ReportIn The Hot Seat: Slamforce Africa President & CEO

September 6, 2019
cornelius-ap-van-tonder

So far it has been an exciting ride for any fans whom have dedicated their interest and passion to new up-start professional wrestling promotion Slamforce Africa, and for wrestling fans in general. With announcements of big stars, quarterly events, a beautiful and shiny championship, and let’s not forget the impeccable posters and promo art. Yes, Slamforce Africa has not yet had its first show, as its first show will only debut on 27 October from the Rembrandt Hall at the University of Pretoria. But many fans will agree that Slamforce Africa has all the hallmarks to be the biggest thing produced in Africa for a long time.

Drawing comparisons to the USA, All Elite Wrestling also did not have their own show before Double or Nothing, yet the concept of something new and fresh sparked a new interest in many fans and even the – to borrow the term from AEW President – lapsed fans (fans whom tuned out and stopped watching wrestling years ago). Americans in general did not sit back and say “I will support it when I see it”, they swamped box offices nationwide and sold out Double or Nothing within hours. Because it is in the American culture to build, sometimes impulsively, but you got to commend them for that. They don’t stand back and say, “time will tell” or “let’s first see what they can do” they believe and understand that the most important factor of a show or a promotion’s success is not the wrestlers in the ring, it’s the fans whom pitch up and buy tickets to a show. Americans have a culture of “building” things just look at their country as a whole.

On this side of the globe, South Africans have a little bit of a different approach, passionate yes, loyal to a fault, yes, cynical…immensely. We tend to wait until last minute before we jump in. Hey, don’t blame us, how many times have we been promised big things (in general) and last minute its cancelled or taken away.

The man in charge of Slamforce Africa, is also the man who needs to take charge of fans and their expectations, juggling the massive undertaking of creating Africa’s first premier wrestling promotion, finding the best talent in the world and in Africa (which is a little bit harder) and ensuring the business and the company live up to the hype. A hot seat indeed. Today we meet the man, who has nerves of steel, and the gull to see this through, Cornelius A.P. van Tonder, but in the office he is simply known as Mr. C!

 

SFA.COM

Thank you very much for allowing us to interview you, we know that you do not like being out there and in front of the cameras and generally don’t like attention. We appreciate your time and willingness to speak to us.

 

CORNELIUS

Thank you Dean. It is a privilege for me to speak to you. But I must correct you, it is not that I don’t like attention or being out there in the open. I am just extremely busy behind the scenes, and I do believe that, that’s where a CEO or a company President should be, behind the scenes. Attention should fall on the wrestlers and athletes and talent and the fans, not the management. But I am glad to be here and do this interview for you.

 

SFA.COM

Slamforce Africa, is very new, has not yet have had its first show, yet it looks like it is shaping up to be something incredibly special. How did all of this start?

 

CORNELIUS

Well, in wrestling, you always start as a fan. Watching it, enjoying it, following it and so on. But with me, personally, I have always been a little bit obsessed. Some might say too passionate, but that’s just who I am, I get incredibly passionate about things I love. But also, I have always been obsessed with anything to do with “behind the scenes”, “how does it work” and a little bit of a mad scientist in me. I always want to create things…I look at anything, and I go…I can make that better and I grab a notebook [he laughs]. But with wrestling it never wanted to leave me alone. Always there, always bubbling to my surface and eventually the pot boiled over and here we are. Slamforce Africa. It was something so deep inside of me, that I need to do this. So I did.

 

SFA.COM

Can you give us an insight into your life growing up, I’m sure fans would be interested to know how you got to where you are now?

 

CORNELIUS

Okay, that’s an interesting one. I was a good athlete, excelled in every sport I ever dabbled in. Athletics, Rugby, Hockey…you name it, I did it, and I got provincial honours and went to the top. But also, I was a nerd, still am a big nerd. You can’t keep me away from a comic book shop or boardgames or a toyshop. A big ol’ man child, unapologetically. Man, why do you want to grow up? Why do you want to stop having fun…does this thing that you did in school make you happy? Why did you stop? Oh, because society said so, society said I’m a big adult now, I got bills to pay, I gotta stop watching wrestling, I gotta stop playing boardgames, I’m too old to buy an xbox…I’m the last guy on earth you want to try that line with. You get one life, and I believe the secret to life, is to have fun. Doesn’t matter what makes you happy, what is fine to you, he point is its fun. Life ends. Period. Have fun while lasts.

But with my nerdy, sporty background I was also raised in a house that put a lot of emphasis on balance. Which I am so grateful for. I did not grow up in a house where my father would say, art is for wussies, as so many shameful South African fathers do, I did not grow up in a house where my mother forced us to only do academics, or cringe at sport. We were raised to do everything, be balanced.

