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Billy Corgan hopes to make wrestling a smashing success

January 12, 2012|By Scott Bolohan, For RedEye

Billy Corgan's career has been full of drama. As Smashing Pumpkins frontman, he's endured unexpected twists and turns and accusations of back-stabbing.

That's just how he wants it in his newest venture.

In November—Black Friday, fittingly--Corgan launched Resistance Pro, an indie wrestling league based in his hometown of Chicago. Friday night, the league's first heavyweight champion will be crowned at Excalibur.

Corgan and sports might seem like an odd fit, but it's not. He's a die-hard Cubs fan (and Ryne Sandberg supporter) and played sports throughout his childhood.

"I was a total jock and would have preferred to be an athlete than a musician," said Corgan, 44.

Corgan's wrestling interest was born in the '70s and '80s thanks to TV's "Bob Luce Wrestling." During his "goth teens," as he called them, his interest faded before he rediscovered wrestling during the late '90s. That's when he met many wrestlers and became interested in the business side of the sport. The result is Resistance Pro.

He said the marriage of music and wrestling was natural.

"There's a certain affinity wrestlers and musicians have because the lifestyle is really, really similar-- the audience focus, personality-driven, and creating some drama about what's going to happen," Corgan said.

Although the WWE is seeing a resurgence in popularity nationwide, Corgan said there's a wide gap between indie wrestling and the professional scene, a void he hopes to fill with Resistance.

"It's some of the old values system but updated, which is pretty similar to what I've done with my band," he said. "I took classic rock values and updated them to a different generation. That's kind of our approach. We want to have a lot of fun with it, to kind of bring back a little bit more whimsical spirit."

Ultimately, Corgan said with a TV deal--a reality show is in the works--he sees Resistance regularly drawing 2,500 people on a Saturday afternoon, comparing it to the circus or a Wolves game.

Another of his goals with Resistance is to feature female wrestlers in a new light, as the Pumpkins did with bassist D'Arcy Wretzky. She was disrespected as a woman in rock, Corgan said, so he's sensitive to the way women are seen in a male-dominated form of entertainment.

"(Female wrestlers) are athletes, they're dedicated, they're just as interested in kicking ass as the guys," he said. "Maybe they have a different set of storylines, but we want to get them out of the typical storylines they're put in, which are ultimately misogynistic."

During the inaugural Resistance match, Chicago's Melanie Cruise was crowned women's champion. Cruise said she's worked hard to be taken seriously as a female wrestler, insisting she be trained the same way as her male counterparts. She said Corgan's effort to distance women from the "Barbie doll" stereotype is appreciated.

"I want people to see girls can wrestle old-school just like the guys do," Cruise said. "When we travel to places like Arizona and Florida, they are baffled by the way we wrestle. All the girl matches there are comedy. But the Chicago girls are old-school.

"But it's still entertaining and still the boobs and the ass."

Wresting has been a part of Cruise's life since high school, when she would watch her friends wrestle. She attended Western Illinois University on a track and field scholarship for two years, then quit, and her first day back in Chicago she started wrestling.

Cruise has been wrestling for five years now and dreams of being in the WWE.

"I love being another character," she said. "When you walk through the curtains, everything is left at the curtains. It's a totally different world."

And Corgan said he wants to keep his wrestlers a part of that world. He has become friends with former WWE star Chris Nowinski, who was forced to retire because of concussions he's suffered. Nowinski joined the Sports Legacy Institute and has been a leading proponent of concussion awareness. Resistance is the first wrestling league to comply with the SLI's concussion guidelines and has doctors on-site to check wrestlers for concussions before and after matches.

"When you see what's going on with [the NHL's] Sidney Crosby, it just breaks your heart because you wonder if those issues could have been prevented with the right care," Corgan said. "From the data standpoint and the stories I'm hearing, it's going to be a huge issue, like capital H-U-G-E issue."

Corgan doesn't deny his musical pedigree might draw fans to his wrestling league, but he's careful not to lean too heavily on his music.

"If they come to one show and they don't like it, they're not going to keep coming because they're a fan of the Pumpkins," Corgan said. "If I have to cheat the numbers by doing my music stuff, that's really disingenuous and doesn't really build the business."

Corgan said it's the storylines—which he is writing himself—that will keep fans coming back. But don't expect to see him in the ring anytime soon.

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