University staffer leads double life as wrestling promoter
By Oscar Gonzalez/@originalgamer1
In a small office on the fourth floor of the Central Academic Building, Brandon Oliver sits at his desk, working on his dual-monitor setup. There’s a movie poster of Rocky on the wall to his left, but not a lot else. The barely decorated office doesn’t tell much about Oliver’s passion off campus, except for the framed child’s drawing of a wrestling ring on the top of the hutch on his desk.
As the multimedia, graphics and publications coordinator for Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Brandon Oliver works in the office of university communications overseeing branding and visuals. When he’s done at work, he puts on his other hat, or rather wrestling boots, as the promoter for the San Antonio-based River City Wrestling.
“I was an only child and I would drag my poor mother to wrestling events. Not only in town, but all over the country.”
The start of a career
A big fan of wrestling, Oliver learned that in order to commit to the wrestling business, he had to enroll in a wrestling school. Born in San Antonio, he moved to Tampa, Florida at the age of 10. While at junior college, he started looking for wrestling schools in Tampa, a hotbed for pro wrestling, but he learned that a wrestling school was about to open in his hometown of San Antonio. As he said, “cosmic forces” brought him back to Texas to receive a higher education as well as an education in the wrestling ring.
“When I was finishing junior college, Shawn Michaels (former WWE champion) opened his wrestling school here in San Antonio. At around the same time, I had applied at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University). I packed up my little Jeep Wrangler and drove from Tampa to San Marcos.”
“I would take 21 hours of school at Southwest in San Marcos, and at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I was in San Antonio at his school on the corner of Martin and Zarzamora. I lied to professors to get out of class, even saying that I had an internship, to get to the school. It was very hectic.”
Becoming a wrestling promoter
A wrestling promoter is the brains, backbone and heart of a wrestling promotion. Their jobs include tasks such as deciding on a venue for a show, which wrestlers will win or lose and paying the wrestlers for the show. For Oliver, he always had a dream of becoming a wrestling promoter. He made the big jump in 2002.
“At the end of 2000, Shawn Michaels closed down his wrestling school. There were other organizations around Texas that I would wrestle, ref, commentate and do whatever. In 2002, I was a senior at Southwest with five dollars to my name, and I ran my first show.”
“I learned a lot on that show. I was passionate about the creative aspect of pro wrestling, but I knew nothing about the business side. When new promoters come up, I tell them to shadow other promoters and see what they do, but I would not advocate running a show for almost no money.”
Oliver considers 2002 to be the first year of River City Wrestling, which celebrates its thirteenth anniversary this year.
It’s not uncommon for wrestling promoters to get in the ring. As a trained wrestler, Oliver will take part in the show periodically. In October 2014, he had one of his worst injuries.
“I teamed up with a former A&M-San Antonio student, Eric Perez, to form a tag team called The Hardbodies. It’s kind of a play on the word because neither one of us is very hard body-ish.
“Early in the match, I broke my rib and punctured my lung. I finished the match just fine, but I went backstage and I couldn’t breathe because the lung wasn’t inflating.
“Eric ended up taking me to the hospital, and I’m telling him to run red lights, letting him know I’ll pay for his ticket. It was funny because I was still in my Hardbodies outfit that was a small pair of shorts and tiny shirt. I was in a wheelchair and everyone was looking at me.
“I don’t regret it. It was hilarious. Well, I look back on it now and it’s hilarious.”
Educating wrestlers and fans
Oliver takes education seriously. He received his bachelor’s degree, and if he had the opportunity, he would pursue a master’s degree.
“I’m big on higher education and pushing our (A&M-San Antonio’s) mission. Education opens so many doors for you. I really want wrestlers and fans to come here. Look at Spector (Eric Perez)! He graduated from here last semester.”
Education A&M-San Antonio graduate Eric Perez (‘14) is one-half of the current RCW tag team champions. His relationship with Oliver started in a likely place for wrestling fans to become friends: in line for a wrestling show.
“I met Brandon in 1999 at a local wrestling show in San Antonio, before either of us were in the wrestling business. We would get there kind of early and talk about wrestling. It became a weekly thing for us.
“He then went to the Shawn Michaels school and I went to another wrestling school, and then in 2002, I saw the first show he promoted. It wasn’t until 2004, when I was more comfortable with my wrestling skills, I approached Brandon to be on the show. I’ve been with him ever since. I was even best man at his wedding.
“I was taking a hiatus from my seven-year plan at San Antonio College. I told Brandon that I was thinking of going back to school, and I originally wanted to go to Texas State or UTSA. Brandon gave me the pitch to go to A&M-San Antonio, and I went. He helped me get my foot in the door as far as going back to school.”
Trying to bring back the territories
Prior to the mid-1980s, wrestling promotions were scattered throughout the United States. Each state was split into territories, and each territory had a dedicated wrestling promotion that would put on wrestling shows on a regular basis. Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation), began pulling the best talents from the various promotions across the country to work for him, and over time, these wrestling promotions would slowly fade away.
Oliver wants to bring these territories back.
“I tell you, once you get these people into the show, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. For three hours they see funny stuff, high-flying, brawling, and they’re entertained.”
“I’m telling you this, I want you and your family to drive in a car, come to a smaller venue that you’re not familiar with, to watch these guys for the most part you don’t know, and you’re going to pay me to go in. That’s a hard sell.”
“I don’t think it’ll be at the levels it was prior to the 1980s,” said Oliver. “There’s a huge mountain to climb so it’s better to work with wrestling promoters around the state to develop and share talent. I would love to see it come back.”
Keeping two worlds separate
Oliver does his best to separate his professional lives, but there are times when the worlds collide.
“Luckily the show where I broke my rib was on a Friday or Saturday and that night I texted Marilu (his boss) that I may not be coming in Monday.”
Marilu Reyna, associate vice president for university communications and special projects, hired Oliver in 2008. Over the years, it’ll vary how many times she’ll hear about his wrestling promotion.
“I haven’t had the privileged to attend any of his wrestling events, but I did hear some of the A&M staff have, and I heard about it that way,” Reyna said.
She was not surprised about his recruiting of wrestlers and fans.
“He probably has a good audience of prospective students in that age group to recruit,” she said. “I do it at the grocery store myself.”
Creating his own McMahon legacy
In the WWE, Vince McMahon’s wife and daughter help run the company, keeping the tradition of having his business family owned. Although not a billion dollar corporation, Oliver has his wife and daughter help him run RCW.
During the broken rib incident, Oliver’s wife was in charge of merchandise, but when he went to the hospital, she was in charge of RCW.
“I turned to my wife and said, ‘alright this is your big moment, you’re now in charge of River City Wrestling because I have to go to the hospital.’”
His daughter, the one who drew the wrestling ring that sits on the top of his hutch on his desk, is a fan of wrestling, like her father.
“She knows a lot about wrestling. My daughter turned to me one day and said that she’s going to take over RCW one day.”
This year, RCW celebrates its thirteenth anniversary on April 3 at the Turner Club in Kirby, Texas. There will also be a show Feb. 7 at the Sideliners Grill in San Antonio. Info about RCW events can be found on the official website and Facebook page.