18 Months In The Making: Interview With Wrestle Carnival Owner, Gary Ward

“I said recently on my social media this is going to be the biggest build up to a debut show ever, its like 18 months in the making”

Trying to run an independent wrestling promotion during the pandemic era has proven to be difficult for promotions across the world, the UK independent scene in particular has struggled as the restrictions caused by local and national lock downs, which have been much tighter than in the USA. Considering how hard running an established promotion during this turbulent time has been, just imagine how difficult it would be to try and start a new promotion. Well that is the issue that UK Promoter Gary Ward has faced with his brand new promotion, Wrestle Carnival.

Gary has been in the wrestling scene for around 5 years from working as wrestling Photographer, working social media for South Side Wrestling to being a founder and former owner of one UK’s fastest rising promotions in 2019, Wrestlegate. Having seen success as promoter Gary decided he wanted to start his own project – Wrestle Carnival, and despite being in the Industry and seeing just about everything, no experience could’ve prepared him for the current situation we find ourselves in. I recently had a chance to speak to Gary on the Tea and Tights podcast about his decision to start a new promotion as well as trials and tribulations he has faced in these strange times.

Gary and I spoke about staring Wrestle Carnival, the initial idea, when he started this journey and how the Pandemic affected his plans;

“Wrestle carnival was kind of going to be second promotion I guess as part of Wrestlegate, Wrestlegate was formed in a partnership and I started learning from a lot more experienced people than me that came into Wrestlegate and I decided I wanted to do something on my own, I came up with the idea behind wrestle carnival in October of 2019 just at the end of the 1st year of Wrestlegate I had everything set up and planned the first show was going to be March of 2020, the show was booked, the talent was booked, the venue was booked everything was ready to go, and Corona Virus hit in about February time I think when everyone started hearing about it, it felt like this was going to be something quite big so I decided to delay it.”

He would go on to state how he felt he made the right decision considering the circumstances;

“I’m quite happy we did because I would’ve not liked to have done one show and then that would’ve been it and then we would’ve just been waiting, waiting and waiting I’m quite pleased in a way that we could start fresh when ever the pandemic ends.”

He would then go on to discuss the idea behind Wrestle Carnival and what he is wanting the promotion to be;

“It was decision I made to want and go, and do something on my own and to take the decision earlier in the middle of 2020, and decided that wrestle carnival is completely different to what I am huge fan of in a way, I am a huge Japanese Wrestling fan and you don’t get this really, this over the topness as much unless you watch DDT I guess. I wanted to something basically by myself, I wanted to take a gamble on me and put my self out a little bit more take myself out of a place I was comfortable in and test myself creatively and I think wrestle carnival is certainly going to do that, some of the things we come up with already, videos some wrestler have put together for us and the characters we’re looking to bring in and the storylines we’re going to do, I am so excited to get going I really am, its just when its safe to do so.”

Going on to discuss how this must have been longest build for a debut show for any promotion;

“I said recently on my social media this is going to be the biggest build up to a debut show ever, its like 18 months in the making and then my friend said hopefully its not 5 years in the making so hopefully we don’t have to wait too long.”

We would go on to talk about the possibility of starting the promotion with no fans, closed set PPV’s he would talk about technically doing so with the no fans show which was promoted by Wrestletalk and Will Ospreay;

“I ended up doing one show last year which was the no fans Monday show which was promoted by Will Ospreay and Wrestletalk, to be honest so I ran some of the backstage stuff and just helped out really, that day would’ve essentially been wrestle carnival’s first show, and as you saw it completely with no fans and for a new promotion its a very difficult to run without any fans.”

Wrestling and the Carnival have intertwining histories, some of the wrestling terms all started in the Carnivals with even now some wrestling promoters are still being referred to as carnies, it was the Carnivals that brought Wrestling to the Americas. So I asked Gary if this history helped to inspire the name and the idea Wrestle Carnival;

“I looked back at the history of wrestling tried to go as far back as I could possibly go, I was actually quite surprised I came into contact with an article it said that one of the first shows was called All In which I thought was quite interesting, it was called All In Wrestling as in the promotion and I was like that’s quite interesting, So I started digging a little deeper, I wont lie I looked at creating sort of more of a Japanese promotion, its kind of well already done that its already out there so a lot of people are doing that so lets try and be different,”

He would go on to elaborate further about wanting to do something different;

