly in, but his wage is proportional to what I pay the other lads (and in some cases less) and his flights cost the same as a megabus ticket for some lads. We all can’t be Steven Fludder, he’s got a tight business model that works and allows him to bring in so many guys, it’s not a wrestling show so much as an wrestling convention, and most shows aren’t run like that.
I’d like to see the boys getting paid more, less stupid stand offs between promoters that only hurts the back pocket of wrestlers and a bit of sense from who’s getting booked.
In terms of the Bear we have plans, but we’re holding them tight to our chest at the minute. It’s back to the future style shit.
(I’d also like to point out ‘the boys’ also includes female wrestlers)”
What can wrestling fans expect from the 2015 Junior Heavyweight Cup in June?
“We advertise the Junior Heavyweight Cup as one of the premier nights on the British Wrestling calendar and I truly believe that. I don’t think there’s ever a more palpable sense of drama than on JHC evenings, crowds know they are going to see a new champion crowned and the wrestlers feed off that.
This year’s line up is a pretty amazing mix, you have the likes of Marty Scrull, Dean Allmark and Martin Kirby mixing it up with talent like Tyler Bate and Chris Brookes and you have Toni Storm in intergender action. Look at that line up and tell me you’d find a better card in the country for £8!”
You can find Great Bear Promotions online here – www.great-bear-promotions.co.uk
On Facebook here – Great Bear Promotions
And, on Twitter here – @GBPWrestling
*Our thanks to Great Bear Promotions for their time in conducting the interview. Additional thanks go to Dr Debonair, Esq for contributing the interview to the Wrestle Ropes website.