An Interview with WWN Ambassador Trevin Adams

Photo Credit: Alan Rolette, RiverHorse Wrestling Photography

Spectacle of Excess is delighted to interview the Ambassador of the World Wrestling Network, Trevin Adams. WWN is an umbrella organization that governs a network of independent wrestling promotions that include EVOLVE Wrestling, SHINE Wrestling, Full Impact Pro Wrestling, Style Battle, Viva La Lucha, WWN Supershow and American Combat Wrestling, among others. WWN produces and distributes streaming wrestling content that is available for purchase on WWNLive.com, which is further accentuated by the launch this week of the Club WWN service. Club WWN provides 24/7 access to all WWN Brand event Video on Demand products, access to live events on an approximate two week delay, a 50% discount on live WWN brand iPPVs, and a loyalty program that gives fans points for every dollar spent on WWNLive.com that can be redeemed towards WWN branded Gear, Video on Demand, Live iPPVs, Blu-rays, DVDs, and tickets—all for just $9.99 per month.

As WWN Ambassador, Trevin serves as a frequent public face of WWN, all while playing an integral role in WWN’s operations; his responsibilities have included commentary, ring announcing, video production, live event production, talent relations, match booking, and a host of others. Above all, Trevin Adams is a consummate professional wrestling fan with a deep appreciation for the art the industry creates and the stories told inside the ring. Welcome Trevin Adams!

John D: You and I first met at a work conference for our shoot jobs, and it was through a pure stroke of luck that I learned of your alter-ego and wrestling persona. So how did you, as a life-long wrestling fan, make the leap from a normal job to the independent wrestling business?

Trevin A: Shoot job? Whatever do you speak of? Haha! Kidding aside, while it is definitely a different mindset between workplaces, there are core fundamentals that are relevant in any profession. For instance, years of leadership experience I gained executing work projects translates very well to leading a production team to produce an independent show. In that same vein, you’d be shocked how much we have to make happen with a skeleton crew, though we have more folks contributing on the team than we did when I started with the organization at the beginning of 2013.

Nevertheless, there are definitely times where I feel like I have a split personality that’s not quite as bad as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—but I think you can understand what I mean. However, when it’s time to make shows happen, especially double or triple shots, i.e. two or three shows in one weekend, (let alone the insanity of WrestleMania weekend!), it’s heads down and WWN is the only thing on my mind.

JD: I’d venture that average mainstream wrestling fans know very little about life in the independent wrestling business, and while sophisticated Spectacle of Excess readers probably know a little more, none of us confess to being experts. What can you tell us about the challenges and opportunities of performing at the independent level? Does life as an indie pro wrestler readily translate to any of the careers our readers might be more familiar with?

TA: That is an honest to goodness great question! If you’ve ever heard the term “starving artist,” that is what it’s like for a lot of these guys as they come up the ranks, especially the guys who are trying to make this their full-time employment, or at least their main life focus. For folks who have followed musicians that are on that more “independent” level, there are a many similarities. For instance, the base pay is very low and if the guys are going to make any significant money, it’s going to be by selling their merchandise (aka gimmicks) directly to the folks who have already paid their hard-earned money to see them at the event they’re at. I usually play the role as host at our live events, regardless of what else I am doing that night, and you will always hear me plug that any purchase you make from the talent directly supports them—and that’s because it does! They pay all of the up-front costs for what they sell and WWN takes none of their proceeds. I know people will joke about hipsters and such, but word-of-mouth, even if in the end it results in “I knew that guy/gal before he/she was cool” is still incredibly helpful. Heck, if you look back at WrestleMania 27, you’ll see a guy who looks suspiciously like me wearing Dragon Gate Japanese Star CIMA’s goggles next to another guy wearing the same, while both have on Dragon Gate USA shirts in the second row, slightly off center to the right with respect to the hard camera. The goal there was to have people say, “what are they wearing?” and then have them find out more if/when they looked it up. Coincidentally, that was the same weekend that Dean Ambrose (aka Jon Moxley) was having one of his final independent shows with WWN facing off against current WWE 205 Live Star Akira Tozawa. Johnny Gargano, Luke Harper, Lince Dorado and a host of others you’re watching on national TV now were on those same Dragon Gate USA events, BTW.

