-by Dave Baldock & Brandon Hughes
The SHOOT Project is, essentially, a household name around the world. The company is known for its stiff style of wrestling, its old school storytelling, and its true sense of pride for the art of competition. Many fans, however, might not be aware of the storied history of SHOOT Project.
The SHOOT Project had originally been started by the Yakuza…the Japanese Mafia. The Yakuza loved competition, and they loved Puroresu. They also loved to gamble. Combining the two, they had hired a man by the name of Michael Krankota to operate a fight club for them…and they called this organization The SHOOT Project.
At first, SHOOT Project had been held in nightclubs, and empty warehouses. There had been no television, no pyrotechnics, no show business at all. Krankota had simply used the Yakuza’s money to hire the best Professional Wrestlers that he could find. For huge sums of money, these wrestlers would fly to Japan and fight in a tiny club or some other secret location. The crowds were never larger than a couple of hundred spectators, and they were solely made up of criminals, gamblers, prostitutes, and whoever else was on the exclusive guest list.
Eventually, rumors began to circulate about the Yakuza’s secret fight club. Gangsters, gamblers, and hardcore wrestling fans from all over the world began to scour the internet looking for information on this urban legend SHOOT Project.
A division within the Yakuza began. Some of the members of the elite crime family wanted to keep SHOOT Project private…for their own personal entertainment. Other wanted to offer the chance to attend SHOOT Project matches to other crime families and gamblers…for a large fee of course.
The greedy faction won the argument, and SHOOT Project was handed over to a man by the name of Eric Wolfson. The private fight club began to expand, and invitations were sent out to high rollers, and high ranking members of worldwide crime families. Soon, SHOOT Project became the place to be every week for anybody who wanted to see a good fight, and gamble on it.
With the expansion of the audience base, the urban legend grew. Those who were not invited to attend SHOOT Project fights were desperate to find out more about the underground organization. Eventually, the Yakuza authorized Wolfson to allow the shows to be broadcast over the internet, via a streaming webcast. Gamblers and fans around the world could watch the shows from a site, for a fee. They would receive an email the night of the show, telling them the address of the website to go to. Once they entered the password, they could watch the show, and place bets over the phone. The legend grew.
The Yakuza then made their first mistake. They hired an inept American businessman named Daniel Jones to be their “front man.” Too many people were sniffing around now, and the Japanese Mafia needed somebody to be the supposed owner of their private fight club. Unfortunately, Daniel Jones was incapable of managing the books, or the talent. Although his incompetence distracted any law enforcement from the Yakuza’s involvement, Jones seemed unable to handle even the simplest of tasks.
Enter the Johnson Family.
One of the Yakuza’s favorite fighters on the SHOOT Project payroll was “The Real Deal” Josh Johnson. When Josh Johnson saw the disaster that Daniel Jones was making of the Yakuza’s golden goose operation, he went to them with an interesting proposition.
Josh’s brother Jason had been the promoter behind the highly successful “Resistance” Pro Wrestling tour. Jason Johnson had the business know how, and the wrestling contacts to run the SHOOT Project organization. Jason would run SHOOT Project for the Yakuza, for a price.
With one condition.
Jason Johnson would be no man’s puppet. The Johnson family made their terms clear. If Jason Johnson was to be the visible owner of SHOOT Project…then he would really run it. He would book the talent, arrange the shows, and ensure that the Yakuza had the best shows to watch, and gamble on.
All the Yakuza needed to do was provide the audience, and arrange the locations. Desperate to keep the organization alive, and seeing that Jason Johnson would be able to run the fight club better than any previous owner, the Japanese Mafia agreed. Jason Johnson assumed ownership of SHOOT Project…and Daniel Jones was out.
For a while, things went very well. With Jason Johnson in control, SHOOT Project was able to hire more and more talented wrestlers to perform. The better the matches got, the more invitations were sent out, and the more money went into the pockets of the Yakuza. The reputation of the underground organization grew and grew, to the point where it was almost impossible for the existence of SHOOT Project to be kept a secret.
