bill bodkin goes to the extreme …
Professional wrestling is all about fantastical and thrilling action, compelling drama and larger than life characters.
However, in every generation there’s a wrestler who isn’t “larger than life” he’s just who he is — a real guy going out there and breaking his back (literally) for the fans and his love of professional wrestling. And the people love him for it. They believe in him, they feel he’s one of them. And while the flashy characters come and go, that everyman is still beholden in the hearts, the minds and souls of professional wrestling fans.
Tommy Dreamer is that wrestler.
Dreamer has bled buckets and suffered injuries that should’ve ended his career, but yet he’s still one of the most passionate wrestlers out there — working the independent scene and most importantly, running his own shows.
This Saturday, June 22, Dreamer will be running House of Hardcore 2 at the National Guard Armory in Philadelphia and will feature an A-List line-up including: Ric Flair, The Steiner Brothers, Terry Funk, John Morrison, Too Cold Scorpio, Lance Storm, MVP, and a slew of ECW alumni and independent superstars. Recently, “The Innovator of Violence” caught up with our editor-in-chief to talk about his new promotion and his undying love for professional wrestling.
Pop-Break: In October of last year you debuted your wrestling promotion House of Hardcore — what inspired you to go into the world of promoting?
Tommy Dreamer: I got mad at the whole independent wrestling scene and I was kinda fed up. I always wanted to [run a show] and it was right place, right time. It started with the Mid-Hudson Civic Center (in Poughkeepsie, NY) and running the wrestling school there (also called The House of Hardcore). I remember them saying, “Hey, would you be interested in running at least one show to see how it works?” This was coming off a weekend when an independent promoter stiffed me on a date and I was like, “You know what, I’m sick of making money for other people and not having that financial reward, so I’m gonna do it.” It worked out and I always said if it worked out I’d do more and that’s how the second one came about. (laughs).
PB: Was it a difficult experience putting your first show together or did your history running locker rooms, booking shows, and being in the talent relations department of WWE give you an advantage?
TD: Totally, 100%. The first show, a lot like this second show, is what I’d like to call a ‘one man Twitter campaign.’ I feel I have a very, very good relationship with wrestling fans. I never consider them fans or marks; I consider them part of my family and friends from the original ECW. And a lot goes with my reputation, I’ve always been a man of my word in the business, which has actually hurt me being so truthful and voicing my opinion. I’ve hired a lot of men and women that are still currently on television and I gave a lot of first breaks to people. I’m putting on a show so some people come out of the woodwork expecting to get booked, but there’s others that I really want on the show. It’s not hard for me to pick up and call somebody because I’ve pretty much met everyone in the wrestling business. So, it’s who I want on the show and how they can contribute to an actual wrestling event.
PB: Before the first bell rang at that show — can you talk about the emotions coursing through your veins?
TD: In the original ECW, we lived and died with every show, and with that building I had seen wrestling as a kid. There were a few famous things that happened in that building that most people didn’t even know about till I brought it to everyone — Randy Savage debuted there, Miss Elizabeth debuted there, Andre the Giant got his hair cut there. [So] I wanted the show to be good but when I saw the amount of people there I thought, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I worked so hard for” and I was very happy with it. There was a lot of behind the scenes stuff with that show. Rival promoters trying to get your show cancelled, lot of BS behind the scenes. This show in Philadelphia is running so smoothly.
Emotionally wise I knew those guys would deliver. I don’t watch the shows as they’re happening, I listen to them. I was downstairs in that locker room and you’re on the second floor of a concrete building and when Spike Dudley came out, I was feeling the building literally shaking and rumbling. I kept him a secret and the place erupted when he came out. So I ran upstairs to see him do his deal and it was awesome and magical.
I’ve got a lot of history there. I broke my back there, I had a lot of great matches and my name on that marquee has meant a lot. It was real, real cool to say I did it again.
PB: On this Saturday’s House of Harcore show, there’s so many huge names that are on the show including legends like Ric Flair, Terry Funk and The Steiner Brothers. Does Tommy Dreamer the fan ever come out and you think to yourself — I’m putting together a show that has my heroes on it how cool is this?
TD: 100%. Talking with Ric Flair, actually texting with him, telling him ‘You’re staying at The Marriott, you’ve got a first class plane ticket, we got you a limo,” I feel like I’m living a Ric Flair promo. Then he texts back with “Wooooo! You’re the man Tommy!” If you would’ve told 12-year-old Tom Laughlin that Ric Flair would be cutting a Ric Flair promo to you, he would’ve thought ‘No way, never.’ It’s awesome.
Terry Funk did so much for me, he’s my mentor. Ric Flair, I hated him growing up because I was a huge Dusty Rhodes guy. To have him on my show, sign autographs and meet the fans, it’s really cool. You get to own your own team. I’m a big sports fan, it’s like owning the Yankees for the day and thinking I’m going to bring back Mickey Mantle to play with Derek Jeter and have catch with Robinson Cano and other up and coming guys.
PB: We mentioned big names — what possible “under the radar” guys are you excited to have on the show and who would you tell the more mainstream fan to keep their eyes on?
TD: The Young Bucks (who had a brief national run as Generation Me in TNA/Impact Wrestling). I’m a big fan of tag team wrestling which is a lost art in wrestling. I watched their match (with Brian Kendrick and Paul London) afterwords but I remember Belulah (Dreamer’s former manager in ECW and real-life wife) was at the show and she was like “That match was awesome. I didn’t know who was going to win.” I mean she stood by my corner all the time and for her and someone like Edge, who told that match was unbelievable, when you have such endorsements … so [this weekend], I’m billing it as the rematch for the fans who didn’t come to the first show.
