Martin Goldsmith – The Man Who Brought WWF Wrestling to the UK & SummerSlam ’92 to Wembley
Martin Goldsmith might look like an ordinary unassuming man, but he’s responsible for something quite extraordinary. In the 1980s along with his brother, famous promoter Harvey Goldsmith, Martin negotiated a deal with the then World Wrestling Federation to bring their superstars to our shores, most famously with a huge event that defined countless childhoods, SummerSlam ’92.
The Wembley PPV remains one of the most beloved occasions in wrestling and through his innovation, Martin was pivotal in making it happen. We caught up with Martin Goldsmith recently to find out exactly how he came to work with Vince McMahon, his memories of that fabled night in 1992 and what it was like fine dining with The Bushwhackers.
The MALESTROM: Tell us how you came to work with the WWE, then WWF?
Martin Goldsmith: It was 1985, my brother Harvey Goldsmith the famous promoter was working with Cyndi Lauper, touring her. She made a couple of tracks and in one video she had Hulk Hogan as a bodyguard along with Captain Lou Albano.
She suggested to Harvey that he met the Hulkster, which he did, who he then referred to Vince McMahon, who was this up and coming young Turk in the world of wrestling with his family background in it.
He said he was negotiating a deal with Sky TV to get WWF shown on the network here. So Harvey said,
“ok fine, if that happens we’d be interested in bringing the wrestlers over and doing some live dates.”
Vince said that it didn’t mean anything yet, but I knew having been to the States quite often, especially around Florida, there was a real buzz for WWF in those days. We put together eight dates, it was announced in The Sun, one ad, and it sold out instantly. That was at the London Arena that’s now Docklands.
The guys at the World Wrestling Federation were amazed, so we then decided I needed to go out there and negotiate a deal whereby I’d acquire all the representation outside of America for licensing of merchandising and that’s how it all started really. It was a major success from day one.
TM: What was that first trip over to Connecticut like? Did you meet Vince then?
Martin Goldsmith: Oh yeah, it was Vince and Linda and one or two other executives. It was quite an experience, I think he was very, very grateful in a way that someone had taken notice outside the States and was very interested. I remember Vince saying,
“Well we’re not that big really, we just do fairgrounds and stuff.”
That was his area, but with Vince and Linda, they could both see the potential in the characters as superheroes, who were the guys that were going put their names to merchandise, licensing and all that kind of stuff.
TM: How did you find Vince, was he the bombastic character we see today?
MG: Yeah. Let’s say this, we got on ok. He knew our history, obviously not in the world of wrestling, but in the world of rock and roll and touring, he probably realised that he was going to be well looked after and we’d do the best we can for the product he had to offer.
TM: Did you meet Hogan on that first visit?
MG: No, I don’t think I did. It was purely into Connecticut, they had a licensing division there with some guys out of the toy industry who had the job of building a brand and a full retail presence and to create the Hasbro toy range to become major in retail and that was in their interest.
Obviously, it was always going to be the t-shirts and the caps and all that kind of stuff, but to expand into another world took a lot of expertise and people who knew what they were doing to create something that every kid wanted on their shelves.
TM: Who were the top merch sellers at that time? Was it Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior?
MG: Hogan was instantly kind of ‘the brand’. His yellow t-shirt, his posing, obviously all the guys were on a percentage and on a commission for whatever they sell, so he was always pushing.
I think Bret Hart probably became the next big merchandiser because he had these wraparound sunglasses which were his trademark and also a bandana.
What followed, of course, was Steve Austin with his 3:16 t-shirts, you also had Shaun Michaels and The Legion of Doom with their spiked shoulder pads. WWF had started to do the toy fairs into the trade and within a very short period of time, they probably had a hundred licenses for every product you could think of from toys and figures to food.
Somewhere I’ve still got a whole tin of popcorn with Hulk Hogan’s face all over it (laughs). God knows what it looks like, but it’s on a shelf here somewhere.
TM: What were your dealings with Hogan like? He certainly saw the value in marketing his own character…
MG: Absolutely. He was always on top of it, he realised whatever activity he was at, he always made sure at the beginning or end of a bout he’d do the tearing of his t-shirt which always helped sales and he wore the bandana.
He was up for it. The other guys who weren’t that commercially minded suddenly realised what was going on and maybe they had to up their input. Slogans like Austin’s 3:16 became very important, the only girl that used to sell merchandise back then was Chyna.
TM: Many kids of the 80s and 90s remember the pivotal event in their lives that was SummerSlam ’92, how did you manage to bring that event over here?
MG: Vince had this ambition of putting on the biggest event in their home catalogue and bringing it to the UK. There was a huge amount of cynicism around it, but by then we had built up a regular touring route around Europe.