“I was very very close to just doing an all women’s promotion, I was pretty 99% set at having wrestle carnival as women’s promotion only and then I felt it shouldn’t matter what gender you are so I thought no we shouldn’t that so I went and looked all the way back the carnival and the history of wrestling and thought, circus carnival well there’s already been a wrestle circus in America, carnival sounds pretty cool, bright colours over the top characters, we’ve got lots of over the top characters and very storyline driven so its completely opposite of what I was doing it made me feel like it was a perfect fit”

How the History of wrestling and the industry mixed with the ambition to do something different is what inspired Wrestle Carnival

“Its good to always look back and I think you need to know where you come from to know where you going too and yeah I think that the carnival idea opens us up to so much, so like the debut show the things we had/have planned already for it, its going to be very different, more of a carnival theme to have a good time, we’ve had such a horrid 2020 for numerous reasons and its just nice to try and have something where you can go to to escape and have fun and have laugh and also see excellent British wrestling, is key.”

Continuing on Gary would talk about the reception and feedback regarding the name and brand;

“So, so far the name, idea and the branding have gone down well, I just hope the execution of the shows make great matches,”

We would talk about if cinematic wrestling could play a part in delivering a product that is looking to stand out as something different;

“I’d like to do it with the right people, like 2 individuals I have an Idea who I’d like to do it with and its two people and whole essence to it would be but I don’t know whether I will ever do it”

Gary would continue on that if he would do a cinematic match it would be tied to how his booking philosophy works and how he would book the promotion towards this goal if he would choose to do it;

“A lot of it is long term when you book a promotion or how I booked this, I’ve booked it well how you should really back booking so I’ve looked at our final show which will be our biggest show and then I’ve worked myself back but because my venue keeps changing when or I can or cant have shows or as how many shows can be run become a bit of a nightmare, so hard to then to think of putting a cinematic match in there somewhere too Id like to do it if the promotion is very successful and does very well and we have that sort of a budget we’ll go for it.”

Of course running a wrestling promotion takes more than one man, as we continued we talked about the team he had put in place to help him achieve his dream. Putting together a team of people who are some of the most respected names in British Wrestling such as Jaida, Dave Bradshaw, James R. Kennedy, Powerhouse Blake and Chris Ridgeway.

“We have Chris and we also have Powerhouse Blake, his name is Chris as well so it can be quite difficult in whatsapp with Chris and Chris.”

Gary would follow on to say why it was important to have respected wrestler who could match his vision for his promotion in the way that matches would be put together

“I often say this to a lot of the wrestlers that either come to me for advice when they ask for feedback or come to me at shows and go what do you want out of today’s match for me I’m the promoter I have never stepped foot in the ring except to say welcome to the show I’ve took one bump in my life and I’ve never wrestled I always see at as you employ intelligent people to tell you how to do the job, you don’t tell them how to do the job for me, I needed people that are well respected behind the scene to put matches together and Chris and Chris both embody that for me it was fantastic that Chris Ridgeway came to us and offered to work for us and try and do some things he obviously has his own schedules his own dreams and aspirations we would never step in the way that of that if Chris needs to go wrestle, to go away to go overseas or whatever well that’s his priority obviously so any thing that he can bring to us would be great.”

He would also talk about not just the having respected wrestlers to help about behind the scene but wrestling personalities including ring announcer Jaida;

“Jaida, I genuinely think is the best ring announcer in the country I think she’s phenomenal, she is very intelligent and very very good at what she does and her opinion matters hugely to us so having her on board has been great, very helpful in the a lot of the things that we are trying to do behind the scenes, she’s taken lead on a lot of stuff as well, she just recently announced that she is pregnant which is absolutely amazing, we’re so happy for her, we probably won’t see her ring announcing to start with due to obviously the pregnancy which is fine, so there is an opportunity there for some people but Jaida is definitely part of our team going forward.”

On top of ring announcing Gary would talk about adding two of top commentators of the Brit Wres scence in Dave Bradshaw and James R. Kennedy to the team and what they would help bring to the table;

Gary on Dave Bradshaw;

“Dave (Bradshaw) was the commentator we had at wrestlegate and again we built a good friendship along the way we share similar interests he’s a Tottenham Hotspur fan that’s the same as me so we have some laughs and jokes about our season we’ve been abroad together we went to Germany while he was commentating and I had been invited to show in Germany so we spent sometime sleeping on an airport floor together, which is lovely, we just built up a good relationship and he was someone again who is the best or one of the best commentators in Europe so I wanted him on board.

