The Wrestling Merchandise and Memories Interview
Originally published March 7, 2018
"That’s what’s fun about being a wrestling fan. Subconsciously, we chase what we don’t know. We all want those little facts, those little tidbits, those little sidebars, those stories that we don’t know, and we just chase that stuff."
Conrad Thompson has quickly become one of the biggest names in wrestling podcasting.... and it all started because of a robe.
The co-host of Something to Wrestle (with former top WWE executive Bruce "Brother Love" Prichard) and What Happened When (featuring former WCW announcer Tony Schiavone) has hung his hat on a unique style that peels back the layers on some of wrestling's biggest stories. In many respects, Thompson asks the type of questions that fans have always wanted to know, always doing so in a fun and entertaining fashion.
The future son-in-law of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair recently spoke with our resident wrestling historian Mike Rickard to discuss his love of the squared circle and his involvement in the ever-growing world of wrestling podcasts.
Mike Rickard: You've stated many times that you're a wrestling fan at heart. However, the story of how you beame acquainted with wrestlers in quite interesting. Could you tell our readers how you got involved with wrestling?
Conrad Thompson: It was sort of a happy accident where I’m scrolling through at the end of 2012. I’m out there in Las Vegas to see a UFC, I’m killing time, scrolling through and I happen to find a Ric Flair robe -- like a real one -- and I think it’s the coolest thing ever, so I start negotiating with the guy and eventually a few months later, I actually own the robe. So now that I’ve got this thing, which I think a lot of wrestling fans would think would be cool to own, I’m really not sure what I do with this… how do I display it?
So some friends and I decide that hey, the way to display it is to get like a mannequin and put a big gold belt around it. I decided to do a little bit of research and I discover that the very best real big gold belter of all is Dave Millican… so I message Dave and we go back and forth, and I wind up ordering a few belts from him like the old domed globe championship that resembles the first world title that Ric won, from like you know of course from Harley Race; the big giant belt that he and Dusty and Sting and Hulk Hogan and everybody else wore.
So, from there, we kind of hit it off and I didn’t know it, but Dave kinda lives right over the state line from me in Tennessee. So we had an opportunity to hang and I got to meet one of his very good friends Chris James, and Chris’ brother Mark James was working on a book with Jim Cornette. So, it just became like this sort of small world where eventually I meet Jim Cornette, then J.J. Dillon, etc. etc. and eventually I wind up meeting Ric Flair.
The first wrestler interaction I had was when I made a donation to the Kickstarter for the ECW documentary Barbed Wire City and I thought John Philapavage and those guys just did a phenomenal job with that and one of the little kickbacks with that I guess, the bonuses, was that if you donated X amount, you could have a wrestler come to your house for a private screening. I thought that was the most absurd thing ever, but I wound up making the donation and Shane Douglas came over, entertained my friends and I, told some stories, and we watched the documentary together and I kinda got to pick his brain. Around that same time, I became acquainted with Jim Cornette, and man we were off to the races. So slowly, but surely, I started to meet some of the folks I grew up watching on TV and eventually one asked to do a podcast with me.
MR: Wow, that's just incredible! That's amazing things turned out and now you're doing, what, two podcasts?
CT: Yeah, I’m doing two wrestling podcasts now—one on Friday with Bruce Prichard and one on Monday with Tony Schiavone and I’m helping Jonny Fairplay from Survivor Hall of Fame with a podcast on Wednesdays, but Survivor’s not exactly my game. But I'm a big fan of the show and a big fan of Jonny. Wrestling is more my speed.
MR: When you were growing up as a fan, did you ever think fans would have so much access to wrestling, whether it’s DVD’s, the WWE Network, or other streaming services?
CT: No, man. I don’t think anyone thought that any of this would be possible. Once upon a time, the only way you hoped to have any interaction was if they did some sort of meet and greet prior to a television show or you paid for some sort of WrestleMania experience or you wrote a letter because you were distraught because Earthquake sat on Hulk Hogan’s chest and killed Hulkamania.
