Wrestling has a hold on Morrell Park native

Ding, ding, ding: Steve O’Neill is a wrest­ling pro­moter from the North­east. He prom­ises fans an ac­tion-packed card of wrest­ling on Dec. 28 in South Phil­adelphia. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF STEVE O’NEILL

Steve O’Neill has al­ways been a huge fan of pro­fes­sion­al wrest­ling.

And ever since he star­ted disc jock­ey­ing at USA Roller Skat­ing and the Elec­tric Play­ground, two former May­fair hot spots, he got in­volved in pro­mo­tion.

So when the Mor­rell Park nat­ive de­cided to start pro­mot­ing pro wrest­ling, it seemed like the per­fect match.

“I star­ted pro­mot­ing mu­sic, mostly do­ing free­style club mu­sic shows be­cause that’s what I did when I was DJing,” the Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School gradu­ate said. “And dur­ing that time, I met a guy named Doug Gentry through my broth­er Mike. He was my broth­er’s friend who was in­volved in wrest­ling. And next thing I knew, I was in­volved in wo­men’s wrest­ling. We had GLOW and Dan­ger­ous Wo­men of Wrest­ling.”

The wo­men’s shows were held in nightclubs in the Phil­adelphia area. And while they wer­en’t known world­wide, they did in­tro­duce the in­dustry to top names like former WWE wo­men’s cham­pi­on Mick­ie James and former TNA champ Vel­vet Sky.

Around the same time, when the man dubbed “Mr. Miami” was spin­ning re­cords at vari­ous clubs and pro­mot­ing the wo­men’s wrest­ling, he dis­covered the Phil­adelphia-based wrest­ling pro­mo­tion Ex­treme Cham­pi­on­ship Wrest­ling.

Like many oth­er fans, he im­me­di­ately fell in love with the ac­tion that was on dis­play at an arena in South Phil­adelphia.

“I was work­ing in a bar and I watched Rey Mys­terio versus Psicos­is, two out of three falls and the whole show was this match,” O’Neill said. “Then I watched the fol­low­ing week and I was in­tro­duced to the Tommy Dream­er-Raven feud and I was hooked.

“I watched wrest­ling for a long time when I was a kid, then they got Hulk Hogan and the Ul­ti­mate War­ri­or. It was good, but it got cheesy so I stopped watch­ing. This got me back in­to it.”

ECW closed its doors in 2001, but fans still chanted the pro­mo­tion’s names at WWE shows. WWE cap­it­al­ized on the ECW glory days by re­leas­ing DVDs and bring­ing back re­union shows.

That ran its course and by 2012, ECW was dead.

But fans still clamored for the good old days. So O’Neill hooked up with some busi­ness part­ners and pro­moted “Ex­treme Rising.” The event was held in April 2012, and it was held in O’Neill’s back­yard at the Pennsylvania Na­tion­al Guard Ar­mory on Roosevelt Boulevard.

He knew they could draw a de­cent crowd.

He didn’t know there would be a fire mar­shal at the door telling them to stop let­ting people in after more than 2,000 people crammed in­to the arena.

“I wanted to make as much money as pos­sible, so I didn’t want to turn any­one away,” O’Neill ad­mit­ted. “But it was great to see so many people want this. We just pro­moted it very well. We had TV ad­vert­ising, my broth­er Mike led the street team pro­mot­ing it. And we had so­cial me­dia. I was happy be­cause this was a wrest­ling show right around the corner from where I grew up. It was great.”

O’Neill is real­ist­ic about his ven­ture in­to pro­fes­sion­al wrest­ling.

It’s a tough busi­ness and it’s more than a full-time job. In fact, his wife Ann Pine­apple es­tim­ates he spends more than 80 hours a week work­ing on things for the pro­mo­tion’s up­com­ing show, Dec. 28. It’s the first show in more than two years at the former ECW Arena, and O’Neill knows it could be the start of something huge, again.

That’s be­cause O’Neill has Ex­treme Rising de­b­ut­ing on tele­vi­sion on Jan. 1 on Chan­nel 4 WACP in the Phil­adelphia area. It will be an hour show that will de­but on the first day of 2014 at 10 p.m. After the ini­tial show, it will move to Tues­day nights at 10.

Get­ting TV clear­ance wasn’t easy, but this is ex­actly how the ori­gin­al ECW got its start when it ap­peared on SportsChan­nel Amer­ica and took off from there.

“We have a great chan­nel be­cause people will flip around and Chan­nel 4 is right at the start, where a lot of people flip by,” said O’Neill, who was also the ex­ec­ut­ive pro­du­cer of Barb Wire City, an ECW doc­u­ment­ary that after 14 years of pro­duc­tion was re­leased this year and re­ceived great re­views. “And start­ing it Jan. 1 was big for me. I wanted to start it fresh in the new year. It’s really something we’re ex­cited about.”

These days, O’Neill’s time and ef­forts are con­sumed by the wrest­ling in­dustry.

Pro­mot­ing a show of this mag­nitude re­quires plenty of plan­ning. 

He has to book flights, make sure things are booked with the arena and vendors, make sure every­one makes it to Phil­adelphia and he has to book the matches as well.

And don’t for­get pro­mot­ing the show via the com­pany’s Face­book and Twit­ter ac­counts, as well as pound­ing the pave­ment to make sure every po­ten­tial fan finds out that ex­treme wrest­ling is com­ing back to Phil­adelphia.

It’s an end­less job, but O’Neill has a great sup­port sys­tem.

“My fam­ily is great,” O’Neill said. “My wife is very sup­port­ive. My broth­er Mike does a lot. He’s al­ways been a huge sup­port­er and part­ner, in mu­sic and wrest­ling. And my neph­ews Mikey, Justin, Ry­an and Chris all like it and are sup­port­ive.

“Every­one is ex­cited about this. I’m very ex­cited about this. My goal isn’t to com­pete with WWE or any­thing like that, my goal is to have fun, make some people happy, and of course make money. I just hope things con­tin­ue to work out.”

For tick­ets to the show, vis­it www.ex­tremer­ising.com ••

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