(I originally wrote this for the 2014 Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame program. I am posting it here for other fans, who may have not have seen the program, to see).
The world of independent professional wrestling isn’t easy.
For the wrestlers, it’s a tough lifestyle – going from town to town, performing in from of crowds of all sizes and having to try and get by on small checks.
As for the owners of these promotions, it can be much harder. The lifespan of most organizations isn’t always too long. Owners have to juggle the finances, worry about talent showing up, promote and market and then make sure a quality product is delivered to the fans – no matter how big the crowd is.
In some instances, this is too much to handle and promotions either fade away or struggle to stay afloat, having fewer shows and hoping things work out in the end.
For others – like the Syracuse-based Squared Circle Wrestling – the key is developing a cult-like following, delivering a solid product and being known as one of the best independent promotions in the country.
Even then, it’s not easy and it has to be about the love of professional wrestling — not the money.
2CW is born
In November 2005, Josh Jeanneret and some friends were watching the WWE Survivor Series. His impression of that show wasn’t a high one and, already being involved in the independent wrestling scene, Jeanneret thought he could do better.
“I remember after, me and some other people were kind of like ‘this sucks,'” Jeanneret said. “It was as simple as this sucks, our (stuff) could be so much better.”
And like that, the idea to hatch an independent promotion based in upstate New York was born. He got the ball rolling and did all the necessary work.
Driven by passion for the business, Jeanneret worked to that first card, which eventually would take place in April 2006 in Syracuse.
“We were just like we’ll be better and way more awesome,” Jeanneret said. “There was no grand plan of we’re going to be the next this or that or anything. It was only ever about having the best possible show. I wanted to melt people’s faces off so when people leave, they think it’s amazing and have to go next time. It’s about nothing more than the magic.”
The idea was hatched, but it was time to market, brand and get an identity, which starts with a name.
Already decided for the federation was a Johnny Law character, a spoof on cops. So one night, Jeanneret was speaking with “Johnny Law.”
The first idea was JPW — Just Pro Wrestling. Jeanneret dismissed it for being too tongue-in-cheek.
Next up was Ring of Glory, an obvious play off Ring of Honor. That was also dismissed.
“I was like ‘we might as well call it Squared Circle Wrestling because that would be just as horrible as Ring of Glory,'” Jeanneret said. “He was like ‘yeah, that’s a good idea. We could put a 2 in front so they could chant 2CW.'”
Jeanneret even argued the validity of using it … as mathematically, it would be impossible.
And with that, 2CW was born.
“Weird stuff will happen like that. When it happens, it seems lame,” Jeanneret said. “Looking back, it’s kind of cool. There was no marketing meeting or big items. It was just there.”
The first card — the original Living on the Edge — took place April 8, 2006. It featured eight matches. The names on there might resonate with newer 2CW fans as many of them still remain with the company, such as Isys Ephex, Loca Vida, Jason Axe and Steve McKenzie. JD Love was also on the card — Jeanneret’s wrestling identity.
It also included Spike Dudley, who was still active in the mainstream world of pro wrestling at the time. Dudley proved to be a massive supporter of 2CW and became a close friend of Jeanneret as he looked to build 2CW.
The Growth of 2CW
The key, Jeanneret said, was developing feuds. The early cards often featured the same opponents, though the in-ring work differed from match to match. The feuds were in-depth and helped create storylines.
“At first, our feuds went a year,” he said. “We tried to establish ourselves. We were getting heat at first. Every show is the same matches. Not in the ring, but booking the same matches. That’s what happens when there’s a feud.”
Within five shows, the name really started kicking in. Jeanneret said at the September 2006 show in Syracuse, he remembers the first chant. It’s one any 2CW fan will recognize when the crowd breaks out in a “2-C-Dub” chant.
“I remember people chanting 2CW,” Jeanneret said. “I never had any expectations. Me and Isys (Ephex) talked about it and were like ‘that is awesome.’ Now there are people with 2CW tattoos. The fans are passionate and show they care.”
Taking it to the next level was going to take more than developing a chant, however. Local wrestlers needed to be built up and established. In the end, the fans are ones who decide if it’s cool or not by coming back to future cards.
In total, 2CW held seven cards its first year. Spike Dudley was on five of those shows.
“For people who have done stuff in the business, I don’t respect anybody more than Spike Dudley,” Jeanneret said. “He always was willing to do what was best for us and the company. He was willing, more than anybody else, to do whatever needed to be done to get the local guy over. I don’t think there was any feud better than Spike and Jason Axe. They just killed each other.”
One thing, though, has been very obvious since the beginning and during the growth — it’s not about the money for Jeanneret. His passion for professional wrestling goes beyond the checks.
In fact, the first year, Jeanneret lost $20,000.
The second year was down to $17,000, followed by $13,000. It fluctuates during the years, but it always seems to be the same.
“It’s always a losing proposition,” he said. “If I was married and had kids, I wouldn’t be able to do it. The situation I am in affords me the opportunity to live my dreams and allow other people to live their dreams.
“Financially, it’s not worth it,” he continued. “It’s never about the money. It gets tougher the longer you go. Even when you do make money, you want to improve. Like ‘hey, we made money. Let’s buy a new ring.’ Or, ‘oh, we can buy tag team titles.'”
Improvements included giving away two internet free-for-views, which each received rave reviews. From those broadcasts, 2CW got exposure.
The other aspect is bringing in big names to headline cards. Some stars cost more than others, which means Jeanneret had to weigh all options, including the market they are in and who can draw.
