History (in the words of Sheldon Goldberg):
Prior to starting NECW, Sheldon Goldberg worked with the late "Boston Bad Boy" Tony Rumble in the old Century Wrestling Alliance and into when it became NWA New England in the spring of 1998. Tony died suddenly on November 13, 1999. Upon his death, he had no will or written instructions on what should have been done in the event of his passing and his widow, Ellen, took over the company. It was pretty clear that it was all heading in the wrong direction. Sheldon Goldberg made the decision to not associate with the NWA-NE anymore. At the time, Goldberg did not want for working in wrestling. He was writing for WOW Magazine, serving on the Board of Directors of the Cauliflower Alley Club, and had been working for Hiro Matsuda on a project called Ring Warriors. Hiro had gotten cancer and died 2 weeks after Tony Rumble, so it was a difficult time for Goldberg. After that, people started coming to Goldberg and asking him to get involved in the local wrestling scene as a promoter. It was probably the last thing he wanted to do, but he had a conversation with Scott Dickinson who had urged him to start something up and he began to gave it serious consideration, because Dickinson was one of the few people Goldberg had confidence in working with. A lot of thought went into it, because Goldberg didn't want to just do the same thing everyone else had been doing for years. It seemed like every local promotion had the same way of operating. They'd get a couple of big names on top and the local guys were filler. Goldberg had always felt that the local guys had to be the stars and that it would be hard in the short term, but the only realistic way to do it in the long run. Goldberg officially filed the papers to start the company in March of 2000 and NECW had its first show in August of that year. The first show was at an arcade in Wethersfield, CT called The Fun Zone and the main event of the first show was the semi-finals of a four man tournament to crown the first NECW Champion. On the second show, Mike Hollow went over Bob Evans in a disputed finish and they had a rematch the following month where Hollow won it clean and he was the first champion. NECW didn't start running the Boston area until October, when they had their first show at the Good Time Emporium. If there was a key to the NECW "concept", it was pushing the local guys seriously, which hadn't really been done before to the extent that NECW was trying to do it.
NEI: Since the inception of NECW, who would you consider the cornerstones of the company?
Goldberg: At the beginning, Scott Dickinson. I couldn't have done this without him. He really settled the early direction of things and gave the company its foundation as a solid workrate promotion. In the ring, I'd say Bob Evans has done consistently good work for us. He carried the title well through a difficult period. Certainly, Alex Arion and The Egomaniacs have been big players as far as talent goes and as far as their attitude and the quality of people they are.
NEI: Who was Mike Hollow to NECW and what led to his departure?
Goldberg: Kevin Kelly has brought a whole new dimension to what we're doing and trying to do and that's important as well. Mike Hollow was the head trainer at Killer Kowalski's school. I believe he briefly had a WWF developmental deal as a wrestler. I know he worked on their ring crew years back. Mike was one of those guys that I felt always gave you a good match. He looked good in the ring. He carried himself like a pro, but no one ever gave him the ball in a promotion and let him run with it. We had wanted Mike to have a long run with the belt, but in February of 2001, he came to us and told us he wanted to retire from doing independents and that he was running Kowalski's school, had a full time job and a wife at home and that this was pretty much a lifestyle decision. We had him drop the title that night to Slyk Wagner Brown and he agreed to do two more shots in Somerville to wrap things up. I had suspected he was headed to Chaotic and he denied it at the time, but later we found out it was true.
NEI: Speaking of Slyk Wagner Brown, he two of you have had what could be described as a love/hate relationship. A good deal of commentary from both SWB and yourself made its way to the internet. Where do things stand today with your relationship and what are your feeling towards SWB?
Goldberg: There is no "love/hate relationship." That just feeds into the negativity that this medium breeds. We have a difference in philosophy. That does not make either of us bad people. I wish him well.
NEI: Is there a possibility that fans would see him in a NECW ring in the future?
Goldberg: You never know. I never say never, because there are no absolutes in this business.
NEI: How was the transition from NWA-NE to the start up of NECW? Any hurt feelings or hurt business?