We weren’t just talking the UK, it was places like Germany and France where we’d always sell out. The only place we never cracked was Scandinavia, they weren’t really that interested, but most of the other countries loved it.
Italy went WWF mad for a few years, Spain was the same, wherever they went they just sold out. Of course, TV by then had been sold pan Europe, it was everywhere and Sky milked it.
Another thing I remember was that they had an E.P. of entrance music that they wanted to be sold in the UK. I went around some of the main agencies and they thought I was mad, like who’s going to buy this stuff. I took it to this one label and a young guy had a look at it, his name was Simon Cowell.
So he took it up and they released the E.P. around about Christmas, which I thought was a strange time, but it was an instant hit, I think it got to about number 3 in the hit parade, which is quite astounding. Then, of course, WWF thought they were in the rock and roll business… they weren’t!
TM: So did Vince just see the huge value in bringing SummerSlam over to the UK?
MG: Absolutely. Wembley Stadium were cynical, but Harvey persuaded them that this was going to be a massive event and it was as you know. Probably on the first day, we sold 40,000 tickets and we ended up selling 80,000, which was massive.
It was one of their biggest crowds ever, of course, there was the use of the football pitch so all that space made extra seating. We were the merchandising company, we still hold the record now, at least I don’t think it has been… we sold 1.2 million pounds of merchandise that day.
Everyone said “you must be mad, you must be crazy”, I said, “well if I’m crazy I’ll go bust.” All that in one day’s trading.
TM: Were you actually working on the merch stands that day?
MG: No, I just stood there smiling. I had the last laugh on everybody.
TM: What were your most memorable moments from that night?
MG: I think what was memorable, besides the event itself was having my picture taken with Robert Plant and his son and The British Bulldog and his son. Robert Plant was a fan.
The other memorable thing was the referee’s count at the end and the eruption of the crowd. Everything was great, the show was great, the weather and the merchandise sales, it was all iconic.
TM: Do you think we’ll ever see its like on British soil again?
MG: Why not? I mean a SummerSlam a Wrestlemania why not? There’s always rumours going round, I don’t know, I’m not involved with them anymore. Our relationship lasted for about fifteen years and then they said thank you very much, we don’t need you anymore, and that was the end of our longtime business association.
About a year or so later I got a call out of the blue from Jeff Jarrett and he told me about his new company which he was looking to get finance to turn it into an international business, by then he was in negotiations with the Carter family and suddenly TNA was born out of that.
We looked after them for eight good years and two not so good years, our first tour was in very small venues maybe a thousand seats or fifteen hundred seats and we ended up doing the big arenas in London and Manchester. Of course, Hulk Hogan appeared again along with some other big names. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but it was fun while it lasted.
TM: Who were the wrestlers that you got on with?
MG: I liked Jimmy Hart, he was great, The Legion of Doom were really good guys. We did some television shopping on QVC, which had just started and I came up with the idea of doing a World Wrestling Federation show and it was quite remarkable, it was a massive success, they couldn’t believe it and neither could I (laughs).
TM: Did you get any stars on?
MG: Yeah we brought in those two guys The Bushwackers. They came and did the programme, it was fun. To celebrate it I took them out to a very smart restaurant in Knightsbridge and they were still wearing their Bushwackers outfits.
As we walked in the door you can imagine all the faces turning and people thinking what the…! And saying “I say, this is not right you know”. Of course, the waiters knew exactly who they were and they had a good time. It was funny, we had lots of funny moments.
TM: You were involved with all the European tours?
MG: Yeah, we did all the European countries as well as Israel, South Africa, we went to India, that was funny. In India, we were taken out for a guided tour of Agra and we were told by the guide to just ignore the beggars and don’t encourage them. You can imagine 20 massive guys walking around the Taj Mahal, it was very difficult to be ignored.
There was this time with Yokozuma, we were in Paris, the guys had to be down in the foyer for 08:30 in the morning so they could get on the coach to go to the airport and get a flight to Southampton for the next gig in Bournemouth. I came down about nine in the morning to see Yokazuma standing in the foyer of this hotel. I said,
“what the f**k are you doing here!” He says, “hey man, they’ve gone without me.” I said, “what do you mean they’ve gone without you, you’re part of the tour.” And he says, “I was sitting on the john in my room and suddenly the whole thing collapsed under me.”
So there was all this shit and piss all over the bathroom with everything flooded and I didn’t know what to do. I said, “well what’s happening?” He said he’d had to make good with the hotel and I said that we’d better get him to Bournemouth in a hurry cause he had to be there. Then he was like, “where the hell is Bournemouth?” Cause he didn’t have a clue where that was.
