It’s amusing to me that in this day and age when geeks are accepted in the mainstream, when comic-book movies rule the box office, when television is riddled with science fiction and superhero-based shows, and when novels by fantasy writers frequently hit the New York Times bestseller lists, there is one word that is still whispered about in fandoms. That word is wrestling.
Professional wrestling has been around far longer than you or me, but many consider it a lesser form of entertainment. When most people get into wrestling it’s as kids, and as adults some look on it as something to be forgotten. I think as adult fans we need to not be ashamed of enjoying this art form. It tells a story, largely through physicality of good versus bad. We’re encouraged to interact with the performers, to cheer when an athlete connects a fun combination of moves, or puts their bodies on the line to entertain the crowd. Is it an art form for everyone? No, just like all art, the enjoyment is entirely subjective.
But fans should not be afraid to talk about their enjoyment. I’ve run into it with my friends, as I’m sure most have, when I start to talk about what I enjoy about it, and they roll their eyes thinking it’s beneath them. It’s not. It might not be for them, but it’s not beneath anyone. So let’s talk about it. (I’ll step down from my soapbox now.)
All that preamble is to let you know I recently had a chance to attend a local independent wrestling event. Most of us think that World Wrestling Entertainment (the WWE) is the only outlet for professional wrestling—that it’s the choice between that and the horrible backyard videos of kids injuring themselves. Nope. There’s another level: a thriving professional independent scene, and part of that scene can be found right here in the Twin Cities. As an analogy, picture the WWE as a nationally touring production of your favorite Broadway show. Then picture the local independent wrestling scene as the Guthrie, local talent producing high-entertainment shows. Before I attended my first ever indie event, I had a chance to talk with one of the wrestlers who is living his passion as much as he can. I talked with Chris Jordan over the phone for a good hour, and it was a delight to hear about something I’ve enjoyed with someone who’s taken his fair share of bumps to entertain.
Garrick Dietze (TCG): Hi Chris, thanks for chatting with me.
Chris Jordan: No problem.
TCG: Tell me a little bit about your role in Minnesota Independent Wrestling (MIW).
Chris: Well, there’s a handful of wrestling organizations in the metro area. I’ve been with these guys for 15 years, and aside from being one of the wrestlers, I also put the matches together for them.
Terry Fox runs MIW—he’s the promoter. And he’s been running it for 20 years in some shape or form. Austin Aries and Shawn Daivari both went through his camp when they were breaking in. He’s had Chad Gable and Daivari wrestle in his shows, so there’s been some good talent coming through. Erik Rowan has wrestled for him, as well. Those are all current or former WWE guys who have come through there. Austin Aries actually helped train guys at Terry’s wrestling school about five to six years ago.
TCG: So Terry has a local wrestling school for people who are interested and want to learn the ropes?
Chris: He has had a wrestling school off and on for most of those 20 years. He currently doesn’t. Right now Ken Anderson and Shawn Daivari have a wrestling school in Brooklyn Park. And it’s a really nice facility, so if anyone asks Terry or myself about wrestling, we send them that way. It’s called the Academy. So they just opened that, and really PrimeTime Wrestling, which was run by Greg McDonald, he had a school in Minneapolis, and once Shawn and Ken opened their school he sent all his guys over there, too. So right now, to learn how to become a professional wrestler, that’s where you’d want to go.
TCG: What’s your character like?
Chris: Typically I’m a fan favorite. A babyface. I am athletic. My whole deal is that I’m athletic and I like to never give up. Keep-pushing-forward guy.
TCG: Which are always good traits to have.
Chris: Good traits to have. Connect with that audience. I’m that babyface that can go out there and get the crowd behind me, which on this level you really need to have that. My match structures, the style of my matches, I try to be athletic with some harder-hitting physicality.
TCG: How did you get into wrestling? Is it something you always wanted to do?
Chris: I grew up on it and was a fan from as long back as I can remember. Do you know Lenny Lane? Lenny Lane was on WCW when I was in high school and college. And I was a big fan of his. I thought he was really cool for an undercard guy. I knew he was from Minneapolis. And he actually, as far as I know, as far as I remember back then, in 2002 the Internet wasn’t what it is today. It was a thing, but it wasn’t as prevalent. There wasn’t social media. It was still in its infancy. He was one of the first wrestlers that I remember that had his own website. Outside of just like the WCW page. He had LennyLane.com, and you could e-mail him. So I was going to school in Eau Claire and knew I was going to move out here to the Twin Cities, so I e-mailed him and asked him about getting into wrestling and he sent me some contact information for a guy named Eddie Sharkey, who was a long time WWE referee and was a wrestler for the territories before that, and he was running a wrestling school in St. Louis Park with Terry Fox—that’s how I met Terry. He and Eddie Sharkey were running the school together. So I reached out to Eddie, got invited out there, went and took a look at what they were doing and then it was perfect timing because I graduated college in May, my wife had another semester, my fiancée at the time, wife now, she had another semester. She went back to Eau Claire in August and I lived over here, so that’s when I started going to wrestling school, in August of 2002. It was perfect. I’d work all day and then have nothing going on in the evening, so I’d go and learn how to be a wrestler.
