Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin surprised the wrestling world yesterday when he announced the creation of a new governing body dedicated to expanding fight sports in the Commonwealth. The Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Authority (KBWA) will oversee boxing, wrestling, MMA, and other full-contact sports. The new website for the KBWA states the group’s purpose as follows:
“Our mission is to encourage the growth of professional boxing and wrestling in the Commonwealth, while protecting participants and spectators of the sports. We strive to improve the sports by thoughtful, reasonable and fair regulation and monitoring.”
Early reaction to the announcement was largely positive. One of the stated goals of the KBWA is to attract major wrestling events – i.e. WWE – back to Kentucky. WWE has not held a Raw taping in Louisville since 2010, and the last WWE pay-per-view held in Louisville was Judgement Day in 2000.
While the possibility of attracting a major WWE show is exciting, many are wondering what impact this new commission will have on independent wrestling. It’s no secret that Kentucky is one of the most restrictive states in the nation when it comes to regulating wrestling. Kentucky is one of the few states that governs wrestling as a legitimate sport, and the red tape involved with promoting and wrestling in Kentucky is staggering.
“The hardest challenge in getting licensed in Kentucky isn’t finding a venue,” says Rick Brady, owner of D1W. “It was putting up a $5000 bond to throw a show. Since I had insurance, I was never sure why was the bond necessary. Second, I had to fill out an application and wait for them to decide to even give me a hearing to get a license. Third, I had to go to the hearing, and even if I posted the $5000 bond, I was still not guaranteed they would approve me for a license.”
The Kentucky Athletic Commission is notoriously stingy about handing out licenses to promoters. Brady contends that the Commission will not allow two promotions to run in the same territory, much like the old days of the NWA, and no one is allowed to move in and compete with the licensed promoters.
Kentucky regulations are equally cumbersome for the wrestlers, and anyone who wants to work in the business. Anyone who steps on the other side of the barrier wall from the fans – wrestlers, managers, valets, ring announcers, time keepers, and more – is required to have a license, and everyone who has a license is required to pass a physical and be subject to random drug testing.
“There’s nothing random about the drug testing,” says Brady. “[The Athletic Commission] intrude in the locker room and disrupt the show by having guys randomly pee tested. There are no restrictions on this. They can test you 2 or 3 times a week, and they are very biased on who they select. One wrestler, who I will not name, refuses to wrestle in Kentucky because of the harassment he was receiving from the Athletic Commission. After being suspended in 2013, he cleaned up his life and was drug free to my knowledge. When he returned to Kentucky in 2015, he went through the application process and was granted a license. Then at every show he wrestled, he was forced to take a drug test. After doing this five weeks in a row, and passing every time, he never returned to Kentucky.”
If you’re curious why WWE, TNA, and other promotions generally give Kentucky a pass, it’s because these regulations and more (including one that states a match must stop immediately if there’s any blood) apply to every wrestling show in Kentucky.
“I think Louisville and Lexington are gonna push for relaxed rules on wrestling to get bigger events,” says PWF’s Jimmy Feltcher. “At the end of the day, money talks, and so will it be in this case.”
The new KBWA will likely cut away some of the red tape in order to incentivize the WWE to bring a major event to Louisville or Lexington, but the question remains: will the independent wrestlers and promoters see any relief? Wrestlers I’ve spoken to are largely optimistic, but the promoters remain skeptical.
“I’m curious to see committee treats the little guys because it seems like a play to bring WWE back to the city,” says UWA’s Eddie Allen. “WWE and TNA both left OVW as a development area. Plus Louisville Gardens becomes instantly attractive to a bigger fish group of people if red tape on events is cleared.”
“If Bevin wants to change it, change it,” says Brady. “Gut the current commission and let the new guys have a fresh opportunity to revitalize wrestling.”
It’s worth noting that the promoters I spoke with all run or have run promotions in Southern Indiana, immediately across the river from Louisville. At the present time, there are more than half a dozen promotions running in the Louisville area north of the river, including PWF, UWA, KDW, and one time Kentucky promotion IWA Mid-South. Odds are one or more of these groups would happily move South into Kentucky. We might even see wrestling return to the Gardens, if the stars align for the right investor and the right promoter.
It all depends on how the KBWA does it’s job. At the very least we may soon see some major WWE events come to town, bringing the money and visitors the governor hopes to attract. At best the KBWA has the opportunity to bring Kentucky into the 21st century, positioning wrestlers in the Commonwealth to join the independent wrestling revolution already sweeping the country.