New York Times bestselling author Dennis Brent sat backstage at Wrestlemania XX, taking it all in. Beside him was Percy Pringle — WWE’s Paul Bearer — who, in the 1980s, helped catapult Brent from the technology industry to the wrestling world.
“I said, ‘Can you imagine, here we are in New York compared to the Sporatorium…’ He shook his head and said he couldn’t believe it,” said Brent, who got his start in the business with Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling and spent the next 30 years documenting and promoting the wrestling industry.
For those contributions, Brent will be the next recipient of the Cauliflower Alley Club’s James C. Melby Historian Award at the group’s 50th anniversary reunion April 13-15 in Las Vegas.
Brent, a former director of publications for WWE and WCW, said he saw what WCCW was paying for its programs and told Pringle he could create programs “for a much better price.” After a consultation with WCCW ringleader Fritz Von Erich, Brent’s first official night in the business — when he still was unaware of the realities of professional wrestling — was main evented by Bruiser Brody and Abdullah the Butcher.
“At that time, I really didn’t know what was up,” Brent said, “and, plus, Gary Hart, who was Abby’s manager, said to me loud enough for the people (to hear)…. ‘Stay away from him he’s very dangerous.'”
Brent’s work from that point forward has taken him to Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation, WCW and WWE, among other promotions around the U.S. He has shined a light on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s career, advanced storylines and helped bring some of WWE’s biggest stars up to the main roster.
Karl Lauer, CAC executive director, said Brent’s “long-related association” with multiple organizations made Brent stand out among other nominees. The “strong relationship” Brent has developed with many wrestlers is what Lauer considers Brent’s most significant contribution. Stars such as Michael Hayes and Terry Taylor, according to Lauer, attribute a “great deal of their success to his ability to put them over.”
“The more we looked into his accomplishments, into his life, we realized in our eyes he was definitely a historian,” Lauer said.
Brent said receiving the award is “quite an accomplishment” because while Bill Apter, Dave Meltzer and others are “very smart about the business,” a qualification for the award was to work within a wrestling company.
Brent has worked for wrestling’s notable names, including Jim Crockett, Ted Turner and Vince McMahon, throughout a career that spans decades, and was tasked with responsibilities related to company magazines and talent relations.
“I enjoyed it all. WWF was one of the best companies,” Brent said. “They were very episodic.”
While working in talent relations for WWE, Brent said he once received a call from Stephanie McMahon, asking who he thought the company should look at for the main roster. Of the names he gave to Stephanie McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista got called up.
Brent’s time with WWE publications occurred when RAW Magazine was still in existence. That publication, he said, was “a little more developed” and allowed articles to delve into issues beyond a wrestler’s character. The magazines, he said, had to be written six to eight weeks prior to publication.
“We had to find out as much as possible what was going to happen so that they would tie in, but they (the bookers) changed their minds a lot,” Brent said.
Brent said prior to 1990, wrestling magazines were a way for fans to learn about wrestlers “who had not been in their area yet, or had left or were coming in.”
“The wrestlers liked (the magazines) because it was free publicity about them for other promotions to see if they want to book them,” Brent said. “Now, they are a vehicle to sell merchandise and push new characters.”
Brent also helped author Austin’s WWE-produced biography with Jim Ross, which Brent said was “a real trip to write.” Brent traveled to San Antonio to interview Austin at the Texas Rattlesnake’s Broken Skull Ranch.
“The guy is wild and crazy,” Brent said.
Ross, who has known Brent for roughly three decades and nominated him for the honor, said Brent left “a very established business” in the computer programming field to “live his dream in the wrestling business.” Brent’s wife, Lynn, was along for the ride and, according to Ross, “supported him every step of the way” while holding administrative roles in WWE and WCW.
“They were loyal and hardworking and diligent,” Ross said, “and Dennis’ fandom was — his level of being a true fan and living his dreams, almost touching the sky — it was just amazing. So he was one of the most valuable players in all those companies and, quite frankly, so was his wife.”
Though it was photography and writing skills that allowed Brent to enter the wrestling industry, Ross said Brent “was more than willing to take on other challenges,” as exemplified by his work in talent relations.
“It’s a great success story and (Dennis has) been a great role model to anybody that wants to be in the business, knowing that they can’t be a star wrestler,” Ross said. “He probably has established the most dynamic legacy within the pro wrestling business that no one has ever heard of.”
Ross said Brent’s experience in wrestling territories, as well as at a corporate level, “has been phenomenally extensive.”
“There are a lot of great journalists that have contributed to the success of the business, without question, but none of them had had the vast array of experiences that Dennis has had and has succeeded in all of them at the highest level,” Ross said.
Brent’s current projects include “Pro Wrestling Before There was Email,” which will reveal previously unpublished memos from WCW, including letters from Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair and Watts.
“(It’s) stuff that nobody’s ever seen as far as the internal workings of WCW and how they tried to fight the WWF,” Brent said.
He’s also penning a biography with Missy Hyatt, due out in roughly three months.
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