Another aspect of the growth is surrounding yourself with a core group who will battle with you. For Jeanneret that includes Kevin Parker (Jack Trades), Steve King, Steve McKenzie and Ted Stillwell.
“There are horrible times, like after every show when it’s 4 a.m. and you are unloading the ring into an empty warehouse in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “It’s dark, there are no cheers, no fans, no nothing. There’s the five or six people who are really passionate about it who are with you and doing the work.
“People like Jack Trades and Steve King who are with me in every fight,” he continued. “The people who are in the cellar with you from 3 a.m. one day to 3 a.m. the next. … It’s lonely. It’s easy when there are 500 people cheering for Rob VanDam and Sami Callihan at the venue. When it’s you, Jack Trades, Steve King, Studly Steve and Ted Stillwell who are unloading the ring into an empty warehouse at 4 in the morning, it’s tough.”
Becoming the best
For the past few years, 2CW has cleaned up in Internet awards. They have earned the independent promotion of the year, had the matches of the year and so much more. The cult-like following the organization has developed is impressive. Some of the fans are as important as the show as they add to the ambiance and excitement of each card.
But with that, there’s bad with the good, such as getting calls in the morning from the police or hotel where your wrestlers were staying. There are crazy things that happen in the ring where Jeanneret has to react quickly.
Still, it’s what makes him such a tireless worker and why it seems wrestlers come back and go to bat for him without hesitation.
“Who am I to complain when I am lucky enough to be in the situation to really live my dreams,” he said. “How many people really get to live their dreams? Even when there is bad stuff, it’s still really is awesome.”
Jeanneret has come under heat for some of the angles 2CW has run, but in the end, he points out it’s a show. Such as the night in December 2010 when Jason Axe hanged Jay Freddie in the middle of the ring.
“Pro wrestling is live theater,” Jeanneret said. “People pay to see it. People want a product they can be wowed by. But fans also have this line where they can’t believe we crossed it. Like Jason Axe hanging Jay Freddie. We got so much heat for that.
“There’s no over-the-line in a movie or a play in New York City,” he continued. “They can have Nazis marching around and having people getting killed. That’s pretend, it’s OK. They are just portraying something in the past. Then, all of a sudden, you cross this weird imaginary line that wrestling fans have and you can’t do that. It’s live theater. Who cares? Why get so mad about it?”
Jeanneret is the first to point out he never has a plan, outside of working to make his product awesome. Nothing is official until it happens.
“I never thought people would get 2CW tattoos or chant 2CW or have successful iPPVs,” he said. “There was never a plan.”
Part of the beauty of 2CW is the ability to make moments people will talk about and do them on the fly.
Take, for example, a night of diving wrestlers, which happened in Binghamton in February 2012.
Eddie Edwards came to Jeanneret about 15 minutes before a match and had the idea of basically emptying the locker room to have people dive out of the ring. Jeanneret, at first, said no. Then told Edwards if he could arrange it, to go with it. Edwards made a list, which eventually included former WWE star Carlito.
“We didn’t think Carlito would want to do it because of his position,” Jeanneret said. “Eddie didn’t put him on the list. Carlito then came down and said something to Trades. He was watching on stage. Here’s a dude who wrestled at Wrestlemania and is watching and even he was caught up in the moment. He was like ‘I want in on this.'”
Even Jeanneret got in on it, doing a dive.
“A lot of moments create themselves,” he said. “When you are doing a title change and stuff, that’s planned. But there are times there’s no planned finish. We’ll feel how the crowd is. The guys will know when they go to the match, but 10 minutes before the match, we might be gauging how we feel what the audience wants to see.”
Sometimes it takes some quick thinking on Jeanneret’s part. Take for an example, also in Binghamton, between the Super Smash Brothers taking on former WWE starts Brian Kendrick and Paul London. The match was filled with beer drinking and seemingly was getting out of hand.
So at the end, Jeanneret said he knew he had to do something.
“That wasn’t planned. That was a Josh audible,” he said. “How do we get out of this segment? London and Kendrick were so drunk, we had to do something to end it. The crowd thought it was great.
“I was like ‘give me the microphone and get everybody out there and give hugs,'” he continued. “It was an audible that really happened in five seconds and then go.”
The now and future
Jeanneret wouldn’t commit to any time line for the lifespan of 2CW. He said they keep making moments, such as having successful iPPVs, reaching show 100, taking 2CW out of New York and getting some top names, such as Rob VanDam and Tajiri.
“Our goals are exceeded at this point,” he said. “We had to get to 100. If you walk away at 99, you know in five years you’ll say ‘we should have just done 100.’ It’s personal satisfaction.”
Tajiri is a long-time coming, too. It’s taken Jeanneret three years to convince Tajiri to come back to the states and wrestle for 2CW. He said that is a personal win.
No matter, what, though Jeanneret sticks to his true beginning — put out a top-notch product and make the fans keep coming back for more. And he doesn’t do it in a sneaky way — he makes sure the fans and wrestlers go home happy.
“Unlike everything else in wrestling that’s usually lies and smoke and mirrors and stealing money, you’ll find no wrestlers or any fans or any people who will ever say that they felt like 2CW hosed them,” Jeanneret said. “That they didn’t get paid or were overwhelmed. You’ll never find that. Because at the end of the day, there is nothing more important than your word. Actions speak louder than words.”
(Final note: I am working on a much bigger and more expansive story about 2CW. I already have a lot more info from the owner that wasn’t included in this. The project will likely take some time, but will be a fun one to work on and, in the end, should be quite the read!)
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