Goldberg: Well, whenever you lose your best friend especially to a sudden tragedy it's hurtful. Tony Rumble was my best friend at the time. When he died, even though he had referred to me as a partner in the company for the last few years of his life, his widow took over completely. Immediately, Jeff Katz, a former radio talk show host who had become friendly with us and worked for us on occasion and Knuckles Nelson, who was one of Tony favorites and a top guy, were in Ellen's ear. In all fairness, no one was thinking straight at the time. Tony's death was so sudden and unexpected and he kept a lot of the business to himself, that even under the best circumstances it would have been hard to know what to do. I do know that Katz and Knuckles just weren't cut out to run a wrestling business. Myself and Pat Doyle, who produced the TV for Tony, were pretty much on the back burner and these two were going to run the show. I wasn't especially interested in being a wrestling promoter. I had a full-time job and still do. I knew what it took to do it and in a very real way the job is in large part what killed Tony. (He died of a massive heart attack and had heart disease in his family.) At first, I tried to go along with Katz and Knuckles, but it became obvious right away that they were going to make themselves the stars of the show, pay themselves well and take things in a direction that Tony would not have gone in. It was only when they ran a show in CT and asked me to put together posters and flyers that false advertised talent that I realized it was time to let it go. I told Katz and Nelson that the only way it was going to work is if Ellen, Tony's widow, really became the boss and we helped her run the business end of the company. They acted like they just inherited the WWF and they were going give her money out the "proceeds". I'm not saying there were bad intentions there, but when Tony was alive he was barely making it, so how could they pay themselves and pay Ellen to stay home? It wasn't going to work. Sure enough, Jeff Katz left town for a radio job in Las Vegas. Nelson made his own deals and he left after he realized he was going to have pay someone half the money for none of the work and that's when Jason Dellagatta took over, when Ellen was about to close it down. Jason offered to take it over at that point. As for my own feelings, I never spoke to Ellen after deciding to leave. I felt that part of that was mine, and while I can't speak for him, I'm sure Pat Doyle felt the same way. There was no following Tony Rumble. He was irreplaceable. I was disappointed in Ellen, because she knew how close Tony and I were and she knew how much I put into the company, not just time and effort, but money too. I couldn't be mad about it, because she lost more than any of us did - a husband who loved her very much gone way before his time. I think about Tony every single day. He was like the brother I never had and he was that to many people. I just knew as events unfolded that it was time to move on. I'm only sorry that some of the guys he booked all the time never had a chance to wrap things up and say goodbye on the shows that immediately followed his passing. Contrary to what anyone says, I did not start NECW because I was unhappy with NWA NE. The two things were completely separate circumstances. I think that covers it pretty fully. I could talk about my opinion of what happened to them under Jason and my opinion of him taking over Tony's gimmick.
NEI: What were your thoughts about where NWA New England went once Jason took it over and what did you think of him taking on the gimmick of "The Boston Bad Boy" Jason Rumble and calling himself Tony Rumble's son? Was he in fact related to Tony?
NEI: A common problem with Independent Wrestling is double bookings and the ability for a promoter to maintain an original looking roster, how did these specific problems effect NECW's operations with the inception of Chaotic Wrestling and their approach of offering contracts to local Indy talent? What are your reviews of this unique Indy approach?
Goldberg: Chaotic started up around the same time NECW did. I knew a little bit about them and Randy Miller, one of the owners of Chaotic called me and tried to recruit me. He readily admitted he knew nothing about wrestling and that was pretty much the end of the conversation for me. I was already moving ahead with NECW, so I just went and did my thing. Not long after that, we started losing people and discovered that Chaotic was offering "guaranteed contracts", which was unheard of for an independent company. There was quite an exodus of talent at one point and there was one show where a former ring announcer for us, Rich Palladino, who had become "talent coordinator" for Chaotic, came to one of our shows and solicited almost everyone on the roster to come to Chaotic. It was hurtful to us, not so much because guys left, but because they usually left with no notice and didn't fill out the dates they'd committed to for us. Our booking suffered as a result, but the resulting core guys were the guys that knew Chaotic was just a boondoggle and that sooner or later the money would dry up and it did. In the meantime, they did a lot of stuff to try and undo us. They solicited our buildings. They solicited our sponsors. We had a deal with a radio station that they killed by buying a few spots and complaining to the station manager. They even book Bret Hart against our first anniversary show to try and kill us off, but none of it worked and a lot of it backfired in our favor. Theoretically, they should have put us away. They outspent us 30 to 1. They had TV. But the owners didn't know the business and the guys they trusted to supply them with knowledge of wrestling didn't have enough experience on the business end. They went through literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. As