In 2012, Bruce Tharpe, a South Texas Attorney, acquired the National Wrestling Alliance. Fans who have been following the NWA throughout the years will know it for its notable champions like Lou Thesz, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and Adam Pearce. Tharpe’s passion for wrestling and his understanding of the historic tradition that the NWA once had motivated him to preserve and elevate the company’s marketing brand. In 2017, Tharpe sold the 70-year-old promotion to Smashing Pumpkin’s frontman, Billy Corgan. Wrestleville spoke to Tharpe about the NWA’s history, what he accomplished while being President & CEO there, why he sold the promotion, and what his hopes are for the new ownership.
Q: What do you think the NWA and its history mean to the sport of wrestling?
A: The NWA World Championship dates back to the days of Lou Thesz, Ed “The Strangler Lewis, George Hackenschmidt, Frank Gotch, and those types of guys. There is no other championship in wrestling that has that kind of history, and I’m talking about IWGP, WWE, and the WWF. None of those championships has that kind of true history.
Q: Do you think the wrestlers of today understand the allure that the NWA promotion once had?
A: It really depends on the wrestler. Over the past few years, I have met many different wrestlers around the world and on the road. Some of them have a lot of respect for the history and the traditions of professional wrestling and the legends have laid down the foundation for them to perform in the ring today. Some of today’s wrestlers that I have met don’t care for anything in the past. They look through the windshield and not the rearview mirror. They don’t care about psychology or learning about how things were done. It really depends on the wrestler and where they are at personally.
Q: What made you want to sell the NWA?
A: I took the NWA about as far as I could. Then, along came Billy Corgan, and we had extensive meetings with each other. I felt like if I was going to pass the torch, he would probably be the best guy to pass it along to. Billy expressed great admiration for the brand, its history, and the tradition of the NWA that I share. Billy has connections in the entertainment industry and he also has the money. It was bittersweet to turn the brand over to somebody else, but I think Billy will be able to take the brand to the next level and get the NWA on national television once again.
Q: What was your proudest accomplishment while you were the owner of the NWA?
A: I feel like I successfully negotiated a contractual agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling and we traveled to Japan 18 times in four years. We appeared on multiple worldwide pay-per-views. The pinnacle for me was appearing at the Tokyo Dome in front of 35,000 people, and being in the corner of then NWA World Heavyweight Champion Rob Conway. I think that was the last public appearance of Harley Race, and during that match, he actually knocked me out of the ring. It definitely hurt, but the memories that went along with that will last for the rest of my life. Pain is temporary, but pride is forever.
Q: While you were the NWA President & CEO, was there something that you wanted to accomplish that you were not able to do?
A: My main goal was to get the National Wrestling Alliance back on television and I was not able to accomplish that. Wrestling is a tough sell. People these days are watching reality television. People’s attention spans are a lot shorter and you have to produce your television programs in such a way that prevent them from changing the channel. People are always looking for something different. Television executives are making more money these days with different types of television programming other than wrestling. If you’re a television production company and all you have is wrestling to sell, it’s difficult, because you’ve got all your eggs in one basket. Big television programmers are looking for something different than the same model that they’ve seen for the last 20 years.
Q: What are your hopes for Billy Corgan and moving forward with the company?
A: I hope he can get the product on national television, and I hope he continues to develop the brand in the same positive aspect that he’s been doing in the last eight or 10 months.
Q: What do you think Billy has to do to make the NWA successful once again?
A: That is really a question you need to direct to Mr. Corgan. I say that for this reason. He’s got his own business plan and he’s got his own ideas. He’s been very successful in the music industry so as an entrepreneur, he’s going to apply those same ideas to the wrestling profession. Billy has a very talented partner in David Lagana who is a well-experienced television producer. So in terms of what they have to do to make the company more successful, that is really a question you’ll need to direct to them. I know that Billy has a lot of good ideas and far be it from me to give him any ideas on where to take the company in the future.