Yeah, that was pretty much it with the exception of reaching out over the guard rail and trying to touch your heroes as they walked by—which most kids did back then.
MR: Yeah, I tried that too. Now that’s one thing with the wrestlers, but what about the wrestling content itself, the stuff that you can get on DVD, on the Network, or on streaming like New Japan. Did you ever foresee that happening?
CT: No. I grew up in the tape trading era so you had to hope that a stranger, that you sent a money order to was going to actually deliver on what he said. Believe it or not, we’re such a good network of dudes that most of the time that happened and it’s kind of weird that once upon a time, you had to find someone who had it, then you had to figure out what generation they had, and was it recorded on SP, or LP, or SLP…and what their reputation for sending it to you was. Now, every match that you ever wanted sits in your front pocket. It
MR: I’ve got a related question. While it’s fantastic to have access to past shows, the WWE controls a significant portion of wrestling’s past video archives. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
CT: Well I think it’s a great thing because how else would it be out there? I know that a lot of people really criticize it and wish that there were other players in the market, but the reality is, how would they monetize it? I think the WWE has done such a job with their catalog and I know people are still critical of what’s there because people focus on what they don’t have, but when you really look at all that is there, and it really is—not to be a hype man, but it’s under ten dollars.
You not only make sure that you have a consistent revenue stream if you’re the WWE, but you just eliminate all of your competition at that price point because the amount of time and effort and energy it would get to get a whole library of content up and then to market it and maintain it, no one can compete which is what we’re seeing with FloSports and lots of other streaming services.
Lots of people are lying and telling you that they’re doing more than they’re really doing. WWE has essentially priced everyone out of the market, and I can’t say that’s necessarily great for wrestling, but man, it’s great for fans because eventually they’re going to own everything, and we’re going to get it at that time for 15 bucks. Still, that’s a heckuva of a value compared to the old pay-per-view model.
MR: Do you have any old-school promotions you like that aren’t on the WWE Network? I know how you just talked about how people say, “There’s not enough of this or enough of that…” Is there any particular old school promotion that you’d like to see that’s not on the Network right now?
CT: Well, I’m an ECW guy so I wish the whole ECW library was up with the original music. I also wish that the old Saturday shows that I grew up on were posted. I mean.... all the old WCW and NWA Saturday shows. I would also like to see the old Wrestling Challenge and Superstars show I grew up on get posted but I don’t think there’s enough love and respect for those, because that’s what I really grew up on was.
I’m also a big fan of the opportunity to see more Memphis and more Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Championship Wrestling from Florida. I would love to see more of that. I appreciate what’s up there, but I think all of us kind of want to be a little bit of a completionist and wish that everything was there in its original format, but it’s a) probably not possible, b) probably takes a lot of time to do, and c) if you give them everything now, what can you slowly trickle out to keep them interested? I mean, there’s so much there and we focus on what’s not there, rather than digging in and appreciating all the nuggets that are there.
MR: What do you think is the most exciting stipulation match in wrestling today? What’s your favorite?
CT: You know it’s hard to say. I mean, a lot of people were excited to see War Games and I’m excited that the concept is back, but I knew when I heard there wasn’t going to be a top on the cage that people would be upset. They would say, Oh, it’s not the same. But I think you do have to kind of like, evolve some of those concepts as time goes on, because the way the Hell in a Cell match was first and the way it is now is different. You know, the original you knew lots of people are going to be bleeding, and that can’t be today—and I’m okay with that. And I think as a result of the loss of blood, it’s hurt a lot of the stipulations.
I enjoy the Money In The Bank matches, but I cringe for the guys because I know it’s got to be a very nerve-wracking and very serious situation at times and I’m a big fan of the Hell in a Cell because I think you’re always trying to find a way to work it a little differently. But I do feel we’ve probably seen pretty much all the high spots we can see with a ladder and I’m not sure how much more creative we can get with Hell in a Cell. So, I’m looking forward to what the next gimmick is going to be, but I don’t think it has to be “can you top this?” People still get excited about the and that’s the oldest gimmick match the WWF does.
MR: What current stipulation match would you like to see get retired?
