Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan brings big beat to TNA Impact Wrestling

Billy Corgan is a huge fan of professional wrestling.

Victor Chavez/FilmMagic

Rock and wrestling have been an odd coupling before. However, the most recent union of the pop-culture icons has a different beat.

Billy Corgan is an old friend. I caught up with the American music icon this week as he was about to board a flight from Chicago to Orlando to begin a new adventure. At age 48, the founder, lead singer and guitarist of Smashing Pumpkins, is going to be running the show at TNA Impact Wrestling as Senior Producer for Talent Development and Creative.

Billy’s success as a songwriter and poet is well known within the music world, but the fact that the Chicago Cubs fan is a lifelong aficionado of pro wrestling isn’t as well documented. 

Billy vividly remembers watching promoter Bob Luce’s Chicago wrestling promotion as a young lad that featured the biggest names in the genre more than 40 years ago.

Wrestling from the famed Chicago Amphitheater featured such rivalries as the recently deceased, fan favorite Verne Gagne vs. the violent villain known as Dick the Bruiser. The impression that those two athletes made on young Billy Corgan has stayed with him for decades while his creative juices have flowed toward the squared circle, and music, since.

When asked to describe his definition of a baby face/fan favorite, Corgan said, "Faces have to be brave, courageous, willing to dig deep down to overcome adversity, never quit and be loyal to their audience."

As for their antagonists, the heels/villains?

"There are two primary types," he continued, "the bullies who like to impose their will on others through size advantages or cheating to gain an unfair advantage, and the villains who are more vulnerable and better known in the business as ‘chickens##t heels’, who show fear or apprehension when it’s a level playing field but are at their bravest when they are on the attack — no matter the means that they utilized to gain that advantage."  

Is his new job — going from rock to a new role — an impulse decision or one done simply for the paycheck?

"Absolutely not. Dixie (TNA President Dixie Carter) and I really haven’t talked that much about money but we will get around to it one day, obviously," Corgan told me. "But now it’s time to go about the business of changing the perception of TNA and growing the brand. If we can do the job of growing TNA on a global basis the money aspect of the job will take care of itself. I want to make my mark on the wrestling business."

Where some wresting organizations have erased the definitive line between good and evil, or fan favorites and villains, Corgan feels that is "an erosion that has occurred over the last 20 years or so due to our ever changing culture."

"Who would have thought that drug dealers and drug manufacturers in a TV show like ‘Breaking Bad’ would have ever become heroes to some?" Corgan asked. "However, most people still gravitate to more traditional heroes and enjoy seeing the perceived villains eventually vanquished. Ninety-eight percent of movies have happy endings." 

The ultimate guide to WrestleMania

So in pro-wrestling parlance, the old-school term of baby faces and heels is still relevant in the mind of Billy Corgan, who is helping produce his first TNA TV broadcast Friday on Destination America airing at 9 p.m. ET.

When asked about the current increasing, fast, almost frenetic, pace of TV wrestling, a time where many moves are ignored, unsold, and not responded to by the participants, Corgan said, "It’s a disservice to the fans and to the wrestlers themselves to wrestle too fast because the fans are unable to process all that they see and the talents then do a litany of moves for the moves’ sake — and not for the sake of telling a compelling story in their match."

I couldn’t agree more.

When talking about the pace of the matches and how important telling a comprehensible story was to the success of the product, Corgan pointed to the final WrestleMania match between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels held at WrestleMania 26 in Phoenix.

The storytelling mesmerized the lifelong fan, who was sitting seventh row, because of the "masterful, selling component" and the overall theme that was told by the WWE legends. The match compelled Corgan to seek out The Undertaker after the event, meet him for the first time, and discuss storytelling inside the squared circle.  

Corgan wants the TNA TV shows to "always feel live and as if anything can happen at any time and to not allow the audience to lose awareness of what’s going on."

Developing our own, home-grown stars is our top priority.

Billy Corgan

"We have to become more unpredictable and, like the National Football League, have a modicum of parity so that on a given night that it’s possible for an underdog to upset an established star," Corgan said. "If the main event always goes on last and it starts X minutes before the end of the show, it can adversely affect how the viewer watches the broadcast and reacts to it."

The Smashing Pumpkins’ founder was asked if developing new talent was akin to writing and producing new music inasmuch as one would write several songs and hope that some of them would become a hit.

"Developing our own, home-grown stars is our top priority," Corgan said. "We have to have some type of developmental system in place and be relentless in our search for those undiscovered talents who have ‘it’ but haven’t been given an opportunity because they might not fit what is generally regarded by some as not having an ideal, wrestler’s body.

"Kevin Steen aka Kevin Owens in WWE NXT is a perfect example of an outstanding young talent who doesn’t have the physique that some wrestling people covet, but he’s too talented to ignore. I remember how successful and entertaining the late Jerry ‘The Crusher’ Blackwell was back in the day and he was a 400-pound man who was extraordinary. Fans want to watch stars and stars come in all shapes and sizes."

What does he envision will evolve over time on TNA Impact Wrestling TV?

"Deeper and longer storylines with bigger payoffs at the end of the story arc," Corgan said. "Deeper journeys in the storytelling realm than we have seen previously, TNA-identified talents, developing a TNA ‘system’ regarding the in-ring product, establishing a TNA wrestling identity, storylines that are logical and that make sense because storytelling is the key tenement to the business. I also don’t want to hear the mention of other wrestling companies or a talent’s previous pro-wrestling accomplishments on our shows."

Corgan is particularly high on the upside of TNA sta Bram, who is married to Ashley Flair, aka Charlotte, in WWE NXT — the daughter of WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair.

He thinks Bram may well have the desirable ‘X Factor’ that those in wrestling management covet. Time will tell, but it’s hard to argue with Corgan’s assessment of this particular talent, a UK native who has the size and look that may lead him to the promised land. The cupboards aren’t bare by any means in TNA as it relates to talent.  

The hiring of the alternative rock icon and face of the Smashing Pumpkins by Carter is a bold move and the journey to see how it evolves and positively affects the brand begins Friday.   

You can follow Jim Ross on Twitter @JRsBBQ, listen to him on the Ross Report Podcast and see him live atRINGSIDE: An Evening with Jim Ross. JR’s products are also available online atwweshop.com, americansoda.co.uk and beyondtheropes.co.uk