TCG: And then wake up sore and bruised the next morning?
Chris: Oh god, yeah! It was brutal.
TCG: Was there a certain match when you were growing up that you were like, this match was incredible I want to be able to do that when I get older?
Chris: The match that had me go from just being a fan to being, “Oh man, I got to do this,” was Shawn Michaels and Undertaker, Hell in a Cell, from October 1997.
TCG: Which was just a slobberknocker of a match, if I remember.
Chris: Well, Shawn Michaels got . . . it was the first Hell in a Cell, so it set some standards and they didn’t have to follow any other Hell in a Cell [events], but the match itself was phenomenal. Shawn bled like crazy. It was a great, great match. Shawn Michaels is up on the cage and gets dropped off it, and he’s just a bloody mess all over the place. Copious amounts of blood.
TCG: That’s the one were you said, “I’ve gotta learn how to do that”?
Chris: Yeah! The reaction that they had from the start. The reaction they had from the audience was unbelievable. Those people hated Shawn Michaels. Literally wanted to see him get killed. It was such an atmosphere. It was awesome.
TCG: So you wrestle for a couple different organizations currently?
Chris: Yeah. Right now I wrestle almost exclusively for MIW, since that’s what my schedule allows. But I do wrestle, when I can, for PTW. I have wrestled for every other promotions in the metro area.
We’ve got three events coming up in February. The one on the 11th I promote and put the whole event together. It’s an event at my church where we wrestle in the fellowship hall. That money all gets raised for our youth ministry for their summer mission trips. We’ve been doing it for nine years now; it’s part of the church’s fundraising events for the year.
[We have an event February 18] at the American Legion in Chanhassen, and then the 25th at the Murzyn Hall in Columbia Heights, and that’s gonna be our MIW rumble. Fifteen men, staggered entry, over-the-top battle royale.
TCG: A lot of people are only familiar with wrestling in the WWE standards. What makes independent wrestling fun and unique and worth checking out?
Chris: If you like wrestling that is on TV, you’ll like it. It’s familiar in that same style, you know what you’re getting into. Some of the uniqueness is that you get to know the wrestlers more closely. Obviously they’re going to be smaller venues; we’re not wrestling at Target Center or Xcel [Energy Center], we’re wrestling at [American] Legion Halls, Knights of Columbus halls. Buildings like that where you’re going to get between 200 and 600 people versus 12,000. It’s a much closer setting. The wrestlers are more accessible. At intermissions, between matches three and four, or four and five, the wrestlers are out selling their shirts and taking pictures, so you get to get right up and talk to the them and take your picture with them. That’s the biggest difference. Just the accessibility. The wrestling’s really good. The moves, the match psychology, the in-ring product is really good at an independent show.
TCG: Do you guys have continuing feuds? How does that work for a newbie coming in cold, not knowing any of the wrestlers?
Chris: Some of the action continues from event to event, but it doesn’t have the intricacies of television. The whole story can be told in a night—you can drop in and figure out pretty easily who’s who and who’s doing what, enjoy the show, and determine if you want to come back for the next one. We have fans that show up, as you can imagine, to every single event, follow us from town to town. We have fans that come twice a year. You’re not gonna come in and not know what’s going on. It’s pretty easy to catch up—there aren’t 10 different things going on. There are usually two or three story lines or feuds that we continue over the next show. We do a pretty solid job of catching you up right off the bat with what’s going on.
TCG: So it’s pretty easy to jump right in with who you want to root for and who you want to boo.
Chris: Exactly! That’s part of the job of the wrestlers themselves to get you to lean one way or another in your reaction towards them. I get that a lot from people who are like, “Hey, I’m going to come to a show. We’ve never been to a local wrestling show before. Who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy?” It’s pretty easy to figure out. The wrestlers will direct you the way they want you to go.
TCG: Which is the sign of a good wrestler, right? You know whether they’re living by a good code or bad code.
Chris: Exactly! You’ll know from the time they come out to the time the first bell rings you’ll know who you’re cheering for and who you’re booing.
TCG: How many events do you wrestle a year?
Chris: I try to keep it to less than 20. Between 12 and 18 is ideal, once a month or three times in two months. That’s a good pace for me.
