Despite being arguably the most influential professional wrestling podcaster on the planet, Conrad Thompson doesn’t want to be in the spotlight.
Thompson, the 38-year-old mortgage broker from Huntsville, Alabama, hosts four weekly shows with some of the biggest names in the industry. His podcasts with Eric Bischoff, Bruce Pritchard, Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone are all among the most popular in the category and all take a deep dive into the history of sports entertainment.
Thompson recognizes his success — you’d have to be blind not to — but don’t make the mistake of calling him a wrestling celebrity.
“I’m just a fan and I know that people get annoyed when I say that, but I’m talking to you from a mortgage office today,” Thompson told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t ever try and put myself out front, I try and showcase the talent that I’m tagging up with during live events and podcasts. I take that real seriously, I try to be the Scottie Pippen to their [Michael] Jordan. I have not yet really let all of this sink in about how much has changed and what we’ve all accomplished in such a short period of time. It’s been a lot of fun, that’s for sure.”
In addition to his various podcasts, Thompson is also the mastermind behind the Starrcast convention. Initially conceived when Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) decided to host “All In” in August 2018, Thompson’s event has become almost as big a phenomenon as the shows it is most closely associated with.
The endeavor proved to be a learning experience for the lifelong wrestling fan.
“I was doing my best to figure it out as I went along,” Thompson said. “There were a lot of things that you just don’t plan for ahead of time because you just don’t know any better. I spent a lot of time focusing on things that I thought were very, very important that turned out not to be that important and overlooked some things that were critically important. I did my best and I think when all was said and done we got overwhelmingly positive reviews and a lot of people said it was the best wrestling convention ever.”
Fast forward a year and Thompson has applied what he learned to host Starrcast II this past May in Las Vegas and plan Starrcast III. Despite hosting three conventions in the same calendar year — two of which will be taking place in the same city and venue — Thompson has managed to keep fans clamoring for more.
“We still had an outstanding showing and so many cool things at Starrcast II that it felt like ‘Man, I’ve done it again’ to the point where I couldn’t really top it and make Starrcast III bigger,” Thompson said. “I decided I couldn’t, I had to make it different. We decided to load up on as much [All Elite Wrestling] as we could, so this is very much an AEW-centric convention. When I started to look at legends and ask who could we have that I haven’t already had, it was a relatively short list. Mick Foley was at the top of it. I’m thrilled to have him.”
With two successful shows under his belt, Thompson’s pitch process had evolved and his reputation as a promoter spoke for itself in many cases, making landing someone as high-profile as Foley less of a monumental task.
“For the first event in Chicago, I had to do a bit of a sales pitch and an introduction,” Thompson said. “For the second one, that required a little less and a lot of wrestlers approached me who couldn’t make time or weren’t available for the first one.
“Any time that I didn’t know someone and I was making a pitch, I had the first one under my belt. I could use that almost as a resume. The pitches got easier, the boys got more receptive because I was less of an unknown and more of a proven entity.
“It must not have been that bad because that word gets around. When independent promoter No. 417 decides he wants to screw around with the pay, it’s the old telephone, telegram, tell-a-wrestler, as Bruce Pritchard would say. That word travels very quickly.”
While Foley is arguably the biggest draw a Starrcast show has had thus far, Thompson knew he needed to go for broke for the third installment. As the list of stars past and present seemingly dried up, Thompson decided there was one name he needed and threw his Hail Mary.
“I knew I wanted [CM] Punk,” Thompson said. “I knew I needed something special, something different, something unique. CM Punk checked all of those boxes.”
Punk, who walked away from professional wrestling in 2014 and has since pursued a career in MMA, is one of the industry’s most beloved figures. Even with the convenience of Starrcast III returning to Chicago — Punk’s hometown — a significant hurdle presented itself for Thompson.
“It was something that I started working on and I didn’t know we’d be really successful in putting together,” Thompson said. “I don’t really know CM Punk. We’ve never really had a conversation so I didn’t really know how to make the approach. I asked around, got his email address, made a presentation and a week or two later we went back and forth and it was very apparent that we weren’t going to be able to make a deal.
“So then, me being me, ever the salesman, I re-approached him a month later and tried again to no avail. I tried again and then we started to get a little bit of a conversation going and fast forward a few weeks and a deal came together very quickly. I thought it was dead and wasn’t happening and then we managed to make a deal and iron out the details in just a few hours.”
Nailing down Punk turned out to be a key point in the re-invention of the event.
Much like he does when engineering a topic for one of his various shows, Thompson has tinkered with the format for Starrcast since its inception. After starting out as a way to fill the entertainment hole in the wrestling convention circuit, Starrcast III — by design — will be the first time the man who came up with the concept itself is not featured on stage.
“I wanted to bring what Bruce [Pritchard] and I were doing on the road to Starrcast,” Thompson said. “What we’ve tried to do each time is a different set of shows. In an effort to do that you start to run out of ideas. I don’t have a single thing on stage at Starrcast III because of that. It’s a little weird because that was the original idea, but in the interest of keeping is fresh and different, we just scrapped it. By doing that, you push yourself and you get a sit-down with Jon Moxley, a sit-down with Cody, you get CM Punk with a live microphone, Mick Foley on stage. We’re excited to do it now.”
Although All Elite Wrestling — the promotion Starrcast has been most closely affiliated with — has yet to announce further pay-per-view events, the convention’s future is murky simply because Thompson has a promoter’s equivalent of writer’s block.
“I think at this point we’ve had everybody,” Thompson admitted. “I don’t really know what else there is to do, which is why if I’m honest there isn’t a Starrcast IV already on the books. There are opportunities to do it, but I’m not sure what it would even be.”
Of course Thompson, along with any other tried and true professional wrestling fan, knows you can never say never in the industry.
“That doesn’t mean that there won’t be one.”
Starrcast III is taking place from Thursday August 29 through Sunday September 1 at the Hyatt Regency in Schaumburg, Ill. The event will also be streamed live on FITE TV.