Following up on that name-dropping, you asked about opportunity, and that’s why guys like the aforementioned wrestled on WWN events. They knew that showings at DGUSA then, or EVOLVE now, were/are going to get you on the radar, and as we’ve seen over the past two years, there’s been an insane amount of diffusion from the independents to WWE. The best part is that virtually all of those guys more than deserved the opportunity they are getting! Now, the goal is to keep developing guys to get to that level by playing the role of college football to WWE’s NFL.

JD: I find the economics of the independent wrestling business to be fascinating. Based on what you’ve said, I imagine that wrestling exclusively full time on the independent circuit is not often economically viable except for the top tier of independent performers, while most other wrestlers have day jobs. From what you’ve seen, how do these talented, committed performers make it work for (what is comparatively) so little money?

TA: Regarding the challenges of being an independent performer, it can take a long time to become established in the business (or as I prefer to say these days “sport”) and truly make it your only source of income. Thus, most guys indeed have “shoot jobs” and many of those jobs are not glamorous or high paying, which again plays in to the “starving artist” analogy. There are also times where the opportunity outweighs what the pay is going to be on a particular show—or even warrants transporting yourself to a show despite where it might be and what it might take to get there. If you’re a stage actor, when Broadway calls and you are trying to make it in that industry, you are going to do whatever it takes to seize that opportunity. Professional wrestling is no different! Ultimately, getting your name out there really is important and worth making an investment in yourself. Of course, if you’re the only bread winner for your family, have two kids and serious obligations, a “get to New York City in 12 hours” phone call while you live in Alabama is unfortunately not always going to be feasible. That’s part of the struggle for these guys.

To quote a Matt Riddle promo that was filmed at 4AM after the official WWNLive Experience 2017: MoreThanMania.com After Party at Backbooth in Orlando, FL (city-plug, I know), and will likely never air, it takes “desire, determination and dedication”—those 3 D’s are pending trademark by Mr. Riddle by the way! Kidding aside, once you get your name to the point where you are in demand, then it becomes more and more financially feasible, but before that point, man you gotta want it!

JD: One of the funnier discussions we’ve had involves how expectations change from life in your shoot job to life on the road in the wrestling business. Tell me a little bit about this mentality shift, one that features an unshakeable commitment to create a world-class show on a shoestring budget.

TA: First and foremost, when it’s wrestling I’m not worried about how I’m going to get to the show, where I’m going to stay, etc. We’ll sleep 4+ deep in a room and I actually enjoy sleeping on the floor (thankfully, haha!). Juxtapose that to my shoot job and I’d pitch a fit if I had to share a hotel with a colleague, didn’t have a rental car or a ride guaranteed, etc. In independent wrestling, there just isn’t the budget to be high maintenance, and I can assure you, the road life of independent wrestling is not glamorous. Of course, we want to be there, so it’s pretty rare that you hear anyone who really does love it complaining about the conditions. Realistically though, to make these shows possible we have to pinch every penny!

JD: From a wrestling aesthetics perspective, the matches in EVOLVE are consistently excellent. But aside from great matches, what can the independent wrestling business offer today’s fan that separates it from the large brands like WWE and Impact Wrestling?

TA: Speaking from the perspective of WWN, we run a much more limited schedule of events than the companies with national television, which means every event has to matter. Moreover, we have some time between events to plan things out and to promote the stories so there’s more time for things to breathe than you get with a lot of bigger companies. Of course, we also have the challenge that we do not have weekly TV to help build the bigger events, so if every event is by default a major show, it can be hard to make them each individually feel that much more special. I would argue though that since we do not have the saturation of hours and hours of TV produced each week, it does feel a little more fresh. However, if someone tries to follow every independent promotion—and a lot of them put content on YouTube or pay streaming services facilitating watching from home—you can definitely get overloaded by too much content.