Jason Johnson saw the potential in taking SHOOT Project “public” and running television shows, VHS and DVD sales, and live Pay Per View broadcasts. The Yakuza disagreed. It was at this time that Jason Johnson began to suspect that the Yakuza were skimming money out of the operation, taking away from the wrestlers. Johnson became even more concerned when the Yakuza refused to send an injured wrestler for medical attention, due to their fear that the attention would bring an investigation.
Seeing that his wrestlers were being cut short, and in some cases put in physical danger, Jason Johnson put his foot down. Johnson informed the Yakuza that he was exerting control over the organization, as per the terms of his contract. The Yakuza would no longer control where the organization ran shows, and their gambling money would no longer cover the payroll. They would no longer run the lucrative concession and merchandise sales…this money would go to Jason, and to the wrestlers.
Needless to say…the Yakuza were not pleased about this decision.
To the shock of the wrestling world, Jason Johnson unveiled his organization to the world, made the SHOOT Project website public, and offered the weekly shows “Oblivion” available for free via streaming webcast. Fans from all over the world could go to the site, watch the show, purchase past shows on video, and buy merchandise.
Jason Johnson put the exclamation point on this decision by holding the first globally available Pay Per View in the history of SHOOT Project, from the Tokyo Dome of all places. An incredible 30,000 fans showed up to witness “Under Siege” on September 29, 2002.
Little did the fans know how real that name was. Irate, the Yakuza attempted to strong arm the organization back from Jason Johnson. Rumors circulate to this day that Jason Johnson actually needed to hire a private security force to do battle with Yakuza thugs. Regardless of how it happened, Jason Johnson broke free of the Yakuza, and SHOOT Project left Japan forever.
Jason Johnson soon hired a man by the name of Ed Raymond. Ed Raymond was known throughout the wrestling world for his vast knowledge of the business and his astounding charisma. He was to work directly under Jason Johnson and answer only to him, serving as creative consultant. Ed Raymond’s tenure with the SHOOT Project was, by and large, SHOOT Project’s finest stint. Several big name athletes went to work for SHOOT, and when Ed Raymond parted ways amicably with Jason Johnson and SHOOT to create and run his own promotion, it seemed like everything would go smoothly in the transition.
Shortly after Ed Raymond’s decision to depart the company, several wrestlers who had gotten fed up with their lot wanted out of their contracts. Coupled with the impending stress of running the company on his own, Jason Johnson shockingly closed the SHOOT Project down. The upset competitors soon worked with a road agent and part-time announcer Dave Dymond and soon set up their own promotion while Jason Johnson maintained close ties with Ed Raymond and his.
Within a year, rumors began to spread about the SHOOT Project’s possible return. Jason’s wrestling brother, Josh, along with his tag team partner Sean Kygon, known as OutKast, had been pressuring his brother to re-open the company. Soon after their continued attempts to coerce Jason to re-open the company, Jason Johnson did just that.
The SHOOT Project reopened its doors in January of 2005.
Though the first few months were obviously going to be difficult, Jason Johnson had retained his lust for the business, and decided that, no matter what, he would see it through. Setting up headquarters in Las Vegas, Jason Johnson managed to acquire a fantastic roster and began running shows at the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas. The new show, to go with the new SHOOT, was entitled “Revolution”.
The Yakuza, however, seemed to continue to want their own share of the newfound glory. Though the struggle was brief, with the end result being that the Yakuza would relinquish their remaining holdings in connection with The SHOOT Project, the effect was long lasting. The Yakuza had managed to buy a portion of Sean Kygon’s athletics company, AlieNation-One, and had devastated several of the SHOOT stars’ personal lives in one way or another.
However, SHOOT survived this, as it had done previously. However, Jason Johnson decided that SHOOT was strong enough to support a World Tour. SHOOT had embarked on tours across the globe previously and had garnered an international fanbase unparalleled in the sport of professional wrestling. This time, though, would be different. Jason Johnson had wanted this World Tour to be in depth, with several stops and months away from the United States of America, where almost all of the talent made their home.
The roster was severely tested in this World Tour, and morale plummeted due to being so far from home for so long. Tensions mounted and fights flared up amongst the roster, and some even left SHOOT during this time. It was during this time that Ed Raymond’s promotion, formed essentially from the ashes of SHOOT and a competitor, closed its doors. With this, SHOOT received the proverbial shot in the arm and a sudden influx of talent from Raymond’s company, coupled with the depleted morale, caused the SHOOT homecoming to be a SHOOT that was completely different from what had left the United States at the start of the tour.
