Exclusive: Hooked On Wrestling’s Paul Benson On Becoming A Promoter, Strength Of The UK Scene, Dream Booking Scenario

Hooked On Wrestling has been a staple of UK wrestling entertainment and screening parties for over 10 years. If you are a wrestling fan in the UK and want to watch a late-night PLE with like-minded fans, chances are you’ve been to one of their parties.

From selling out the Boxpark Wembley for a Royal Rumble party and hosting weekly Sunday night quizzes online to creating mad bingo bottomless brunches with former PROGRESS Wrestling Tag Team Champions Sunshine Machine, Hooked on Wrestling has been a godsend to bring fans together for the big shows…so much so, they are now putting on one themselves.

Hooked On Wrestling

To conclude what will be the biggest weekend of wrestling in UK history at the end of August, Hooked On Wrestling are promoting its first show at the iconic Dome venue in Tuffnell Park, London, ‘Shake It All About.’ The show will see a 16 wrestler, lethal lottery tag team tournament, where after every round, the winning teams are re-randomised. Unique, brilliant, and must-see!

PWMania.com‘s Lee Tarrier (@leeseedub) caught up with Hooked on Wrestling co-founder Paul Benson to discuss his thoughts leading up to the show, the strength of the UK scene and one iconic moment in wrestling he would book differently.

You can check out the complete interview below:

Hooked On Wrestling are synonymous with great screening parties, but now are running your own show. What made you want to do this?

So we’ve been doing this 10 years now. I’ve been involved with wrestling in one form or another for about 15 years and I’ve always swore that if I you ever see me promoting an event that involves a wrestling ring and wrestlers, you have my permission to throw me out the nearest window, and I managed to keep that promise to myself for years. And then obviously, ALL IN is taking place. There’s gonna be 90,000 wrestling fans in London. It was a little gap on the Monday where there’s nothing going on and I’m afraid my temptation got the better of me. So we will be presenting our first ever show ‘Shake It All About’ from The Dome on Monday the 28th and I’m very excited.

The concept of the show is so unique. What made you think about creating something in this vein?

I think it was more so the fact that I don’t know whether there’s going to be a show number two. So what I thought is twofold really. I wanted to do sort of a self contained show because, you know, like you say this might be show number one of 100, it might be show number one of one but you want to tell the full story so it was important that something had a start middle and end in one night.

And secondly, I was well aware that a lot of the guys on the card are phenomenal wrestlers in the UK, you know we’ve got a huge amount of amazing talent who have been on the scene for so many years, and who are very busy. You know, there’s a lot of wrestling going on in the UK, in London, outside London, every single weekend, which is amazing for us as fans I love seeing it. But at the same time, I want to make sure there’s a reason we present these guys you see month in month out in a slightly different way. And that’s how the concept of the team tournament came around because I wanted to put in combinations of partners and opponents you’ve probably not seen before and won’t see again. But having said that, naivety of a novice, the booking of the talent, booking of the show, it’s not the easiest.

How does booking a show differ from booking one of your screening parties?

It’s funny you asked that. Boxpark Wembley was the culmination of everything we’ve done. You were there and hopefully it was an amazing night. It was just perfect. Those parties, it’s a process right, I know how to do these events. You book a venue, you market the event, you get a great team and you plan, plan, plan. And more often than not, these things work as they should.

I totally underestimated what happens when you throw a load of wrestlers and a load of creative into an event. The wrestlers themselves are fantastic but they’re all got their own different personas and and the last thing I want to do is come and pay them to be on this event and put them in a position where it’s going to make them look lesser than they are.

If I was just being totally selfish, I could use these guys as pawns to tell my story that I want to tell and be damned everything else. But, you know, I’m well aware that what these guys do on that day for us was, you know, they’ll put they’re all in the ring, but it’s just one day. They’ve got a wider career to tell and I don’t want to make them sort of look in any way or compromise what they’re doing elsewhere. So it’s a it’s a tough balancing act to make sure you’re servicing that and putting on a compelling story for the fans. And at the same time having a satisfying beginning, middle and end. I can tell you, I’ve got the whiteboard to end all whiteboards with 60 names and multiple brackets, input coming from every source you can imagine. And am I close to finalising it yet? I would be lying out of my teeth if I said I was.

I’d like to think of myself as quite a switched on wrestling fan. I can read stories, I can see where they’re going and I can often like get a good feel for what makes storylines progress, but doing something from start to finish where you’ve got to service those stories. Everything is a completely different animal. And like, it’s honestly the most head spinning thing I’ve ever done. So yeah, massive respect, especially to the guys who were doing it every month, the likes of PROGRESS, ICW, Rev Pro. They may be creating a story with performers that last months and things on the independent scene can change just like that and cause a change. It’s an absolute head scratcher. So yeah, honestly, hats off to them all.

How has it been talking with the talent in a style diferent to when you’ve worked with a lot of these as party hosts?

I felt slightly awkward at times. I’m not overawed talking to these guys because luckily I’ve had a career where I’ve been interacting with some of the biggest stars in wrestling, so I don’t see it as a sort of standoffish thing but I’m used to talking to them in a context of hosting a show or doing an appearance or scenario which is true for them.