for the concept of guaranteed contracts for independent workers, obviously it failed miserably for Chaotic. They simply spent money they had no hope of ever making back. That being said, it's important for me to say that I think every wrestler on the independents, including in NECW is underpaid. I wish I could pay more than I do and when I can I do. For many decades, the relationship between promoter and wrestler is that of an independent contractor. Even in WWE, the talent are not considered employees. Since time immemorial, wrestlers have been paid based on what the gates are. What many don't want to admit is that the promoter and the wrestler are partners. They have to work together to draw the money to cover the payroll and build a fanbase that will support a promotion on a continuing basis. Every once in a while I will see a post on a message board from someone pining for the days when all the boys got $100 a shot and they drew 1,200 people every time. Back in those days, most of the shows were sold shows. Telemarketers paid thousands to the promoter who never had to put up a poster, hand out a flyer or sell a ticket. Today, the sold show is a rarity. Telemarketers aren't buying wrestling for the most part. The job we have today is to sell the whole concept of independent wrestling, not just the show itself. One day, if we keep working hard it, business will get better all around and gates and pay will go up. For now, you have to survive and keep coming up with ideas on how to make things better. I don't pretend that I know everything there is know about promoting. I learn something new every time out and I'm always looking for a new idea or trying something we hadn't done before. It's a very different business today than it was 5 years ago. We just have to keep working at it.
NEI: Is there any heat between CW and yourself today?
Goldberg: There's no heat between NECW and Chaotic. They approached us a couple of times and invited us to their school. It sounded at one point like they wanted to do business with us and we were ready to listen, but nothing concrete was ever put forward. Nonetheless, the door was open and if there was something they had to say that made sense it would still be open. Like I said, there are no absolutes in wrestling.
Goldberg: We have some things in negotiation, but nothing immediate and nothing I can comment on publicly.
NEI: What do you miss in Wrestling? What do you feel was there and before and no longer is?
Goldberg: Today's wrestling does not have the same aura that the wrestling of the 60's, 70's and 80's had. That "larger than life" quality is missing and as a promoter, we have to create a very different kind of magic today and it isn't always easy to do. But the challenge to do it is fun.
Goldberg: As I started to say earlier, before I started NECW and when Tony Rumble was still alive, the "major" local promoters, meaning Tony, Killer Kowalski, Richard Byrne, etc. all operated on basically the same formula. Most of the shows that were run in the area were "sold shows", where a group, organization or a telemarketer would buy the shows for a flat fee and you'd have a big name or two or three or four was on top, depending on the budget and the local guys were all filler. All those promoters made money, because they sold the shows and built a profit into the sale. But no one was getting rich. No one was making any significant money. ECW was around at the time, and that was sort of a revelation that a small company could be viable. I was fortunate enough to have had some business dealings with ECW and got close enough the kind of dollars that were flowing through there at one time. So the big challenge became how do you do that in New England? That's just it.
NEI: How many serious promotions would you say were running at that time in New England?
Goldberg: There were a number of people running, but no one was what you would call a "serious promotion". Jeff Costa had his crew and Jeff would tell you himself that what he was doing was one step out of wrestling school. He was wrestling's answer to community theater and he was viable for what he was. Joe Eugenio was something similar, although he sold a lot of shows, because he sold them cheap. EWA was around then and this is when James St. Jean was running it. But until they did the MTV thing, it was just a place to work. Tony Rumble was the only guy who bore any resemblance to anything "serious" because he got a lot of guys big league breaks, but his product was more entertaining than athletically oriented. And Tony was barely surviving on that company, so it was like a big puzzle. How do you make it really work? When I started NECW, the decision not to use big names and to really push the local guys in something being portrayed as a "serious promotion" was considered a very big risk.
NEI: How do you feel that the choice to push local talent worked out for you? Starting out who were some of the talent you had on your wish list?
NEI: How do you feel you differentiate yourself from that list with what you do from event to event?
Goldberg: That's an interesting question and I'll give you a provocative answer. We don't differentiate ourselves enough. That is something we're beginning to change, but it brings up an issue that is the biggest problem in New England wrestling. Nobody really is all that different, because the key guys are shared by too many groups. We do a lot of things that are unique that people don't see - the marketing and PR aspects of what we do are different and constantly evolving. I think the biggest overall problem that all of us who are promoting locally have is that in the minds of the average, casual fan, wrestling equals WWE and when WWE does poorly, that rains down on us, so we have a much bigger job just selling the idea of independent wrestling.