One other nice part about independent wrestling as a whole is that there are so many different styles of wrestling out there, it’s hard not to find a proverbial flavor of ice cream that you like, especially if your favorite flavor isn’t being represented on national TV right now. By the same token, you’re also going to run into promotions with a product that you do not appreciate, or might offend your senses, and the key is to take it with a grain of salt. I remember the first time that I saw Kaiju Big Battel, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing that had ever existed. Fast forward seven or so years and now I not only get a kick out of it, a guy that may bear my semblance is involved in hosting some of their events. At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun and finding something you enjoy. Professional wrestling is not a one size fits all form of entertainment and thankfully the independents offer many different “size” options.

JD: You currently sit in the commentary booth for WWN brands Full Impact Pro, Style Battle, and American Combat Wrestling, among others here and there. From the matches I’ve watched you call, I notice you do an especially effective job of putting over the action in the ring (something I think even WWE could learn from, as often their commentary seems focused on everything *but* the match at hand). Two questions: Who has influenced you from a commentary perspective, and also, do you have an overarching philosophy that helps shape your commentary each time you call a match?

TA: Well thank you very much for the compliment! I know that a lot of people poke at some of the commentary you’ll see on TV, but I can only imagine the number of factors they have to consider while they are producing live TV. Thus far in my career, I have almost exclusively never had an earpiece with anyone telling me what I needed to say or critiquing my commentary real time. I would imagine that makes things much more difficult. As a small-scale comparison, just being interrupted momentarily during a live broadcast to be told to add something to what I’m saying can totally kill the flow of the commentary. I’m sure the list goes on of things that the guys in WWE have to work through and the direction that they are given. I do admit though that I’d love to sit through one of those broadcasts just to hear the air traffic control in action!

For me personally, I’ve probably been most influenced by our lead WWN commentator Lenny Leonard and my broadcast colleague Mister Saint Laurent aka MSL. In the case of the former, Lenny is the best play-by-play guy in the Independent business in my opinion, especially at carrying a show as a one-man booth. There are for sure many moves that I do not know the names of off the time of my head, especially for talent I am seeing for the first time that have named their moves, and Lenny is an inspiration when it comes to how on the ball he is with those move names! He also knows when to let things breathe, when to let the crowd reaction tell the story, etc. I didn’t realize how many people did not know this kind of timing until I started watching other products more closely. MSL, on the other hand, does a great job of beating on me to help refine our work as a duo, as well as keep me from going too overboard with story/factoid info (albeit for Style Battle, expect a lot of those in the opening round each episode, haha). Perhaps most importantly, together we strive to present professional wrestling as a combat sport.

I’ve also gotta give a shout out to Rob Naylor, who brings a fantastic amount of energy and an encyclopedic amount of knowledge to the commentary booth and presents a different experience for me if we’re calling a show together. Similarly, I recently began working with Brad Stutts for the Premiere Wrestling Xperience (PWX) and he and I have entirely different styles, which I think both gels well as well as makes me change up my game and get better in a different role. And believe it or not, I always got a kick out of working with Larry Dallas, now of SiriusXM Busted Open fame, the few times that we got to work together, which were always ad-hoc, happenstance situations.

When it comes to my philosophy on commentary, a lot of it is based around describing the struggle that each competitor goes through in a match. These guys and gals are doing things that most of us could not even fathom doing ourselves, but sometimes we need to be reminded why it is so difficult to do, or why someone might be tired, how a mistake happened, etc., especially as we become desensitized to seeing so much in-ring action as fans. I try to come at commentary from the point of view that it professional wrestling is indeed a combat sport with winners and losers, but even in loss you can recognize what was achieved during the match by both the loser and of course the winner.

The other factor in commentary comes down to the style of the wrestling you are presenting. For instance, we treat Style Battle as a pure sport with very little story going on, whereas FIP and ACW both have stories to push and are more likely to have the things we are highlighting in the booth be more about personal issues or something that someone did to someone else other than just the sport of what they are doing—but we are still sure to focus on the combat sports aspect of things, nevertheless.

