"I wanted to put on the kind of wrestling show that I would like to see, and that I would also be happy for my kids to see too."
What does it take to launch your own wrestling promotion? Is it really a dream come true for a fan - or a nightmare? What's the key to long-term success and carving out a niche in a very crowded marketplace?
Matt Burden is the co-founder of UK-based independent promotion Future Pro Wrestling (FPW). Based in Surrey, FPW is the passion project of childhood friends Lee Elmer, Steve Evans and Matt Burden, and it has been on a long and winding journey since running its first show back in 2011.
On episode two of Wrestling Life with Ben Veal, Matt talks about his path to running a wrestling company, booking and promoting shows, lessons learned the hard way, finding his feet amongst 'the boys' and falling foul of locker room etiquette.
"A massive learning curve for me"
Ever since hosting its first show, it has been Future Pro Wrestling's homegrown talent that have made the promotion what it is today.
These talented independent performers - names such as RJ Singh, Greg Burridge, Sha Samuels and Terry Striker - have worked countless shows for FPW, and in the process the promotion swiftly garnered a reputation not just for quality in-ring wrestling action, but also for a family-friendly product that delivered distinctive characters and countless memorable moments to the fans in attendance.
Speaking with Burden in 2023, shortly after FPW's first highly-successful, post-Covid show delighted fans once again, it is clear that he understands the value of the talents that have made Future Pro Wrestling what it is today. Yet this appreciation wasn't always so keenly felt, as Matt, speaking candidly on the #WrestlingLifePod, recalls an incident when the allure of big-name international talent almost led to a locker room implosion:
"Around  time, we booked these big [UK] leisure centre shows. We had [brought over international talent including] Chris Masters, Chavo Guerrero, Bad Influence, Hardcore Holly; it was just this 'usual suspects' of imported talent, which was amazing, and me, Steve and Lee posed for a photo with them. And then our regular guys at the other end of the locker room lined up and took a photo of themselves, basically [saying] you didn't pose with us, did you? That was a massive learning curve for me. I remember that RJ Singh posted that photo afterwards with the caption: this looks expensive. The guys that are there for you every show, they're the guys you should be pushing. It's such a balancing act."
"The ring is a four-sided stage"
Burden has very much served as the face of FPW since its beginnings. Suited and booted, the role of host perfectly suits his personality, playing on his strengths as a stand-up comedian and natural performer. For Matt, his consistent presence at every show, hyping the crowd, is a key element to building FPW's community spirit:
"My mantra has always been that the ring is a four-sided stage; I'm a nightmare for any hard-cam operator," reflects Burden. "I make eye contact [everywhere], I riff off the crowd, I try to engage with people and encourage them to see me as a conduit to the product. From our first show, it was a case of: you guys turned up and you paid your money. We want this to be like a family. I wanted it to be as rabidly-addictive as lower league football and hockey, where people know the names of the wrestlers, are turning up wearing the company logo and have that brand association. It's a very unique atmosphere [that's been] created."
"It was a magical time"
FPW has now become a beloved independent wrestling promotion in the UK; a key player in the resurgence in the popularity that British wrestling has experienced over the past decade. Future Pro Wrestling's strength lies, in large part, in utilising a winning combination of UK-based and international talent, combined with long-term storytelling and a prudent marketing strategy - all of which maintains and grows audience interest.
"We usually run five shows a year - following the WWE [model] and not saturating the market. A lot of what became NXT UK [and AEW] came through Future Pro Wrestling: Wild Boar Mike Hitcham, Mark Andrews, Pete Dunne, Will Ospreay, Tommy End, Colt Cabana.
"The back catalogue of people that we've had through the door has been amazing; being around Zack Sabre Jr circa 2011-2012 was incredible, for example. And TNA, just before [launching] British Boot Camp, were very keen to get to know UK wrestling promotions that they felt they could trust; we would get invited backstage, whenever they came to Wembley Arena, to go along. it was a magical time, looking back. But the big learning curve for me has been that, yes, you can get excited about these incredible people, but it's every single wrestler on the card that keeps people coming back time and again."
Episode 002 of Wrestling Life with Ben Veal is out now: real talk from real talent.
Join the conversation on social media: #WrestlingLifePod