CT: That’s a good question. You know I’m kind of over Money in the Bank. I appreciate that it’s a ladder match and you’ve got something hanging, but I don’t know if we’ve had the cash-in situations in the last few years where it has been as impactful. I think the best cash-in we’ve seen — obviously the first one with Edge was just outstanding — but the recent one that I think carried the most weight was when Dolph cashed right in after and the pop he got, maybe four years ago… that was just unbelievable.
So, I don’t know if we’ve had a big cash-in since, at least for me… obviously Randy Orton cashing in, and Triple H turning on Daniel Bryan the next year. That was pretty impactful, but I feel like it kind of fell a little bit off a cliff. It would be okay if they took a break with that for a little while, but I get it — it’s an exciting concept and they’ve found a way to merchandise it. So now that they’ve found a way to merchandise it to sell us the suitcases, it’s going to be here for a while.
MR: Oh yeah, that’s always a good sign. Now... you’re on the two shows with Bruce and with Tony and you bring a lot of exuberance to your shows and you can tell that you enjoy being there. At the same time, you’re not afraid to ask tough questions of these guys. How do you maintain a balance between having fun and getting to the bottom of things, the questions that need to be asked?
CT: Well, I think that it helps that I’m not a stranger to these guys. We were friends in real life and we talk in real life. I think sometimes listeners need to take the show too seriously and I think that’s a little disappointing. I appreciate that people are super-passionate about the show, but my role on the show is sort of to be point/counterpoint so sometimes I’m going to argue something that I don’t think is my personal opinion, but I know that I represent the fans, and I’m here to argue the dirtsheet narrative and I’m here to argue on behalf of the IWC, and sometimes I’ll argue stuff that I think is pretty logical when you see it from his perspective because Bruce off-air would’ve told me a story and I know how it ends, and it makes perfect sense, but our listeners are hearing it for the very first time, so I’m going to argue with the same fervor that I did if I didn’t know the end of the story.
MR: That makes sense.
CT: And I think that makes the best show, and sometimes when I say that I think it disappoints people, I think they say “Oh, it means the show’s a work?” No, it means the show’s very much not a work. It means when we’re arguing, we’re really arguing, but we also know when we click “record,” we’re really not mad at each other. We can motherf*ck each other like right now and then when we’re done, we both know, “Hey man, that was a good show.” “Thanks man, cool. Talk to you tomorrow.” And that’s like no, we got it all out. The arguing will not continue off-air. Like that’s what we’re doing for the show to create a fun show. Not to say that we’re faking it—but we are very much he’s representing the WWF and Vince McMahon’s point of view, and I’m representing the dirtsheets and the hardcore smart marks’ point of view, and even if he’s convinced me otherwise; I feel like it’s my job to you know, take that stance.
MR: With all the books like Mick Foley’s Have a Nice Day, wrestlers really started to talk about the business, and there’s been some really good books, some bad books, and it seems like podcasts seem like the next thing when it comes to learning, like what’s behind the curtain. What do you think are all the positives of having all these podcasts right now?
CT: Well I think that’s what’s fun about being a wrestling fan. Subconsciously, we chase what we don’t know. We all want those little facts, those little tidbits, those little sidebars, those stories that we don’t know, and we just chase that stuff. And any little new piece of information we really hang our hat on.
With like most every podcast they come up with comes out, you’re going to get one thing —whether it’s from Edge and Christian, or whether it’s from “Stone Cold” or it’s from Jim Cornette. You’re going to get one thing you didn’t know and you’re going to get like, it’s the only hobby I know where it become like knowledge is power, man and we all want to know a little more. And I think that it’s really cool that we’re all on this same journey together and we’re able to compare notes on message boards and social media like Twitter and Facebook and everywhere. “So and so said this” and “so and so said that.” We can link it. It’s a fun environment. It’s a great time to be a fan right now.
MR: What do you see as the negatives of so many podcasts?
