Wrestling Inc.'s Raj Giri recently sat down with founder and owner of MLW Court Bauer where they discussed MLW's The Restart that is set to begin next Wednesday, November 18. Bauer gave his thoughts on MLW's return after spending nearly half the year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When you're not producing and assembling TV for essentially eight months, you have to get back into the routine, and it's been great getting back into that routine and building these shows and stuff," Bauer admitted. "I will say going into the tapings and trying to map out such a significant block of programming with all these variables and there's a variable of 'how's this going to work? How's it going to play once it hits air,' of course, but then there's the variable of testing and going through that process where we're going to do a few rounds of testing.
"You hope that what you have on paper is an actuality of what you're able to film and end up with in the can, and we are very fortunate our guys, and our crew and our staff went through thorough testing and passed repeatedly. I didn't expect that. We had over planned anticipating that we were going to have to have like a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D and all the connective tissue involved with that.
"There's this domino effect from a booking and matchmaking point of view that totally screwed everything up. I don't know if it was Russian Roulette or luck on our side, but everything just went fine thankfully, and we were able to get everything we wanted in the can as we had hoped."
Bauer said that they were waiting for "testing to get more accurate and more accessible". He also said that MLW have been in talks with NJPW who have not only handled the pandemic well in Japan but also have dealt with the pandemic in the U.S. with NJPW Strong.
"For us it was a few things. One, we wanted testing to get more accurate and more accessible, and with things kind of kicking into high gear in August with the NBA and their rapid test that they worked with Yale on, that came along rather quickly and rather well," Bauer noted. "There are some other rapid tests that came along well. Treatment got better. When we when we kind of committed to doing our taping, the numbers then were low. As we film this today, numbers are hitting, unfortunately, at all time.
"Again, with this kind of thing, you don't have the visibility of even maybe three weeks let alone a month or two. So we were hoping that this would work out and the numbers would be consistent when we were filming and everything would kind of converge, but we also spoke with the folks at New Japan because they were out there doing a great job on testing when they're doing their shows in Japan but also stateside to kind of get a sense at their system [and] how it worked for them in the wrestling realm.
"So that helped us. It gave us a lot more information to work with, and we saw also, God forbid someone gets the virus, therapeutics were getting a bit better. Given all this information we now have, which you didn't have in March. I felt people starting to feel a little bit that there was more information and treatment and things were looking a little bit better by mid-summer. That's when we said, 'okay, let's get everyone back to work.'"
When asked about the presentation of the show, Bauer noted that Vince McMahon is not a fan of smoke-filled arenas. However, Bauer said that MLW will embrace that aesthetic and atmosphere.
"It's gonna be a little different obviously. As you're watching every wrestling product right now, it's been a little different look than ten months ago or in 2019," Bauer pointed out. "One of the key things I felt watching the other shows out there, I thought there were some unique things they're doing that works and some that don't. Some of that, I think, maybe we could experiment with.
"One of the things I always kind of was fascinated by was Vince McMahon and his distaste for smoke-filled arenas. He said, 'we're taking wrestling out of smoke-filled arenas,' and I always thought that was kind of this really cool cinematic experience. We used to see the smoke-filled arenas. It's the fog above amongst the fighters as they're fighting, and it just [has a] very raw, primal feeling. There's a hazy look and two guys are going to war in the ring. It's just cinematic, and it draws you more into the action.
"Visually, I think it adds a layer of authenticity instead of a more sterile, overproduced over-lit arena. In this environment, it doesn't really give you much other than your wrestling in front of maybe something that looks like a small-scale Times Square, and MLW, we can't afford a small-scale Times Square, so how do you turn a negative into a positive? I said, let's bring back the smoke-filled arena. Let's get that haze look in there, and it will give it a certain level of intensity.
Bauer continued noting that the presentation will be completely different for MLW. He also noted that the look of the shows will be fluid and will change until they find something that can stick for them.