We did not focus just on sport. If I got provincial colours Rugby, my mother made sure I took piano lessons as well. If my father took me to go watch a live cricket game, he would make sure the next weekend he takes us to the theatre. So we grew up in a house that had a very unique balance. That allowed me to appreciate art, just as much as sport. Professional wrestling is art in sport form. Its my perfect Venn diagram. Sport on the one hand, and art on the other, there where the two circles meet in the middle, is professional wrestling. My inner most utopia. It was because of that balance and that unique way of appreciating both sports and art equally that I found my love for wrestling. So yeah, thanks mom, thanks dad!

 

SFA.COM

Fantastic. Let’s get to Slamforce Africa. We noticed that SFA positions itself as a “Premier” promotion. Could you tell us what that means? And how is that different from any other promotion?

 

CORNELIUS

Sure. When we say Premier promotion, what that means, is that we focus on a much larger territory than just South Africa. Our focus is on a bigger scale, we focus on Africa, the whole continent. Bigger scale in terms of prolific stars we bring in. Bigger in terms of creating a concept where wrestlers all over the world, not just Africa, can ply their trade full time…that’s the key, full-time, in Africa, wrestling for Slamforce. Premier means, bigger exposure, bigger platform, that next level. And that is that. It’s nothing more.

 

SFA.COM

Would you say that other South African promotions are competition for Slamforce Africa?

 

CORNELIUS

Not at all. I don’t view us as competition for anyone or see them as competition for us. I don’t think we play in the same sphere, in terms of territory, marketing what our bigger goal is in the end etc. Its completely a different animal. I see other promotions more like that very important element that will make this work, that will make a premier promotion possible. What we are doing, is creating the “next level” of professional wrestling in Africa. So, you wrestle for CPW or AWA and you are doing well, but where to from there. That’s where we come. So SFA is good for the industry, it allows a more streamlined structure for wrestlers and fans alike. Our success will directly impact each and every local South African wrestling promotion and wrestler as a whole. What we do will have a ripple effect. The biggest winners are the fans. That’s why it would be ludicrous for anyone to have a competition mindset. Especially here, wrestling in South Africa is not as big as in the USA. Our industry is smaller, so you can’t afford a competition “Us against them” mindset.

 

SFA.COM

Watching social media, seeing fans post comments on Facebook or Instagram, saying stuff like SFA will save the South African wrestling industry, what is your thoughts around comments like that, do you feel that is what you are doing?

 

CORNELIUS

Not even close, Dean. In fact, comments like that makes me very uncomfortable. One, that’s pressure, anyone who thinks this is what we are doing is piling on massive amounts of pressure. Two, the South African or African wrestling industry does not need saving. Its not broken. Its not dead. It is a very small handful of people pushing that agenda. Pro wrestling in South Africa is healthy, its alive. But it can be more. We talk about “rebuilding” it, not saving it – it doesn’t need saving. It needs a facelift, it needs some touch-ups and some renovations, to make it bigger, stronger and sustainable. My ultimate dream would be for the local scene to boom and pop, to a point where our local wrestlers can make a good living no matter for who or what promotion you work for. A place, where fans don’t need to wait 7 years for a WWE tour, where fans don’t need to be forced to watch one type of program in terms of wrestling, but that we can have our own options available that we take pride in.

 

SFA.COM

Talking about being a premier promotion, in terms of exposure, what do you have for fans who can’t make it to live events? Is there something that we need to know, or can report on that will solidify SFA as that premier promotion?

 

CORNELIUS

Now, you are starting to ask me the questions I don’t want to answer [Cornelius laughs.] I don’t want to reveal too much, certain things we are playing very close to our chests. Some things I play so close that no one else inside the company even knows about. Everything we do, from announcements, competitions, reveals etc. Is perfectly planned and timed. Yes, there is some big things coming, bigger things than anyone realises, things that has never happened in the local industry or anywhere in Africa. Wrestlers here, will finally get big time exposure like never before, but like I said Dean, I just can’t give you the details of that just yet, we are getting very close to announcing it, but right now the timing is not right.

 

SFA.COM

I can respect that. It sounds exciting. Where do we go from here, after the 27th of October?

 

CORNELIUS

We go on to the next show, and the next one and the next one. We won’t stop, we are contracted to do 4 events for season 1 of Slamforce Africa. I can tell you we have big things coming, big names, big draws, some guys whom have already signed our contracts for future events is probably going to make some fans wet their pants. I nearly did [Cornelius laughs]. Bigger venues, bigger cards, bigger everything. So far every show has been planned out to the final T. Where it will be, who the draws are etc. All I can say is, you want to be there on day one. Trust me.