You can wrestle more—my priorities have changed. When I first got into wrestling, I thought, “This is what I want to do,” and that my goal was WWE. I have two kids, and after I had them I don’t want to be on the road. When I go to bed at night I want to tuck them in, and when I get up in the morning I want my kids to be there. I don’t want a job where I’m on the road four or five days a week, so I stopped pursuing that as a a goal. And then going that step further, I really stopped pursuing traveling for wrestling. I really don’t leave the Minneapolis area. I really only take bookings within maybe an hour from Minneapolis. I go into western Wisconsin or northern Minnesota, or down by Faribault. There’s plenty of wrestling to be had if you want to travel—there are guys based out of here that wrestle all over the country. They probably wrestle at least 50 times a year. If they’re going somewhere on a Saturday they’ll try and stack a Friday nearby. You could do this as an independent wrestler 100 times a year if you’re really working at it. That’s just not where I am.
TCG: What’s your training regimen like?
Chris: I lift weights every day. . . . I put a lot of time in to working out and staying in shape. I have a three-stall garage, and I’ve turned the third stall into my weights [area]. So the third stall is all just the rack, barbells, dumbbells, the whole deal. My wife wanted to get a rower, so we got a rower a couple weeks ago. She does that every day and I do that twice a week.
TCG: Those rowers get your cardio in.
Chris: Oh, they’re awesome. I wish we’d done it years ago.
TCG: With the territories disappearing in the ’80s and WWF snatching up talent and morphing into the big WWE it is now, how do people find out about all the independent wrestling organizations?
Chris: There’s not a lot of independent groups that have [matches shown on] television, so it is a lot of word of mouth. Social media has helped a ton with promoting. The events that MIW does, we’re partnering, we’re not renting a space in a place and trying to do it on our own. We partner. When we wrestle at the American Legion, they’re our partner on that event. So they do a lot of promoting locally. To their customers and people that are friendly to their business, as well as us promoting. It helps to have those additional voices. When we wrestle in Columbia Heights, we partner with the Lions Club. They’ve got a lot of connections. There’s no one real short easy way to do it. You’ve got to do online, you’ve got to do a lot of social media. You’ve got to have all the wrestlers engaging people, then you’ve got to try and get in front of people who wouldn’t normally see it.
TCG: There’s so much out there that people don’t necessarily know that it’s out there.
Chris: Yeah. That’s the thing. People don’t know it’s out there. There’s also bad independent wrestling. That’s one of the pitfalls. If you go see a bad independent wrestling show you think that’s what independent wrestling is, so you’ve been soured on the whole idea of it. Without knowing that that’s just a bad group and there’s really good wrestling out there. It’s like everything. Entertainment’s so fragmented and niche right now. Getting in front of people. You gravitate to what you want to find, so if you look for it, it’s really easy to find. All the wrestlers are on Facebook and Twitter, so it’s really easy to keep up with where guys are once you get into that circle, but you’re right, initially, if you don’t know anything about it and you’re just watching WWE, but you like wrestling and would like to see more. Nobody’s advertising on RAW or wwe.com. It would be too expensive. If your building max. holds 400 people, it really limits your advertising budget.
TCG: Is it good entertainment for the entire family?
Chris: MIW gears for the whole family. It’s good, hard-hitting action. Outside of our one event at the church, we sell beer, so you can drink. We get a range of a couple dudes in their 20s having a drink and yelling at the wrestlers, to families, to bachelorette parties. You get a whole range of people showing up to have a good time. You’re going to be able to get reasonably priced beers, food if you want, and you’re going to get two to two and a half hours of live entertainment.
For the price of a ticket, these guys are working their butts off for ya. They’re giving you everything you’re getting on TV. The entertainment value and the effort value for the ticket price is hard to top.
TCG: Do you record your shows and throw them up online?
Chris: Some places do that. MIW has not. Every once in a while we’ll get a show recorded, or some matches put up on YouTube, but it’s usually just one fixed hard cam. It doesn’t make for the most gorgeous production. It’s not something they’ve invested in. Other groups do a good job doing that, or putting them together for DVD sales. That’s not an avenue that MIW has gone after.
TCG: You have different-sized wrestlers—big guys, smaller guys. What about women wrestlers?
Chris: We don’t have women wrestlers. There was a period when I was breaking in where we had some women wrestlers locally; there just really aren’t any locally right now, or not enough for a division. I know there are some women training at the Academy with Shawn Daivari and Ken Anderson, so maybe that scene will pick up in the next year or so.
TCG: I think we’ve seen a boom for that lately, especially with WWE, to give more women a chance.
