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 ••