NEI: NECW undoubtedly has one of the most talented rosters with individuals like Maverick Wild, Alex Arion, and others. However some could argue that you are missing some of the premier talent in the region with the likes of John Walters and Luis Ortiz. How do you feel about the talent you do have, and some that you don't?
Goldberg: Walters and Ortiz have both worked for NECW in the past. Both guys are good talents. That being said, nobody is working in a regular spot in NECW that doesn't belong there. And a company like ours always has to be looking to bring newer guys along. There's a lot of great talent in NECW and lot of great talent in the region who don't work for us. We can't book everyone. A big part of who gets booked and who doesn't is whether those guys are going to be dependable and will see through the angles and storylines. Plus, a promotion needs to have its own character and that's very difficult to do in this area and on this level.
NEI: What are your proudest personal moments in Wrestling to date?
Goldberg: I'm proud of the fact that I've come this far and done this much with no bankroll behind me. The fact that NECW is still here and still has a lot of tricks up its sleeve is a big triumph to me. I am proud of that fact that this crew changed the business for the better around here, and that I was the guy fortunate enough to have given a lot of deserving athletes the stage to accomplish that.
NEI: You are credited with bringing many of the Japanese stars to American Wrestling around the time of the first ECW PPV. How did this come about and what was your involvement for fan who might not know?
Goldberg: That's a long story, but the short version is that I used to publish a newsletter for collectors of wrestling memorabilia called Mat Marketplace. Through that publication I established contacts in wrestling all over the world. At the time leading up to the first ECW PPV, which was January of 1997, I made contact with Michinoku Pro Wrestling to see about important some of their merchandise. One of their office boys was coming to the U.S. at the time and wanted to come to Boston to meet me. The weekend he came here, ECW was running a show at Wonderland and I brought him to the show and introduced him to everyone, including Paul Heyman. Heyman invited Michinoku to send matches to ECW and perhaps send a match for the PPV. When the office guy got back to Japan, he called me to say that Great Sasuke accepted the invitation and that they wanted me to be the middle man and make all the arrangements, so that's what I did. They came back in February and did 2 shows for ECW and one for Tony Rumble's CWA, which I was involved in at the time. That weekend the PPV deal was made and they were also introduced to Kevin Sullivan who was booking WCW at the time. Kevin had been coming up for Tony's CWA shows. Later, after the "Barely Legal" PPV, I arranged a meting between Sasuke and the WWF. We met with Jim Ross and Bruce Pritchard and got Sasuke booked for one WWF pay per view and a subsequent Raw appearance, that lead to Kaientai getting their contracts.
NEI: You have also appeared on two A&E Documentary specials documenting Professional Wrestling as well as the life of Andre the Giant. How did you become involved in these projects and are any others on the horizon?
Goldberg: The producers found me through the newsletter I was doing. They contacted me and told me they were going to do the history of pro wrestling on TV. I thought it was something really cool and as a fan I wanted to see it happen, so I helped them. I put them in contact with many of the people they interviewed and helped them find sources for old footage and photos. I didn't expect to be on it. But when they came to Boston to interview Killer Kowalski, they asked if I'd come in and be interviewed as well. I had no idea until the show aired that I would be on it as much as I was. It turned out that when the show first aired, it was the highest rated program in the history of the A&E network and is still their biggest selling home video of all time. That show was such a success that they were asked to do some Biography episodes on wrestlers and the first one was on the late Andre The Giant. They asked me to help them again and I did. That was one of the highest rated Biography episodes ever. The Andre Biography almost didn't happen, because the WWF decided to hold them up for money. In the end, the WWF got the home video rights and that tape was released as a WWF home video. I was just happy to see pro wrestling get the kind of mainstream media tribute it deserved. As for future projects of that kind, I've been in touch with a film producer in Los Angeles recently about assisting with a movie based on the life of the late women's wrestling champion, Mildred Burke.
NEI: As someone heavily involved in the history of Wrestling what do you feel are some of the most historically significant Wrestling moments in the history of New England?
