At the time of this 1991 interview, Joel Goodhart–with his beard, glasses, and long hair– looked more like a roadie for the Grateful Dead than a successful, albeit controversial, wrestling promoter. Goodhart earned a loyal following by promoting an influential brand of wrestling called (at the time) “shock wrestling.” In 1992, Goodhart declared bankruptcy and ended his Tri-State Wrestling promotion, but the violent wrestling tradition lived on through the 1990s via Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Goodhart: I was originally born in Philadelphia, and I lived in Philadelphia all my life, except in 1971 when I lived in Honolulu. I’ve lived in Philadelphia for 37 of my 38 years.
I went to my first match when I was four-and-a-half years old. I’ve been a fan now for 34 years. I got involved with the business aspect of wrestling about seven years ago. That’s a long story. But, keeping it simple, I was in the insurance and investment business for 13 years. One of the accountants who worked closely with me referred me to some people who, as I found out after I did some insurance work for them, were also wrestling fans. We started traveling to and from matches together. And one time, me and one of the guys were just shootin’ the shit. He had been in the valve business for about 10 years and was looking to inch his way into something. I had been in the insurance business at that time for about 10 years and was looking to inch my way into something, and it was almost perfect timing. This happened to be in 1984, right after the WWF decided to start marketing Hulk Hogan.
We had never been in a retail business before, but one day we were sitting around, just eating chicken cutlets, and somebody said, “You know, we ought to open up a wrestling store.” And that’s how I got into this business. We opened up a wrestling store back in 1985. It took us that long to get off the ground. I eventually bought my partners out.
When we had the store we started developing a mailing list, and through that we became pretty good friends with pro wrestler Dominic DeNucci. Dominic suggested that with the people we knew, we could quite possibly get into a promotion. We promoted a card that was absolutely the worst wrestling card I’ve ever seen, but it was our first time at it. Let’s put it this way, after years of going to the matches and being a fan, and now being involved where you’re actually the boss, it was hard. I have a large ego, and it got soothed real quickly. We got a taste of it, and after the card lost as much money as it did, we decided to get out of it. We stayed in the promotion end of it in the sense that we were sponsoring lunches with the wrestlers and bus trips and whatever, but we decided to stay away from the actual promoting of wrestling cards. When the NWA came to Philadelphia, they contacted us about helping them out. So we promoted several cards for the NWA. But aside from that, we never went into independent promotion. When I bought my partners out, I got heavily into promotion because it’s something I always wanted to do. Now I’m the sole proprietor of the largest independent wrestling promotion in the country.
We’re the most violent wrestling organization in the United States by far. I think that we are the only organization that’s attempting to roll back the clock 20 years. We’re not on television. We don’t want TV. We’ve made no bones about the fact that we do not want to be on television. Our slogan is, “We wrestle, we brawl, we do it all.” We do provide wrestling, but we also provide brawling. We provide blood and guts. Today’s wrestling is so sanitized a sport that if you watch TV, you’re not watching wrestling anymore. Some groups call it “sports entertainment.” Other groups have no sport and no entertainment. The reality here is that we are the only organization of its kind in the country that makes no bones about the fact that, if you come to our wrestling card, you will see violence. When was the last time you watched the WWF or NWA and saw true violence? It doesn’t happen, and that’s what professional wrestling’s all about.
We don’t want kids at our shows. If they come, it’s because the parents appreciate what we’re doing. At our crowds, I’d say 75% are over the age of 30. We go to an adult audience. We have found what we consider to be a niche in the marketing, just like, I guess, porno films are a niche in the marketing. I will tell you this though, if parents bring their kids to our cards, they’ll see less violence on our shows than they will on Saturday morning watching “Ninja Turtles.” I took my kids to the Ninja Turtles movie, and it was like 38 people dying in 1 hour.
The reality is that if you watch professional wrestling done the proper way, what the parents will always get through to the kids is that ultimately the good guy will win. And that’s not necessarily true in these other situations. The bottom line is, if you want to show your child all aspects of life, that’s fine. I have two boys, 11 and 8. They watch wrestling for what it is. They don’t wrestle at home. Some parents let their kids wrestle at home because they think it’s fake. My kids understand that what we do is not fake. It’s real, and they wouldn’t dare try it. I don’t really take them to the WWF, so they don’t really have anything to compare it to. The whole reality to this thing is that pro wrestling is a sport. It is perceived as a sport. It’s accepted as a sport, except for some organizations.
One time I was caught in the middle of Abdullah the Butcher against the (original) Sheik. I was coming down the aisle the same time Abby was coming down the aisle. I got my ass kicked three times by Abby. Because of my high visibility in the Philadelphia community, because of being on the radio, because of being a promoter, I try to stay out of the way. I’m not Vince McMahon. I can’t go on TV and pretend I’m a shlub when everybody in the world knows I’m the boss. I can’t do that. I don’t like to lie to the public. Everybody knows that these guys have to come to me for a paycheck, so it’s pretty tough to have them beat the hell out of me. I fined Abdullah the Butcher $5,000 through the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. He has yet to pay it, and one of the reasons I have him on this card coming up is to try to collect my five grand. Well, the State Athletic Commissioner will be there, and I’ll hopefully get this thing taken care of. I’m staying the hell away from Abdullah.
The Sheik is a lunatic. The man, he’s a nut. The Sheik makes Abby look like a pussycat. I don’t know why I get myself involved in this stuff, except that I’m a wrestling fan. The Sheik is a maniac. I’ll tell you something about the Sheik, a true story. He comes in from Michigan and he drives. He will not fly. And the reason he won’t fly is no airline will issue him a ticket. That’s the kind of men I have to deal with.
I can’t see anything past tomorrow to be honest with you. This year we’re running about 40 cards. Next year we’ll be at about 125. My goal within a three-year period is to be running a circuit similar to Memphis, in that we would be running almost every day. Now that we’ve organized Philadelphia, and we’re got Philadelphia and Delaware and some of south Jersey, we’re looking to expand into Pennsylvania. What’s happened is, in Philadelphia there’s basically two weekends a month we can wrestle, because one weekend the WWF is in, and one weekend WCW is in. By us expanding our territory, we’ll be able to wrestle the same weekends the WCW and WWF are wrestling. I think realistically right now, we’re at about 140 cards per year next year. Three years from now we’ll be up to 365.
I’m not going to tell you that I’m a man of money and a man of wealth. I have built up enough to be able to cover it. I will tell you that down the line, I plan to be a millionaire in this business, and promotion is the way for me to do it, since I can’t wrestle for the shits. I own a wrestling school that’s providing income, and my radio show is certainly working for me, but I plan to make a substantial sum of money giving fans what they want.
Thoughts from 2022: The Sheik’s late-career appearances for Goodhart’s Tri-State Wrestling are documented in Brian R. Solomon’s informative 2022 book Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik.