THE TWO SHEDS INTERVIEW by Julian Radbourne
Stephen Gauntley is the latest in the new generation of British wrestling promoters. Already a successful businessman, Stephen branched out into the promotion business with the highly successful “A Cruel Twist of Fate” show for his new 1PW company. I had the opportunity to catch up with Stephen recently for this exclusive interview.
Julian Radbourne (JR): Stephen, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule for this interview. Let’s start with some background information, where you’re from, that sort of thing. When did your interest in the wrestling business begin, and who were your favourites back then?
Stephen Gauntley (SG): Well the first time I was ever exposed to wrestling was WWF in the late 80’s – WrestleMania V was the first event I ever watched. I was totally hooked from the first time I saw it. I was a very obsessive child, and I really studied it. There were so many wrestlers that I really loved; guys like Hulk Hogan, Ted Dibiase, Rick Rude, Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper…that’s what I was raised on in terms of what I could see. Like I said, I studied it, I was a freak! I used to keep detailed match reports, time the matches, that sort of thing.
JR: You made your first foray into the wrestling business in 2003, with the opening of your 1 Up Games wrestling merchandise store. Could you take us through the opening stages of this, from initial conception, to where you are today.
SG: Yeah well it’s all been a very wild ride that’s for sure. Myself and my long suffering wife Rosie started the company whilst also working full time. We started the company pretty much from nothing, with a few thousand pounds, and worked really hard to build it up. We really wanted to be in business for ourselves, and not keep working for other people in jobs we hated. We took a risk and quit our jobs, got some premises, and worked insane 80 – 90 hour weeks for over a year to get it going. I’m happy and proud to have done it. We were lucky to get a wicked team on board, which has grown very quickly, and 1 UP has become a relatively successful retail company. Both myself and my wife are very obsessive, and we just focused all our energies on making this work.
As we built it up, and built the brand, we were able to do some really cool things, like get the distribution deal with ROH, followed by the deal with TNA.
Today we battle on. The company is successful, but like any relatively new business, it requires a LOT of hard work and perseverance, sometimes with little tangible reward. I am really happy with where we have 1 UP positioned right now, with it’s synergy to 1PW, and I think the next year will see even more amazing events for us.
In January we will have the first ever UK Exclusive WWE Jakks wrestling figure, when we bring out our own limited edition William Regal figure. The future looks very good.
JR: You’ve just announced plans to move to a larger premises in the new year, which includes the opening of a larger store. Do you think that the opening of the larger store will see a marked increase in sales, and do you think there will come a time when you open up stores in other parts of the country?
SG: I sincerely hope so! It doesn’t need to do better business to pay, as the main reason for the move it to have more office space, and other facilities that are not related to our retail business.
JR: Earlier this year you took the bold step and moved into the wrestling business proper, with the formation of your own promotion, 1 Pro Wrestling. Why did you decide to move into this aspect of the business?
SG: I really always wanted to. I can’t remember a time since I first became interested in wrestling, that I didn’t want to. In the last year as 1 UP grew, I realized that it was actually pretty feasible for me to run a show, as a business venture, and so after much research, planning and considerations, made the date, and just did it!
JR: While researching this interview, I saw that unlike other up-start promotions in Britain, and some more established ones, 1PW is definitely not a one or two man show, and that you’ve have people working in different areas. While you yourself are chairman of the company, you have commercial managers, directors of operations, etc. Why did you make such appointments, while other new promoters are content to do most of the work themselves?
SG: I actually have two companies that demand my attention, 1 UP Games, and 1PW. Even with all the help that we currently have, I still have an awful lot to do. I’m not complaining, I love it, I’m addicted to my work. I’m not dumb enough to think I can run an operation the size of 1PW all by myself. Just like I don’t run 1 UP by myself, I don’t run 1PW by myself either. My wife is a big part of the business. She’s the sensibility, if you can call it that. I don’t have commercial managers, I have one commercial manager ( Anthony Booth ) , I don’t have directors of operations, I have one European director of operations ( Rick Peters ). 1PW is set up like any ordinary business would be, with different people doing different roles. We have people like Rick Peters and Kingdom James, who are really experienced within the wrestling industry, as I’m not so egotistical to think I can just make and run a wrestling promotion with no hands on experience in that field.
JR: You suffered a blow early on when Matt Hardy pulled out of your first show after he returned to the WWE. Although you quickly replaced Hardy with A.J. Styles, how annoyed were you when Hardy pulled out of the show?
SG: Yes I was. I was really angry at the time, as I felt I was lied to. I am actually now grateful for the experience though, as it taught me some valuable hard lessons about the wrestling industry, and how to deal with problems as they arise. I was really happy with how we dealt with it, and we were lucky enough to be able to replace Matt with some really good performers. When we lost Matt, we actually booked Tommy Dreamer, AJ Styles, D-lo Brown and Jerry Lynn, in his place. I think the final show was better then if Matt had have kept his booking, and I have total peace with the situation now.
JR: Your first show, “A Cruel Twist of Fate”, took place this past September, and featured a veritable who’s who of American indy talent, such as the aforementioned Styles, Abyss, Raven, the Sandman, Steve Corino, and WWE trainer Al Snow, along with British stars Doug Williams, Jody Fleisch and Jonny Storm. Some people in the business were somewhat critical of the fact that you packed your show with overseas talent. Why was this?
SG: First off let me say I know there will always be people who disagree with me here. To those people, I’m really sorry. This is our philosophy with 1PW. If our fans wanted to see a show full of British wrestlers, there are loads of other shows they could go to. Our shows are different, as we want to give British fans the chance to see a lot of talent they just wouldn’t get the chance to see live. Plus, a big part of our strategy is to market our shows back to the US. We have a DVD deal in States, and we intend to produce shows that will sell a lot of DVDs in the US, in addition to providing our awesome fans ( and they are honestly awesome ) in the UK with the kind of wrestling we want to produce.
JR: How did you feel in the days leading up to the show, and did you ever think that the whole thing could go wrong, given the fact that the majority of your talent was flying in from overseas?
SG: I was nervous as hell. We had everything riding on that show, and I mean everything.
I was nervous for a whole host of reasons, I’d say the travel US imports were only one of them.
JR: The show earned some rave reviews from those who attended, but the one criticism of the show was that it ran a little too long, with the show finishing around midnight. Is this something you will be addressing in the future?
SG: Absolutely! Yes we have taken pointers, and learnt some great lessons from A Cruel Twist of Fate. We will present a much tighter experience in January. We will do so many things different, and try to improve in every area possible.
JR: Let’s move on to your upcoming shows in January, the “No Turning Back” tour. Originally you were scheduled to hold a show at the Blackpool Winter Gardens on January 6th, but you had to move the show to the Doncaster Dome. Why did you have to do this?
SG: There was a legal problem with the venue. I wasn’t 100% sure we would be able to resolve it, and I really didn’t want to get down the line, and be say, six weeks before the show, and have to cancel it. As much as I didn’t want to cancel an announced show, it was something that had to be done. I’m happy I made that decision now, as I think it was the right thing to do.
JR: So you’re now holding both of your shows at the Doncaster Dome on January 6th and 7th. Do you think that by holding both shows at the same venue you’re actually decreasing the size of your target audience?
SG: Yes probably. WE have actually sold tickets for the January shows to people from France, Holland, Germany and Belgium, as well as to people all over the UK and Ireland. I guess right now our line up is so good, and our product is that attractive to fans, that they are willing to come to us. We do have plans to present shows in different arenas then the Doncaster Dome, but the Dome will always be considered as our “ home “ arena.
JR: You’ve once again announced a veritable who’s who for those two shows, including Charlie Haas, Low-Ki, Samoa Joe, Masato Tanaka, Homicide and Jeff Jarrett, some of whom will be competing in matches in your World title tournament. You’ve certainly pulled off some coups here, haven’t you?
SG: Yes I’m really happy with all the talent we got in for the January shows. Its our philosophy to not do things by halves. We are really serious about 1PW as a business. We treat our performers with respect and work with them, and it creates a really good place to come work. Guys want to come work here. We are really happy with all the guys that are coming in to work , our roster is fantastic!
JR: Which brings me to my next question – this past week you announced that none other than former WWF and WCW Champion Bret “Hitman” Hart will be making an appearance in January. I’ve just got to ask you, how did you manage to do something that not even TNA and WWE have managed to do by getting the Hitman on your show?
SG: We have been working things out with Bret for over four months now. Rick Peters has put countless hours hard work into the deal. Rick has very good ties with Bret. I can see why not many other promoters manage to book Bret, as Rick had to be really patient, and really work so hard at getting it done. I can tell you that Bret himself is very excited about it too. He is really looking forward to meeting his UK fans, and to stepping into the 1PW ring to address his fans. I think signing Bret Hart proves that 1PW means business with our product. I know how passionate the 1PW fans were for our first show, and I honestly cant wait for the reception Bret will get.
JR: Given the fact that you’re mainly using overseas talent on your shows, do you think there will ever come a time when you start to use more and more British stars on the show?
SG: Absolutely. In the long term we want to utilize more local talent. The product we are promoting right now needs to feature mostly name value Americans though. Like I said before, we market ourselves to the US wrestling consumers too, in terms of DVD sales. I think people who said we are bad for British wrestling cant understand what we want to do. If you look at our debut show, we featured Darren Burridge going over in our “ win a 1PW contract “ battle royal – and we plan to feature him on upcoming shows. We featured Spud in an angle with Abyss, and have huge plans for him in 2006. Although Iceman lost to Low Ki on the show, he left to a huge standing ovation, and is another worker we have big plans for. Not to mention Doug, Jonny & Jody all emerging victorious over their American counterparts in their respective matches. We would love to find some pretty much un-known talent, and build them up gradually over time as a 1PW Wrestler. Refer to this discussion in one year, and two years from know, and take a look at what we do with some British guys.
JR: With 1PW, The Wrestling Channel and Alex Shane promoting “super-shows” using mainly overseas talent this year, do you think that this is the way forward for British wrestling?
SG: I cant speak fro anyone else, or what does or doesn’t make money fro them. But for 1PW, we have our own business model, and we are very happy with it. Of course competitors shows do factor into that business model, they aren’t a major factor in it for us. I know what kind of shows we want to put on, and like I have said many times, we have a really specific vision for those.
JR: What is your long-term goal as a wrestling promoter? Would you like to promote monthly shows, or try and get 1PW shows onto television?
SG: I don’t want to say. In my grandest moments I have all kinds of monumental things envisaged, and in my normal moments I take it one day at a time. I feel totally blessed to be where I’m at.
JR: As chairman of 1PW, do you think there will come a time when you yourself will appear on 1PW shows as an authority figure character, as other promoters have done recently?
SG: Not at all. I have no inclination whatsoever to go out there. Our fans don’t pay their money to come and see me, they come to see world class athletes laying it on the line for their entertainment. Our philosophy with 1PW would totally rule me out of ever stepping out there, as I want our stage to be for the performers. We want to cut the bullshit, and present wrestling to wrestling fans. So yeah don’t worry, I’m not going to book myself into being the first 1PW Champion.. I can probably be seen near the backstage area at our shows.. I’m the tall guy looking stressed.
JR: Where do you see yourself in five-to-ten years time?
SG: In ten years to be honest id like to be retired, writing my book, and getting to spend time with my beautiful wife, and family.
JR: Anything you’d like to plug while we’re here?
SG: Yes – I do love a good plug – thank you kindly! 1PW No Turning Back tickets ( for both Friday Jan 6th and Saturday Jan 7th ) are on sale now, and available from the Doncaster Dome Box Office on 0800 801 572, or via the 1PW Ticket Line on 0870 224 2992 , or available to purchase securely online via www.1upgames.co.uk
JR: Stephen, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. The best of luck with your shows and your store, and I hope to hear a lot more from 1PW in the future.
SG: Cheers mate!