By Mitch Hurst
By Mitch Hurst
Five years ago, musician, businessman, and Highland Park resident Billy Corgan purchased the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), the oldest professional wrestling body in the world. Founded in 1948, NWA was once the largest and most successful professional wrestling entity in the country, but by the time Corgan came on the scene, it had slipped into irrelevance.
Against significant odds, Corgan resurrected the NWA and now holds wrestling events around the country and the world, most recently last month in Mexico City. For the first time, he will be bringing about 60 wrestlers to the Chicago area—Highland Park specifically—for four events the weekend of April 6 to 8.
“I say this humbly, very few people thought that was possible. With NWA I bought a distressed brand that’s the oldest brand in all of professional wrestling in the world,” Corgan says. “Everybody said, ‘Why are you buying this brand that nobody cares about anymore? Its best days are in the past?’. I brought it back to international prominence.”
The weekend events include a VIP book signing on April 6 at Madame Zuzu’s with two of NWA’s well-known wrestlers, Tyrus and Madusa, and three wrestling shows over the course of April 7 and 8 at Studio One in Highland Park. Limited tickets remain for the book signing and the wrestling shows are available via Pay Per View.
Last summer, Corgan and Mendel hosted a live music benefit at Madame Zuzu’s, which the two co-own, for the Highland Park Community Foundation’s fund to benefit families that were impacted by the July 4th Parade shooting. The event raised more than $250,000.
Thanks to a generous sponsorship from Autohaus Automotive, Inc. and Moonstone Asset Management, located in Highland Park, a portion of the proceeds from the book signing and the wrestling shows will be donated to the fund.
“For us, bringing cultural events to our community is our goal. And the more we can give back, the better,” Mendel says. “So, we are thrilled to have a partner to help us give more to those in need.”
Corgan says during discussions with Highland Park city officials, Mendel felt strongly that she wanted to use the event as another opportunity to donate to the community foundation.
“We’ve talked for a long time about having some kind of book signings with our wrestling talents and we thought since everybody’s coming to town, let’s do it,” he says. “When I proposed it to Chloé that we have the book signing the night before the first wrestling event, she said she wanted to use the proceeds to support the fund because that’s something that’s really important to her.”
To say Corgan and Mendel currently lead busy lives would be an immense understatement. There’s NWA, Corgan’s band the Smashing Pumpkins, Madame Zuzu’s, and Mendel’s luxury clothing design brand, Maison Atia. Plus, there’s two young children to raise and care for.
“Probably the last year or so has been the busiest year of my life and that’s saying something because the `90s were pretty crazy. We have four businesses in the house, so the good part is we’re busy and we’re busy doing what we love,” he says. “The difficult part is sometimes our conversations are not about what we’re going to have for dinner, but about business.”
Corgan says coming out of the pandemic, he and Mendel made the decision to live their lives more urgently.
“It’s sort of like if you’re going to do stuff, don’t wait for tomorrow because we’re not sure what tomorrow can bring,” he says. And I think [the July 4th shooting] is something that’s impacted all of us. There’s no guarantee what tomorrow brings, so if you’re passionate about something, you’ve got to fall into it.”
Corgan has often talked about his passion for Highland Park and his love for the community he and Mendel and their family call home. It’s evident in his charitable work and is also what drives his approach to business.
“Our sense is that we’re working towards something that’s meaningful to us, and with all the businesses, they have a community aspect as well where you’re meeting people,” says Corgan.
Regarding the Pumpkins, he says that like many other big bands, they hit some rough spots and then the industry started to assume that their best days were behind them.
“You start getting treated, particularly in the music business, like you’re not in this category anymore; you’re in that category. They use nice words like ‘heritage’, which is a nice way of saying, ‘You know, you ain’t so young anymore kid’,” he says. “Tomorrow is my 56th birthday, and age in the entertainment business is something that’s always sort of omnipresent. But we rebuilt the brand back up to an international prominence and we’re having some of the biggest success we’ve had in 20 years.”
Corgan says that despite his success with NWA and the resurgence of the Smashing Pumpkins (and traveling the globe with both), it is Highland Park that undeniably remains home.
“When you look at myself and Chloé, we say, ‘Let’s keep it local in Highland Park’. We’ve built up a reputation that we live here, and we care, and it extends to how we run our business, how we interact with the community, and what we lean into and contribute to.”
In the five years since Corgan purchased NWA, he’s never brought wrestlers to Chicago. He could’ve found bigger venues in the city, but he wanted to bring professional wrestling to his adopted home city.
“This is the first time I’m bringing wrestling— this huge international endeavor—here and I was like, ‘I want to do it in Highland Park’. Everybody in my world was like, ‘Why Highland Park, why not downtown Chicago?’” Corgan says. “I said, ‘I’m committed to putting smiles on people’s faces’. We can literally change the world if we want to. Now, can we change the world with one wrestling show? No, but we can have a lot of fun.”