Ring The Bell: Regional Pro Wrestling Brings Out Crowds And Nostalgia

Posters and passes awaited VIP ticket holders for Prestige Wrestling’s “Tower of Snakes” Feb. 22, in Hermiston, Oregon. CREDIT: T.J. Tranchell/NWPB

 

On a bitter cold night, about 300 people surrounded a squared circle inside the Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center in Hermiston. Outside, the snow held off, a rarity in February 2019; inside professional wrestlers such as King Khash, Darby Allin, and Mike Santiago brought the heat.

Wrestler with scary make up signs autographs for a young fan.

Drexl, a fan favorite despite his violent gimmick, signs a poster for a young fan before Prestige Wrestling’s “Tower of Snakes” matches.

Professional wrestling in 2019 looks like a one-player game, dominated by the WWE. New promotions like All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and long-standing global companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) have brought the indie scene back to the forefront. Like minor league baseball, indie wrestling is often the place to see wrestlers in their early days or wrestlers either in their twilight or looking for something different than the WWE. In the Northwest, promotions such as Seattle-based Defy, Thrash out of British Columbia, and Prestige Wrestling in Hermiston, are out to remind fans of wrestlings roots and its future. While not as many promotions are running in the region as in places such as the South and Mid-Atlantic regions, indie wrestling is growing.

Wrestlers in a match.

Leva Bates and Zicky Dice have a moment during their four-way match with Mike Santiago and Drexl during Prestige Wrestling bout. CREDIT: T.J. Tranchell/NWPB

“You get to meet the wrestlers, you get to be two feet from them,” William Quintana said of Prestige. Quintana, 26, started his promotion after working as a music promoter. Since April 2017, Prestige has had an event every few months. The February event, called “Tower of Snakes,” was one of the young company’s biggest, according to Quintana, and would set the stage for bigger things.

The show brought in a variety of fans, ranging from small children to senior adults. The weather kept one wrestler away from the show and delayed main eventer “Filthy” Tom Lawlor. Also on the card was a triple-threat intergender match featuring Leva Bates (known as Blue Pants during a brief run in the WWE’s training promotion NXT). On the fly, the match became a four-way with Bates facing three men.

“It’s about getting the job done,” Quintana said weeks before the show. “It’s controlled chaos.”

Pro wrestling comes with that dual dynamic. Where some see chaos, others see “fake.”

“It’s not fake,” Quintana said. “It’s predetermined,” but crazy things can happen.”

Wrestler, Simon Grimm, in red shorts, poses in the ring.

Simon Grimm, who spent time in WWE as Simon Gotch, poses in the ring. CREDIT: T.J Tranchell/NWPB

Fans know this. Kevin Craig, a high school teacher from Kennewick, Wash., and his son Michael, 9, made “Tower of Snakes” their fourth time seeing a Prestige show. The closeness of Prestige’s events are part of the appeal.

“It makes it seem more real,” Kevin said. “You can hear them in the ring when they land. You can hear when they are in pain.”

The first match of the night, the Craigs had the fight land in their laps. Sitting on the front row, they were separated from the ring by two feet of concrete floor and a thigh-high black drape. When Vaquero Fantasma and Cazadore del Alma flew out of the ring, they landed right in front of the Craigs.

Kevin grew up with Hulkamania in the 1980s and ‘90s, when kayfabe — the idea that a wrestler’s gimmick was who they really were — was protected and defended. Today, kayfabe has mostly disappeared, although the characters have not. Michael Craig’s favorite Prestige wrestler is Drexl, a heavily painted, devil-like character who talks little during matches but is known for extreme acts in the ring.

Wrestlers sign autographs.

The Strays sign autographs for Michael Craig, 9, after their match with fellow Canadians the Eh-Team. CREDIT: T.J. Tranchell/NWPB

“He’s mean, but I like it when he’s mean,” Michael said. He acknowledges that the mean person in the make-up is not who the wrestler really is.

“It’s weird to see them as normal people,” Kevin Craig said.

Quintana worked the crowd all night, but has said he’ll never be the champion of his own promotion. He’d take a bump (being on the wrong end of a move by another wrestler), he said, if it served the story. Michael Craig also said that someday he’d like to try wrestling.

Someday for Kevin Craig is March 22. He’ll be wrestling as part of  a fundraising event supporting The Leukimia & Lymphoma Society.

“We have a couple guys who used to wrestle,” Kevin said of his fellow staff at Connell High. “They asked if I’d wrestle and it was hard to say no.”

The elder Craig will suit up as an imitation Mankind, one of the most popular WWE wrestlers from the late ‘90s and early 2000s

The charity match might be the only one in Kevin Craig’s future, but Prestige is getting bigger. Three shows are planned for May 2019 in Hermiston and Corvallis, Oregon; and in Spokane.

The May 3 show in Hermiston will feature up-and-comer Darby Allin against Chavo Guerrero Jr. Guerrero has been a champion in WWE, WCW, TNA, and Lucha Underground. A match like this is all part of Quintana’s vision for the promotion.

“We have the best of the future, the best of the past, and the best of now,” Quintana said.

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