On James R. Kennedy;

“If there is anybody you want to put with him (Dave) really if you watched what culture and defiant then its James (James R Kennedy) just being in a whatsapp group with them too, before we even announced or put wrestle carnival together was a trip because both of them just absolutely love and bleed wrestling and the 80’s and the 90’s it just great being around them and chatting with them and just being around them from a friends stand point.”

On Dave and James as a team;

“Having them both on board I think is going to elevate us in terms of how they describe what’s happening in the ring how they put over storylines because they’ve worked together for some huge companies some of the biggest matches, storylines and things going, you know What Culture and defiant was just absolutely huge probably one biggest things this countries had in a long time they were very very high in part of that set up, its good to have them here as well I’m very excited to have everybody really and all the people we’re looking to work with they’re all British people and all British based so I’m very very excited about that.”

Of course no promotion can exist without a roster and/or competitors, as such we would go on to discuss if he could reveal any members of the roster or if he had any plans on doing a roster reveal;

“I’m not sure if I’m going to do a big roster reveal its likely to be probably just show by show I know there’s been a couple of promotions during the pandemic that have put out larger quantity of reveals, I kinda made that mistake with wrestlegate to be fair it didn’t go down well with a lot fans I gave away a lot of things to early and I always just bring that back to the fact that I just get too excited if I’m honest as a person and wrestling fan I managed to secure wrestlers like Shigehiro Irie, Shuji Ishikawa, Joe Dorring and I got Konesuke Takashita, Yuu, so many people and I got very excited and just wanted to tell everybody and didn’t know that wasn’t the right thing to do as a new promoter, now a bit more experienced I don’t want to give to much away”

Gary would go on to reveal that he had already announced one competitor who should hopefully be part of the promotion going forward

“I’ve announced one person which is Kanji, she will be, I hope if we can make sure she’s got that date available that we’re hoping to run on, she’s the only person that we’ve revealed, there other people that we want to work with I think If I was to say peoples name and then I didn’t book them or wasn’t able to book them or able wasn’t to secure their dates I don’t want to look back on this I said X, Y and Z and we never did it and I’m giving false hope I have ideas of what I want to do, I would’ve loved to have done a show where nobody knew who was coming but that also comes with some worry because of speaking out movement etcetera I don’t want to give fans the impression of they don’t know who they coming to support.”

Gary would exclusively announce with us one of concepts he currently toying with going forward regarding competitors and matches and how fans will be able to participate in helping to shape them;

“So I have kinda come up with a concept that I m happy to share that and no body knows, its literally two people in the whole world know this you’re going to be the 3rd person and who ever listens to this, we’re going to do like a fans choice so I will give you like 4 names and then the fans would chose how they want that match to go I’m going to tell you who is in the match where we’re being open and honest then we give you the fan the opportunity to participate on that.”

Unfortunately the pandemic is not the only issue that wrestling promoters have had to face last year, as thanks to brave women and men who came forward to bring light to a dark shadow plaguing the independent scene. It was a topic we could not avoid and as such we had to discuss as well as the discussing Wrestle Carnival joining the Equity UK to help shape policies and procedures.

Gary provided his thoughts on the movement and how as an industry needed to do better moving forward;

“You don’t go to work to be abused I don’t got to work to do a 12 hour shift to be abused if I am, I’m going to speak out about it and say something about it, that comes with any form of entertainment like football has been in a bad light for things like this as well so we just need to protect each other and be there for each other to support each other”

He would continue discussing his own experiences;

“I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve not seen anything because I have and I’ve been told of things I was told of something as photographer and that photographer when I was a photographer and that person that came to me I went to the person they accused and they never worked in wrestling again and he’s never been back, I didnt come out and speak about it I dealt with it myself as a father and as an adult but I feel that these people need to continue to speak out say what ever happened to keep this fight going.”

He would talk about about the need for policies and procedures as well as how promotions need to work together;

“I think that everybody needs to have some form of policy and procedures in place in any business in the world, any reputable business does, the reason the wrestling business doesn’t is because its unregulated there’s no regulating body, there’s no book, there’s no DVD there’s no nothing to tell you how you should or shouldn’t run a wrestling company its incredibly hard its incredibly difficult but everyone should have these in place and I think that every company as best they can should try to work together.”