"So the experience will be a little more atmospheric, a little different, and I think in looking at the first episode, it's a pretty cool effect and every episode, we'll probably make a little adjustment here and there to the presentation as we kind of zero in and lock in a look," Bauer explained. "I think when you look at any episode of a show early on in its run, you're getting a feel for it. By episode eight or nine, they've locked it in, and this is almost like a new era for us because it's a whole different presentation for us.
"So we're probably going to take a few episodes to lock it in to the point where I like it, but we revamped everything. We added to our production significantly. We have a jib crane. We have new graphics. It's a whole different look than what we've had now. The naked eye might not see some of that. Certain fans might notice some of those elements we've enhanced the product with."
One of MLW's big streaming deals they've signed recently has been with DAZN. Bauer talked about MLW's relationship with DAZN as well as his goals to showcase MLW to as many platforms and markets as possible.
"Great, we had a call with them yesterday. They're doing this big thing in December where we're rolling out into 200 territories around the globe, and so they're getting to rev up their new model," Bauer revealed. "And John Skipper, who was the former head of ESPN, is leading the charge over there, and it's been a great relationship for us. During this pandemic, it was really important that we take this COVID-imposed hibernation and take that bandwidth, which would usually go towards running events and trying to build the business.
"For me, it was really important to now take this freed up bandwidth and build our business to emerge from the pandemic healthy and ready to run at a fast pace on a larger scale. For me, it's really such an incredible compliment like, 'hey, MLW is the best kept secret in wrestling.' That's great. Let's not keep it a secret though. My goal is to go out there and try to expand our footprint, and we did that. The deal like DAZN is huge for us. Breaking news will also be available on Pluto TV.
"You can get us through the Fubo Sports Network channel on Pluto now, so it's another free way to get us, and so we did a bunch of international deals and polling stuff. And it was just a big part of the initiative to grow our global footprint with an emphasis on streaming. So by the time we air next week, we'll be available on over 100 million screens worldwide. That was really important to me. It's great to have the conventional deals that are on cable and stuff, and we want those deals, but the future is just to be everywhere simultaneously. For me, to hit that 100 million screens worldwide is key."
There have recently been breakthroughs in a COVID-19 vaccine, and Giri asked Bauer where he sees MLW in 2021. Bauer said that he hopes to have fans in the spring. However, he also talked about his goal to hold a show on an island either in Hawaii or in the Caribbean making "Filthy Island" a reality.
"My hope and goal is to have fans in the spring, but we have no idea what the rollout of the vaccine is going to look like," Bauer admitted. "I don't really have a sense yet about athletic commissions and what their game plan is going to be for 2021 because it's not just the fans. They have certain criteria for locker rooms and even big arenas, NBA-sized arenas can't accommodate what they're asking for, and what they're asking for makes all the sense in the world. It's just what is out there to make sure we can comply with that. It's hard. So there's a bit of that based on where we run in Pennsylvania.
"We run in New York. Those are two key markets. We also run in Chicago, Dallas, Florida and a few other places, but it's kind of like a jump ball. We have some ideas. We actually have a site survey that's set for later this month, another exclusive for you, where we're going to have our guys go out. It's a tough gig. They're going to have to go out to Hawaii and also down to the Caribbean because we are looking at doing an actual island show. So 'Filthy Island' is a real thing that's going to happen we hope. Will we have fans when we do it? To be determined but we're going to be doing something like that on the horizon.
"I want to do a live show from a tropical location. I think it would be really cool for DAZN. It would also be really cool for TV. So we'll see where it ends up. Those are some of the goals and some things we got in the mix. Where do I see us in a year from now? I think we'll be, hopefully, returning to some semblance of normalcy. Will we be running every taping in the cycle and manner of which we did in the past? Perhaps, maybe it will take a little bit longer. It's hard to know. Hopefully, we have a president by then. We'll see what happens. I just want to get through 2020."
Court's full interview aired as part of today's episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it's released Monday - Friday afternoon by clicking here.