CT: Yeah, it does become a little overwhelming. I sometimes compare the podcast landscape to Baskin-Robbins, there’s 31 flavors here and they’re all pretty much the same thing—they’re all ice cream, they’re all made the same way, and a lot of times they’re made by the same people, but it depends on what you’re in the mood for that day. If you’re in the mood for vanilla, you go for J.J. Dillon. And if you’re in the mood for something crazy and off-the-wall, and maybe you got the munchies, you go to “Keeping it 100 with Konnan and Disco Inferno.” And if you’re looking for this and that, or whatever it is, you’ve got a little bit of everything right now. No matter who you were a fan of as a kid, I don’t think that necessarily determines whether or not the podcast will be enjoyable for you, because two years ago, I didn’t know many Bruce Prichard fans, or Brother Love fans, but now, he’s over like rover, and it’s because of the podcast. I don’t think having a huge name in wrestling or having a huge Twitter following means you have the flavor that everyone wants.
MR: The WWE is the undisputed king of wrestling, but there are some good products besides the WWE. Do you think there’s room for smaller promotions such as Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and the many indie promotions? Do you think there’s room for them to be impactful?
CT: Oh, there’s room for everyone to be impactful, and there’s room for everybody to make money, but is there an opportunity for anyone to compete with Vince? No. Absolutely not.
MR: While it’s unlikely to happen, let’s go with a hypothetical where someone decides to throw a pile of money at a national wrestling promotion. What would a promotion have to do to compete with the WWE?
CT: Nothing. No one can compete with the WWE. They’re so far ahead, that no one can compete with the WWE. Lots of people can compete for number two. I think you can compete with New Japan and you could get there inside of ten years. I think you can compete with Ring of Honor and Impact and get there inside of five years. I don’t think anyone will ever have the opportunity to be in the same conversation as WWE. They’ve just got such a head start, and it’s not even about creative. I know there’s a lot of wrestling fans who want to think it’s about talent, and it’s about creative -- and in a perfect world, and in a very artistic view, yes maybe it is. But when you’re talking about the way the world runs, which is money, there’s just no opportunity. They just have too much money, they have too many relationships. And that’s what it comes down to -- the relationships they have with distribution, with licensing -- just every sort of aspect, they’ve got such a jumpstart. You look at the number of social media followers they have, which is a ridiculous amount and which some people see as a silly metric, and I agree, to a large degree, but they are so far ahead, no one will ever come close to catching them.
MR: Wrestling is constantly evolving. The house show used to be a promoter’s lifeblood while TV was usually something they paid for to advertise their shows. Over time, pay-per-view became a huge revenue source. Also, during the Monday Night War, cable networks paid the WWF to air their programming. What do you think is going to be the next big thing for promoters making money and do you think they’ll need TV?
CT: No. I don’t think they need TV right now. I think TV is a little overrated. People are consuming differently more and more. People are more and more cutting the cord. You still need a distribution aspect; I don’t think people want to watch just on their computers, but I do believe if you had an app, that you had an app that allows you to watch on all your devices, on your iPad or your Roku or on your Apple TV, on your phone, I think you can be a competitor. Now, the trouble is, how do you let people know who you are and what you’re about? And I think right now, everybody seems to think that has to be TV.
I don’t go searching my DVR (I have DirectTV), I don’t just type in “Direct TV Wrestling” and record all the random shows that come up with wrestling on it; I don’t do that. I find out what I want to watch through word of mouth. That’s going to take a while to sort of build at that grass roots level, but it’s that that’s worked very much worked for Ring of Honor. Ring of Honor has a huge distribution opportunity through their various television stations that Sinclair owns, but it’s not uniform. It’s not like you can say, “Oh it’s on Sinclair Friday nights at 8” because Sinclair owns Fox, they own CBS, they own NBC, they own ABC. So, all that programming, all that programming for those stations is completely different. So, you can’t across the board say, “Oh, it’s ABC Friday nights at 8” or whatever it may be. Because they don’t have that, Ring of Honor really starts growing by word of mouth. And you’ve got to find a way of doing that with an app, and I think in time, that can happen, but it just hasn’t happened yet.
MR: Do you think at some point, the WWE is going to switch its programming to the [WWE] Network?
