By Colleen Schrappen St. Louis Post-Dispatch
When it comes to longed-for professional sports leagues, soccer is top of mind for many St. Louisans. So is the open wound that is football. Basketball even gets batted around occasionally.
But wrestling? That might not make the mental wish list.
Wait … not wrestling. Wrasslin’. No-holds-barred, chair-throwing, full-nelson wrasslin’. Now that you think about it, you really were missing it, right?
Come Jan. 12, it’s back.
The void left when “Wrestling at the Chase” ended its 34-year run in 1983 will be filled by the National Wrasslin’ League, the brainchild of Kansas City-based entrepreneur Major Baisden.
The league, meant to revive the “territory system” of old-school wrestling, is putting its first roots down in Kansas City and St. Louis. “We want to feed off the natural rivalries that exist in those two cities,” says Travis Bowden of the NWL.
Every other week, a cast of characters will suit up in their singlets at Casa Loma Ballroom in the Benton Park West neighborhood. A slate of seven matches, including tag teams, will start at 7 p.m.
“Casa Loma may be the most pristine venue for wrestling since the Chase,” Bowden says.
Don’t expect it to stay that way on fight nights. Up to a thousand spectators — the league is especially targeting men who were pro wrestling fans in the 1980s and ’90s — will be cheering for their favorite heels and heroes, eating up the ongoing storylines of feuds and factions.
“We’ve locked up the best guys in the Midwest to be hometown favorites,” Bowden says. The league will feature about 50 wrestlers, most veterans of the traveling “indie” circuit.
“We have wrestlers of all shapes and sizes, distinct characters, so that fans will connect to the performers — the idea is to have something for everybody,” Bowden says. “There’s got to be someone on each card that everyone can relate to.”
That could be Mike Outlaw, who adopted his wrestling alias, Dez Wellston, as a nod to his hometown. Outlaw, 25, did construction work before training to be a wrestler three years ago, fulfilling a childhood dream.
“I’ve been watching wrestling since I was 6 years old,” he says. “And I always knew it was something I wanted to do.”
He says the league’s live semimonthly matches will bring an authenticity that’s lacking on television in the shiny, somewhat sanitized WWE.
“I like performing in front of a crowd, dictating the crowd’s reactions and emotions,” Outlaw says. “I feed it to them, and they feed it to me.”
Also feeling the charge of the crowd will be Brad Fox, 33, an Illinois native and former stock broker who has wrestled as Jake Dirden for the past five years. He has a new alter ego, Jack Foster, for the NWL.
“It’s a dramatic, interactive environment. You can be as loud and obnoxious as you want,” Fox says. “If people cheer for me, I’m going to do some awesome stuff.”
Like finishing off an opponent with an Asiatic Spike, jamming his meaty thumb under the poor sap’s jaw until he taps out — or passes out, Fox says with a gruff laugh. “And I think I’m going to utilize my kicks more — I wear size 18 boots.”
Kevin Kwiatkowski, a native of the Affton area, is still tinkering with the nuances of his character.
“Todd Letterman is kind of a newer thing to me,” says Kwiatkowski, 26, who has been wrestling about as long as Outlaw. He was turned on to the sport as a kid by his grandma, a wrestling fanatic.
“I used to be a bad (expletive) — just going in and doing my thing, but my persona in the league is ‘I’m an athlete and I like to win.’
“Fans should expect to see some crazy athleticism … tumbleweeds into the corner, spinning wheel kicks. I like to do some flashy kicks. I’m 6’ 4” and 330 pounds,” Kwiatkowski says.
“I don’t want to peel back the curtain too far, but we’re going to bust out the fireworks.”