JD: I’d argue that over the past year we’ve had a paradigm shift to where WWE and other wrestling organizations openly acknowledge one another, though this detente has been slow. Examples include C.M. Punk’s famous “pipe bomb” worked shoot from 6 years ago that mentioned Ring of Honor, Daniel Bryan naming TNA during an 2015 episode of Talking Smack , A.J. Styles’ pre-WWE, independent wrestling achievements being openly acknowledged and praised on WWE programming, and finally your organization, EVOLVE, running “qualifying” matches for 2016’s outstanding WWE Cruiserweight Classic. What, then, has changed to where wrestling organizations now feel comfortable mentioning their ostensible competition in positive ways?

TA: As much as EVOLVE, PROGRESS, and Revolution Pro Wrestling hosting qualifying matches for the CWC blew my mind, it started to hit me that the atmosphere might be changing when I was watching Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens from Japan in 2015. During this match, Balor’s achievements in Japan, as well as his former name of Prince Devitt, were brought up on commentary by Michael Cole. That was unheard of at the time! One way to look at this evolution (no pun intended!) would be that WWE is adding more of the sports presentation to their product where it only makes sense to mention that someone was a standout in a previous stint, such as a great showing in the NCAA before joining the NBA. If you add to that the lack of threat from most of these competing wrestling outfits, it becomes even safer to mention said “competition.” There’s no Nitro on during Raw for someone to flip the channel to, so it’s highly unlikely that WWE is going to lose their audience by talking about another promotion. Plus, the gap between WWE and everyone else is so huge that it’s unlikely the average WWE fan watching is even going to fully discern what was mentioned when there’s a plug for another company, with he or she more than likely just hearing “AJ was the best wrestler in Japan” as opposed to them thinking “New Japan Pro Wrestling is now showing events in the US, and I should try to find them because AJ once worked there”.

Given how NXT has been presented for the past few years, it makes even more sense to acknowledge some of the more accomplished talents that have come through there to help make it clear to the semi-diehard fan just how special these talents are when they are introduced in NXT. Heck, the fact that you’re still seeing guys like Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne, and Trent Seven in PROGRESS as well as on WWE TV is huge! It reminds me a lot of last year when we had T.J. Perkins, Drew Gulak, Tony Nese, etc. on Raw the day after an EVOLVE event.

And heck, how awesome was the field of women in the Mae Young Classic!? The event was compelling in large part because of the achievements of many of these ladies in SHIMMER, SHINE, and other independent promotions. These ladies’ personal stories and histories had accordingly informed the commentary and promotional packages used throughout the MYC.

JD: Let’s talk booking for a little bit. What guides your booking? How are you able to maintain a flexible booking philosophy and run complete storylines or angles in a business where (especially at the independent level) performer longevity is not a guarantee?

TA: Not only do you make a great point about longevity, but add to that the availability of talent. One of the hardest parts of booking is lining up the talent given we may not know all of our upcoming dates to lock them in in advance, and many talents have other promotions that they work for, or commitments outside wrestling that they need to deconflict. In turn, the best you can do is figure out who your core guys are that you will be able to almost always have and work things around them. Of course, injuries can happen to help muck that planning up so flexibility is very, very important when it comes to ebbing and flowing when need be—in other words, you can have an end state in mind but it’s very rare that you’re going to get there exactly as you have planned if a story is being told over multiple events. It’s also important to think about who is your audience. We always have an Internet contingent on WWNLive.com to consider who are watching at home, but you cannot forget the live audience in who you book for the show, which is especially apparent with our American Combat Wrestling brand that has an awesome local following right now.

JD: As a writer yet also a fan, how do you feel about the 50/50 booking approach, where competitors trade frequent wins while neither gains a clear advantage in their feud? This practice seems to irk many internet fans (including myself, occasionally). Do you share our complaints or is there any reason we should feel less grumpy about the practice?