CT: Yeah. I think we’re ten years away from that, maybe five. I don’t think TV is going to exist the way it does right now, much longer. Just earlier today, I had a conversation with someone today about how much their DirectTV bill was. And it was A) I’m going to try to negotiate it to get it cheaper or B) I’m going to go to apps. I mean, this is somebody who’s a six-figure earner. It’s just like, “I don’t think I’m getting a return.” Once upon a time it was normal for people to have three-hundred-dollar cable bills because they had pay-per-views on and they had blah, blah, blah.
And now, people are getting a little spoiled because Netflix, which has all this content, is only X, whatever it costs now. And they have all of these different opportunities, and now, even Direct TV -- they’re allowing you to stream everything on an app. All of a sudden, you have it on every phone, on every iPad, and on your televisions all through your house and it’s at a fraction of what it cost before.
So, I do believe they’ll get there sometime, but right now, people are paying big television rights fees so you’ve got to ride that train while you can. And I think eventually they’ll start broadcasting matches directly through the app, but the costs have to change. It has to be more affordable for you to say, “Hey is on this weekend, let’s put it on the Network.” But right now, there’s still a cost—for satellite time, and for all the other stuff. It could and will be a lot cheaper. Video on demand, ten or twelve years ago, was still in its infancy, and people were trying to figure it out. The bandwidth cost so much and people didn’t really know how to handle it. And now, it’s just so common. The biggest companies in the world have it figured out, it’s very accessible. At that time, a cloud meant something that had to do with weather. It didn’t mean what it does now. Twelve years from now, it’ll look totally different.
Yeah, I think this model, and the way the WWE is working right now, will look the same way in twelve years. It certainly didn’t twelve years ago, I think it will continue to evolve and eventually, I think all content will eventually be an app. The whole app movement, has put ESPN on the ropes in a big way. People don’t see fourteen times a day anymore. They get push notifications on their phones and they know as soon as ESPN does. They don’t have to turn on the TV to see what so-and-so said. They can see the highlights right at their fingertips, in their pockets, and I think that’s where wrestling’s going too.
MR: Wresting Merchandise and Memories has its LJN figure Hall of Fame which enshrines the legends of LJN’s 1984-1989 Wrestling Superstars action figures. Those big ones. Do you remember those?
MR: What wrestler do you wish had its own LJN figure?
CT: That’s a great question. What would your pick be?
MR: Well, it’s funny because they had two “Special Delivery” Jones. I know he passed away, but the Grand Wizard. Some of the great managers. Maybe Mean Gene. Did they have a Mean Gene?
CT: Oh yeah, Mean Gene is awesome. I think Mean Gene is one of my favorite LJN’s, maybe my absolute favorite LJN’s.
MR: I had the ring, I think I had the cage at one point. Oh, I don’t know, maybe one of the enhancement guys… They had “S.D.” like I said. Did they have Corporal Kirschner?
CT: Yes, they did. I had to look this up because I’m more familiar with Hasbro. I never owned LJN, believe it or not.
MR: Wow. I guess some of them are really pricey because some of them are pretty rare out there.
CT: Yeah, that’s what I hear because I’ve got a lot of friends who are all about it and I wish I knew more about it because I see Zack Ryder’s collection online and I’m a little overwhelmed and I feel a little inadequate that I don’t have more.
MR: Now I’ve got a question. I know Tony’s been hawking for the wedding and everything. Has he ever considered doing a reality show on or anything?
CT: No, Tony doesn’t want to do anything like that. Tony does what I drag him into, kicking and screaming. I do think he doesn’t realize what a cult figure he’s becoming, just based on the family dynamic with he and Lois. I’m trying to give people a little bit of that every week and some weeks we get that more than others.
MR: My brother wanted to know this. How long before Lois gets tired of Tony’s obsession with Madusa and Debra?
CT: How would she ever know?
MR: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it.
CT: Absolutely. It means a lot for you to invite me and I really appreciate you having me on to talk a little wrestling. I’m just a fan and it tickles me when someone just wants to talk to me. Thank you for thinking enough of me to reach out.