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August 2016: PWR - A Career Comes Full Circle

When I arrived at the Saga Club on Washington Avenue in Erie, Pennsylvania about 20 minutes to 7 o’clock on a warm Saturday night in the summer of 2016, the modestly-sized parking lot was already full of pickup trucks and SUVs and there was a pleasant ambiance of hustle and bustle in front of the entrance of people glad to be out of the house, smoking cigarettes and making small talk with other regulars about the good old days of the wrestling they grew up with and what they might expect to see in the coming hours.

Once inside the front doors, there’s a sign that reads “No Outside Food or Drinks” that you pass as you get closer to the entrance to the hall. At the back of the line, people struggle to catch a glimpse of what might be going on in there, but all I can see is a heavily armed police woman, blocking the view with a grimace on her face which seems to say “Whatever you THOUGHT you were going to do to disrupt the show, forget about it. This is ‘Murica”.

As I get my ticket, I quickly realize that perhaps it would have been better to show up at 6 o’clock, when the doors had officially opened. It’s almost impossible to find a free seat anywhere. Some seats have reservations on them, others seem to be held for someone who’s wandering around the venue in search of stale-smelling popcorn or hoping for a glance of a wrestler who may momentarily emerge from the sanctuary of the locker room. The only place left to sit seems to be three chairs in the middle of a row of about 30 seats between an overweight teenage boy and a little kid with a toy WWE Championship belt, front and center, three rows deep with my back to the hard cam.

As I sit down and start to take in the atmosphere of what’s happening around me, I notice that everyone seems to be in the same state of awkward waiting, looking nervously around at the other patrons, quickly diverting their eyes, should they meet, and moving onto the next once eye contact has been made. There’s a lot of low murmuring and talking as classic rock hits from the 70’s and 80’s blare out of the speakers. Some entrance videos of the wrestlers are playing on a small flat screen TV above the stage.

All of this might sound rather normal if you are a wrestling fan. You go into the building, you pay for your ticket, you find your seat and you wait for the show to start. But for me, this was the first time in almost 16 or 17 years where I actually bought a ticket, sat down as a fan and just watched a wrestling show. I remember doing this years ago as a kid at the Erie Civic Center, watching the likes of Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and the Big Boss Man and I remember doing it as a teenager watching Mike Quackenbush, Reckless Youth, Lou Marconi and Lord Zoltan when Steel City Wrestling would come to town. Now, here I am, more than 20 years later, back in my hometown for the first time since 2007, after my 15 year in-ring career has run its course, doing the same thing.


(left) The Cleveland Maifa (J-Rocc and Phil Kinney) confront the new commissioner of PWR John McChesney (right, with crutches)

As I’m waiting for the show to start, I notice the promoter, Jamie Scott, constantly in motion, making sure all the last minute details are taken care of before that music hits and the ring announcer makes his way into the ring to welcome the crowd and I think to myself “Thank god that’s not me”. The work of an independent wrestling promoter is never done, partly due to the fact that it’s a one-man job and partly due to the fact of the old cliché, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself”. Watching an independent wrestling promoter on show day is like watching a chicken run around with its head cut off.

And although I’m glad that on that particular night it isn’t me, in the back of my mind, somewhere buried underneath memories of overdue bank payments, arguments with egotistical wrestlers and message board comments of entitled fans trashing all of our hard work, I can’t help but remember the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with knowing that you are responsible for providing the stage on which other long-lasting, vivid, life-altering childhood memories are made.