For the crowd in Philly … I was born into this world as Thomas Laughlin, but I’ll probably be known as Tommy Dreamer when I leave this world, and Tommy Dreamer born in Philadelphia. They are the best wrestling fans in the world for me; they’re the worst wrestling fans in the world for others … they’re a blue collar town and they appreciate hard work, so I was kinda the perfect fit for them. But, they’ll let you know if they didn’t like you or your match. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere, but to me, if you can make it in Philadelphia, it’s a great breeding ground for your career. Those fans are so loyal, so dedicated, but if you stink or mess up … they’re famous for boo-ing Santa Claus and throwing snowballs at him. If they’re not happy with their franchise, The Phillies, The Flyers, The Eagles, they let them know, and I like that.
I believe if one match can’t top the next then it doesn’t deserve to be there. That’s a work ethic that’s instilled in me from the original ECW. We were all trying to outdo each other for the purpose of a great show and which meant entertaining the wrestling fans and which was why ECW was so iconic.
PB: You’re wrestling Lance Storm — an opponent you’ve wrestled countless times. What is it about Lance’s style that you want to work with him.
TD: Lance is truly one of the greats in the wrestling business. He can do it all — he can brawl, which most people didn’t think he could do, he can fly through the air with grace, he can mat wrestle, he’s got one of the best dropkicks I’ve ever seen. Lance can talk, he can do it all. We had a lengthy feud in the original ECW and what I like about Lance as a wrestler is what I like about him as a human being. He goes out there and he’s a great entertainer and he’s a great man, he’s a great father and he’s an all-around great person. He gives everything he can in a performance and he’s not into the politics and behind-the-scenes stuff, he just goes out there and wants to perform.
What I wanted to do originally was have him versus Jerry Lynn from Poughkeepsie but that didn’t work out and when I asked him to come up to the second show I wanted to do him versus John Morrison and I wanted to a do teacher vs. student thing. But he said, “Well, I’d just rather wrestle you then.” So I said okay. Then I came up with John Morrison vs. Too Cold Scorpio which I think is a dream match and can deliver where a lot of dream matches don’t. Too Cold Scorpio is a guy that’s done it and invented it all through high flying and John Morrison is someone who’s done it and perfected it with high flying. To me that’s going to be an amazing dream match.
To me, on this card, there’s a lot of show-stealing matches which I like because I want to go out there and steal the show as well.
PB: You’ve broken your neck, been through hell and back for wrestling — can you tell me what keeps driving you to be a wrestler? I mean you’ve got a wife, kids, you’ve made some money in the business — why keep doing it after all you’ve been through?
TD: I want to say it’s a mixture of craziness (laughs), love and passion. I basically broke my back because I was wrestling with a broken neck for months but my spine was healing well. Then my spine blew out in Poughkeepsie wrestling Lance Storm. It was a rough time — I was 28-years-old, it was a weird time. I remember sitting in my room, I couldn’t walk and I kept crying wondering if my career was over at 28. I was motivated to come back and I did come back. To think about something crazier — I’ve never had a surgery. I just keep on going. My body has been held together with peanut butter and marshmallows I think … I don’t know how I keep going but I do. I know I will walk away, I won’t overstay my welcome. I love going out there performing. Now there’s a money aspect as well I still make a good living living my dream, it’s hard to give it up. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was 9-years-old and people pay me good money to do it. I love performing. Even with ECW it wasn’t about money, because I wasn’t making any money, but it was for the love of the business, the love of the company and the love of doing what I do.
PB: I think that’s why a lot of people love Tommy Dreamer because it’s not a gimmick, but it’s who you are — a guy who loves wrestling and who will sacrifice his body for the fans. Yet in the same vein, I don’t think enough people take the time to thank you for that. It’s a real sacrifice and I don’t know if people are as appreciate of what you’ve done as they should be.
TD: I’m in a much different place in my life. I do all these indies and you have the opportunity to meet with people. So many people come up to me and tell me how ECW or myself touched their lives or inspired them, which is amazing and I love it. People come up to me and hug me and cry. When you’re in WWE and you’re on the road 200 (plus) days a year or when I was in ECW we didn’t realize what we were doing/changing the business. You’d go from Friday and Saturday being in wars, then Sunday was my day of day of wrestling, Monday and Tuesday I’d be in the studio editing the show, Wednesday and Thursday in the office doing t-shirts and taking orders and then back on the road. At the time you never realize what you’re doing but now you can sit there and realize your accomplishments.
My life has been touched by wrestling. I’ve been on television since I was 19 years-old … they’ve watched me grow on television. I’ve always been truthful to the fans and I have an amazing, amazing relationship with them and I love it.
PB: Speaking of television, I’d like to wrap things up with this … I know you’ve got the House of Hardcore, your indie work and some movies going on but is there ever desire to be on TV again or are you content with life?
TD: Of course. I love going to WWE. I loved a lot of my time in TNA. I am also very content in my life. I think it was Bret Hart who said it the best, “I’m okay and you really don’t have to worry about me.” That’s kinda my thing. I love doing movies and new opportunities but would I like to be back on television … 100%. I love that lifestyle but I’m [older] and I’m at a different point in my life, but do I think I can still contribute … hell yeah. I just go with the cards being dealt to me right now and I am very happy in my life.