Pro wrestling is my life. When I was 4-years old, I said “When I grow up, I want to be either first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds or a pro wrestler.” When I was 14-years old, I said “When I grow up, I want to be either the singer of a heavy metal band or a pro wrestler.” Now, I’m 26, and I’ve been a professional wrestler for almost 8 years. I was a freshman in college, and used $900 of my student loan money to pay for training with independent wrestling star Shark Boy. I didn’t care how many people told me it was “fake” or how many people thought I was crazy for not “growing out of it.“ Either you get it or you don’t, and I got it. The first day of training was March 7th, 2004. When I first stepped into the office building that featured a garage equipped with a wrestling ring, it wasn’t quite WrestleMania, but it was the most magical thing I had ever laid my eyes on. This was the first step. For 3 days a week, for the next 15 weeks, that office building was my life. If I could have stayed later, I would have. If I could have gotten there earlier, I would have. After the first week of training, the soreness in my back was intense, but not bad enough to where I was going to skip training or avoid taking another bump. I loved every second of it.
After being in the wrestling business for 8 years, I’ve learned a few things. Mainly, I’ve learned that this is not a glamorous business. I still love it as much as I ever did, but for different reasons. I definitely look at it in a much different light than I did in 2004. There are a lot of things that you don’t learn about the business until you become a part of it. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:
EVERYBODY THINKS THEY’RE BETTER THAN THEY ARE
Nobody gets into the wrestling business and says “My dream is to wrestle at the (insert county name) County Fair.” Everyone that gets into wrestling has ambitions of making it big. That’s the way it should be, otherwise, why even try? I had those ambitions when I first started, and 8 years later, I still have those ambitions. Sometimes, you’ll come across a guy and see something special, and other times you’ll come across a guy who you know is never going anywhere, and yet, both of those guys have the same dream. This causes a bit of a problem.
Everyone on the independent wrestling circuit thinks they deserve to be somewhere that they’re not. I’m guilty of this as well, although I do think I have the tools necessary to make it somewhere, someday. But I can’t count the amount of indy wrestlers I’ve come across in locker rooms all over the country that say “If I were just given a chance, I could be the next huge superstar.” The word in that sentence that bugs me the most is “given.” Professional wrestling is a cutthroat business, full of snakes and vultures. You’re not given anything, you have to take the things you want. Unless you’re an established name, bookings aren’t going to find you. The people looking for talent for the big companies aren’t going to do a YouTube search for you. You have to be annoying if you want to get noticed. Send your tapes to everyone, send them multiple times, so many times that they’ll give you a look just to get you to shut up. If you’re truly as good as you think you are, you’ll get noticed. Talent is talent, no matter who you are and no matter who is watching. If you’re good, people will recognize it.
Of course…there are exceptions.
THIS SHIT HURTS!!!
There have been countless articles written about how pro wrestlers are constantly working while hurt, so this is nothing you haven’t already heard before. One common misconception about pro wrestling is that the ring is like a trampoline, or that it’s not “real blood.” For anyone that hasn’t seen a wrestling ring being put together, I’ll keep it simple: there’s a lot of steel, a lot of wood, and a little bit of thin padding. It’s basically like falling on a concrete floor that has a little bit of give to it.
I’ve seen some pretty horrific injuries in every sport, but they don’t compare to pro wrestling injuries. Don’t believe me? Would you like me to show you the Sid Vicious leg break video? Because I will. Or the countless number of guys dropping directly on their head? Because I will. The amazing thing about it all is that very rarely does an injury cause the match to stop. Guys have had to finish matches with concussions, and later admit that they have no knowledge of the match ever taking place. I have first-hand experience with this (I’m still sorry, Tony). It’s a very scary thing. And every wrestler is familiar with Triple H wrestling for several minutes with a completely torn quadriceps muscle. Regardless of how you feel about Triple H, that man has bulldozers in his nutsack. You’ll never see a football player play a game with a torn quadriceps, and you’ll never hear about a pro wrestler missing a match because of turf toe.
But that’s the business. The show must always go on unless it absolutely can’t. If you can get out of bed in the morning, you’re going to the ring that night.
IT TRULY IS A “LABOR OF LOVE”
So why do it if it hurts so much? Three words: We love it. Not only is it a very painful business, it’s also not a lucrative one. There is no money on the independent level of professional wrestling, at least not a substantial amount. You’re not going to be able to support yourself (and a family) unless you’re with one of the major companies in the world. Most independent companies in the country barely break even after a particular show. I’ve also got personal experience on this end. I’ve run a couple memorial/charity shows for a friend of mine who passed away. After paying myself back for all the expenses I put into the show, we were only able to donate $200, luckily the majority of the boys on the show worked for free out of the kindness of their hearts, otherwise there would have been $0 donated, and I would have lost money instead of breaking even. This is why I never complain unless the booker promises me a certain amount that they don’t live up to. But I’m also past the point of working for free (with one exception). Instead, every match is an opportunity to hone your craft and to improve. You’re not going to become a better writer unless you write, you're not going to be a better golfer unless you golf, and you’re not going to become a better wrestler unless you wrestle.
