You wouldn’t always know it by listening to or reading wrestling sites like this one, but there’s more to booking than brainstorming money-making ideas for wrestlers.
Saturday, Dec. 30 CWF Mid-Atlantic ran their 18th annual “Battlecade” show in front of an energized, turnaway crowd at the CWF Sportatorium in Gibsonville, N.C. The show ended with play-by-play face of the company Brad Stutts getting knocked out by long-time bad-guy manager Coach Gemini (Jeff Rudd) when Stutts left the announce booth to unsuccessfully try to save Trevor Lee from a beatdown by Coach’s All-Stars bully brigade.
It was another good night for Stutts’s growing creative reputation. Partly due to his ironic role as the Scribe mime character in TNA in support of Broken Matt Hardy, Stutts was on the radar of the big wrestling companies, and of many ardent wrestling fans.
A week later, Jan. 6, CWF Mid-Atlantic ran their regular “Rising Generation League” show in front of a crowd in the CWF Sportatorium in Gibsonville, N.C. The night ended – and this is no storyline – with CWF co-owner Jeff Rudd confronting and firing longtime CWF booker Brad Stutts over what the company termed “inappropriate behavior” related to his business and personal relationship with Charlie Hartman (Charlie Armstrong) and his company Gimmick Tree Entertainment. It was a shocking ending to Stutts’s 15 years in the company.
Gimmick Tree Entertainment appeared on the local indy wrestling/nostalgia show scene a few years ago and Stutts soon was working for them, helping book shows and legend photo opportunities. Gimmick Tree featured expensive stars such as Sting, Tommy Dreamer, Kurt Angle, Micheal Elgin, and Abyss, and plenty of the best local talent, both male and female.
Brad Stutts not only worked for the CWF, he picked up piece-meal work from other wrestling companies around the area on weekend off-dates. More and more often though, he was working for Hartman. They began traveling around the country on wrestling trips, like the trek they took to New Orleans to buy the first WrestleMania tickets on-site. What else they were doing – partying (and such) at low-end strip clubs – would become an issue in Stutts’s firing.
It’s not unusual for promoters and wrestling companies to appear seemingly out of nowhere, like Hartman and Gimmick Tree did. A wrestling fan gets a family inheritance, or a successful businessman wants to invest his money in something fun, or a starry-eyed fool over-extends his family financial resources. They all want to be friends with famous wrestlers. It usually ends badly.
When I attended my first Modern Vintage Wrestling show in Gibsonville several months ago it was like being at another CWF show. Trevor Lee was in the main event and Stutts was on play-by-play. The difference was there were fewer fans and both Tommy Dreamer and Michael Elgin were flown in for the show. Even with another show that weekend in Fayetteville helping to lower travel expenses, the show didn’t make financial sense to me.
That’s hardly unusual in the wrestling business, and I didn’t think much of it. Gimmick Tree would either sustain itself financially at some point, or go out of business, just like hundreds of wrestling companies before it. I’ve written cautionary columns about these types of promotions over the years and, with Stutts involved, this one seemed more well-run than a lot of them. Charlie Hartman seemed like the kind of guy you would meet at a Ring of Honor house show.
It turns out, though, there was more to Hartman than most money-mark promoters.
Hartman, 38, has been in and out of jail since he was 19 years old, on charges like fraud, burglary, assault, organized fraud, identity theft, and outstanding warrants. He was once sentenced to seven years in jail (and served four). Gibsonville, N.C. is a small town in conservative Alamance County. CWF owners Jeff Rudd and Danny Wenkel were suspicious of Hartman, and of both Stutts’s inconsistent claims about his work with Gimmick Tree and the decline in his CWF work.
CWF is a small business. Stutts wasn’t making much money, and Hartman had plenty of cash. In fact, he paid for everything on their wrestling road trips with cash or pre-paid money cards.
Stutts turned up for one night’s show with a booking sheet he finished at 4 a.m. that morning. That precipitated Rudd and other CWF creative team members to have to write a completely different show before Stutts arrived. There were bad feelings about that.
Gimmick Tree was starting to book more shows in the area, including one on Jan. 20 with Dreamer and Ricky Steamboat. Stutts told Rudd these dates would help CWF too, but Rudd and Wenkel were understandably skeptical.
Then there was Stutts’s “inappropriate behavior” with a CWF employee. Anyone who has hung around with the guy knows the phrase, “Just Brad being Brad” and his wife Katie’s sly smile. He’s big personality guy, and he loves women. His proposing that a CWF employee engage in sexual activity for money – something she turned down and something Stutts has subsequently admitted, if hazy on details – was another thing entirely. CWF folks, like many independent wrestling troupes, are closely knit, both professionally and socially, and it didn’t take long for word to spread.
Rumors circulated throughout the CWF community, partly driven by Stutts’s foolish action, that Armstrong generated all that cash he had from the infamous Women Seeking Men section of Backpage.com, and that he and Stutts were also recruiting in those dive strip clubs. Stutts says he never saw Hartman engage in anything like this, but at the very least – and, again, Stutts has admitted this – he was blinded by the money and women Hartman had around him.
CWF owners understandably were concerned that Stutts, at the very least turning a blind eye to Hartman’s business practice, were putting them and their company’s reputation at severe risk. That Hartman might be laundering money for illegal activities through his wrestling companies, and that local police might be very well aware of Hartman’s criminal record or potential activities was an obvious concern among those I’ve talked to for this story. Hartman has never been charged with anything locally, but rumors were everywhere.
In the most severe scenario, the local headlines would read “Local Wrestling company personality charged.” Rudd and Wenkel, not to mention everyone else associated with the company, many who grew up in Alamance County, would be painted with the same suspicions.
When CWF obtained a copy of Hartman’s criminal record, they were shocked at what they found – a rap sheet 57 pages long. The reality of the extensive charges outstripped the rumors. They felt that Stutts had let a criminal into their locker room.
Rudd wasn’t the only one furious with Stutts. Trevor Lee lit into him that Saturday night, saying that he had put a company he and a lot of people had built for eighteen years at risk. Lee has built a big match championship resume with CWF and he didn’t do it just for his home promoteon to be stained with this, or even shut down. There were a lot of shocked, heartbroken CWF associates that night, and some relieved ones.
The CWF wrestlers who were booked on the Jan. 20 Modern Vintage Wrestling local show dropped out of it, almost to a man, and the show was cancelled.
CWF will be fine. Trevor Lee, who Stutts has said has a genius for putting together matches, booked his own main event program the last two years and is expected to continue to do so. Arick Royal, Chet Sterling, Roy Wilkins, Snooty Foxx, Ethan Sharpe, Cain Justice, Aaron Biggs, Ric Converse, Arik Andrews, CL Party, and The Dawson Brothers comprise a strong talent base who are over with the local CWF fans.
Cecil Miller is ready to takeover play-by-play on the weekly CWF Worldwide YouTube show.
Brad Stutts, who felt Saturday night he was being railroaded out of the company to which he devoted so much talent and energy, had what he calls “a moment of clarity” Sunday about the type of person he wants to be, and how much he has lost his way. He knows that CWF did the right thing firing him, and he has severed his own ties with Charlie Hartman and Gimmick Tree Entertainment.
For the first time in his adult life, Stutts has decided to step away from pro wrestling and devote himself to his marriage, his family, and his friends, and to explore life outside his bubble. He wants to be the man his parents raised him to be. He’s decided to be accountable for what he did and he is remorseful about it. He’s talking the talk.
Now it’s time for him to walk the walk.