Story by Chris Graham
It used to be easier for Travis Bradshaw to draw a few hundred fans to his Vanguard Championship Wrestling shows.
“The whole business changed after The Attitude era,” said Bradshaw, whose Smithfield-based promotion runs shows across the Commonwealth.
“Kayfabe got killed, and wrestling got a bad reputation. That made it harder on us little guys,” Bradshaw said.
“Now when I go into schools and try to rent the gymnasium, I get turned down left and right. It’s an instant, We don’t want that in our building,” Bradshaw said.
“They compare what we do to what’s on television. They think that I’m going to bring people in, and I’m going to have half-naked women wrestling in Jell-O, and I’m going to have all other kinds of distasteful skits. I try to argue all the time – You can’t judge me based on what you see on television. But it happens,” Bradshaw told Off the Top Rope.
Bradshaw wouldn’t have guessed a decade ago that it would have happened that he would be involved in the pro-wrestling business as a promoter.
He trained to be an in-ring performer – though his early paying gigs had him working for the most part as a ring announcer. He got involved in the VCW operations behind the scenes in 1996 because of his work as a ring announcer in indy promotions scattered across the Mid-Atlantic – helping line up workers from outside the Hampton Roads area for bookings.
In 1998, Bradshaw took over for the promotion’s founder and original owner, Ronald “Big Daddy” Nowel.
“I was scared to death at first, to be honest with you,” Bradshaw said of the transition. “We all have our dreams of making it one day, and my original goal, like a lot of people’s, was to be a worker. I wanted to be a wrestler. I wanted to be on television, rich and famous, et cetera.
“Obviously, that didn’t work out for me. What did work – and I was always told, stick with what you know, stick with what works for you – ring announcing was working for me. I was being booked all over the place. I was working every weekend,” Bradshaw said.
“I enjoyed ring announcing, and decided to stick with that. But never in my wildest dreams did I think I would run my own show. It just wasn’t a dream or goal of mine to do that. And I didn’t think I knew enough. But when it all got dumped in my lap, it was like, wow,” Bradshaw said.
“I had to do hands-on learning. The only good thing I can say about is that I had so much experience working for other people and knowing how they ran their locker rooms – and sometimes how not to run a locker room. I kind of learned from my experiences,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw has also learned to adapt – somewhat – to wrestling in the post-Attitude era. Originally Virginia Championship Wrestling, Bradshaw went with the name change to Vanguard to facilitate the marketing and distribution of the promotion’s DVDs.
“It was suggested to us that we make the name change because the thought was that nobody would buy the DVDs on-line if they thought it was limited to Virginia,” Bradshaw said.
“I agreed and disagreed with the point. The point that was made was that if you were from New York City, you would see the name Virginia Championship Wrestling and think it was Southern wrestling, and that it would be terrible. I could see the point – and the goal, of course, was to expand geographically,” Bradshaw said.
The promotion focuses on the Hampton Roads area – but it also puts on shows in Roanoke and the Shenandoah Valley, with plans to come to Harrisonburg later this year.
The biggest challenge facing Bradshaw is – well, there’s the issue with the way people view the wrestling industry today.
“I don’t think it’s anywhere near where it was when I first started. It was very easy in our earlier years to draw 200 or 300 people. Now we have to scrap and fight to get those 200 or 300 people. It takes a lot of work just to draw a little crowd,” Bradshaw said.
Just as challenging is keeping the talent happy.
“The bigger problem we have is that we have some local talent and some guys that are more established. The challenge is trying to use those people properly and maintain their storylines and characters and yet still bring in new and fresh faces, which you have to do,” Bradshaw said.
“It becomes personal to the point where you almost are scared to become friends with anybody because you don’t want anybody to take it personally if you can’t use them for a show,” Bradshaw said.
“You have to rotate out people that you really don’t want to not use, but you’ve got to make room for somebody new,” Bradshaw said.