By Ryan K. Boman, Editor in Chief
Bill Behrens insists his greatest discovery was one that he just stumbled upon.
Which is kind of funny, considering it may be the most Phenomenal Find in professional wrestling history.
“Discovering AJ Styles… was like going to a river and discovering water. Really, it’s not that you made that much of a discovery; it’s kind of obvious that it’s water,” Behrens joked in an interview with TheGorillaPosition.com recently, saying that Styles’ talent was apparent immediately. “In AJ’s case it was obvious that he was uniquely talented from day one.”
Behrens, a Miami native and the former promoter of the Georgia-based NWA Wildside promotion from 1999-2005, is often credited with launching The Phenomenal AJ Styles’ career. He has helped guide it, and many others, along the way ever since.
“What Allen (Styles’ name is Allen Jones) and I did together, was come up with a plan for his career,” Behrens recalled. “But, he always had the talent, and he’s stayed on that path. For all the talent that Allen possesses, you can also say that he’s a good person, a good husband and a good father. He’s followed that plan, in both wrestling and in life, remarkably well.”
Behrens first came across Styles right there in his own backyard, during his time running NWA Wildside, based out of Cornelia, Georgia. Styles was a homegrown, Peach State prodigy, and had the dedication required to excel in the ring.
Behrens arranged a trip to Australia for the short-lived World Wrestling All-Stars promotion, and from there, Jeff Jarrett signed Styles to his brand new TNA Wrestling company. Behrens would be involved as well, helping the fledgling endeavor get off the ground, both on and off-screen. He would also be there to lend words of wisdom to the young grappler as he began performing for the first time on an international stage.
However, it wasn’t always the smoothest journey, Behrens insists. There were times when he and his young phenom would butt heads over the direction of Styles’ career.
“What I did with Allen, was actually criticize him. I was the first person to tell him that everything he was doing wasn’t the greatest thing on the face of the Earth. Everyone was telling him for a while there, about how great he was. I think I was the first person to tell him to slow down and that he was doing way too much.”
“He hated me… At the beginning, anyway. And he’ll even tell you that. We’ve even said it in interviews, he will tell them, yeah, I hated Bill at first.”
“Now, I’m ‘Pa-Pa Bill’ and a surrogate father to the family. But, that took a while.”
Many casual wrestling fans may not even know Behrens’ name. And, unfortunately, the fans that do often refer to him as simply the ‘Guy who found AJ’. But to observers of the industry, Behrens’ depth and influence is much more than just one Phenomenal superstar.
As the the man behind SBI Bookings (Show Business Inc.), he now guides the careers of some of wrestling’s most prominent young stars, as well as many mat veterans. Diamond Dallas Page, Christopher Daniels, and Matt Sydal are among the different generations of performers who have been under Behren’s guidance. One glance at the company’s website, and fans will notice names ranging from the up-and-coming Flip Gordon to former WCW star Glacier as part of the cast of characters that fill out Behrens’ roster.
Behrens originally broke into the business by writing in to the PWTorch newsletter in the early 1990s, and his words gained the attention of Tennessee promoter Jerry Jarrett. Noticing Behrens’ business acumen, he immediately put him to work.
Behrens began traveling around the country and helping with the TV distribution for the USWA. It was a unique situation for the newcomer.
“I would close deals and secure TV in the towns,” he said. “When Jeff (Jarrett) decided that he didn’t want to be a promoter yet at that time, we were left with a lot of towns booked.“
So by default, Jerry Jarrett would hand even more responsibilities over to his new protege.
At around the same time, Jarrett also secured a deal with the WWF, and Behrens would continue to help to spread the USWA product to even more markets. Eventually, he would move to WCW in a similar capacity, and remained there until 1997.
After doing some independent work with fellow promoter Bert Prentice, Behrens would eventually launch NWA Wildside in the Georgia area, and for a time, the company also had a working agreement with Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling. Behrens provided the talent, and the waning days of WCW proved to be launching pad for “Air Raid”, a tag team formed in Wildside by Air Paris and AJ Styles.
“I learned fairly early in Wildside, that I’m not that great of a promoter,” Behrens laughs. “I learned I was much better at showing up to the building, having everything already set up for television, plugging everything in, turning the lights on, and just do our thing.”
“Wildside became a promotion that taught television presentation to young talent, and I became a guy who developed talent from within that company, rather than being known as a promoter.”
That reputation as a coach and mentor continued to develop as his charge, Styles, became the hottest young name in the business in the early 2000s. Behrens’ career began to evolve from there.
“I started having more wrestlers being booked all over the country (from the Wildside days). Abyss, David Young, and Elix Skipper all got signed by TNA. Ronnie Killings, one of the first guys there, he got signed. We had guys we were putting belts on, because they were making so many appearances all over the country.”
Over the course of the next 15 years, Behrens would develop into an agent, friend, confidant and (often) father figure to a generation of wrestlers who followed Styles’ lead. Fast forward to today, and Bill Behrens is not only the man guiding the career of the WWE World Champion, but a powerful and influential voice in the industry himself. His careful wisdom and sometimes pointed criticism have been at the steering wheel of some major career decisions recently.
“A lot of times, a wrestler will get in touch with me through AJ or word of mouth, and say they are doing great on bookings, but that dealing with the management side is a pain. And, that’s usually how I end up taking over.”
On a typical day, he furiously works the phone, constantly updating his wrestlers and promoters about dates, bookings or cancellations. He’s been entrusted by some of the most important people in the sport, and has a quiet, almost unseen influence. His eye for talent over a decade has been uncanny, and Behrens shows a dogged dedication to the athletes.
“I’m very up front about what I do. I tell the wrestlers all the time that I was never going to be the guy who gave them money” he said. “Like I tell them, if I do my job and manage things correctly, I’ll be the one who helps make them money.”
For a list of wrestlers represented by Bill Behrens, please visit: SBI BOOKINGS