Continuing on he would discuss the reason for wanting to work with Equity UK;

“I’ve joined equity because I feel again that equity is there to protect the performer not me, equity is there to protect the individual being booked, not me, equity in a way is there to not catch you but scrutinise you for anything your doing or not doing, see if I am doing something wrong their there to say that’s wrong this is how you should be doing it or that’s so wrong and these are the consequences. equity are there to protect the performer to ensure their safety to ensure that what I say I do and they’re going to come to shows they’re gonna be there, not to protect me in any way, they’re there to protect the individual and I think that is incredibly paramount and good for the industry as whole and they’ve been very good to work with and to talk to when we’re putting things together, I haven’t spoken to them in while but we don’t have any shows to talk about.”

Elaborating he would talk about what it is like working with Equity UK;

“They are very good they’re not just gonna throw a load of codes at you or books or policies, they work with you, they understand that my needs or my booking or the way we do shows is incredibly different to Rev Pro and they understand that, they understand that Rev Pro is full time, you know they make what ever they make a month and that they are a full time company, we’re like a show to show basis and they understand that they give you a bespoke sort of agreement depending on who you are and I think more promotions should look at that, more athletes should look into it too, there gonna be at the shows they’re going to be there to give presentations and to say look if you want to learn more about what we can offer come to us, we’re here and the performer can go up to them if they choose to and if not then they don’t have to, there’s no pressure I think its a good start and I think it’s needed, it’s been needed for a while.”

One thing that really stood out whilst talking with Gary about Wrestle Carnival was this want to use his position to try and help others, as such Wrestle Carnival has also partnered up with Men’s Mental Health charity blOKes as well as children charity Wrestle Cares. Gary would open up about his mental health issues as reasoning behind wanting to help others, talking to myself about how the partnerships were formed as well as how partnership will work.

Gary on men’s mental health charity blOKes;

“They operate nationwide, how it came about was as we all saw so many people in the UK suffer with mental health, in wrestling most of the demographic is male but we also want to find someone who can do the same for the females as well and we’re looking into that at the moment, but we’ve probably all suffered from mental health issues, I am quite happy to say that I had it for a while touch wood I’ve been able to cure my self in my own sort of way, we’ve all dealt with some sort of demon from our past, something in our minds and I think that we need that support. We’ve seen performers take there own lives at incredibly young ages that had families because they feel like they have no support, seeing people just during the corona virus and lock down doing the same thing, it kinda really touched home that while we’re looking to protect our individuals from abuse we should also be trying protect them from in a way their own minds and things that are happening so for us to be able to have the possibility of having someone there that can give these sort of meetings, you can participate you can come and talk to somebody I think it’s a good idea and also try to also raise men’s mental health awareness.”

On wanting to work with Wrestle Cares;

“Wrestle Cares are looking to support children from broken homes with again mental health issues and learning disabilities and wrestling helps so many people and I thought that was good thing to do and on the first show we’re going to have them there so fans can come and donate a toy or a wrestling shirt or cuddly toy or a wrestling figure or something that is wrestling theme that you’ve got sat at home in draw some where and you think I don’t really need that well perhaps some child does and we’d like that.”

On wanting to use his company to help raise awareness and to help others;

“I think partnering with someone like that is very good so having those two things on board as well is great for us as a company but I think it’s better that it’s great for us as individuals if I do one show of wrestle carnival and I just do one show and its not very successful and I think its not gonna work but we helped like 5 or 6 people with their mental health and load of children then its pretty much worth it in the end and the good things are that I hope more people follow them and get behind them, but they’re going to be on all our posters, all of our match graphics and just try and raise more awareness for them.”

Wrestle Carnival have yet to run an official show but throughout the last year the promotion has managed continue to raise its own profile whilst building up the anticipation for that debut show, 18 months in the making. If all goes well we should hopefully see that first show around the end of March or April 2021 and following this interview it certainly seems set to be a wild, exciting and fun show that will be perfect for all ages.

Gary exerts a real passion for the wrestling business and his love for the industry is infectious we at Tea and Tights as well as the team at bodyslam truly wish him the all the luck, we will do our best to keep you updated with regards to that first show. 2020 was an awful year for British Wrestling, and just in general, with the Covid Pandemic and revelations of speaking out, it seems that Wrestle Carnival is what the scene needs moving forward to bigger, better and a far more inclusive industry as we move in to 2021.

You can listen to the full un-edited Interview below;

You can Follow Andrew More on Twitter @GBOtaku82

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