TA: I will admit that a part of the answer is a function of the considerations surrounding the brand you are talking about booking but personally, I am a proponent that ultimately there are people who win more than others and things are much more special when two guys are set to face in the main event for a title where both guys have winning streaks going in to the match. It is a lot more exciting when the result is not so obvious going in to the match. This can’t happen all over the card, but unless the story really is that two guys are just so evenly matched, I’d personally prefer 50/50 booking be the exception instead of the rule.

JD: EVOLVE has had enormous turnover, with numerous performers moving on and up to NXT and even the WWE main roster. These include guys like T.J. Perkins, Chris Hero, Cedric Alexander, Johnny Gargano, and more. How are you able to sustain EVOLVE‘s growth and momentum with this level of turnover?

TA: To me, it’s all about opportunity. Guys graduating to the next level provides the opportunity for new talent to show what they can do and also provides the opportunity for EVOLVE and the other WWN brands to feature the next generation of talent coming up while also having fresh new match-ups. If you look at Full Impact Pro Wrestling (FIP) from 2014-2016 for instance, the number of guys that got their major exposure there first, such as Trevor Lee, Peter Kaasa and even Timothy Thatcher, showed that all WWN brands can provide a stage to help get your name out there, and also follow a logical progression not just to EVOLVE but to Impact Wrestling, Dragon Gate, and Westside Xtreme Wrestling (WXW)/PROGRESS, respectively, for the talents I mentioned. I feel very confident that there are talents both young and more veteran that have not yet had the opportunity to show what they can do and now they are getting that opportunity. Hopefully in the next 2-3 years, this crop of talent graduates as well and we can help develop the next, next group of talent. Nothing makes me happier than when I’m trying to book someone and they are unavailable because their stock has risen across the Independents!

JD: The SHINE women’s brand is one of the most exciting promotions under the WWN umbrella in terms of energy, characters, and production. I would offer that the recent renaissance in “Women’s Wrestling” in WWE has been happening for years at the independent level. Why were independent promotions and their audiences so far ahead of WWE in identifying and responding to a clear and robust demand for outstanding women’s matches?

TA: I mentioned the Mae Young Classic earlier, but clearly WWE sees the market potential with featuring women’s wrestlers in a competitive light. I think we’ve also seen a change for the past few years in WWE when it comes to the talents they are featuring on TV and that’s great. Remember though, they have a much more mainstream audience to consider, so as much as a vocal minority can demand something, if that doesn’t translate to greater interest on the big stage it means that perhaps the flavor of ice cream that we like isn’t a flavor that’s going to become one of those that is featured when you first walk in to the ice cream shop.

JD: My favorite EVOLVE wrestler is Matt Riddle. He’s fused a successful, real-world MMA background with in-ring technical excellence and packaged it all with his ultra-laid back “bro” persona. As a result, he’s become one of the most-over guys in EVOLVE. Matt Riddle has an “It” factor seldom seen at the independent level, and I was delighted to watch him wrestle and to have the opportunity to chat with him at EVOLVE 90 in Joppa, MD. What does 2018 hold for Matt Riddle, and how can he improve even more?

TA: The growth of Matt Riddle as a performer is uncanny! I’ve been working with Matt since he debuted in October 2015 at EVOLVE 49 and I can tell you with confidence that I’ve never seen someone so quickly translate an aptitude for combat sports to the squared circle. Matt became the first ever WWN Champion at the WWN Supershow: Mercury Rising 2017 last April and is now a 2-time PROGRESS Wrestling Atlas Champion. I expect more gold in his future, and unless something unforeseen stops his momentum, I expect Matt Riddle to be a household name sooner than later…bro!

JD: To close, will 2018 see Trevin Adams finally take his first bump?

TA: Man, I hope not! I don’t think anyone would want to see that. I don’t pretend to have a physical understanding of what happens inside the ropes, and I expect that those much more talented than I will be the ones taking the “bumps” and doing it better and with more meaning! ^_^

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