Pro wrestling is a business full of people very passionate about something. When I first started out, I would routinely make trips that ended with me losing money. I once made a trip with 6 of my friends. This trip was from Dayton, Ohio to Toronto, Canada, a 10-hour drive. I wrestled in one of the bigger matches on the card against a well-known and well-respected wrestler. His pay? Probably a few hundred dollars. My pay? A t-shirt. And we loved the experience so much that we did it again two weeks later for $10 each. I don’t do stuff like that anymore, but would I do it again if I were just starting out? You bet your ass. In addition to being a labor of love, this is also a business of sacrifices. Read any book written by a pro wrestler and you’ll understand. Driving hundreds of miles, sleeping in a car with no heat, surviving on nothing more than raw potatoes. That’s dedication, son. On our Toronto trip, we crammed 7 guys in one hotel room, 4 of us slept in the beds, 2 on the floor, and an Asian sleeping under a table. That was an interesting trip, and one of the best times I’ve ever had in my life.
Besides the military, you will never come across a more tightly-knit group of people than professional wrestlers. There’s a reason we refer to each other as “brothers,” it’s because we are. Every night you go out to the ring, you have your opponent’s life in your hands, and yours is in theirs. Injuries happen frequently, and unfortunately, death is also a possibility. It’s not something that happens a lot, at least not in the ring, but it has happened. Do you have any idea how much you have to trust someone in order to put your life in their hands? You have to trust them like they were your brother, your own flesh and blood. Which is why 99% of the people in the world that I trust are in the wrestling business, because I know they would put their own safety at risk before they would mine. I may not be good friends with everyone I get in the ring with, hell, I may even hate them, but I still have complete faith in them.
Professional wrestling has given me some of the best friends I will ever have, people that I wouldn’t hesitate to take a bullet for or donate an organ to. Wrestling friendships are similar to marriage in the sense that you endure hardships together, and no matter how black the sky gets, you never turn your back on one another. If you go out after a show with some of the boys, and someone tries to start shit with one of them, every wrestler at the scene is going to make them pay for it. It’s the code of brotherhood. Regardless of how tight you are with a certain guy, if he’s in the business, he’s in the business, and that takes precedent over personal feelings.
A lot of things get my adrenaline pumping: when the lights go out at a heavy metal concert, hitting the gym, the moments before getting laid, etc. But there is nothing…NOTHING…that compares to the rush you get from stepping through the curtain to an amazing crowd. Being a heel (bad guy) and getting a wave of boos rushing at you from ever corner of the building is a feeling I can’t describe. You know those commercials for 5 gum, where they talk about stimulating your senses? It’s like that, only more intense. Sometimes, it’s an emotional thing. I’ve wrestled on many memorial shows for friends of mine that I’ve lost, and every time I go out to the ring for one of those matches, I know I’m going to come close to tears.
The rush of professional wrestling can give you chills. And sometimes, the rush doesn’t wear off for several hours. If I go out to the ring, and put on a 5-star match, where everything goes off without a hitch, the crowd is into it, and you get the desired reactions and outcomes, the adrenaline doesn’t wear off until I have some time alone to calm down. It makes you feel invincible. It makes you feel like you could pick cars up over your head (note: don’t try that).
When you step through the ropes, nothing else matters. All of life’s problems disappear. Just got released from your job? Don’t know how you’re going to pay your electric bill? Your woman just left you so she can marry her boss? None of that matters when you get in the ring. Once the match is over, you still have the same problems you had before, but for that period of time, from start bell to end bell, you’re completely oblivious to all of life’s woes, and it’s a beautiful feeling.
When I was still in training with Shark Boy, I took a pen and a piece of notebook paper and wrote down a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I retired from wrestling. I don’t have that list anymore, but I can still remember a lot of things I wrote down. I remember the list having 3 tiers. I started off small, things like: “Main event a wrestling show,” “Win a title,” and “Win a company’s heavyweight title.” The second tier included bigger goals like “Wrestle outside of the United States,” “Wrestle in Japan,” and “Wrestle in a dark match for WWE.” Finally, the third tier were goals that very few ever achieve: “Sign WWE contract,” “Compete at WrestleMania,” and the last goal on the list was “Main event WrestleMania.”
Will those tier 3 goals every come to fruition? The odds are against me, but then again, the odds are against every wrestler that ever laces up a pair of boots. I’ve been blessed with some advantages that most guys weren’t. Even being a chubby kid basically my entire life up until about a year ago, I was always a pretty decent athlete. I’m tall, which is great for wrestling. And now, after a year of very hard work, I have a pretty good body, and I feel some pride when I say that I was able to do it 100% naturally, protein shakes notwithstanding.
I’ve also been blessed to have friends and family that believe in me. I’ve had my moments where I thought “What’s the point of trying anymore? Why would one of the big companies want me? I’m nothing special.” But then I have close friends, both in the business and out, that either truly believe in me or are just blowing smoke up my ass and say things like “You see this Dustin guy right here? He’s the next guy from Cincinnati that’s gonna make it.” Probably the best compliment I’ve ever received (thanks for that one, Ed).
Despite being 8 years older than I was when I first started wrestling, I still have the dream. I still want to be traveling the country. I still want to be able to wrestle every night, and make good money doing it. I’ve had other dreams in my life, but professional wrestling is the one that never came and went, it was always constant. Will I ever reach this dream? Who knows? All I know is that I’ve spent the last 8 years trying, and I’ve enjoyed the ride so far, so why not keep trying? I would like to say that, yes, I definitely will, and while I do feel like I’m capable of doing so, this professional wrestling business is an odd one. A lot of times, people who deserve to make it, people who actually are as good as they think they are, are just never given the opportunity because of this reason or that. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the business. But in spite of that, it’s a dream worth dreaming.