Tommy Dreamer built a career around being hardcore. A legendary one career at that.
So it’s both fitting and not surprising that he’s building a second career as a promoter and owner around the aptly named House of Hardcore, his wrestling company that later this month will mark its seventh show since Dreamer kicked it off with his own blood, sweat tears, and money, on Oct. 6, 2012, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Even Dreamer himself admits he never imagined his brainchild would be where it is today, seven shows in, about to launch on Internet pay-per-view.
“I also cannot believe, I guess, the buzz and the growth of the company, in the sense that I had two shows under my belt and on the third show I had national television coverage with TNA with the angle I did with Bully Ray,” Dreamer said in a telephone interview ahead of House of Hardcore 7, which will see Dreamer return home to Philadelphia, where he and others became legends with the wildly popular and loved Extreme Championship Wrestling. “My fourth show, I had national television coverage with the TV show Impractical Jokers,” Dreamer added. “They contacted me from what happened at my third show. And then getting a sold-out show in California, and taking it to the West Coast and seeing that response.”
In fact, so quickly is HoH taking root in the wrestling scene that those “E-C-Dub” chants that trailed Dreamer everywhere his career has taken him have been replaced by “HoH” chants, which Dreamer calls “pretty cool.”
“When you think about it, this will be my seventh show,” he said. “There is a lot of good buzz where people then ask you, ‘Hey, can you bring the show to the U.K. (or) Japan?” Dreamer said, adding, “I’m still trying to find my millionaire who wants to take it to the next level, but I’m very, very happy with the progress and growth.”
Dreamer will take the promotion to the next level by offering it live online as an internet-pay-per-view.
“Internet is trying to capture an audience,” Dreamer said when asked if TV is still king when it comes to wrestling. “Unless you have revenue behind you, you need television on a national level to let the fans know where to go. Yes, Twitter is huge. I did a little bit of a calculation for all the people that I have on this show, and previous shows. If I had everyone under contract, I would probably have over 10 million followers tweeting, ‘Hey, watch Nov. 15 on i-pay-per-view,’ but you need television. Television opens up a whole other world for you.
“I remember the big difference from ECW days going from syndication to national television, where all of a sudden, our merchandise is going up, this is going up, our house is going up. TV drives your business. Also, television companies pay for you to be on, so that takes away a big chunk of your headaches.”
Dreamer hopes to one day put House of Hardcore on TV.
“That’s kind of the ultimate goal,” he said. “I would love for that to happen. I think it’s the ultimate goal for any company to have. You have a roster full of people. I would love to do it.”
Thanks to a cross promotion with his former employer Total Nonstop Action, Dreamer was able to get HoH some national exposure via a storyline involving his longtime friend Bully Ray and TNA owner Dixie Carter.
“My fourth House of Hardcore show, I actually then was able to go to TNA and do a shoot promo on Dixie Carter and all that stuff. Again, that was another amazing feat.”
Dreamer has a different view of competition in the wrestling world, and sees an opportunity for all companies to succeed.
“I don’t think we’re rival companies,” he replied when asked about the cross promotion angle. “Even if I was on national television, I wouldn’t want to be a rival with TNA or WWE. I would want to share pieces of the pie. I think I was able to do it because it created such a buzz, and had stuff trending and all that stuff. Again, social media, it’s changed the world.”
The Bully-Dreamer-Dixie angle generated a lot of interested for all parties, and both companies, Dreamer said.
“(There were) legit, heated arguments that came out on Twitter between me and Dixie. It was a disagreement, but it’s also my philosophy of the business,” he said referring to an argument between he and Carter that played out on Twitter and generated a lot of interest on social media and in the wrestling world.
“It was more for me a statement on the business, but again, there was a bigger picture and that was to further the storyline with Bubba and Dixie and which then led to what, to me, and I learned this from Paul Heyman and I learned this from Vince McMahon … if you can make money with it, or do good business, it’s great. And you look at where TNA had their hottest ratings from the summer, and I’m not saying it’s because of me, but it got people interested. Their ratings continued to go up, their highest rated segment of shows was when Dixie finally went through the table. And that’s a compliment for where the angle kind of started and where it went and everything was pumping on the right cylinders.”
It was, Dreamer said, a perfect example of multiple companies working together for the greater good.
