Austin has a well-earned reputation for being a creative arts mecca, but one of the more intriguing indie operations to pop up locally in the past few years has been Inspire Pro, a homegrown wrestling league committed to improving the Texas wrestling scene as well as winning over less traditional wrestling fans. We spoke with Maximillian Meehan who is a fixture in Austin’s punk scene thanks to his role as the booking manager of Beerland but also serves as the Creative Manager of Inspire Pro.
Morgan Davis for Loser City: You’ve got a pretty eclectic array of creative ventures, can you give us a rundown of what else you do besides Inspire Pro?
Maximillian Meehan: I’m one of the managers and bookers down at Beerland, TX, which has been going strong for twelve years now. I used to do a regular VHS-dedicated night at the Alamo, but I’ve recently moved on from that after a few years, and I’m hosting a night called Savage Gold through Austin Film Society, which I’m really excited about. I also work with a partner out in Los Angeles, and together we shoot commercials and videos, but that’s more sporadic. I try to keep busy. Inspire has also helped me broaden my skill set. Beerland is a specific size, and it caters to a certain demographic of people in search of something that is off the radar. It has a ceiling, whereas Inspire’s primary goal is unlimited growth. It’s forced me to broaden my skill set.
LC: What’s the origin of Inspire Pro?
MM: The core of Inspire Pro consists of Justin Bissonette, Joshua Montgomery and myself. I met Biss through ACW [Anarchy Championship Wrestling], where he did commentary and also front-end management. I used to be part of a crew that would regularly go to ACW called “The Jury.” We’d sit on the stage and really go berserk during the shows. Bissonette actually despised us initially, but he eventually started to realize that there were a lot of similarities between us. We were a lot like he was before he actually got into the business: totally obnoxious, but really passionate about wrestling. Justin eventually left ACW, mainly because I think every guy wants to try and run something on his own terms, just to see if he can. It was a “rule in hell” sort of deal. Biss and I had been getting together regularly at the point that Josh approached Biss about starting a company. I like to think that Biss realized that I was a guy who got “it.” He knew I was creative. I think the first few shows were more or less a trial period. I had a lot of ideas that Josh and he were both a little skeptical of, but the majority of it popped with the crowd. I was also very instrumental in venue negotiation, and the overall aesthetic of the company. I went from being a guy who was supposed to just give feedback regarding the storylines to being much more involved.
LC: You told Matador Records Co-Founder and wrestling devotee Gerard Cosloy a while back that your background in narrative storytelling is probably part of what brought you into the fold at Inspire Pro. How do you approach narrative in wrestling versus, say, a screenplay?
MM: Live pro-wrestling is confined by its setting, so there’s an economy to telling a story. I’m basically writing a sports story. Maintaining the illusion of competition is really key. I won’t lie, there’s a lot of bad pro-wrestling out there. The bad stuff, in my opinion, loses the sense of competition, and so things occur randomly. I always get pissed when there’s no logic to someone challenging for the title. Sure, everyone’s primary goal should be to go for the championship title. But I always hated it when some schmuck with a poor record is suddenly in title contention. I always try to maintain a logic about everything that I offer, no matter what it is. I think that one of the main reasons professional wrestling appeals to me is that it is at its best when it is totally logical. I’ve sat through enough miserable shows with my head in my hands, screaming “why is this happening?” Wrestling is a lot like pizza. You have some really simple, key ingredients. People often say it’s really hard to fuck up pizza because it is so simple. And yet there are a ton of shitty pizza places in town. We’re very quality controlled, and very careful about how we form our events.
LC: Inspire Pro’s “about” section mentions a desire to “elevate our scene on the whole,” what are some of the challenges you feel the scene faces? What are some specific ways you feel Inspire Pro has already elevated the scene?
MM: In simplest terms, it’s another place for these guys to wrestle and get paid. Theoretically, the more time these guys get in the ring, the better they will become. It helps all of these guys become more active and gain more experience. Also, as a promoter of various types of events, I have the ability to reach beyond just the usual fans that go to wrestling. I like to think I’ve introduced a segment of Austin that might not have otherwise experienced pro-wrestling due to their preconceived notions about what pro-wrestling is. We haven’t just made people fans of Inspire, but we’ve made people fans of pro-wrestling in general.
LC: Earlier this year, Inspire Pro brought in indie circuit vet Chris Hero, who had recently been dropped from WWE after a year, for a match against your own Ray “Death” Rowe. Do you see Inspire Pro events as a home of sorts for wrestlers who don’t fit in with the current mainstream wrestling world?
