In 2006, Norm Connors’ International Wrestling Cartel started the year at the Court Time Sports Center, a spacious recreation venue in Elizabeth, PA that housed three full-length basketball courts, hosting youth leagues throughout the year. When jump shots weren’t being made, soccer groups kicked their way to goals, and when the youth of America wasn’t learning the value of team work, the diehard IWC fan base saw pro wrestling mayhem takeover. Connors, regarded as one of the godfathers of Pittsburgh independent wrestling, began promoting IWC, the successor to his Steel City Wrestling organization of the late-90s, in 2001 and built a cult following for the Western PA fans. As is often the case with independent wrestling, promotions were often at the mercy of venues for potential cancellations or schedule changes. After a few years, Connors landed at Court Time, a semi-central location for the IWC fans, who arrived at that building for the first time on a blustery Friday night in January of 2006. “The Monster” Abyss, still in his prime of a TNA run, was the spotlight star on that particular evening.
In the 15 years since that chilly evening in Elizabeth, the professional wrestling industry, as it often does, morphed and evolved. As TNA faded from the national spotlight and letters such as AEW emerged, IWC had its own storied history inside the Sports Center. Pittsburgh legends like Dennis Gregory and Super Henti cemented much of their legacy inside an IWC ring. Henti, a 22-year pro that can still go today, once sailed from the balcony of the building onto a group of unsuspecting foes below. The late great Larry Sweeney strutted his way to become one of the most popular on the roster. The Sandman enjoyed a beverage or two while he was there. Tommy Dreamer shocked those in attendance when he captured the IWC championship. Jack Pollock, a student of underrated legend Lance Storm and one of the best grapplers in the Pittsburgh area, made an emotional return after he was sidelined for several months from surgery that repaired a knee injury.
There’s no doubt about it, over the past decade and a half, Court Time Sports Center was the site of some of the most memorable moments in Pittsburgh wrestling history.
As the dynamics shifted around the industry, there were changes for IWC as well. After nearly ten years as the head of IWC, Norm retired from the industry, passing the organization along to Chuck Roberts, a longtime ring announcer that helped out for years behind the scenes before taking over the reigns. Five years as a promoter was enough for Chuck, and he saw the chance to leave the company in good hands of Justin Plummer, a fiercely dedicated video host that learned the ins and outs of the business when he interviewed stars backstage. In 2014, Plummer bought IWC and marched it forward toward the widest distribution of the product in the company’s history.
Justin and his wife, Jenny, known as one of the politest ladies of the Pittsburgh scene, became their own promotional tag team, as Justin juggles negotiations while Jenny tends to much of the administration side of the business. Just as the Plummer duo looked to continue to ramp up and enhance the presentation of the International Wrestling Cartel in 2020, the entire world was halted in its tracks by the corona virus pandemic.
As health warnings and travel restrictions began to pop up just weeks before the spring, the reality of the COVID shutdown hit the wrestling world when Wrestlemania was moved from a stadium in Tampa to a closed set. If the czar of sports entertainment saw the corona virus shutter his annual spectacular, there was a level of seriousness that had a ripple effect all across the pro wrestling world. The stories of the impact on every level are numerous, but for IWC, it took a particularly tough toll on their plans for the year.
“Overall, it has been extremely difficult and scary, but we were able to thrive in this atmosphere because we adapted so quickly and thought outside of the box. We never let the depression of the lockdown slow us down. We had to completely adapt and evolve on the fly to find a way to still run a profitable business while still keeping everyone safe and delivering a product worthy of fans’ hard earned money. To recover from months of shut down and having to recover sunk operating costs at the school, we reached out to other promotions in the area who also were struggling with the pandemic and created win-win deals to work together under one roof for training,” Justin explained.
The harsh reality is, despite IWC’s status as the largest promotion of the Pittsburgh area, often bringing in top independent talent to the steel city, it’s still classified as a small business, especially compared to the titans of the industry. While USA and Fox TV deals make a broadcast alone a lucrative portion of the global publicly-traded company, independent groups operate on a much more grass roots level. When a well-known independent performer is booked for Court Time, costs like transportation, booking fee, and possible hotel accommodations are a part of the process that gets them in front of an IWC crowd. As much as Plummer might moonsault with joy if IWC landed a corporate sponsorship to cover extra costs, Cola Cola or Skittles aren’t going to pick up the tab. How to sort out the logistics to make all of that happen comes down to Justin and his select group of office staff. If a late-night call needs to be taken, it’s Justin answering the phone in his slippers. With restrictions on large gatherings, Court Time closed its doors to any activity, and the previously mentioned training school was paused for a brief time. Still, Justin believed professional wrestling events with some limited seating could still be done early on during the pandemic and attempted to organize cards, but ran into hurdles of health restrictions.
“Organizing events has been heartbreaking, but awarding. I had to work closely with the state athletic commission to help get specific safety guidelines in place and approved by the state health department. Even when things looked good, the goal posts would often move and guidance would change. That’s when we decided to go outdoors,” said Plummer.
Absolutely convinced that his product was critical to his fans, Plummer was determined to find a way to present live wrestling, even if it meant just a piece of normal life during such unprecedented times. In one of the more unique and entertaining set ups, an old school drive-in hosted an IWC card with audio piped through the speakers as fans watched the matches from the safety of their cars. Wanting to expand upon the outdoor concept, IWC was taken to The Washington Wild Things Stadium, a minor league baseball park. The company’s premiere event, Super Indy was held until the stars, as the talented prospect, Brian Pillman Jr. won the tournament to claim the Super Indy championship.
“The Washington Wild Things events came about from a previous relationship that I had with the team President. We discussed working together a year or two ago so when I decided to move IWC outdoors, I immediately contacted him to work something out that could help both of us keep our businesses going through these tough times. Once again, the event went so well that we continued to go back for more,” Plummer commented.
This Saturday IWC returns to its own base, Court Time Sports Center for an event that has its fans buzzing. Despite the increase in COVID cases across the country, Plummer worked with local health officials to plan a way to run a safe event with several precautions in place for those in attendance. The live event will be kept to only 20% capacity, the entire complex will be open for seating to allow for social distancing, masks are required, hand sanitizer will be located throughout the building, and the venue will be sanitized. For those that can’t get tickets to the live presentation, the IWC Network will stream the event live on its website.
“Limited capacity is tough, so unfortunately we had to raise our ticket prices from $20 to $25 to help offset the loss of spectators. We have also found ways to significantly reduce our expenses without hurting the quality of the event. We have been fortunate to make things work really well so far under these conditions. We also have the streaming option for fans that would rather watch from home. The IWC Network has quickly become a vital part of our company’s success, but ticket sales will always be the name of the game. Since we are limited in sales due to safety guidelines, the streaming option has definitely gotten a boost and helps us a lot. Between the pandemic, politics, and the woes of every day life, people can expect to be able to take a three hour break from it all on Saturday night. It will be an emotional night to return to our home at Court Time, and it will be much needed distraction for everyone,” Plummer said.
For more information about IWC, you can go to iwcwrestling.com
For more information about the IWC Network, you can go to https://iwcwrestling.com/product-category/iwc-network-ippv
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