So I arranged a flight for him and I spoke to a car company to pick him up at Southampton and take him to Bournemouth. What I hadn’t told them of course was that this guy weighed about 600lbs, he was massive.
So he arrived at the airport, the first thing that happened was he pulled open the door and the handle fell off and then he got into the car and it was on the floor, completely on the floor. Eventually, he got to the venue and I had this car company onto me screaming. There are so many good stories.
The first time I ever heard of Nandos was on a tour of South Africa and they were a semi sponsor of the tour, they used to come round to every show and deliver a truckload of cooked chicken. The sight of all these wrestlers eating whole chickens was quite a sight to behold. There was never too much mad rock and roll excess, but there were things going on all the time.
TM: Was anyone particularly trouble?
MG: Not really. One time Jake the Snake had a snake in his boot, I can’t remember where we were going to, but he’d hidden it in his boot and it appeared when we were on the airplane (laughs).
TM: That’s brilliant. You must have worked with lots of other great performers and artists apart from those in wrestling during your career, who stands out?
MG: I’m going back almost forty years now, our first client was Cliff Richard. I came up with the idea of producing t-shirts and merchandising for him and he said to me, “who the hell is going to wear a t-shirt with my face on?” And forty-odd years later they’re still buying them. We did Live Aid, Bowie on some of his tours, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton.
I looked after David Bowie’s official fan club over here which we formed, it was called Bowie Friends, he had input into it and we produced a book. I think members paid a fiver and they got this quarterly book, badges and a picture, all that kind of stuff.
One day I received a model of a coffin, inside was like a voodoo doll coffin and inside that was a doll with a needle in the eye. I looked at it and wondered what kind of lunatic had sent this for David. So I threw it in the bin thinking it was from some sick person.
A few weeks later I came to the office and at the front door there was kind of a body lying on the floor, I looked at it and this girl said,
“I know he’s there, I’ve got to meet him or I’m going to kill myself.” I said, “what do you mean? Who are you looking for?” “David, I know he lives there.”
By the way, this was in Kentish Town, not exactly the kind of place David Bowie would be hanging out. She continued to repeat that she knew he was there because she had this address which was for his fan club. I said, “look he doesn’t live here, so bugger off!”
And then I asked her if she sent him a voodoo doll. She looked at me and said, “yes, that’s what’s going to happen to him if I don’t meet him.” So I thought this person is deranged and I rang the police and they came, apparently, she’d just been released from Holloway prison the same day and was looking for David. Scary stuff.
TM: You must have seen some interesting fans over the years?
MG: I worked with Pavarotti for many years, a slightly different genre of fans, but equally dedicated who really loved him. I worked with him for twenty-five years touring because his manager had this vision of turning an opera star into a major rock and roll star, and it worked.
When we did The Three Tenors we sold out football stadiums around the world, it was big business, we did Hyde Park. They did appear at a concert before the World Cup Final in L.A. and I was sitting in seats next to Gene Kelly and Walter Matthau and all these kind of people watching them sing, that was bloody good.
TM: You’re associated with World of Sport currently aren’t you?
Yes, we’re also a partner in World of Sport Wrestling, ITV have got behind it and they’ve given it a lot of space on TV. What we’re trying to do with them is find a new market, a family market.
There are dozens of indie promotions on the scene, they might be most appealing to die-hard fans, what we’re trying to do is create new fans, younger kids who might identify with the guys, hence the 5 o’ clock slot on ITV. The UK wrestling scene is incredibly healthy at the moment.
TM: You must be proud about being inducted into the British Wrestling Hall of Fame…
MG: It certainly is a surprise. The fact that this is the first time this has ever happened in the UK, I think it’s a great idea, it’s going to be a great weekend. It’s down to Paul Benson. Hopefully, we’re going to get a massive crowd in Manchester. I’m proud, proud to be nominated, absolutely.
TM: We always ask for a piece of wisdom you might have gleaned from your career?
MG: Don’t get involved! No, in one way you have to be a bit of a gambler, cause in this business you’re convinced it’s going to work and you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and have the dedication and a team around you to make it work.
It’s a long play, any weekend in the summer there are dozens and dozens of festivals, people think just by advertising a few acts in the grounds of your country house it’s going to be a massive hit and it’ll make a fortune, well it doesn’t.
It takes a long time as with an artist who can slog themselves round the gig scene for years and never make any money regardless of their talent. You have to persevere and take the good with the bad. The one thing I will say is if you get involved with wrestling you’re going to sell a t-shirt.
Get tickets for the World of Sport tour before they’re sold out HERE.
And see Martin Goldsmith get inducted into the British Wrestling Hall of Fame along with other greats on Saturday evening by heading to Wrestling MediaCon in Manchester.
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