In a middle-of-the-block building in Williamsburg, concealed by the absence of any obvious sign, school is in session at the Technique 2 Training Wrestling Academy. Promoter Tom Frazier is looking on as about ten prospects – males of all sizes, a pair of females, and even a masked marvel – assemble the ring for the twice weekly classes he established for aspiring pro wrestlers. Frazier uses the Academy to develop local talent for Industrial World Wrestling (IWW), the promotion he’s been trying to get up and running since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve spent the whole pandemic getting things in order, buying the ring, and working out my deal over here at Technique 2 Training,” Frazier says. “Right now the State capacity laws are rapidly improving so I think Indy wrestling in New York will see a big boost as soon as people start feeling comfortable going out to shows again.”
Frazier, who got his start in 2019 under the banner of “Imperial World Wrestling” before adopting the new moniker, says that he did see some benefits to the break in action caused by the pandemic. Frazier and many other wrestling organizations nationwide pivoted towards producing wrestling shows from training gyms and other venues directly for the Internet.
“It allowed me to take my time and put together something way bigger than what I would have done without the pandemic. If there were no pandemic, I would have been doing live shows in a traditional fashion,” Frazier says. “The pandemic is indirectly responsible for my starting T2T, which allowed me a space to film so much IWW content.”
While the dark time allowed wrestling organizers to concentrate on marketing and leveraging social media, few debate the negative effect that more than a year without live shows with fans has had on the entire community.
“The pandemic was certainly devastating to indy wrestling, particularly among younger wrestlers and smaller promotions,” says Wesley Bolls, a ringside commentator on the local scene. “Doing stuff on the Internet without a crowd is not the same as having that experience of going to an indy show.”
Despite the impact of COVID-19 on virtually all domestic wrestling promotions, local pros say that it was already hard enough to run shows in New York because of the strict standards imposed by the State Athletic Commission. Local promoters and wrestlers alike say those adherences often drive talent and money related to pro wrestling to neighboring states.
“It’s very hard to run a wrestling show that fits into the Athletic Commission’s standards,” says Jake Gomez, T2T Academy’s head trainer and wrestler working under the name “The King of Chaos” Logan Black. “They have a lot required of you. Most people don’t do it, so there wasn’t a lot going on within New York.”
New York State classifies wrestling as a combative sport no different than boxing or mixed martial arts. In January 2017, the NYSAC imposed rules concerning a wide range of issues related to pro wrestling shows. The Commission ruled wrestlers could no longer taunt fans, and that things like tables and chairs could no longer be used during the choreographed combat. Most crippling to small, independent promoters, the state prohibited the “renting” or sub-assignment of their license to promote, which had been a long-held practice in New York. Promoters licensed in New York are required to secure a $20,000 bond.
In addition to requiring a doctor and ambulance at each event, pro wrestling promoters are required to secure “combative insurance,” a type of medical insurance for athletes which can cost more than $600 per event. Those in the pro wrestling business say these costs handicap their operations. “Doctors and EMTs are a necessary cost, but it’s a bigger cost for the license; and when I was starting out I had shows cancelled because I was renting a license from someone whose license was suspended for not following guidelines,” Frazier said.
But for now, pro wrestlers are staying active however they can, wherever they can. Some locals have traveled to New Jersey and Rhode Island where restrictions on gatherings and wrestling in general are less stringent.
Astoria native James Dijan Bonavia, who has wrestled independently as ‘Malta The Damager’ since 1996, traveled to Mexico to compete during the pandemic and plans to appear in an upcoming match in Puerto Rico. “I wrestled in Mexico City six weeks ago,” Dijan-Bonavia said. “Wrestling is very scarce right now and people are willing to wrestle for anything or nothing. It’s really affected the industry.”