Welcome to part 2 of our exclusive interview with Deathmatch Downunder’s Joel Bateman and Erin Dick. We got to sit down and chat with two of the founding members of the new strong and deathmatch company coming to us from Australia. In part one, we learned about the history of deathmatch wrestling in Australia and the story of how Deathmatch Downunder came to be. In this part, we’re going to learn a bit more about how the company wants to make itself stand out and make a change, the perils of planning in COVID, and some of the goals they have set for their first year in action. With their first show coming up (on IWTV anyway), we found out just how ready they were and what they’ve been doing for their fans and workers. Enjoy!
It is nice to see a company have it together before running…
Erin: Well, we had the benefit of COVID, the benefit of not having kicked off yet. If COVID hadn’t it might have been a different story. I think time worked out for us and we were able to sit on things, reflect and we did a lot of personal reflecting too like within our own team and within ourselves. Before we even began taking any action, writing codes of conduct, talking to people, talking to people inside the business, talking to people outside the business to get our documents together, to set out some long-term training objectives. Things to do between shows like inter-personal violence awareness training, bystander training because that happens, we all know hazing is a thing. How do we prevent that? Those are all things we wouldn’t have been able to think about if it weren’t for our current situation, so it all worked out, but we’re constantly evolving, and we’re pretty set on that. It’s not just going to be our ethos that evolves but our product alongside that. Hopefully, people will see that, at all ends of the spectrum whether they’re working for us or watching the product. They’ll see that we’re constantly looking to evolve and grow together. That’s the idea. Hopefully, we can encourage other people to do the same.
Joel: Yeah, we did a whole reset of the company because we said we don’t know what wrestling is going to look like in a post-pandemic world. Then the pandemic happened, speaking out happened and we were like okay, wrestling is going to be different. Because we hadn’t officially put the brand out there yet, we were able to go okay, what is our vision for what wrestling could be in the positive sense after all this. There was a lot of why questions asked, why don’t we have mental health first aid? Why aren’t we doing online safety training and social media safety so people know they aren’t being stalked and stuff like that? Why don’t we have a physio on staff to help the talent? All our professional wrestlers train like athletes, why don’t we treat them like athletes? Why don’t we have a paramedic at every show? Why aren’t we catering? Why aren’t we this or that? We wrote it all out and thought okay, we’re laying out the groundwork before we start announcing shows and matches and stuff. The amount of feedback that came back both positive and negative but mostly overwhelmingly positive boggled my mind. One of our core values, that I bring up so much I often forget the other two is transparency. I don’t like shadow games, I don’t like bullshit. I love that one of the main things we built our company on is just putting it out there. We had to do that earlier this week with a couple of match changes. We’ve had to do it with people struggling with mental health. Why we wrote our code of conduct, things like that.
Erin: The first thing I think of is the community survey, from day one I wanted to make sure that was public. We had the excitement of launch, we had this product that people didn’t know was coming, well some of us did but the excitement we were able to build around that on a purely aesthetic front and social media interaction point, I wanted to immediately follow that up with, hey we’re starting this from the ground up, here’s a survey we want to hear from you. Which can be really tokenistic as an action but if you follow through with it then it’s so essential, because I like to think right now that hardcore fans don’t care as much about cool flashy products right now as they do about being a part of change. That’s why I got involved, that’s why a lot of my mates are hanging around because they’re hoping for change. That’s the most important thing right now for me. Change on all fronts, not just inclusivity, which is something really important to me and our messaging, the voice we create, but I guess just making sure the fans are part of things because wrestling is such a strange niche. We can’t afford to not include fans in the product they want to see. The change they want to make because we rely on fans. Fans could go to any show, especially Melbourne. Like Joel said, it’s the arts capital of Australia, they could go to any gig. Maybe not now but in the pre-COVID world. They could go see whatever they want, why should they come see us? Because we want them to be a part of building it.
Joel: I also think we’ve been really good at not insulting people’s intelligence. It’s now 2021, none of the people who’ve bought a ticket to the show is under the belief it’s a shoot. So, by putting forward how we’re taking care of not only the talent but the fan’s in trying to make change, deathmatch wrestling is deathmatch wrestling, there’s an inherent danger involved but by being able to put stuff out and prove it’s not just an outlaw mudshow. We’re not getting fucking changed in a shed. We have so many things in place to keep people safe like if we have imagery on a show that triggers a fan, we have people on hand to help the fan. If talent gets hurt, we have people there in case the talent gets hurt. All these kinds of things. It’s what we’ve been working on and what we’ll continue to work on. I think it’s paying dividends so far.
Are you worried that COVID is going to derail any of your plans?
Joel: Constantly, it’s already happened.
Erin: We’re already in anticipation mode. We’ve had some new cases over here where there’s some border closures that are affecting New South Wales and Victoria and we’re also anticipating because over new year’s they cut the amount of people allowed in a venue indoors.
