The Hot Tag w/Steve Russell: The Man Who Would Be King? Book It.
The following Hot Tag w/Steve Russell was originally uploaded on Write Steve Write, September 11th 2017:
Sunday, 20th August 2017 saw the culmination of over a year’s worth of work, graft, and emotional and creative investment. It’s not something tangible that you can hold, like a novel (yet!), comic book or painting.
No, this art was crafted and moulded over numerous meetings, Skype/Facetime sessions (depending which one provided a better, less pixel-faced connection), and dinners. It was also born out of a deceptively simple concept, birthed, as it was, in the backroom of Vault Comics in Welling, during a podcasting session with then-stranger-now-friend, Kieron.
Now that some time has passed and I can look back on the events leading to this serendipitous meeting of mutual good fortune with an even eye, I wanted to recount them, connecting chaotic, unrelated events into a string of occurrences that suggest, perhaps, a sense of order amongst the chaos, giving you all a better idea not only at how this working relationship came about, but also the processes involved in booking a wrestling show whilst trying to maintain artistic merit, with all efforts going towards not only putting on a fucking amazing wrestling show but executing on an event that had dramatic purpose, heft, and resonance.
The podcast, originally known as The Saturday Lunchtime Wrestling Club Podcast (Kieron’s idea), and now known as the much catchier Network & Chill, ended up serving a grander purpose than simply providing an outlet for our wrestling thoughts and opinions – something I now do on occasion over at TurnbuckleDaily.com – it acted as catalyst that would allow two people to come together and create something out of nothing.
Inspired by the rebirth and flourishing renaissance of the British wrestling scene over the past few years, Kieron wanted to form his own wrestling company. He also wanted to bring me on board as creative, gifting virtually free reign to book, craft, and create storylines and narrative arcs as I saw fit.
We didn’t agree on every decision along the way – this was a creative process, after all – but Kieron placed an inordinate amount of blind faith into my skills, and I’m proud of the end result.
More importantly, he put his money where his mouth is, which saw us take a year long ride together, willing this dream into a firm reality that unfolded before our very eyes on Sunday, August 20th, 2017, as we witnessed wrestlers bring to life the matches and story concepts I had pitched months prior to our debut event: The Man Who Would Be King.
The journey had been long, and the day of the event naturally sped by; images and moments gelling and meshing into a homogeneous pro wrestling show type blur. Things I hadn’t expected to do on the day of the event became jobs I had to attend to – with the core four: myself, Kieron, Thea and Jodi, all donning multiple hats during the course of that Sunday – from getting drinks for wrestlers to putting out chairs (in a, seemingly first for the British pro wrestling scene, staggered seating arrangement!) and ensuring that the show started on time, my tasks extended to assisting the sound guy who, incidentally, was not a wrestling fan.
What can I say, I’m a story teller, not an audio engineer.
But it was a surreal experience to watch these stories unfold, mostly as intended. I discovered that elements, especially the subtler choices, evolved and changed on the day because, very much like on a Film or TV set, people naturally want to add their own inflections and personal stamps, whether it was to the action, the match, or their character.
So, keeping it kayfabe vague, certain things didn’t pan out exactly as I had wanted or envisioned with particular match finishes – though the eventual outcomes all stayed as intended. Things changed on the fly and additional story elements were created on the day, during the event, and pitched/changed, performed and adjusted. This is live after all, behbey!
Being backstage in the locker room (hell, having a VIP wristband!) was a thrill, and it was interesting to bear witness to the creative process of the talent. To be honest, most of the wrestlers probably had no idea who I was, probably assuming I was just a friend roped in to assist, there to help whilst sporting a gnarly Arkham Asylum New Era. Sure, introductions were made and hands were shaken, etiquette maintained, mostly with a look of slight bewilderment on their faces as I said “Hi, I’m Steve,” but not much was made of my presence in the locker room past that. The burdened role of the poor creative.