 

SFA.COM

So Slamforce Africa, is not going to be a flash in the pan, once off event, there is more we can look forward to? Is that what you are saying?

 

CORNELIUS

That is exactly what I am saying. Its going to be much bigger than anyone really realises right now, because obviously you are waiting to see the first show. What will it look like, will there be more to it? I get that. But yes, much much more. Like said previously, we have very big things lined up, some things only I know and those directly involved with it. SFA02 is booked, SFA03 is booked and SFA04 is booked. We are not going anywhere.

 

SFA.COM

Do you feel any pressure with putting up your first show?

 

CORNELIUS

I would be lying if I said no. It is daunting, the standard and expectation around us is very hot right now. As the man in charge you certainly feel like you have been put in a pressure cooker. I feel so strong about Slamforce Africa and what it could be, for the industry in general, for wrestlers working their butts off, for the fans whom is so hungry for great wrestling with big stars, I think in South Africa, waiting 7 years for a WWE tour is just not good enough anymore. Now I have skinned the goose and trying to give fans, wrestlers and critics something different, something great, and you know you need to make sure it goes off well. Otherwise, its just another pipe dream that never happened. So yeah, the pressure is there every single day. Luckily, I am a man that thrives on it, and I have a natural gift of knowing how to cancel out noise from the outside completely. That helps a lot.

 

SFA.COM

What can you say to sceptical fans? The nay-sayers who always talk a lot but don’t ever show up.

 

CORNELIUS

Yeah, the old “I will believe it when I see it” factor. That’s a sad condition of the South African mindset, but again, can you blame fans, so many times we are promised the world, we are promised this person is coming to South Africa, that person is coming…and then it gets cancelled. Right? Because we are just down here in Africa and who cares? So I feel for fans, I get it, I understand what they feel. But my message to fans would be this, Slamforce Africa’s success depends on you, not on me, not on Rob van Dam, not on PJ Black not on Celeste Bonin. If you the fans don’t support these types of initiatives with your wallets, you will continuously be led down by people who cancel or things that don’t happen this side of the world. You need to build it. If it peaks your interest go for it. Go all out for it. Your support drives us.

 

SFA.COM

What does wrestling in South Africa need most right now?

 

CORNELIUS

Fans. Lots and lots of fans. New fans, old fans, hardcore fans, re-lapsed fans. All of this is for the fans, no one sits in their office and think, I want to put up a wrestling show for myself. You do it to entertain people, to make them escape, to give them something fun and entertaining to do and see. We need fans. South Africans need to wake up to current professional wrestling boom that the whole world is experiencing. It is fun. We have the athletes, we have the big names, we have the talent, we have the big production. Now we need fans. Lots and lots of fans. You can say a whole Horde of fans. [he smirks]

 

SFA.COM

What would you say to non-fans. People who don’t watch wrestling, never have or maybe tried once and it didn’t stick?

 

CORNELIUS

I think its hard for wrestling not to stick. Do you like sport? Do you like entertainment? Do you like art? Do you like music? Do you like drama? Do you like adventure? If you answered yes to anyone of those things, wrestling is for you. You need to watch wrestling as an art embroiled in sport. If you can do that, you will love it. Come out to SFA01, I guarantee you I will turn you into a fan. If I convinced my wife to marry me and walk down the aisle, turning a non-fan into a fan is a piece of cake! I will put my money where my mouth is, buy your ticket, come watch the show, and if you are not entertained, if you are not a fan of what we do when you walk out of the Rembrandt Hall, I will give you your money back!

 

SFA.COM

Wow big statement. We met your wife; she is just the most adorable person we have ever met. Can’t imagine it was hard for you to convince her to marry you.

 

CORNELIUS

[Laughs out loud] Man, I love my wife. Absolutely to death. She is my world, my rock, my moral compass, my best friend in the world. But yeah, I had to practically beg her to let me take her out on a date, I actually had to trick her into it. It’s the longest trick play I ever made, because she is still stuck with me. [laughs again] I will say this, as someone responsible for everything we do, it would not have been possible without my wife, her support, devotion and passion for what my passions are is indescribable. I love her more every day, and I wouldn’t have anyone else next to me as we take this journey and put it into second gear.

 

SFA.COM

That’s just beautiful. Mr. C, thank you very much for doing this interview for us. We really value your time and appreciate that you stepped out from behind your desk to give us your insights.

 

CORNELIUS

You are welcome, thank you for having me. I do believe we are on the right track right now. Let’s now see if the fans can pull through and show the world Africa is a bigger deal in terms of wrestling than they thought.

 

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