I write a wrestling column every Monday and Friday for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It can be found online at TribLIVE.com.
It only takes one guy to ruin it for everyone — just ask all of those out of a payday courtesy of Extreme Rising closing its doors.
The Philadelphia-based company was headed by Steve “Mr. Miami” O'Neill. Yes, he's Mr. Miami living in Philadelphia.
The company began in 2012 with a show called Extreme Reunion and then evolved to Extreme Rising as it moved forward to running regular shows every so many months. Pittsburgh native Shane Douglas was originally part of the group of founders.
I was always aware of what Extreme Rising was, but it really came on my radar in December 2013. One of the other founders was a television producer named Kevin Kleinrock. He has an extensive and impressive history in television working with professional wrestling and reality television. So he grabbed my attention when he reached out to me in December.
He spoke about Extreme Rising and their plans for the future that involved getting on television. The conversations weren't entirely clear but he had some idea that maybe I could be part of it all. He invited me to their next show, which was Dec. 28, 2013, at ECW Arena in Philadelphia.
I appreciated the invite but had some hesitation. One of the hesitations was I had yet to hear one word from O'Neill and get to form any kind of relationship with him. Nonetheless, I didn't have another booking that weekend, I knew enough people working the show between talent or production people and I had never been to the ECW Arena before, so I went out to see what it was all about.
I showed up and met Kleinrock in person. He was extremely busy with the chaotic backstage you can expect a few hours before a show trying to get wrestlers to do promos and on the same page with everyone else. Kleinrock was a good guy, and I really viewed him as the glue that kept everything going.
We spoke about the potential television hopes but he told me on that day he had just found out things were getting delayed with their television plans.
There still was a ton of potential as I looked around at the locker room and the quality of the entire presentation. A big jumbo screen over an entrance way with a video walls, smoke and lights. It looked like an entrance way from the last few months and years of WCW. In hindsight, that's an ironic comparison.
He gave me a script, and I was penciled in to do a promo backstage with Rich Ortiz. The promo eventually got cut. As I recall, changes were made after hearing how Ortiz was received from the crowd and the creative direction they were going to go with him.
I never made my on-camera debut with the company.
I ended up sitting back observing. I watched most of the show from behind the curtain where Kleinrock was the leading force on keeping the show running. I helped him on the spot when needed with getting guys in position and ready to go.
I barely got to see or know Steve O'Neill.
Not a total surprise as I'm well aware how busy the lead promoter is on show day handling all that needs to be handled. We crossed paths once backstage. The only other time I saw him was when he gave his “go get em' team” speech to the locker room before the show.
Kleinrock spoke to me about being booked for their future shows to help run the backstage with promos and everyone knowing their cues. I left encouraged by the good ending in the main event, cautious by how much I felt I still didn't know and interested to see what could come about.
It turns out that would be my first Extreme Rising show — and my last.
The next few months were riddled with cancellations and what appeared to be excuses. I started noticing people who worked with them in different capacities souring on it all. They all with one common complaint of shady business courtesy of O'Neill.
Now, remember Shane Douglas was an original founder but had disappeared from it all for a while. It wouldn't be long that I started seeing a back and forth of accusations and “worked shoot” Facebook promos between O'Neill and Douglas.
It seemed they were potentially taking the real issues they had trying to work together and work all the boys and fans with this power struggle. I hated whatever was going on. I felt they needed to focus on selling their talent, many who were really good, and spend less time trying to sell a beef between owners.
As that went on, so did cancellation of shows. The next show was going to be in Pittsburgh. It never happened, and I believe O'Neill claimed it was due to a weather advisory. I do remember on that particular Saturday night that it wasn't even snowing.
Looking back, at this point I think I had made up my mind that I wasn't going to be working with Extreme Rising anytime soon. Both because I didn't want to be there, and it didn't seem like a show was ever going to happen.
Sure enough, I was right.
How O'Neill ripped off thousands of dollars, his Facebook habit and what this did to everybody else — CLICK HERE.