Current CZW owner DJ Hyde gave us some insight in to the new direction change for the brand and trying to shake off the ultra violence stigma attached to the company. We also explored the challenges of keeping talent and why so many of the current WWE roster has come through the ranks of CZW.
What was your vision for the brand from when you took it over?
My vision is the same vision I have now, it is something for everybody. There is an audience for the hardcore market and I actually enjoy it. Hardcore wrestling is never going to die, it just isn’t done as much on a mainstream level now days. There is a lot more challenges financially and if you’re a TV product most networks don’t want blood and guts on their channel.
My vision since day one was to give something for everyone. If you don’t come for the hardcore you will come for the great wrestling, and if you don’t like either of them then you’ll come for the hot girls that can wrestler. If you don’t come for them you’ll come for the highfliers.
CZW boasts an impressive alumni, who stands out?
Jon Moxley, (Dean Ambrose) Kevin Owens and AJ Styles. I mean if you’re watching #205 Live about a quarter of that roster I have trained or have come through CZW. They’ve either worked for me or been developed here.
Who should we look out for on the current CZW roster?
There are so many great guys it just depends on what genre of wrestling you like. Joey Janela is a superstar. Joey in the last three years since he got to CZW has become a phenomenon of indie wrestling, to the point that he ran a show at Wrestlemania weekend in his name and did really well. Guys like Dave Crist and David Starr to name a few. Lio Rush, these guys are the future. We have great guys like Sami Calihan who are already established. If you’re looking at the hardcore Death Match area of what we do then Rickey Shane Page is the guy right now. I think Rickey and guys like Conor Claxton are carrying the company forward in to the new generation. People like Jeff Cannonball are the next big thing. There are so many guys and we have so much talent right now. It’s a matter of getting people to watch.
Why are struggling to get fans to watch the product?
We are still doing great numbers and we are still doing well. We aren’t doing what I think we should be doing. We are one of the top five brands in the US but people don’t look at us to watch David Starr versus Shane Strickland. These are two homegrown guys who are on national TV right now. What is hurting us is that we are so synonymous with hardcore. If you ask a common fan they say – CZW that’s where they do that crazy barbed wire shit. That’s all they know. They don’t know that we have something for everybody. All they know is the Tournament of Death. They know what they saw in the Vice documentary or on 60 Minutes. They don’t know that most of the best wrestlers in the world and that most fans are cheering for have come through our system. You can be the next guy and you can be on NXT but you’re going to be here [CZW] first. It hurts us in so many ways. My goal is to get on television but one of the things that hurts us is that we do Tournament of Death. I can’t get sponsorship, Band-Aids wont sponsor us. They are looking at it and saying this is going to be too difficult for us to do because of the extreme violence. It is being done on other levels but the perception is the reality. We are really not just the Death Match Company. Look at the guys who have been here, they became stars here. The reason they are where they are now is because of us. I’m looking at the WWE UK Championship and you have people like Trent Seven and Tyler Bate those guys were doing my seminars five years ago. I look back and see the top guys in independent wrestling right now who are not at WWE like Adam Cole, Zack Sabre Jr, Johnny Gargano, and Sami Calihan; I had them in Best of the Best 10 and brought them through my system to get there. The problem is that it is hard for us to retain them. When people look at us they don’t see the Best of the Best they see the Tournament of Death. There are a lot of challenges and I think some of the things we are going to be doing over the next few months are really going to kick down the door.
What sort of stuff?
We have partnerships now that will help us get in to the television market. Now through the United Wrestling Network and working with the other promotions like Rockstar Pro and Championship Wrestling from Hollywood is opening doors that we couldn’t get in to. These squeaky-clean all-Americana TV companies. Having that affiliation will help us. I want to do what they do and then a Pay-per-view. We can do the crazy stuff on the Pay-per-view.
We are testing things out now but it isn’t something we want to rush in to. We are also going to up the production values. I have stepped away from wrestling and I am the focusing on giving my guys more responsibility and bringing in a team to support me. We are going to take a new creative direction and it will take pressure away from me. We are going to ramp up social media and we have a lot more international connections. In the last year and half we haven’t really done anything in Europe, Japan or Mexico. Now the opportunity to go back is huge. We are looking to do a whole European tour at the end of the year. Things like this will help us grow the brand. It’s time that we stepped up and became one of the main players that everyone is talking about.
How hard is it to keep talent with products like NXT out there?
If you look at the WWE model they have carbon copied it from other places including mine. I have Dojo Wars and we’ve done it for the last three years, its exactly the same model. It is a developmental system that is a live show. I have people being sent to me from all around the world for training and we build them through that model. Look at NXT talent like Patrick Clark, he was doing Dojo Wars, go back and look on Youtube. Joey Janela has been wrestling for over a decade and we have built him through Dojo Wars. They are doing the same thing through NXT. What WWE is also doing that not a people realize is they have started affiliating with local promotions like Progress or Evolve. This association means they [WWE] can just take all of the top talent. The talent’s got to make a living and they can pay them a lot more money and you cant fault the talent for wanting to take a bigger and better job with more exposure. They are making their own territories. Look at the UK Championship they can basically consign those eight to ten guys and pretty much tell them what to do. The regular little independent wrestling company is going to struggle. It’s really hard on little companies to make a star and then lose them in two years.
You can access all of CZW content at CZW Studios and you get the first month for free.