Major League Wrestling Founder Court Bauer on Bringing ‘Fightland’ to Vice TV
Major League Wrestling plans to make a splash with its first one-hour special, Fightland, airing October 7 on Vice TV. The company was founded by Court Bauer in 2002, at a time when WWE had a stronghold on the pro wrestling space after purchasing WCW and ECW. Its initial run may have only lasted around two years, but it made an impact.
That was felt when Bauer brought back MLW for a One-Shot show in 2017 that turned into a full comeback. The dormant promotion rose like a phoenix, growing exponentially with regular events, a TV deal with beIN Sports, and pay-per-views. Fightland‘s super card features heavyweight champion Jacob Fatu battling Openweight champion Alexander Hammerstone for all the gold. Here, Bauer previews the event and what it could mean for the future of MLW.
What kind of feeling did you get from the locker room and atmosphere?
Court Bauer: It was certainly what we’ve been working for the last two or three years in terms of the locker room. The chemistry and caliber of talent bell-to-bell, also the caliber of the character of the talent. That is something that takes time to do when you are competing against two billionaires — finding great talent who can be great representatives for the company. When you are competing and trying to find talent, you have to find that mix.
This relaunch of MLW has now lasted longer than the original. What makes this time different?
I think it’s about age and experience and the right infrastructure. That was sort of lacking when I was 21 or 22 promoting wrestling. The energy and the climate are different. When I started promoting at 21 or 22, there was really a scorched earth effect where WWE had acquired all the competition and the energy had left the room for wrestling. The timing was different. Fast forward, I worked for WWE [creative], was president of Lucha Libre AAA, and worked as an executive producer for UFC Fight Pass. The journey has brought me to a different place. You need to delegate to a talented staff around you. I have that now with MLW.
When you’re going into those meetings with content partners, how do you feel network execs are looking at wrestling?
There is a reason you have CSI shows out there and you have all these different Law & Order shows. When something works, they want more of it. And when they can’t get it, they really want it bad. WWE is tied up with their deals. AEW has a great deal with WarnerMedia. As the only free agent not tied up, we are able to have some interesting conversations. Right now, the proof is in the pudding. Wrestling is performing and doing great for Vice with Dark Side of the Ring. I think in the future we’re going to have some great opportunities.
Fightland is headlined by the winner-take-all match between Alexander Hammerstone versus Jacob Fatu. This fight had a slow burn to a big payoff. Tell me about the challenge of maintaining fan interest.
When I first talked to Alex and Fatu about this match it was February 2020. We were looking at the Battle Riot 2020 being the kickoff for this rivalry. Then COVID hit. Well, 18 months later in July 2021, the Battle Riot happened and the outcome was exactly how we planned out in February 2020. It led us down the same road with the same destination. We had to hold back and tread water with a lot of stuff, knowing we would rev it up when fans are back. But there is no playbook of what to do during a pandemic.
What else do you think makes Fightland stand out?
We definitely looked at packing as much as we could for the hour. We have a new format with a segment with journalists. That’s a whole dynamic you haven’t had with wrestling in the past. We designed it in a way where it’s linked to a halftime show or intermission. This format is going to pull back the curtain, giving fans all access to the biggest stories happening in wrestling with the autonomy of the journalist talking about it. People love wrestling, but they also love the meatiness of what is going on in wrestling. You see it on social media but never on the show. This is long overdue to put that in a TV series.
What do you look for in incoming talent today?
I always look at it strategically and how it fits in what I built. We’re able to tap into something people have not been able to figure out. That’s how to showcase lucha libre in the United States. Lucha Underground was a breakthrough series. I served as a consultant for that. It was ahead of its time. People loved that it was a way to see an authentic product. We stumbled into that with our Spanish feed on beIN Sports. We saw this huge audience. It’s still an underserved audience. We have Cesar Duran coming in as a matchmaker and bringing in more lucha talent. We’re trying to find a little bit of everything from every corner of wrestling. You are like the chef finding the right recipe. You also have to keep changing the menu because you want people to keep coming back.
What are you focusing on for MLW in the next six months to a year?
Spanish language. That is the big goal. Going after that space. I’ve seen others try and go there. They just can’t figure out how to play to that audience and be authentic. Having worked with great people like Dorian Roldán and Konnan, I’ve been able to get a little granular on how it works. I haven’t attacked it as hard as I’d want to. That’s my real goal, to build that out to our audience in a larger sense with live events and touring and really hit Latin America.
What does Fightland mean to you?
This is what would have been our biggest pay-per-view to date had we put it on pay-per-view. I really firmly believe in giving fans the most for the least amount. Being able to tune in for free after Dark Side of the Ring on Thursday where they will get two big title fights. You’re also going to see a new format like this for the first time in a quarter of a century. I invite fans to try something a little bit different. I dare you. You’ll see new styles showcased where we blow up the pro wrestling format. We’re bold enough to try something different. I think you’ll like what you see.
MLW Fightland, October 7, 10/9c, Vice TV