Since the fold of WCW in 2001, WWE has essentially enjoyed an unimpeded run as the top game in town (heck, the world) in the pro graps industry. With the rise in streaming technology (and one might argue the staleness of WWE’s product at times), the door has opened for promotions like NJPW and ROH to fill a void in the wrestling fan’s heart. While indie promotions aren’t necessarily going to challenge the WWE in terms of financial success and mainstream appeal, there are opportunities to be had for the indie promotions to find a strong audience.
One such indie promotion is Maryland’s MCW Pro, who recently graduated one of its biggest stars, Lio Rush to WWE’s NXT brand. The promotion operates shows mostly in the Maryland area and has an online pay subscription service, Rage TV. I spoke with MCW Pro’s GM and jack-of-all-trades, Phil Stamper, to talk about his career both in and out of the ring, as well as his insights on the indie scene and who he sees as the next big thing.
In addition to his current role with MCW Pro, and appearances on Impact, Stamper has also worked with CZW (as Nate Stein), Pro Wrestling Unplugged, Rockstar Pro in Ohio, Legacy Pro in PA, Wrestling Revolver, IWA East Coast, and Grand Slam in Old Forge, PA.
Q: How did you first get into wrestling?
Phil Stamper: I was a fan at about ten or eleven years old. I was one of those kids that in middle school sent a letter to WWE and WCW saying “how do kids do this wrestling thing?” I actually got a letter back from WCW, along with a “buy our book” ad, but they mentioned their training schools.
Later, when I turned 18, I didn’t want to join an industry that had a lot to do with drug use so I started working behind the scenes and was working and paying my way through college. And then a couple years later I got a misdiagnosis of a precancerous condition. Even though it wasn’t cancer, it gave me the now-or-never mindset about my wrestling career.
Who helped you along the way?
I trained at The Dominion (Owings Mills, MD) and a lot of guys were great about saying “hey man let me show you stuff.” I went to guys like Al Snow, Chris Hero, Mike Quackenbush and Brian Wenzel (OVW); he was one of two people on OVW TV who didn’t have a WWE contract and I learned a lot from him especially. I keep finding people that are great to learn from. You need to, in order to stay relevant. When people turn to me now (for advice), it freaks me out.
Which wrestlers have inspired your own style and career? Just getting into the business, I modeled myself after Reckless Youth. I loved his style and presence he had in the ring. I always liked Cueball Carmichael too.
As with any industry, sometimes getting and keeping a job comes down to how valuable you are to the company. Sometimes “just being a wrestler” isn’t enough. While Phil is currently performing as a mouthpiece/GM for MCW Pro, he’s been a wrestler, manager, commentator and has also done his share behind the scenes as well.
On taking on many roles within the industry…
It’s about what you can bring to the table as the total package. I look at a guy like Sami Callihan, probably one of the most booked people in the world. He’s the booker for Combat Zone, an owner, and works with three other promotions, and he’s doing a film project. He also can do great graphics.
As a performer, I’m never satisfied. I want to provide more. I want and feel like I can offer more. If you look at WWE it’s a TV show that features wrestling, not necessarily a wrestling show on TV. They are giving you a narrative with a whole layer of context. There are points of what they’re building to and a good commentator knows how to do that (get the audience there).
I think inside the business, the people who understand that there’s a business side understand it and appreciate the way I can handle marketing and social media. But then people think you’re some mark they picked up off the street (that doesn’t know how to wrestle). However, there are other people that say “wrestlers are a dime a dozen, we need you helping in the back.” And that drove me crazy a little bit. Once [at a promotion he worked at earlier in his career], while I was doing commentary, everybody was coming to me asking “what am I doing on the show? Phil, you’re the only person here with a brain. You’ll never have fun, we’ll be the ones having fun.“
On the important jobs that fans might not see…
Ring Manager is like the front of the house manager, directing traffic and making it an engaging experience for the crowd, kind of like in a restaurant. You’re watching if there’s a problem, if the energy is low, are certain things not hitting? You have to pick up the event and relay it to the wrestlers in the back to pick up the energy. The sound guy is important too, because he knows that there’s a timing element to all of this.
Besides his work in wrestling, Phil has also tried his hand at acting, appearing in multiple films, mainly in the horror genre. With the success of The Rock and John Cena transitioning to the acting arena, Stamper says his wrestling experience has paid dividends in acting and vice versa.
In wrestling you definitely need to know how to react to a crowd and have them do what you want them to do, no different than a play or a movie. I’d like to hope I can transfer my skill set over. There’s tricks in theater and film production I can carry into pro wrestling too.
