Former world heavyweight champion Tommy “Wildfire” Rich is intrigued by the planned relaunch of the National Wrestling Alliance.
However, he’s also wary of the project, which is being orchestrated by Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan.
“I think if it’s produced right and represents the NWA right it’s a good deal,” said Rich, who lives in Myrtle Beach and runs the Tommy “Wildfire” Rich Wrestling School at the X Gym Sports Mall. “But if you bring in a product that don’t represent the NWA then it’s a horse with a different color.”
The Associated Press recently reported that Corgan “is set to reboot the National Wrestling Alliance, founded in 1948 and the once proud stomping grounds of Ric Flair, Lou Thesz, Harley Race and other wrestling legends, injecting the forgotten company with a 21st century flavor.”
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Corgan, who has also been a longtime wrestling executive, told the AP he believes there’s a place for a resurrected NWA in today’s wrestling scene.
“We are going to target the general fan,” Corgan told the AP. “Wrestling needs to get younger in terms of the audience it’s after. I think wrestling as a business a lot of times kind of shrugs its shoulders how they track the 15- to 25-year-olds. I would argue if you can’t do that, you’re not going to have much of a future anyway.”
In 1981, Rich became the world heavyweight champion of the NWA, which preceded big-time wrestling such as World Wrestling Entertainment and the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling. Rich went on to wrestle for a time in the WCW, but he is best known for his work in the NWA.
WWE is easily the biggest show in wrestling these days, and Rich believes a relaunched NWA would have a tough time trying to put up a challenge to Vince McMahon, the majority owner, chairman and CEO of the sports entertainment giant.
“Really Vince is the only competition and he’s got competition against his self. … So as far as the big boys, Vince’s sports entertainment’s there,” Rich said. “Can NWA compete with that? I don’t think so – unless they get a TV deal like Vince has got.”
Rich said he’d be open to talking to Corgan and Co. about the venture. However, he’s more focused on the charitable work he’s doing with his wrestling school at The X Gym.
He staged a Halloween-themed show there featuring former wrestling greats last month and has another show scheduled for December that involves Toys for Tots. A previously scheduled November/Thanksgiving show has been scrapped because of obstacles due to a short turnaround, Rich said. However, his wrestling school is still accepting donations as part of the Wrestling for Hunger campaign.
“You wouldn’t believe the stuff we’ve got for it. It was real good,” Rich said of the donations. “We’re getting food. We had some folks come from an hour away and brought a whole trunk load full of stuff, so it was real good.”
Rich’s first wrestling event ended with a twist when “American Heartthrob” Austin Idol, acting as a guest referee, smashed a trophy over the former NWA world heavyweight champion. Rich promises more surprises come December.
“I want it to be a big one where we go out with a bang at the end of the year,” he said.
As for the NWA, Rich wishes Corgan and Co. luck while cautioning that the relaunch has a lot to live up to.
“I just don’t know that there’s an NWA left now,” Rich said.
How you can help
What: Wrestling for Hunger food drive
Where: X Gym Sports Mall, Myrtle Beach
Info: Drop off non-perishable food items and toiletries to help needy families and individuals in Horry County.