You take a very wealthy investor with strong connections to the legitimate sports world and have him start a wrestling promotion. Have that wealthy investor offer guaranteed contracts to wrestlers regardless of how good or bad a show does at the gate. Offer to fully pay those wrestlers all of their food and lodging expenses. Now take that promotion and expand it nationally to compete with the status quo. Does any of this sound familiar?
No, it is not All Elite Wrestling, nor is it the story of Vince McMahon and the WWF. This is all about a promotion known as the International Wrestling Association or IWA for short. We all know about how Vince McMahon Jr took the east coast based WWF and expanded nationally…killing various wrestling territories along the way. Old school fans cursed McMahon for doing such a dastardly deed. The fact is, others tried to expand nationally as well, including Jim Crockett Jr. and Bill Watts Mid South/UWF promotion.
While Vince Jr succeeded and those others failed, he wasn’t even the first to take a wrestling company and attempt to nationally expand. That credit goes to the IWA, who were the very first wrestling company to try expansion. In 1975, a former television executive and huge wrestling fan named Eddie Einhorn saw a great deal of potential in starting a wrestling company. Einhorn saw the high local television that professional wrestling garnered and an idea to capitalize on it.
Einhorn set aside approximately one million dollars to fund this new venture. He partnered with wrestler/promoter Pedro Martinez (No relation to the Hall of Fame baseball player) and started up the IWA which was based in Cleveland, Ohio. One of his first big attempts was trying to sign booker George Scott. Scott, at the time, was a red hot booker who ran things for Jim Crockett Promotions and also with Jim Barnett and the Georgia territory. Einhorn offered him a yearly salary of $250,000 dollars a year to be the creative mind of the IWA…but Scott eventually turned the offer down.
Knowing they needed big name stars to be able to sell tickets, Einhorn offered contracts that paid wrestlers the same, regardless if they worked fifteen days or just three days. It was all guaranteed money and their food and hotels were also taken care of. The IWA would attract and sign stars like Ernie Ladd, The Mighty Igor, Ivan Koloff, Lou Thesz, Afa and Sika, Mil Mascaras, Bulldog Brower, Ox Baker and a young 15 year old prodigy named Terry Mecca aka Terry Gordy. One big move the IWA had, was signing away Victor Rivera who…at the time…was one half of the WWWF tag team champions with Dominic Denucci. The move was a direct shot fired at the old establishment.
Eddie Einhorn used his power and influence to secure syndicated television deals for the IWA all across the country. He did it by using the broadcast company he founded..TVS Television Network.. to entice the local TV networks. TVS was a major syndicator of sports programming in the 1970’s (Before the likes of ESPN). If a TV station wanted to acquire a syndicated sports package, they had to include Einhorn’s IWA as apart of the deal. This led many TV stations who already aired pro wrestling, to kick the competition off the channel and replace it with IWA wrestling.
Vince McMahon Sr and the WWWF was a victim of this practice and was kicked off the local WWOR station in New York and New Jersey that carried his product. McMahon was relegated to air WWWF shows on the Spanish speaking Telemundo station. The wrestling war was on and Einhorn’s office would receive threatening letters and phone calls daily. Rival promoters saw the IWA as an outlaw promotion and threatened to blackball any wrestler who competed for Einhorn’s group. Ox Baker, who was a the reigning IWA North American champion at the time, got cold feet and was one of the first wrestlers to abandon the IWA.
The battles between the IWA and rival promoters went back and forth. For instance, the IWA held an event at the Roosevelt Stadium in New Jersey and had 14,000 fans attend. The WWWF sent a few of its wrestlers to that show and sat ringside to disrupt the action. Einhorn sent IWA manager George ‘Crybaby’ Cannon to see George ‘The Animal’ Steele, who was scheduled to main event Madison Square Garden against WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino. Cannon offered Steele a large sum of money to “no show” the match and join the IWA. Steele turned them down out of loyalty to the McMahon family.
The IWA ventured down to the Mid Atlantic areas such as North Carolina and Virginia to run shows. They were met by the Crocketts who froze the IWA out from holding events at the major arenas. This led Einhorn to file an anti trust lawsuit against the Crockett’s, but ultimately lost the case. The IWA was forced to hold shows at much smaller venues costing the IWA money.
The IWA truly lived up to its name as it had an international flair to it. The IWA had syndicated TV deals overseas in places like Singapore, Nigeria and New Zealand. It also attempted to run a show in Mexico headlined by Mil Mascaras (Who was the company’s version of the world champion) versus Lou Thesz for the title. Einhorn and company were expecting over 22,000 fans to attend, but a rain storm prevented many fans from buying tickets. The show was a financial disaster.
Eventually, most of Einhorn’s allotted money into this project dried up and he made the decision to drop out. Without a big financial backer in Eddie Einhorn, the IWA concentrated on running smaller shows and become a more regional promotion. The IWA would ultimately close its doors for good in 1978.
Despite the IWA considered to be an overall failure, the promotion did have a few innovations that are still used in pro wrestling today. They were the first promotion to use instant replays and slow motion to showcase moves and finishes. They were also one of, if not the first wrestling organization to allow entrance music for all of its stars. As mentioned earlier, the first group to sign guaranteed contracts to its talent. It also introduced fans to the future legendary referee Tommy Young.
As for Eddie Einhorn, he went on to co own the Chicago White Sox in Major League baseball and also returned to wrestling when he helped fund Pro Wrestling USA.