Goldberg: This will probably be over the heads of most people, but the death of Paul Bowser in 1960, who promoted New England with an iron fist for decades was a significant moment. Abe Ford promoting the WWWF shows in 1966 and getting them on TV in the area was significant. The head to head feud Ford and Tony Santos had in that era was significant. Abe Ford splitting with Vince McMahon, Sr. Ford working with Killer Kowalski to do sold shows and Kowalski getting TV briefly was significant. Mario Savoldi's ICW running out of Maine and having syndicated TV was important. Tony Rumble starting the CWA and later NWA New England and his tragic death at such a young age had a profound effect on New England wrestling. And I think when people look back that the start of NECW will be seen as important as well, because it ushered in a different era of pro wrestling here.
NEI: What is your involvement in the CAC (Cauliflower Alley Club) and what is the significance of the organization?
Goldberg: I was on their Board of Directors. The Cauliflower Alley Club is a friendship organization consisting of active and retired boxers, wrestlers, actors and stuntmen. The late Mike Mazurki, who was a professional wrestler before becoming an actor, founded it. The Club raises money through membership dues and the reunions it holds to do charity work and provide scholarships for deserving amateur athletes. It's a meeting place for the greats and former greats. I was honored to have been a part of it.
NEI: NECW ended 2002 with the shocking appearance of Steve Bradley who had been absent from the local scene for several years. Shortly after, Bradley debuted his own promotion in New Hampshire called Wrestling Federation of America. What is the nature of your relationship with this organization and how would you access their first year in operation?
Goldberg: The nature of our relationship is mutually supportive. I appear in WFA as "matchmaker" and Steve appears in NECW. We help each other. I think the WFA has raised the bar in some areas for an independent company and it's been a pleasure working with them. They have great things ahead of them, as does NECW.
NEI: Many have commented on the oddity of the organizations having mirrored rosters and similar bookings. What creative steps do you take to separate the 2 organizations in the eyes of fans?
Goldberg: Well, we don't exactly have mirrored rosters and we don't run in the same areas. NECW just went through a change in bookers this past April with Kevin Kelly coming on board. He is really just getting to a point where he has a handle on where he's going and who the players are for NECW. Once we settle into some regular venues and build back some momentum, you'll see a very dynamic NECW product with its own flavor and it's already happening.
NEI: How did Kevin Kelly come to be involved with NECW?
Goldberg: Kevin approached me at the end of last year after seeing him at an ECWA show in Delaware. We'd met before when he worked some shows that the late Tony Rumble was involved in. He wanted to do the same thing for us that he was doing for ECWA, which was writing the shows. I was leery at first, because he was still working for WWE and I'm looking to be aggressive with this. I thought about it and felt that having Kevin would enhance what we were doing even on a partial basis. Between then and the time he started, our then booker, Sonny Goodspeed, decided to step down for personal reasons and Kevin got laid off, so in a sense, Kevin's misfortune was our good fortune and it's been great working with him since that time.
NEI: Wrestling has the misfortune of attracting strange people with strange motives. You yourself have had the displeasure of being the target of characterizations called "Shellberg" from a rival promotion, Millennium Wrestling Federation and its promoter Dan Mirade. How would you comment on these insults and what is the motivation of their author?
Goldberg: I already commented on them on your message board some months ago. There's no point in opening up that can of garbage again. I'd appreciate skipping that question, because it needlessly focuses on something that has no place in our business.
NEI: Acting as an outsider looking in, what would you say your harshest critique of NECW would be?
Goldberg: Like a lot of independent companies we struggle a lot with consistency. Not necessarily consistency of the wrestlers, but the booking, the promotion and the direction. Those things are starting to taking shape now and I'm very optimistic about the coming year.
NEI: When fans look back on today 10 years from now, what do you hope they will say about NECW?
Goldberg: I hope that they will say that it was the first serious attempt in this era to promote New England wrestling with New England stars. If you look at the other groups in the area that you could consider the "major local promotions" they have all taken a page from us. But I am far from satisfied. We have a lot to do and we're going to continue and try to innovate the business on this level. There is a lot of untapped potential in this business, specifically in this region, and we're going to keep going until we've solved the puzzle of how to make it truly work. In closing all of this, I want to say that as much as people might look down on wrestling in New England, I think we're on the ground floor of something that is going to develop into something wonderful within a few years. The kind of independent scene we have now is a new thing for this area. The business of independent wrestling as people are seeing it right now is still in its infancy here. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't see the potential in it and if I didn't love it as much as I do.
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