Chris: A lot of local wrestling, here and across the country, that’s what women have been doing the last 15 years is that style that the women in WWE are doing now. I think that the women’s movement in WWE, taking women seriously in wrestling, my hunch is it has more to do with Ronda Rousey more than anything else. A serious, ass-kicking woman athlete can sell. For UFC she’s one of their three biggest pay-per-view movers in the last couple of years, so I think WWE finally saw what could be done with that type of athlete. I think if Rousey hadn’t been as successful at the box office, the WWE women’s revolution might not have happened the way it did, or at all. Just my hunch.
TCG: Girls who are seeing that on television now can get excited and say, “Hey, look at these women doing this. I can do that. I want to do that.” Similar to when you saw Shawn Michaels and Undertaker.
Chris: I think it’s a good thing. I think it brings in a female audience, not even women that want to be wrestlers, just women who didn’t care for the more supermodel type, and can more enjoy Sasha Banks or Becky Lynch as an athlete, I think that helps bring the audience in.
TCG: Fifteen years into your career, are you still passionate about it?
Chris: Oh yeah. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. There are a handful of guys in my situation that are around, that decided . . . I decided not to pursue WWE as an avenue quite a while ago. Their goal is to be local good wrestlers. Once it’s not fun anymore you’ve got to get out.
TCG: Do you look at it as a hobby? How would you describe your passion now, versus when you were starting?
Chris: That’s the only way I can look at it. It’s an important part of who I am. It’s not a financial endeavor or pursuit. It’s something I enjoy doing and it sets me apart?
TCG: You mentioned that you do booking now as well. Do you see yourself morphing more into a backstage role?
Chris: I don’t know. I’ve thought about that. I’ve thought about when I’m done physically wrestling, which should be sooner rather than later, I’m closer to 40 than not. Do I want to do anything or just walk away? I don’t know if I’d have as much fun at an event if I wasn’t able to get into the ring and mix it up. That’s something I’ll figure out at a later date.
TCG: Thanks for the time, Chris. I look forward to seeing you in your match on Saturday.
Chris: Thanks a lot. And I promise, if your readers come to a MIW show, they will be blown away.
As I mentioned above, I figured a good way to describe an independent event was to experience one for myself, and I made it out to New Hope and Holy Nativity Lutheran Church to catch some matches. The place was packed with about 200 people, and it was standing room only. I saw people of all ages, from older guys with signs to a young Tiger Scout troop. After some brief words from the pastors and the national anthem, the first couple matches got underway.
The first match was Black Stallion (wearing trunks with Yellow Lantern insignia and the word “Fear” on the front) vs. Scott Story. It took a bit to get into it, but the little girl behind me loved yelling at Story that “Nobody likes you.” One thing that you get in a smaller show like this is that the wrestlers interact much more with the audience. There’s a lot of things that the wrestlers say to each other that the whole audience can hear and get a kick out of. You don’t see that kind of intimacy at a big WWE show.
The second match was between Stonehenge Joseph Wayne and the Husky Heartthrob, Kody Rice. The Heartthrob was incredibly endearing to the audience and had some moves that I didn’t expect a guy his size to be able to accomplish. He even made fun of his trunks, which was a combination of cheeseburger shorts and suspenders. And because he’s a heartthrob, he had a heart shaved into his chest hair. I will say that he was one of the audience favorites, and made me wish I had pursued some different avenues when I was younger.
The final match before the intermission was between the masked wrestler El Baño and 6-Percent-Body-Fat Rob James. James was a good heel in that he got great crowd heat, but during intermission he was out selling merchandise and signing things and he had a huge line. The crowd definitely loved to hate him. I would also recommend looking up what El Baño means. Very humorous, and another big guy who moved well.
As I mentioned, at intermission a few of the wrestlers came out to sell merch. and sign things, and it was a good time to stretch and get concessions. As a fundraiser for the church youth camp, it looked like the church felt it succeeded because I saw just as many smiles coming from the pastors as the rest of the audience. On a side note, proceeds were also being donated to Avenues for Homeless Youth.
After intermission was the championship match, and it didn’t disappoint. The higher up the card the wrestlers got, the more athleticism and in-ring work shone through, and MIW Champion JD Bandit and Mr. Entertainment Ty Cooper worked the whole ring. Bandit came out victorious after a 20-minute match that could have even lasted a little longer.
The final match was a feud between Heavy Metal Lore and Holy Nativity’s own Chris Jordan. There were throws, slams, and jumps to the outside. Due to the size of the hall and people wanting to get close to the action to take pictures, the wrestlers had to tweak a couple of their jumps so they didn’t collide with people who were hanging out in the aisles. They did a great job adjusting, and the spatially unaware folks were made aware and moved back to their seats. The athleticism shone through, and of course Chris Jordan came out on top. After the match he ended up posing for pics with almost all of the kids who were there. They definitely had a celebrity in their midst. All in all, it was a fun night and I’m glad I went. I enjoyed it so much this won’t be the last time I hit an independent wrestling event.