War Child gets choked with a steel chair by Phil Kinney

One thing is for sure, Pro Wrestling Rampage put on a hell of a show that night. Erie, PA is a notoriously hard wrestling crowd.  I remember once after a WCW show in the late 90’s fans waiting for an hour after the show outside the back entrance of the Civic Center for Scott Steiner to come out only to start throwing soda, beer and other objects at him and chasing his car down the street. Now, there are a group of about 4 or 5 obnoxious “smart marks” to my left, the kind of fans who want to make themselves the center of attention instead of just enjoying the show. Behind me is another heckler who’s best quote of the evening was “Come on, let’s hurry this match up. I gotta be home in an hour before my P.O. (probation officer) calls”. And to my immediate left is perhaps, the most notorious heckler in Erie Pennsylvania, Phill The Thrill, who once got thrown out of a wrestling show in Titusville for calling Doink The Clown a child molester. He also happens to be one of my best friends. I made him promise that if he was going to sit next to me at this show that he would be on his best behavior, but that didn’t stop him from heckling ring announce Paul Rivas for the duration of the evening.

Although the crowd can be brutal sometimes, it seems they only do this when they’re bored. They know who they like and they know who they don’t. If they don’t like you they will let you know it. The heckling starts coming out, they start looking at their phones and they lose interest very quickly. But if you can win them over, and make them believe, they respond in kind. That’s the beauty of professional wrestling - those people sitting in there know very well they’re only seeing “fake wrestling” and when they can see through your work, they are reminded of that and lose all interest, resorting to heckling and boredom. But professional wrestling, when done correctly, can produce an incredibly powerful outpouring of pure human emotion. There were only a few guys who were able to do that on August 13th and they were Bill Collier, Asylum, The Dead Wrestling Society and J-Rocc.

Watching the show is a mixture of thoughts, feelings, memories, emotions, ambition and reminiscence. My last match was over one year ago. Once you’ve been in that ring and experienced the adrenaline of the aforementioned crowd response, it stays with you forever. In many ways it was hard to watch the show that night. There was always a piece of me who thought “I could do it better” or “He’s doing it all wrong” or “Man, that guy has potential. If only I could give him some advice”.

After the show was over and the fans were filing out I spotted Bill Collier at the back of the arena and told him he had a good match. He said “Thanks” and started to turn away. I asked him if he remembered me and, very kindly, he said “I think so …”, as if to humor me and leave me with a good impression of himself. When I told him I was his tag team partner nearly 10 years ago at the very first PWR show in Erie, he remembered me instantly and took me to the locker room to reminisce with Lumberjack LeRoux who was also genuinely happy to see me. Later in the evening, at an undisclosed adult drinking establishment, I met up with a friend who I grew up with doing backyard wrestling, John McChesney, who I haven’t seen in person in nearly 12 years. It’s truly remarkable how two young kids having fun in their backyards could go on to two completely different careers in pro wrestling.


Backstage with Lumberjack LeRoux (left) and Bill Collier (center)


With Phill The Thrill (left) and "Big League" John McChesney (center) during intermission

My career is what it is. I knew 16 years ago when I took my first bump in Manahawkin, New Jersey that I probably wouldn’t be the next John Cena. I started out as a young kid in Erie, Pennsylvania with dreams of becoming a wrestler and started acting out my passion in backyards with high school friends. I went on to wrestle in nine different countries and share the ring with some of the heroes that I grew up watching on TV. I started Poland’s first ever wrestling promotion and my students continue to run their own promotion over there. For someone with the athletic ability and genetic disposition that I was given, I think I did as much as I probably could have, more than a lot of people ever expected me to. And although my in-ring career for all intents and purposes is over, I’m thankful I can still show up in my hometown, even after a nine year absence and find people whose lives I’ve affected.

Sometimes, like this past weekend, there’s a part of me that still thinks I can get in there and go, but there are other parts of me, like my wrists, my back and my ankles that remind me that it’s probably not a very good idea. I’m grateful that I can still be a part of the combat sports world, writing blogs like this, doing commentary for FightBox TV and hosting a weekly podcast.

If I could go back and do it all over again, would I change anything? Yeah, probably a lot of things. Regrets? I have a few. But at the end of the day I’m just a kid from Erie, PA who chased his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid) (blog) (podcast)


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