They know much more about it than I do, so trying to have those conversations and try and explain why maybe I see things the way I do when they all want the top spot and the spotlight can be tough. You know, certain people going out in the first round, certain people going into the final. I probably care more about it than they do. They’re professionals. They know how it works. And as long as you’re respectful, I think they get it but I find it quite awkward because you know, who am I to tell someone that I don’t see them as valuable as the next person is? It’s absolutely not the case. But you can see how that perception could be easily fostered. So yeah, yeah, it’s tough and I’ve still not quite got my head round it.

And you’re doing so much great stuff over that weekend with countless parties

Okay, so we’re doing we’re doing about eight or nine events over the weekend and they’re all quite packed together. There’s a load on Saturday night, a load on Sunday morning. And then obviously I still have stuff going on Monday. It’s hard because you always got to keep those plates spinning but at the same time you want to enjoy, like a great example is obviously I’ve got a team of about 15 people who helped me out in various ways from DJs to door managers, you name it. They do a brilliant job. What I don’t want them to do is have an incredible time. All In is going to be incredible, right? You know, 90,000 people in Wembley, it’s gonna be the biggest thing we’ve seen since SummerSlam 92. I was old enough to be there tragically.

If you could rebook one major wrestling scenario, what would it be?

That’s a really good question. I think the answer to that will probably be quite recent. Roman Reigns has done an awful lot of awesome stuff with during his reign and it’s absolutely epic. Everything that’s gone on in with The Bloodline has been absolutely brilliant. One of the best stories in wrestling history. But having said that, I would have loved to have seen Drew go over at Clash At The Castle. That would have been just utterly, utterly mind blowing.

Do you think British Wrestling is in a good state?

I think it’s amazing. I just love the fact that when I was sort of a teenager and you went to watch British wrestling, it was like wrestler takes on a fake WWE wrestler. That had its time, right. But it was not particularly exciting and it was for kids to fill up arenas. It’s got a time and place but you look at that compared to what we’ve got now and the quality and quantity we have. You can go to any town or city in the country and at least once a month, there is a quality wrestling event. We’ve got dozens of wrestlers who earn a full time living doing what they do, which I don’t think we can ever, ever have said before, which is superb.

We might have seen bigger individual shows from some of the independent companies in the past, but as a consistent product, I think we’re peaking, I think we’re right there.

There is a proper pathway to a full career and stardom as a British or Irish wrestler now, and I think what that does is encourages people to start thinking about becoming a wrestler. I had aspirations to be a wrestler when I was a kid and but even if I had, you know, I’d have had to been in the top 0.5% to do anything and get anywhere. Whereas now these guys have got much more opportunity. So that encourages more kids to get involved as a viable career path, which is going to mean more talent come through that would have got lost in the system otherwise, so I think you can only get better and better.

I don’t see those sort of big monolithic events like the Hydro for ICW and Wembley Arena for PROGRESS so much, maybe they’ll come but what I see is a more consistent weekly scene where the likes of PROGRESS and the likes of Rev Pro pack out shows that although smaller in size, will consistently deliver great wrestling and consistently build audiences and I think that’s the future because it gives that regular presence.

And who have you been most proud of seeing sort of get reached the highest highs that have come from from our shores?

Oh, great question. I’m going to discount the likes of Drew and Seamus because they were a little bit for my time. Yeah. They you know, they did that spell on NDC when I wasn’t really sort of paying attention. But in recent years QA guys, again, really good question. I suppose. I suppose the obvious answer because I’m such a big fan is Walter and I know he’s not technically British, but obviously quiz TV and Matt I agree. It was a huge honour the see and to see him doing what I do think of all those years when he was in the Indies then NXT UK and it was a big sort of unwritten sort of myths about him where he wasn’t going to go to America so he couldn’t move any further and suddenly did and Oh, my God by just isn’t is not in service of what he’s going to be and whether it’s Walter whether he’s gone to WHO CARES same guy. Yeah. That is better now than he was on the independent circuit looked me and asked me in a bigger star column what you like he’s, he’s super, but you know, he’s one of many. There’s so many on the Brizzi. Now that I think can emulate that. It’s just really exciting.

Finally, what can fans expect from Shake It All About as it closes a weekend festival of wrestling?

I’ve been telling my friends that All In weekend is the biggest feast of wrestling ever. You’ve got your starters on Saturday with the PROGRESS/Defy double header and the fantastic Rev Pro show at Copper Box. Your main course is at Wembley, your big steak and chips, whatever you want to call it. That’s the mack daddy on Sunday night at Wembley with AEW’s All In. So, Shake It All About is that cheeky little dessert that you think you can fit as you’re stuffed, yet it’s so noisy that you cannot resist, so you’ve got to find room for that last little bit.

That’s what our event will be. It’s just going to be the right way to end the weekend.

Giving you the perfect sugar coma, putting a smile on your face and being lots of fun. You’re gonna see something different and new in a really cool atmosphere at The Dome, which is one of the coolest venues for wrestling in the UK. So I’m really really pleased we’re going there.

Make sure you end ALL IN weekend with Shake It All About from Hooked On Wrestling. Get your tickets HERE.

For every ounce of info you need over All In Weekend and a list of parties the group are throwing, check out the ultimate guide they have put together HERE.