by Jay Reddick
The idea came – as so many of the best ones do – at 3:00 in the morning.
Court Bauer and the rest of the Major League Wrestling braintrust were basking in the glow of the successful WaleMania III at Tier Nightclub last March when the subject came up: Why don’t we transform the MLW podcast/media company back into a live-event wrestling promotion for one more night – and do it in Orlando?
“We had so much fun at WaleMania, and people kept bringing up the old days of MLW,” said Bauer, who ran MLW as a live promotion from 2002 to 2004. “Somebody even wore a vintage MLW shirt. I was humbled that people haven’t forgotten about it. As we kept talking, we realized the logical next step was to bring MLW back for at least one night and do it right.”
Quickly, it was decided – this wouldn’t be a reunion of the old roster, which included such names as CM Punk, Terry Funk and Christopher Daniels. This would be an attempt to unite great independent talents of today and tomorrow.
The result of that conversation, MLW: One-Shot, will take place Oct. 5 at Gilt Nightclub. For information on tickets and how to watch online, visit MLW.com.
Bauer worked for WWE, Ring of Honor, AAA and Lucha Underground before launching the popular podcast network. Those contacts have allowed him to put together a solid card of action, with high flyers Ricochet vs. Shane Strickland; UFC veteran Tom Lawlor vs. former Olympian Jeff Cobb; elite women Santana Garrett vs. Mia Yim and many more.
The undercard includes several names that are lesser-known in the United States, such as MJF and Jimmy Yuta. Bauer singled out Yuta as a hidden gem, noting that he trained in Japan’s Michinoku Pro Wrestling under Jinsei “Hakushi” Shinzaki.
“He spent a lot of time out there [in Japan],” Bauer said. “People at home didn’t have awareness of him, but he’s one of those guys who’s eager to grab the brass ring and show what he can do.”
Bauer has a history of building young talent – during his time as a writer/producer for WWE, he created the Umaga persona for Edward Fatu, who had been toiling in midcards as half of 3-Minute Warning but quickly rose into a WrestleMania main-event spot as a singles wrestler.
“To see a guy who just needed a second chance, to mold him and build that character – I even named him Umaga – was one of my biggest thrills in WWE,” Bauer said.
Even though he has left the company, Bauer obviously still has strong opinions about the creative direction of WWE. One recent example has been the build to the Smackdown championship match between Jinder Mahal and Shinsuke Nakamura, in which Mahal has mocked the Japanese star’s face, voice and heritage using lines like “You always rook the same” and calling him Mr. Miyagi.
“Making Jinder the champ was a ballsy move,” Bauer said, “but I don’t get the point of the race stuff. It doesn’t enrich the babyface and it doesn’t get good heat on the heel, just on the company.
“I think they’re overdoing the ‘Artist’ gimmick with Shinsuke. His biggest problem is that they’re still micromanaging him and not letting him do what he does best. Vince [McMahon] has never been good with foreign babyfaces; he’s really behind the times when it comes to that.”
Bauer said McMahon has been slow to adapt to many aspects of the business – and since he is the ultimate decision-maker on the product, that can lead to problems.
“The dilemma is how to appeal to millennials when Vince hasn’t shopped for his own groceries in probably 35 years,” Bauer said. “The product is so intertwined with pop culture that he’s made it more homogeneous. It’s almost like McDonald’s – it’s so big that it can’t pivot easily. Everything now is gluten-free and organic, then there’s McDonald’s still serving Big Macs.”
Bauer believes the product will change significantly when McMahon retires, presumably handing the reins to daughter Stephanie and son-in-law Paul Levesque, aka Triple H.
“I knew Triple H when he was just starting to roll into creative meetings, when he was still a top guy [in the ring],” Bauer said. “It’s not easy to transition from wrestling into an office job just in creative [production], much less the amount he has to juggle, but I saw him really mature. It’s nice when you hear that people can change like that, get into a different head space.
“In December 2015 when I was working with Lucha Underground, we met with WWE about putting the show on the [WWE] Network, and Paul was a different guy. Very positive, very frank, no mind games. It was much easier than the way it used to be – he was honest and took the crap out of the equation. I would work with him 10 days out of 10 – he seems more fun and more stable.”
Bauer hasn’t had the chance to book, write and produce his own show in years. When he made the decision to try One-Shot, he hired behind-the-camera talents with years of experience in WWE, ECW and MMA promotions. Then he sat down to make matches and envision storylines – and soon found that his old-school methods were the best.
“I thought I’d start typing things out on the keyboard, but I ended up staring at the screen for half a day,” Bauer said. “So then I got out my old pencil – the most dangerous tool in wrestling – and ended up with pages and pages of things to look at and explore. It was so much fun.”
Bauer said there are only two people who could make him become a promoter again – the late Gary Hart, who was his mentor; and Mister Saint Laurent, who works with him on MLW Radio. But now that he’s back in the groove, with the return show less than two weeks away, is he considering making this more than just a One-Shot deal?
“I’ve told people, ‘Never say never, but…’”
Reach Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @runninjay.