By Ryan K. Boman, Editor in Chief
A long time ago, a single shot fired in the New England night set off the boom of a revolution.
For professional wrestling fans in that part of the country, the boom came in 2000 when New England Championship Wrestling opened its doors. And the man who fired that shot was founder and promoter Sheldon Goldberg.
18 years later, NECW has evolved into one of the premiere independent organizations in the country, and a Northeast stop for some of the sport’s brightest young stars.
The man behind NECW’s famed red, white and blue banner, Goldberg originally came from the world of theater and promotion.
“I originally had no designs or desires to get involved in wrestling whatsoever,” Goldberg recalled in an interview with TheGorillaPosition.com this week. “When I was younger, I wanted to be in broadcasting.”
As fate would have it, he later moved on from the mic. Goldberg would do various jobs in professional theater, and became involved in coordinating events. That’s when he says his world intersected with pro wrestling in a couple of different ways. He met a handful of Boston promoters and regional legend Tony Rumble, who was himself involved in booking along with being a wrestler.
For years, the promotion in that area had been dominated by the iconic Walter ‘Killer’ Kowalski, who typically ran the same formula of shows: a couple of big name stars on top, and trainees filling out the rest of the card.
“Many of those shows were fundraisers,” Goldberg said. “A lot of times, it was telemarketers who would be representing a police association or some group that was trying to raise money for a cause and they would pay the promoter a flat fee. There would be a couple of stars on top, and a lot of local guys… and that’s what passed for independent wrestling at the time.”
When the war between WCW and the WWF began to heat up, it became harder and harder for smaller organizations to acquire their talent. Because of this, the market for those type of indy events had started to dry up.
Rumble passed away in 1999, leaving a huge hole in the New England independent wrestling scene. Goldberg felt like he could take the reigns and pick up where The Boston Bad Boy had left off.
“Tony had started to experiment actually running towns. Instead of booking with just a few top guys, he would develop wrestlers. Where you would go to those towns once or twice a year, he’d run those towns regularly.”
“I just decided I was going to start renting buildings, and get a couple guys here and there, and try to run monthly shows.”
With no TNA or Ring of Honor in existence yet, the newly-born New England Championship Wrestling quickly became a lighthouse in the harbor for many performers who were looking to work in a large market like Boston. Several overseas wrestlers made their North American debuts in NECW.
Having their pick of some of the best talent, they routinely put on high quality shows, and the company’s early clips were some of the most popular examples of early, online video sharing.
In 2006, Goldberg launched NECW’s sister promotion, World Women’s Wrestling, featuring female stars as equals to their male counterparts, both as characters and in-ring performers. The promotion would come a handful of years ahead of the ‘women’s revolution’, and would feature names like Sara del Rey, Malia Hosaka and Mercedes Martinez.
Goldberg saw the reaction that competitive female wrestling garnered, and once more, decided to fire another shot. It clicked, despite a lot of skepticism.
“I realized, if it was actually going to work, we had to give it it’s own brand name, and it’s won imprint,” he said. “So, we started running all women’s shows in concert with our monthly NECW shows.”
At the time, there were several female competitors in the area that promoters weren’t booking. It only made sense to take advantage of the wealth of talent.
“They had promos and angles just like the guys did. It made sense to me that you could do women’s wrestling that way. Before. it was a special attraction, just one match on the card. So, how can you be involved in the storylines when you just have that one match?”
WWW was one of a select few promotions that were treating female grapplers seriously then.
“Dave Prazak had already started SHIMMER at the time, so basically, he and I were the first two to promote all female shows.”
Meanwhile, NECW just kept chugging along. Over the course of its history, the promotion has seen the genesis of Boston-area natives like John Cena and Sasha Banks as well as developed many of the most well-known talents in the wrestling world. Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch, Eddie Edwards, Bobby Fish and Finn Balor have all spent time in the NECW ring.
Many of NECW’s impressive strides have to do with the innovative ideas that Goldberg administered as wrestling stepped fully into the information age. On November 17, 2004, Goldberg launched the first pro wrestling television series created and distributed exclusively via the Internet, called NECW TV.
Barely past the turn of the century, the technology of “new”, high-speed connections had made streaming video a realistic possibility. YouTube hadn’t been invented yet, and social media was in still its infancy stage.
In a rather bold move for the time, NECW hosted their own shows… on their own website. Today, the notion is commonplace, but Goldberg says he received a lot of flak in ’04.
“As we talk right now, it seems silly to think that this was a radical, cutting edge thing” he recalled. “But, in the early 2000’s, the idea of watching wrestling on a computer, it was like: who’s going to do that?
“It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, it just seemed ridiculous.”
NECW has been on a short hiatus recently, as the man behind the company was laid up. Goldberg sustained multiple injuries from an auto accident and started investing his ‘downtime’ in a whole, new project: He began going through the treasure trove of New England Championship Wrestling’s past.
“When you came to NECW in the early years, you never knew who you were going to see,” he remembered. “The company had it’s fans at a time when it was hard to sell people on the concept that it’s professional wrestling… but it’s done with local guys.”
Goldberg says he has culled the archives to find many classic matches that the audience hasn’t seen in a long time. The library at NECW.tv contains 10 episodes plus a bonus episode for fans to catch up on the promotion’s history.
“When you look back — ten twelve, years ago, you realize this company was ahead of its time,” he said. “It was a special time here. I just want give people a window into that.”
New England Championship Wrestling will return soon in 2018, and the plan is to fire off the muskets and strike out to be revolutionaries once again. Goldberg says now that he’s getting close to being healed up, he will search for new ways to entertain fans in the area.
“I want it to continue to be a place where the wrestlers want to work, because they know they will get an opportunity and a stage to perform on. When we get back, we’re looking to do big things right away. And, we are looking for the biggest run we’ve ever had.”
WATCH: NECW LEGENDARY – A YOUTUBE MINI-SERIES FEATURING TOP STARS OF TODAY BEFORE THEY BECAME FAMOUS