MM: There are obvious differences between what WWE does and what we do. The foremost difference is their exposure and reach. They have a massive audience. Creatively, though, we just have a different approach in terms of what we think works best. And that’s it really. We’re just different. It’s like comparing impressionism and realism. Both styles have their own value, and one isn’t any better than the other. Chris is an impossibly talented person on so many levels, and I think he would have been an incredible fit on WWE’s main roster. I have no doubt that he will be back in the WWE one day and leave an incredible impression. He’s really that good. Also, many of the men and women on our roster have ambitions of one day getting a contract with WWE. I think we aspire to be a part of the mainstream, but on our own terms. We really hope that a lot of the people who work within our company realize their ambitions, and we’d be ecstatic if we contributed to that in some way. If a company aspires to be “underground” then they’re really doing an injustice to their workers and professional wrestling in general.
LC: That same event that featured Hero also featured Japanese wrestler Takaaki Watanabe and Inspire Pro has regularly embraced international wrestlers. Other than the unique opportunity to work with and showcase international wrestlers, is the international aspect meant to help with the “stepping stone” aspect of the mission statement since it gives your roster a chance to learn new techniques and perspectives?
MM: Takaaki Watanabe absolutely turned heads in our direction. There was a windfall of talk about Inspire in Japan following his appearance, which was amazing. Watanabe is an exotic treat. New Japan Pro Wrestling has a hardcore contingent of American fans who are very excited to see guys like Takaaki here in the states. People would otherwise have to travel much further to see NJPW talent perform, and we’re very happy to provide people with the opportunity to see Takaaki live. I think it’s garnered us a lot of very positive attention. It’s definitely a feather in our cap to say that we have featured New Japan guys. It speaks well of our caliber. I think the overall experience of working together is positive for us both. It’s a positive exchange for us both.
LC: On the note of the “stepping stone” concept, what are some ways Inspire Pro works with its roster to help them grow and expand their careers? Do the wrestlers you work with have a desire to move up to mainstream organizations or would you say they’re mostly interested in sticking to the indie circuit?
MM: I can’t speak for the workers themselves, but I know some of them have goals of moving on to WWE at some point. In the meantime, I think we offer a quality roster of guys with incredible experience and skill. For some of the younger guys on our roster, working with those guys offers incredibly valuable experience. Again, it’s a safe place to come work and improve at what you do. Like any machine, the more you work, the better you get.
LC: Although Inspire Pro in some ways plays up a classic feel in its roster and its promotions, the roster is also known for some truly unique characters like The Great Depression. What goes in to maintaining a balance between the classic and outre in the matches and roster?
MM: Someone recently accused me of ripping off their company’s formula, to which I replied, “the only formula I ever stole was WCW’s Halloween Havoc 95.” That’s a show that I always thought flowed very well, mainly because there is such a radical variety to it. Some of it is flat-out goofy and fun, while some of it is very old-school and intenseI think you need a reprieve from the more hard hitting or intense matches. A little ginger for the pallet really makes you appreciate the shift in tastes. Wrestling can be intense, but it’s also allowed to be fun. So, it’s not really a struggle. It’s very intentional in fact. I’d really love to start including a Lucha Libre component to our shows at some point.
LC: You’re a big proponent of listening to the fans and paying attention to their reactions. What lessons have you learned from the fans since Inspire Pro started? What are some fan reactions that have surprised you?
MM: Back in January, we had our Championship coronation match, featuring Davey Vega, Mike Dell, and Jordan Jensen. Jensen had sort of weaseled his way into the match with the help of Andy Dalton. So, there was a stipulation that if Andy were seen anywhere near the ring during the match that Jensen would be eliminated and fired from the company. At some point in the match, Ricky Starks had knocked Dalton out and carried him out to the ring, unconscious, triggering the referee to fire Jensen. The outpouring from the fan the next day really surprised me. They seemed to genuinely feel bad for Jensen, who had otherwise been kind of a jerk to a lot of people in the company up to that point. It was not what I expected. I often craft things that I HOPE will garner certain reactions. Not to sound arrogant, but I usually get the reactions that I want. I really do watch every match, though. I think it’s important to see how people react to what you’re offering. I don’t get how a lot of guys who run companies don’t watch what’s going on. Crowd reaction dictates what direction you take. After all, these are the people who are paying for you to do this. You owe them.
MM: I think it’s a mixture. We’re getting more die-hard fans, but at the same time a lot of people who have never experienced live wrestling before are checking it out, and coming back. The crowd gets a little bigger with every show. I love pro-wrestling. I think it’s one of America’s greatest advents. I’m working hard to turn people onto it and show people how great it can be. It’s a really vital social ritual, and while it may appear to be overly simple at times, the production itself and the actual physicality that goes into each match is really massive.