“Never, ever would I want to be competition with anybody. I think everyone could work together. If you think about back in the day in the territories, there were different companies running five to seven nights a week, every single day of the week in every state. Think about that. And every wrestler was making money. There are enough pieces of the pie. You’ve just got to give people something to be interested in. Yes, the era of the territories may never come back, because one, we’re in a down economy, and two, there’s so much more out there to do. I have what, 1,300 TV channels at my house? Why do you need to go to a thing when you could see it on television?”
The crossover idea itself was devised by Bully and Dreamer.
“It was … again, business. I had my show, I don’t remember the date, but it was late October/November, and TNA was coming in there in December and it was a way to help generate business for them. Then the payoff would be me versus Bubba.”
Did it work?
“They had three times their attendance from the last show that they had to that show. So again, that worked,” Dreamer said.
Ever the traditionalist, Dreamer has worked hard to generate interest in his HoH shows by filling them with surprise appearances by the likes of Sandman, Bully Ray and even his wife, Beulah McGillicutty, who will be making her final appearance alongside her husband at the coming Philly show.
Keeping the surprises under wraps isn’t as hard as one might imagine, despite the digital age and the heavy coverage wrestling gets nowadays, Dreamer said.
“You just, ‘Hey, don’t say anything. Don’t tell anybody. I’m paying you not to say anything’ … except for my wife, she worked for free,” Dreamer said. “Actually, you know what, Bubba worked for free too. If you respect the process, understand it, it’s easy. A lot of wrestlers, we’re all marks for ourselves and we have to be. We all have to have a bit of an ego to be in this business and we’d want to promote that we’re going to be there, but to me, if it ain’t going to put any extra money in your pocket, then you don’t need to be. When you do a surprise, it costs the promoter more not to be able to advertise you, but it gives the fans that extra bonus.”
Surprise appearances have long been a staple in the business, and one Dreamer plans to continue to fully exploit.
“I love that element,” he said. “I have some huge surprises for Nov. 15. I don’t know how many, I have to put it all down, but the last show I did in Poughkeepsie, I said there were five surprises and there were five surprises and people reacted to all five of them.”
As long as he can remember, Dreamer said, he’s been a fan of the element of surprise at a wrestling show.
“I remember growing up and being like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe he’s here,’” he said. “To me, the Royal Rumble is one of the greatest events the WWE has to offer because they always gave that surprise factor. People aren’t really watching a lot of the action, they’re waiting to see who’s coming next.”
Dreamer cited a recent unannounced return by wrestling legend The Rock during an episode of Monday Night Raw to illustrate his point.
“Would WWE have benefited from advertising The Rock? Yes. Again, their ratings have been kind of going a little bit on a downward slope. If you don’t advertise it, now you have to be like ‘Oh, now I have to watch Raw because anything can happen.’”
“The Brooklyn show was pretty much sold out, so you really don’t need to advertise someone to be there because they’re not going to help draw any tickets if your building is already sold. So then it’s a gift to a sold-out house. Me, I’ve given gifts to try to continue to build a solid house.”
Dreamer’s House of Hardcore has mixed numerous surprises with some great, old-fashioned wrestling, featuring a number of young and talented performers, names like Thea Trinidad, Ethan Carter III, Austin Aries, The Young Bucks, Tony Nese, Hale Collins, Kevin Steen and others.
HoH has helped a number of emerging stars get on the proverbial wrestling map, perhaps none more than the Young Bucks, a high-flying, super-talented duo that have appeared at a number of Dreamer’s shows.
“That’s again what the business is all about,” Dreamer said. “I’m older, I don’t know how much I have left on my battered, beaten body. Like I’ve told many, many people, I was so blessed at 22, 23, 24… I mean 24 years old, I’m in a feud on television with Raven. Twenty five years old, I’m hitting my stride. I’d walk through that curtain, I’d have Paul Heyman, I’d have Mick Foley, I’d have Terry Funk … where could I go wrong with knowledge? I had Shane Douglas, who was older than me, but there was one point when Shane was the man. I was able to build from that knowledge, which is great.
“That doesn’t happen much on the indies, but you look at the Young Bucks. They’re a great example of how to make it in wrestling. They work their asses off everywhere. I did not catapult their careers. They did it themselves because again, I’ve told you, if I had national television, I’d build the company around them. They’re two great human beings, and they do stuff, I’m a mark for their stuff and I just sit there like ‘Wow.’ And I told them, any shows I have, you’re on.”
