For anyone who grew up watching professional wrestling, the memories of seeing stars such as Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Undertaker, The Rock or John Cena in action made it all seem extremely glamorous.
In reality, life in the ring is anything but.
The top-tier stars of the WWE (formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation, once upon a time) can get the star treatment — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars — but for most pro wrestlers, every day in the squared circle is a grind, very much a labor of love.
Many of the same physical dangers facing football players — concussions, broken bones and the like — are there for pro wrestlers, but in most cases without the same payoff.
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“It takes a crazy, crazy type of person to want to do what we do,” said local wrestler Donny Idol, a 2003 Columbus North graduate. “You have to be somewhat crazy to want to keep coming back and keep taking more and more, even though your body tells you, ‘Hey, you should probably not do this no more.'”
Donny Idol had been wrestling in area circuits since he was in high school, but after years of dealing with shady promoters and less-than-reputable operations, he was looking for a better option.
Together with another local wrestling veteran, Ricky Ruckus, and David Christian (better known in wrestling circles as Dave Dynasty), Donny helped create Emerge Wrestling, a Columbus-based circuit centered on not doing the things that less reputable promoters had done with them.
“We just decided that we wanted to bring a company that was professional and treated its wrestlers — and not just wrestlers but employees from top to bottom — fair, and treated them good,” Idol said. “There’s a lot of negatives surrounding professional wrestling. We just wanted to bring the positives to light and bring something different and fresh and new to the area.”
For the past two years, Emerge Wrestling has been bringing exactly that, putting on events in and around Columbus on a monthly basis. This week, they’re celebrating their success with a series of events, one that will be capped by their second annual Downtown Throwdown, a free outdoor exhibition that will raise money for a local charity.
Last year’s inaugural event benefited the United Way. This year’s incarnation — which will take place Saturday evening on 4th Street between Jackson and Washington Streets — will benefit the local D.A.R.E. chapter, something near to the hearts of many in the organization.
“Everybody knows somebody that’s been affected by it,” Ricky Ruckus said of addiction to heroin and meth, noting that he has had friends succumb to overdoses over the years.
Glamorous life? Hardly
Like many young boys (and girls), both Donny Idol and Ricky Ruckus became entranced by pro wrestling as kids, watching the stars of the WWE on television.
Of course, that sort of wrestling isn’t exactly something kids can get steered into at the scholastic level, so those who are truly interested need to find their own path to entry.
Many grow up under the general belief that pro wrestling is completely fake and thus aren’t ready for what the business really entails.
“A lot of people have the assumption that the ring is like a mattress and the ropes are like rubber bands, and it’s very grueling,” Donny Idol said. “I’ve seen people pay $800 to train, and in one day’s time — knowing they weren’t going to get that money back — they chose not to do it.”
It’s certainly not something that every fan is cut out for. Idol is able to run through a list of injuries he’s incurred on the job, including concussions, a ruptured back and a damaged rotator cuff.
The show must go on
With all of the physical punishment that pro wrestlers absorb — most of them doing so for just enough money to cover gas and a hotel room — there’s little patience for promoters who don’t respect their talent or run their business the right way, and that’s essentially how Emerge was birthed.
Both Donny Idol and Ricky Ruckus had been wrestling in Indiana for at least a decade, and both got fed up by what they were seeing.
“There’s a lot of wrestling promotions in Indiana,” Ruckus said, “and you can count on one hand the ones who are actually decent.”
After dealing with the non-decent operations for too long, Idol and Ruckus reached out to Christian, a former wrestler who now serves as the CEO of Emerge. The trio has built up its own organization founded around the idea of treating people the way you’d want them to treat you.
That same mentality led the group toward the idea of the Downtown Throwdown. Emerge had seen the streets in the downtown area of Columbus get shut down for other events, so they figured maybe they could get their moment in the sun as well.
“We figured it was worth a shot,” Ricky Ruckus said, “and they all loved the idea — and now that we’ve ran the one last year, every business down there is excited about it.”
This year’s Downtown Throwdown will be the culmination of a weeklong celebration. Emerge Wrestling will be screening a documentary about its history Wednesday and then holding a meet and greet with locals at the library Friday.
These aren’t the sorts of events that the big leagues need to plan, but the folks at Emerge are in this business for the love, not the lure of endorsements and pay-per-view sales.
“It’s not luxurious at all,” Idol said.
Upcoming Emerge Wrestling events in and around Columbus:
The premiere showing of Emerge Wrestling’s documentary, “We Will Emerge,” at 6:30 p.m. at the Harlequin Theatre. Tickets are just $5 and are available at www.emergewrestling.com.
A free meet and greet with Emerge Wrestling staff and wrestlers at 4 p.m. in the Red Room of the Bartholomew County Public Library.
The second annual Downtown Throwdown, a free show located on 4th Street between Jackson and Washington Streets downtown. Gates open at 4 p.m., with matches set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Fans are encouraged to bring their own chairs. Raffles and donations will benefit the local DARE chapter.
Saturday, Sept. 10
Emerge 18/United will be held at the DSI Gym (2920 10th Street). Tickets are $12 for front-row seats and $10 for general admission. Doors open at 6 p.m., with matches set to begin at 7 p.m. Free admission for all active military, police and firefighters.
For more information, visit emergewrestling.com.