Heels, faces: Wisconsin natives help lead wrestling revival
ROCKFORD, Ill. -- 'ťIt's like a bad soap opera with a lot of people beating each other up.'Ł
That's how wrestler E.J. Jensen describes being a part of professional wrestling. Professional wrestling is making a comeback with networks such as AEW (All Elite Wrestling), ROH (Ring of Honor) and IMPACT Wrestling. It's part of the reason Shane Schultz of Beloit, Wisconsin, and David Reed and wife Joann Calzada formed Underdog Championship Wrestling this fall.
Underdog Championship Wrestling held its first event on Oct. 13 with wrestlers Jay Kross of Janesville, Wisconsin, and Chicago-area greats such as E.J. Jensen, 'ťPsychotic'Ł Jimmy Blaze and more at Teamsters 325 in Rockford.
Its next event will be Saturday, Dec. 14. In holiday style, the show has The Grinch getting a whoopin' from Santa. Another event is set for Jan. 18.
'ťIf you are looking for something to enjoy and some good storytelling, this is the place to come. It's definitely something you don't want to miss,'Ł Schultz told the Beloit Daily News.
Schultz said professional wrestling has evolved over the years. Now it's more fast-paced with more brutal matches with traditional elements such as chairs to ladders thrown in the mix.
'ťInstead of doing one or two matches, the women are doing more matches and more of the extreme matches,'Ł Schultz added.
In the 1990s professional wrestling was huge, but toward the late 1990s and early 2000s, the ultimate fighting championship (UFC) became more popular as well as football and boxing. Today, there is a good mix of UFC and wrestling on the market and a lot of crossover among wrestlers.
Being part of Underdog Championship Wrestling has been a lifelong dream for professional wrestling fan Schultz, a 2008 Beloit Memorial High School graduate who works at Domino's Pizza. He watched it as a child with his grandparents and was mesmerized with the art, entertainment and storylines.
'ťIt helped me escape the real world into a world of my own,'Ł Schultz said. Schultz would experiment with who would be the 'ťface'Ł or the 'ťbabies'Ł (good guys) verses the 'ťheels'Ł or bad guys. He said one can spot the heel by how they come out during the entrance.
'ťThe good guy usually comes out all happy, jolly and wants to make sure to high -five and fist pump the kids,'Ł Schultz said. 'ťThe heel will insult and trick you.'Ł
Schultz later would play virtual wrestling games online, where he began brainstorming different names of wrestlers and scenarios.
'ťIt was my own way to have fun when there wasn't wrestling on TV,'Ł Schultz said.
Going to matches he met Reed where he got the opportunity to be a co-owner of the new business. Wrestler Jimmy Blaze, who owns the wrestling company POWW Entertainment, brought in a ring and has helped the crew get set up for Underdog Championship Wrestling.
Schultz expects Underdog Championship Wrestling to take off with its colorful cast of characters and the increased popularity of the sport.
'ťThe slogan for me is 'śwhere the underdog comes to be the big dog,''Ł Schultz said. Although the matches may sometimes have a predetermined winner, Schultz said the athleticism and occasional injuries are real.
'ťIt's like being a football player,'Ł Jensen added.
Wrestling allows for the creation of larger than life characters with a knack for acting. Jensen describes his 'ťheel'Ł character as 'ťa nice young man from the sticks and who wants to do things my way.'Ł
'ťI'm going to make sure everybody hates me. The point is to draw emotion out,'Ł Jensen said.
Jay Kross, whose name is actually Boyd Maske, said he broke a leg in 2009, has sustained fractured ribs, a broken nose and chipped teeth.
'ťI have wrestled with 17 stitches in my hand and when I've pulled a hamstring. When I'm hurt I still wrestle,'Ł Kross said.
Kross of Janesville is a former paraeducator from Fruzen Intermediate School and currently a paraeducator in the Janesville School District. He grew up traveling around with his father, wrestler Tank Thomas of Janesville.
Kross said he 'ťcaught the bug'Ł and eventually attended wrestling school in Milwaukee to learn the proper moves. He travels around every weekend to perform in matches.
'ťI love the physical aspect and the entertainment aspect. I love giving fans an exciting match and it's my outlet,'Ł Kross said.
Kross describes his character as an amped-up version of himself and very Wisconsin-based. He can be a 'ťface'Ł or a 'ťheel.'Ł
'ťI'm not necessarily a good guy but a lot of people like me,'Ł he said.