LC: Something that really caught my eye is the design aesthetic that Inspire Pro has, from the posters to the site, which was designed by Greenless Studios. I feel like Inspire Pro has done a great job embracing a less obvious style. Was it a conscious decision to look different from what people might expect from a wrestling company?
MM: Absolutely, I am really happy you noticed that. We wanted to go for something that looked cleaner, and sleeker. There are a lot of companies out there riding the original ECW aesthetic. We really wanted to present the opposite of that dated 90s Hot Topic burning barbed wire look that so many companies are still milking. I hate to say it, but that imagery just screams white trash, and we’re really trying to change people’s impressions of what wrestling is. We even looked at the colors a lot of companies tend to use, which is predominantly red. That’s how we arrived in black, gold, and white.
LC: Inspire Pro also notably works in a lot of Austin humor and referencing, particularly with stuff like Pump Patrol’s “keep Austin Weird? more like Keep Austin Fat” heckles and jokes that they’d get a better crowd reaction if they were in flannel and sweatpants. Do you think a key part of Inspire Pro’s identity is wrapped up in the personality of Austin? Is the city’s “weirdness” a boon for an enterprise like Inspire Pro?
MM: I think the liberalness of Austin might be a bit of a double-edged sword for what we’re doing. Many liberal types have a very fixed perception of what we do. A lot of people think of pro-wrestling as some kind of low-brow, violent spectacle that only appeals to the dregs, when really professional wrestling is a refined art. It requires a great deal of skill to executed a match properly, and tell a story. The barbarism of the spectacle is an illusion. Nothing pisses me off more than when someone elbows me in the rib and goes, “you know it’s fake, right?” I always like to answer, “well if pro-wrestling is fake, then so is rock n’ roll.” No one calls what a band does on stage fake because they rehearsed it or because they wrote the song before they got on stage. In fact, pro-wrestling is more real than something like rock n’ roll because it can often be spontaneous.
At the same time, there are still a lot of open minded people in this city, and Austin’s primary driver seems to be the quest for fun. And pro-wrestling is really fucking fun! We want people to come on in, hit the bar, and go nuts. The interactivity is also a huge component of what makes pro-wrestling so much fun. I’ve often had people tell me that Inspire is MORE fun than any punk show they’ve been to. Most bands don’t really even put on physical shows anymore, which I think contributes to the general apathy you see in most music-going crowds. If you notice, a lot of people just sort of stand there these days. That’s largely because performances are boring. The sheer physicality and the drama of what we’re doing at Inspire enables people to sort of forget themselves and go crazy and really get into it. Our crowds are vocal, and on their feet, and really passionate. I love that. It’s really obvious that audiences in general are hungry to express themselves. And people all doing it together is the best thing ever.
LC: I’ve also noticed that Inspire Pro wrestlers work in a lot of more general Texas stereotypes, like the redneck duo Reign or Shine and even the Dustbowl throwback that is The Great Depression. Do you think Texas naturally lends itself to the kinds of oversized characters that click with wrestling audiences?
MM: Broad archetypes are a huge part of why pro-wrestling works. Pro-wrestling has gravitated toward realism over the last decade or so, which is kind of sad. And that is primarily the result of UFC’s popularity. But I think the pendulum is starting to swing in the other direction now. I think people are longing for bolder characters. Personally, I’m really tired of the tough guy in trunks, with kick pads. It’s so fucking boring. Put that motherfucker in a biker vest or something, and let’s have a little fun for the first time in a while. Even UFC is starting to become more like pro-wrestling, though. That’s why they have Chael Sonnen. That guy is so absurd. He runs his mouth to the point that people are EXCITED to see him get his ass beat. You really have to identify with the people you’re seeing in the ring on some level. The guys running redneck style gimmicks, well, yeah, you get that because it’s relevant to Texas. The Great Depression character on the other hand is very weird and mysterious, and colorful, and people love that because right now that’s very different. It’s fresh. I also recognize a certain segment of fans really nostalgize their love of eighties/nineties WWE. They grew up with those larger than life characters, and so, on some level they respond when they see something remotely similar to that style these days.
LC: What’s on the horizon for Inspire Pro? How do you see it growing over the next year?
MM: Growth is really the only key. We’re working on expanding it, financially. We’re looking into TV sponsorship, getting out of Austin to run some co-promoted events, and garnering sponsors of our own. We’re also aiming to bring a lot more big names from around the country to Texas for the first time. Our vision: bigger, better, and we’re never gonna settle.
The next Inspire Pro event, No Room to Die, is this Sunday, April 27th at Marchesa Hall. You can purchase tickets here. You can also check out videos of full Inspire Pro shows for free on the company’s multimedia page.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City. When he isn’t doing that, he plays drums for Denise and gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.