Who are some of your favorite wrestlers right now? Sami Callahan, Marty Scurll in ROH. I’ve always been a technical wrestling fan. Shane Strickland (Killshot in Lucha Underground) I’ve seen since day one, and it’s amazing to see what he can do. I like more of the guys that have potential to offer, but are not totally refined yet.
Who do you think is ready to take the next step and breakout? Trey Miguel (Rockstar Pro World Champion) – When I first saw him in October he was decent. Then in March/April I was like “Wow, he stepped up his game.” And then I saw him in May and he was even better. He’s going to keep constantly improving.
Without the means both financially and marketing wise, indie promotions often rely on stars from the past to draw crowds. This September 30th, MCW Pro presents its 2nd Annual Tribute To The Stars featuring appearances by Goldberg, the Steiner Brothers and Christian, as well as matches featuring the stars of MCW Pro.
What role do the legends play in promoting your own performers and brand?
MCW’s model has done well for them (by incorporating) name recognizable talent. So people who might say “Oh hey, I know who Lita is (as a past example), I want to go see Lita.” At the same time, they’ve seen the solid event and get invested in the quality of the event that they’re watching. “It’s really cool, I want to come back.” And we hold that crowd. Lio Rush’s last MCW match, there really wasn’t any other famous talent featured on the card, yet we had over 800 people. This speaks to the quality of the product.
How do you compete with a company the size of the WWE?
You have to build up a stable fanbase. I am a believer in wrestling as a business. Let’s say you have a wrestling shop not along “Main Street” , but along the backside of a shopping mall. How do you compete? You go online and use social media, but you also talk to businesses near you, hand out flyers. You probably talk up the business, get word of mouth, get some recognition and we’ve been fortunate to do that. Also, bringing in name recognizable talent and giving them a positive experience. Then they share that with other talent and the word gets around that this is a great place to be.
With so much wrestling available right now, why should people go to an MCW Pro Show or watch Rage TV? What sets you apart?
We’re an alternative to the mainstream. We provide a different, and I like to think better, athleticism than you see on TV. It’s an honest experience. On the WWE side, here they are traveling town to town. They’re trying to force feed an experience to a crowd, while the live crowd is booing them out of the building. Indies do a better job of saying what a crowd experience is like. We’re a family friendly promotion. It’s still top quality athleticism but in an environment that makes families feel welcome to come.
A lot of guys that come right up from our school so you’re not seeing those guys in other areas. The wrestlers are loyal to us. I’ve never heard anybody say you can’t work at this other place but it’s my home, I have my place here. They’ve had good opportunities to work name recognizable talent. We’re not just throwing in talent right out of training.
Leon St. Giovanni and Shaheem Ali are on the event. They’re not MCW guys, but tremendous talent from Ring of Honor. You’re getting a look at talent that you are going to see later (on a bigger stage). Coming out of the MCW training school, we’ve had Mickie James, Lita, Orlando Jordan, Velveteen Dream, Lio Rush. We have the caliber of people who make a name for themselves.
When a talent like Lio Rush leaves for a bigger promotion, is this a good or bad thing for a company like MCW Pro?
It’s a boon for us because it’s a boon for Lio. No one has ever said like we need to make a spectacle about Lio coming from MCW. So when we had his last match, Lio talked about everything he learned and gained from the experience here. Nobody told him to do this. No one even knew if he was going to grab a mic.
MCW Pro’s 2nd Annual Tribute to the Legends features Goldberg, Christian, Rosemary, The Steiner Brothers, Kenny & Mikey from the Spirit Squad, Tony Atlas, Mandy Leon, Jillian Hall, Virgil, Francine, Grandmaster Sexay, Madison Rayne, Gary Michael Capetta, Gillberg, Henry O Godwin, and Bill Apter. The Shane Shamrock Memorial Cup Trophy Presentation will also take place with winner Joey Matthews(aka Joey Mercury). Tag champions Guns 4 Hire will also defend their titles against former champs F.U.
MCW Pro brings the Autumn Armageddon tour across Maryland. Check them out at the additional dates/locations.
October 7th/Galina, MD – Autumn Armageddon
October 21st/Manchester Valley High School, MD (feat. Kevin Nash)
November 10th – Joppa, MD
November 11th – Hollywood, MD (featuring “Road Warrior” Animal, Melina, Abyss,& Paul Ellering)
Check out all MCW Pro Wrestling at http://www.mcwprowrestling.com Find Phil Stamper on Facebook @Deskofphilstamper and Twitter @PSPhenom