It was due to this backstage creative flow, versus live in-ring action, that I can now appreciate that when bookers and promoters state that they have no idea what will happen during a match, they are 100% on the level.
Prior to 20/8, I had always been dubious of this stance, chalking it up to carny trickery to keep the business safe, brother. This illusion was smashed during the very first match of the card.
No spoilers, but it was explosive in a way that no one was prepared for. That’s what makes this form of entertainment so endlessly engaging. Expressive, adaptive, resonant and even provocative, UnProfessional Wrestling’s (Kieron’s name, incidentally) debut event ran the gamut: hard-hitting strong style, methodically technical, fast paced high-flying, and even ludicrous fun. The debut showcased everything that makes pro wrestling so much fun.
It was also narratively driven.
Everything that happened, happened for a reason. It pushed agendas and highlighted unique characteristics and motivations for each wrestler, added to and embellished by the performances within an initially blank canvas. The end of the first ‘Bodyguy’ Roy Johnson match is indicative of this – something you’ll be able to witness when the show becomes available On Demand, with sultry, seductive commentary provided by yours truly.
This drive was an essential ground rule that I had cleared with Kieron during the early stages of what would become UnPro. Story first.
Everything needed to have purpose, pushing things forward in a logical manner, with all choices imbued with meaning. This core value will hopefully help to elevate the product, as opposed to simply being a stacked card where wins and losses don’t matter.
From what I have gathered from the immediate response in the Hackney Showroom, with people congratulating Kieron on the show – as I stood next to him, the Silent Bob creative-ninja that I am – it appears that our mission has been accomplished.
There’s a real sense of vindication to this. To know that investing in narrative consistency and agency, coupled, of course, with amazing action, has resonated with the crowd, and that they left home happy and wanting more, leaves me with a tremendous sense of accomplishment – one that I still haven’t allowed myself to fully embrace just yet, but that’s a different story.
There was an undeniable aura, an invisible vibe, in the Hackney Showroom that day, with a fantastic crowd of die-hard BritWres fans elevating the show, turning it into something remarkable. The atmosphere was infectious, and I can’t wait to hear it come through my speakers when I have an opportunity to rewatch the action. Props to every single person that was there that day, you helped make it truly memorable. Thank you.
It’s not a traditional, tangible story you can hold, per se. There are no end credits that allow my name to be associated as the show’s writer and booker, and it’s not something I can put on a CV or will assist in my becoming ‘discovered’ by a literary agent to help Temporary along…but it did provide a unique, incomparable experience.
No matter what else happens, no matter how arduous the journey to finding a literary agent and eventual publication is, I believe, that on 20/8 I have actually achieved something. For once, I can scratch in a W.
As dark as life can occasionally be, and as glacially slow any sort of progress has been, with so many personal ambitions and achievements remaining ever elusive, evasive, I will forever have The Man Who Would Be King. I will forever have UnPro wrestling on August 20th, 2017.
Here’s to the eventual release of The Man Who Would Be King, and to whatever future shows may come. Here’s to writing, creating, and to being Professionally UnProfessional.
From the back room of @vaultcomics in Welling, 2016, @kieronliley pitched a deceptively simple idea: he wanted to put together a wrestling show. Furthermore, he wanted my help. Here's this guy I barely knew at the time asking me to come on board as creative, with virtually free reign over story development? For a writer and pro wrestling lifer, this meeting – born from a podcast, no less – couldn't have felt more serendipitous. How could I say no? I never thought I would put together a wrestling show, let alone be creatively responsible for it and its narrative threads. Life can take some unexpected turns, eh? Thanks for wanting me to be part of the ride, bro. Here's to the first, but certainly not the last…and to being Professionally UnProfessional. #UnPro #UnProfessionalWrestling #UnProKing #UnProWrestling #Wrestling #BritWres #Hackney #HackneyShowroom #London #Creative #Writing #Reflective #Thankful #Perserverance #HoldStrong #StillTrying