Fans in Philly are in for a rare treat when the Bucks meet one of the greatest tag teams in wrestling history in The Hardy Boyz, Matt and Jeff.
“(The Young Bucks) … remind me of the Hardys and The Rockers,” Dreamer said. “I know I can’t get Shawn (Michaels) and Marty (Jannetty) back together, but Matt and Jeff, and it’s not old versus new, because as everyone could see on Impact, Matt and Jeff are still at the top of their game. It’s a natural fit.
“Matt and Jeff are still going. There are still a lot of guys that can still go. To me, I’m looking forward to that match. That will be my main event of the night.”
Following her surprise appearance last year at HoH, Dreamer’s wife and longtime valet Beulah will make her final appearance alongside her husband in Philly, where it all began for the couple.
“Shockingly, she came to me and she said, ‘Hey, I know you’re doing a show, back to The Arena, I would like to be a part of it because my career started there,’ and I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to have you.’ ”
During her last HoH appearance, Beulah suffered a serious injury, one that still plagues her and one her husband accepts full responsibility for.
“I put her out there, and she got hurt,” Dreamer said. “She took a bad bump, she kind of whiplashed herself. Again, she’s still feeling the effects of it. We had some real scary moments. At one point, she lost her hearing. It was a lot of emergency trips to the hospital. It was part of a concussion. It was part of hurting her neck.”
Husband and wife clearly share the same hardcore mentality, as Beulah is once again planning to be part of HoH.
“It motivates her, she said, to get in better shape because she has a goal date,” Dreamer said of her planned appearance. “She always had pride and didn’t want people to remember her sort of as a hanger on-er. She said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I said ‘I’m going to announce it, it’s the last time you’re going to walk me to the ring, and the last time we’re going to be together.’ And she said ‘OK.’ I said, ‘You know, I make stipulations that I keep. I said me and Terry Funk will never tag together, and I won’t. At TNA Hardcore Justice, I said, ‘I will never wrestle Raven ever again,’ and promoters have asked me and I’ve just said no. I’ll do it in a tag, but never in a singles because that was my selling point for Hardcore Justice.”
Again, the traditionalist in Dreamer becomes evident.
“I hate, ‘Hey, this person has to leave WWE or this person is going to retire, and then they come back.’”
Dreamer isn’t sure who it will be more emotional for when Beulah walks the ramp for one final time alongside Dreamer.
“It’s awesome that she’s going to be there. I remember when she left ECW, I was terrified,” he said. “Now I had to go out there on my own and you get to a certain comfort level where you know, when I had my matches, she was in the corner, and I knew once her and whoever the other girl was would roll around, my matches would just keep on going higher and higher. I remember being scared as can be. I think it’s going to be emotional.”
Few can tell a story in wrestling like Dreamer when it comes to adding the element of emotion.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as emotional as me and Terry (Funk) because I remember having what we had … that was one of my favourite moments at House of Hardcore where Terry came to ring. (Matt) Striker was crying,” he added.
Striker wasn’t the only one.
“I cried, Justin Credible cried, Lance Storm, who’s an emotional zombie, he started tearing up because you realize they guy’s, then he was 69 years old and this ain’t going to happen anymore and that sucks.”
Dreamer points to another of his passions, baseball, for an example.
“I was there the second to last day of Derek Jeter’s (career),” he said. “Derek Jeter is not coming back next year. Mariano Rivera did not come back this year. I got to witness something special. Terry Funk and me, we’ve had some amazing moments. Beulah and I have had some insane moments together. It’s cool that she’s going to be there by my side one last time.”
“Everything is perfect place, perfect time,” Dreamer added. “It’s ECW Arena, it’s my first show at The Arena. As much as I have now gotten away from ‘this is an ECW type of thing.’
“This again, is to pay homage to what I am in wrestling, and she is one of the best parts of it. That building used to be very, very special and I’m going to try to re-create that specialness.”
House of Hardcore 7
When: Saturday, Nov. 15
Where: 2300 Arena (formerly ECW Arena), Philadelphia, PA.
Showtime: 7 p.m.
Meet and greet: 6 p.m.
Card: The Hardys, Young Bucks, Beulah, Tommy Dreamer, Drew Galloway, Austin Aries, Lance Hoyt, Gail Kim, Harry Smith, CW Anderson, Velvet Sky, Rosita and others.
Tickets and iPPV: houseofhardcore.net