The Real Deal and OutKast, by this point, had withdrawn themselves from wrestling full time from SHOOT, and Jason’s other proverbial cornerstone of the company, ‘Diamond’ Del Carver, quit the company along with several other talents, both staff and wrestlers, who all belonged to the same agency. With the characters who had come to define the SHOOT attitude and personality gone from active full-time competition, SHOOT lost a great deal of its fanbase. Soon, SHOOT, and Jason Johnson himself, were facing bankruptcy.
The weight of the World Tour, along with the nearly completely overhauled talent roster, had caused SHOOT to hemorrhage money at an alarming rate. Ticket sales plummeted. Jason managed to coerce OutKast and The Real Deal back to active competition, and the duo managed to secure the World Tag Team Championships, but it was too late for any sort of last minute surge, no matter who Jason Johnson could find to show up on Revolution. SHOOT closed down in the middle of a three show club date on the West Coast, in a place that could only fill 600 people.
Enter Arthur King. A business associate of Sean Kygon’s and longtime fan, King convinced Jason Johnson to let him give it a try in charge of The SHOOT Project. Jason Johnson agreed, on the condition that if Arthur King was incapable of leading the company at any juncture, SHOOT would be turned back over to him. King set about collecting as many people as he could that had left SHOOT prior to or during the World Tour, and hired entirely new people to the talent roster, called Soldiers. King, however, was nothing but a fan with money, hiring on his own cousin as part of his roster. He cut costs in as many places as he could, but he knew nothing of the full responsibilities with running a company, and within two weeks of King taking over, he shut all production down and turned the company back over to Jason Johnson, who had begun to regain his previous wealth.
After that, a long period of perpetual silence came over the wrestling community as Jason Johnson disappeared off the radar, as it were. He stayed out of the public eye, working to get back his money and seeing to it that he was financially secure. During this time, a promotion rose up claiming to be a direct descendent of Ed Raymond’s former promotion and was being hyped up as the possible replacement for the fans for The SHOOT Project. Several of the SHOOT Soldiers appeared there, as part of the campaign to take over SHOOT’s spot in the wrestling world.
Elsewhere, the hardcore promotion created by Dave Dymond had long since been handed over to new owners and had tried hard to alienate any vestige of SHOOT from its past, present, and future, still hired several SHOOT Soldiers who, like any soldier without a country, were searching for a war to fight. Towards the end of 2006, however, Jason Johnson returned to the spotlight ever so slowly, and it would seem that SHOOT would not be far behind him.
The process to rebuild SHOOT was a long one. Jason had decided not to fill the company with huge names and break the bank. He also decided not to fill it completely full of new faces and alienate the devoted fanbase he needed to regain in the first place. He had found a sturdy mix of talent, both old and new, and took them on. He hired back ‘Diamond’ Del Carver to an active contract, and kept The Real Deal and OutKast on hand for any promotional needs.
SHOOT Soldiers from the rival promotions began to migrate back home, though some had made their marks elsewhere and would not assist in bringing SHOOT back to its former prominence. Those that did arrive, however, worked feverishly to rebuild SHOOT. They conversed regularly with fans, and soon the reputation of the company began to grow. The fans knew the new faces by the time Jason Johnson announced SHOOT’s return to active duty, and the fanbase was beginning to thrive once again.
Back in Las Vegas, Jason Johnson’s combination of old school mentality and new school work ethic melded with a complex grassroots/viral campaign that created such hype for The SHOOT Project that, even now, the company continues to build and grow. His final decision towards his roster, The SHOOT Project Soldiers, was that every single person, from Hall of Famer to rookie, would have to earn their place in the company. This decision brought overwhelmingly positive responses back to the company, as fresh faces mingle in the main event level matches along with the longtime SHOOT homegrowns.
The SHOOT Project is one of the few, if not the only, promotion that can travel the world and truly cater to each individual. Its fans are plentiful and with a roster that is constantly as diverse as its fanbase, The SHOOT Project will continue to sell out arenas around the world and bring to their fans the type of athleticism and storytelling that one can only find here…at the SHOOT Project.