Across Britain the wrestling landscape is flourishing. Promotions are thriving, events selling out and more frequently we fans are getting to meet and greet our wrestling heroes.
MDA Promotions is one of those companies helping to make wrestling fan dreams come true and in May 2015, they will be hosting the limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' one and only Ric Flair!
The MDA story is rather inspiring. Centred on Mathew Dean Alan Ward, from whom the promotion draws its name (and perhaps luckily not Mathew Alan Dean as he came close to being christened), MDA started when Matthew was at somewhat of a low.
"I used to be a plumber and was made redundant" recalls Matt. "I got laid off and that night, in 2007, I went to the Premiere League Darts in Sheffield". Little did Matt, a huge darts fan, know that the visit to Sheffield would mark a significant change in his fortunes. It was at the event that Matt picked up a card for well renowned darts MC Paul Booth offering exhibition match bookings for now two-time Darts world champion Adrian Lewis. "I booked him for a small 100 seat type of event" Matt recalls but the room was cancelled and Matt had to find a bigger venue when a second top level player, Raymond van Barneveld was brought on board.
Matt is somewhat blasé in his recollection of what happened and is honest that "I had no idea what I was doing". This easy going and happy-go-lucky demeanour makes one immediately warm to Matt who insists he "never had a plan". However, now running numerous national darts events for up to 1000 people at a time and managing players in the top 32 world darts rankings, it's possible that there's more than meets the eye with this canny entrepreneur.
Whilst darts was and remains Matt's number one passion, wrestling comes a close second. A fan from "about six or seven years old" Matt fell in and out of love with the sport, taking a break when WCW was bought out and only really returning about ten years ago when John Cena was on the ascendance. Although wrestling plays second fiddle to darts for Matt, he is certainly no fair weather fan having flown to Wrestlemania last year and attending the forthcoming Royal Rumble match in the US. "I keep in touch and make sure I know what's going on" Matt tells us in his typically understated way.
Established with two friends, Matthew and Michael, as MMM but still run as MDA Promotions, Matt's wrestling business is relatively new. Matthew saw that Bret 'The Hitman' Hart had been speaking at events in London and wanted to try his luck in the North and towns that Hart had not visited. "It was a case of see how it goes and not a long-term plan. We weren't planning to take over the wrestling world and it wasn't about the money" says Matt who remains a fan of Hart.
It is his appreciation of wrestling as a fan that underpins a great deal of how Matt approaches the events he promotes. MDA sets out to do things slightly differently and to establish its own unique brand of meet and greet, using the lessons learned from the darts world. "We thought we'd do dinner shows as opposed to just halls or conference centres" Matt tells us. "We did a sit down three course meal, photos, autographs, an auction and then an hour and a half's talk". However, Matt knew that he wanted to do everything with added class and so fans on the Bret tour and indeed those coming to MDA's forthcoming Flair tour are ensured a picture (printed and posted online) with their idol standing or posing in front of a green screen. "I think it cheapens the experience for people when the talent are sat down in front of a table" he tells us. "I'm not dismissing it, but if you're meeting Bret, you want something that looks good" says Matt. "I know it's a massive time gamble but we thought we'd do it and it would be an extra kick for people". "The Bret tour went down really well, that's why we decided to do the Ric Flair tour" he says.
In addition to the green screen photos, MDA had a professional MC for the event and special guests on hand. For the Ric Flair tour, these guests include UK independent wrestling legends Marty Scurll, Kris Travis and Grado.
Matt is respectful of competition from Eros Comedy and PSI events. "It takes courage to do something like PSI are doing" he says. However he sees a different market for MDA. "I think they attract the indie crowd and we attract the fair weather fan that wants a nostalgia trip". There's also a focus on those with disposable income. Matt recognises that the £100 "platinum" experience with Flair is not cheap but believes the extra bang for their buck is worth the cost and as he reiterated putting on the events was more a case of love than money for him.
The Flair tour is certainly engaging Matt's passion. Expanding the MDA operation and touring the "spine of the country", Matt has already sold some 65% of his ticket allocation with 20,000 pounds worth of sales within the first 12 hours of the announcement and a London event at the Emirates Stadium nearly sold out.
Flair is by no means the end of Matt's wrestling journey though. "We've got good plans" he tells us. Working with UK wrestling legend Steve Lynskey, Matt plans to try and take two "top-end" wrestlers around the country each year and already has someone confirmed but can't yet tell us who...
Talking about Hart, Matt explains his rationale for continuing to work with wrestlers. "This guy was your hero and now your friends that you grew up with see your pictures on Facebook with him". "For me, it's a privilege and if we make money, so be it" says Matt. "The darts is a full time job but the wrestling is a hobby and I love it" he says. It's not just a personal pleasure for Matt though, he finishes by explaining "we want everyone to have a good time and the majority on our Bret Hart tour did". "We've tried to learn as much as possible for the Ric Flair tour and perhaps some people will tell us it's the best night of their lives, like they did for Bret". "Ultimately" says Matt, "we want everyone to go home happy, that's all really" and if we know Matt, go home happy you will.
MDA Promotion's Ric Flair tour runs from 24 to 30 May calling at seven cities across the UK. Tickets are available here.