Joel: I think that was inside houses. We all sit and watch a press conference every day with bated breath and crossed fingers because things came good for a while but like I said we had to change the card for our first show and I hate changing cards. Ask the guys how much I pulled out what little hair I have left over advertising something that we can’t deliver. There’s cards that we’ve booked that we’re definitely going to have to change. Which I’m not looking forward to the meeting for. We have to do the best we can with what we’ve got available to us. We are lucky, Melbourne was in lockdown for close to 7 months. Pretty much our entire autumn and winter. We’ve been doing that so we don’t take for granted that we can put this show on. A lot of the other states were able to have wrestling in some form for a little while. We’re the last state to come back to live events.
Providing the world isn’t shutdown again, what are some of the long-term goals for Deathmatch Downunder?
Erin: That’s tricky. For me, this is something I’ve never done before and wouldn’t be here if Joel hadn’t convinced me I was capable. I think I’d just like to try new things; I don’t want to set any personal objectives. Don’t want to set expectations. On top of creating an inclusive environment, I am really excited to tell new stories. That is really integral to everything I do as a writer, an audio maker, as a journalist. This is a new outlet for me; I am grateful to be a part of that process. I want to be able to tell different stories that represent different types of people, different types of stories we don’t see a lot in wrestling. The one that I always go to which is my absolute favourite wrestling storyline until the day I die is the Golden Lovers storyline. Something that is representative of queer people in a deathmatch space would be the pinnacle for me. If I was able to do something like that and it was genuine and authentic. It would just bring new eyes to the shows and to the product. I think that’s something I’d really love to do. On top of everything else, I’ve already mentioned.
Joel: The fact that we’re able to make change from such a niche style of a niche industry fills me with pride and we haven’t even taken a bump yet. In terms of goals, if things go back to normal, I just want to see how big the snowball can get. The building we’re running, without restrictions, can fit 600 people. I’d love to take us to bigger venues. Worldwide exposure would be cool but none of us are doing this to be stars. We’d all move to America if we were going to do that. I’m excited to grow this here and have it be an authentic Australian product that is received around the world without being a carbon copy of another company. The things we’ve got planned for 2021, looking at my events calendar, I have put my head in hands claim, why have I done this?
Erin: Me too Joel, me too.
Joel: To give you an idea, ROH in their first year ran 10 shows. When we first launched, we were booked to do about 11 shows for 2020. We’re booked to do 25 shows for our debut year as a new company. So, like I keep saying, I don’t know what the hell it is that we’re doing but it’s working. So, I’m going to keep doing what we’re doing until it stops working. We’re going to have the ability to take the product outside of Victoria, touch wood, which I am super fucking nervous about but also super excited about. It’s something I’ve never done before. I’ve worked for some of the top companies in the world and I didn’t feel this excited. I can’t wait for 2021. I say that like it’s not already here.
The last thing I wanted to ask, with all the international attention for Deathmatch Downunder, are there any international stars you want to eventually bring over?
Joel: I’ll email you a spreadsheet.
Erin: For me, the names that just come to mind immediately are Rina Yamashita, I love her work and Su Yung, obsessed with Su Yung at the moment. I think she’s severely underrated. There’s such an amazing crop of women who are so good at this stuff. Lindsay Snow, I just watched the No Peace show, fuck that was sick.
Joel: Obviously, we want to bring everybody here. Australia is an amazing company and I can’t think of an international who’s come over here and left going, “that was shit.” I love being able to show off our city. We’ve had chats with people already, there’s a lot of people bookmarked to come when the borders open. I would absolutely love to have Toshiyuki Sakuda here. Sakuda is number two on my list. Number one is Alex Colon, a) because he’s a friend and b) because I wholeheartedly think he’s the best deathmatch wrestler on the planet.
He’d probably argue with you on that one…
Joel: I know, I put him over constantly and it drives him nuts. But back to the point, anybody. If we could open the gates tomorrow and book The Great Sasuke, we would. Atsushi Onita, we would. Give me Jun Kasai, Masashi Takeda, we would. Anyone in the US who isn’t a fucking arsehole. Is more than welcome. We’d welcome them with open arms. But I think what we’re excited about the most right now is the borders are shut right now, so we’re not going to dilute our voice and our style with international flavour. We’re going to be able to establish ourselves as an Australian wrestling promotion and that this is the Australian style of deathmatch wrestling. Then we’ll be able to pick and choose people to drop into that context as opposed to two shows in and having four Americans where it looks like we’re flying people in because our guys can’t cut it.
Read part 1 of this interview here
Deathmatch Downunder on IWTV, be sure to check out And Out Come the Wolves… on January 28th
Joel Bateman on Twitter
Erin Dick on Twitter
All images courtesy of Deathmatch Downunder Twitter, Jake Hurdle Photography, Video courtesy of DMDU YouTube