Donnie Hoover hopes his New Ohio Wrestling reigns supreme in Columbus and beyond.
If you were to look for Columbus’s one and only professional wrestling league during last month’s Arnold Sports Classic, it may have felt like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Hidden deep within the Bricker Building, on the fairgrounds, at the Kids and Teen Expo, far from downtown and potential Arnold elbow-rubbing, right there between chess, futsal, and Irish step-dancing, you could have spotted the New Ohio Wrestling (NOW) exhibition.
Coupled with Grove City’s Kickmaster Footgolf—where NOW holds most of their main events—the spartan wrestling ring, the white-tuxedo-clad announcer, the four-man video team, the refs and the wrestlers who participated over that weekend, were fighting hard for recognition,, knowing full and well they have the scaffolding for a more prime-time arena.
It was certainly an awkward setting, but for the most part, it looked as if the audience were fully engaged. In a lot of ways, trying to make it in professional wrestling, is mighty similar to struggling as an artist or in indie rock. Something founder Donnie Hoover, the promoter of New Ohio Wrestling, knows all too well.
Over two decades ago, Hoover was the portrait of the starving wrestler, hungry for the belts and the big time. Dig deep enough on YouTube and you can see Hoover, aka, Shank Dorsey, aka, “The Orient Express”—his character an ex-con recently released from the Orient Correctional Institute—fighting for survival in a series of low-brow matches among the regional circuit. My personal favorite being the Barbed Wire and Salt Death Match of 2002, in which Hoover’s signature move, the Lockdown, wasn’t enough to defeat the better “heel,” Axl Rotten. Despite eventually trying out for Extreme Championship Wrestling out of Philadelphia and making a name for himself outside of Ohio, Hoover’s dream was short-lived.
“It was right before WWE bought ECW, but it was kind of done before that,” remembers Hoover. “With family life and injuries, it ended simple as that. I had a brain bleed, my knee was busted, and my hip was messed up, I just had to walk away and heal in a lot of different ways.”
The Y2K heyday of Shank Dorsey’s modicum of success was an era of nu-metal and Juggalos, where filth and fury, blood and oblique violence ruled the ring. Cruise around Ohio, which Hoover does to scout talent for NOW, and you’ll find there’s a renaissance of regional wrestling leagues pining for those back-to-basics days. Rockstar in Dayton, Absolute Intense in Cleveland, and WAR in Lima, all cater to current wont for the extreme, no-holds barred atmosphere.
Not to be contrarian in his execution of NOW, Hoover promises the same athleticism as those leagues, but with a definite eye towards family entertainment. Parents can bring their kids and not have to worry about the misogyny or language inherent in other arenas. Hoover wants professionalism the entire family can enjoy.
“A majority of the promotions in Ohio do just about anything,” says Hoover. “They have men vs. women matches, which I don’t agree with. They’ll have blood and cussing, and we don’t have that. In fact, we have a strict policy against that. It’s the total opposite of what I did. I was vulgar and used weapons. So, in some ways this is like turning the page.”
What NOW might not have when it comes to the extreme, it certainly makes up for in intriguing kayfabe. By definition, “kayfabe” is the “portrayal of staged events within the industry as ‘real’ or ‘true,’ specifically the competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine.” At this exhibition we got to see a battle between NOW’s premiere villain, “Agent Orange” Juice Jennings and “The Handlebar Haberdasher” Marion Fontaine. Jennings had spent the day tweeting to his followers about an apparent conspiracy conceived by Arnold himself. He spent the better part of his intro looking and acting like a bizarre Alex Jones with a GNC rewards card, barking on the mic for a challenge with The Terminator. It certainly drew an instant crowd and as such, Jennings drew the fanatical ire of the kids in the first row. Elsewhere in the league, guys like “Darkstar” Matt Taylor, “The Professional” Brandon Fields, and “Gigolo” Jock Samson, are making waves in preparation to be crowned NOW’s first-ever champion at this month’s event.
Along with his wife Terrie, Hoover is looking to fill an obvious void in Columbus. While we are home to the current WWE Raw Women’s Champ in Grove City’s Alexa Bliss, and regularly host WWE pay-per-views (Fastlane was here last month), not to mention the Ohio Pro Wrestling Academy in Newark (where most of the talent learned their craft) there is no formidable league to call our own.
“Columbus is a real tough market. When you’re going against the Blue Jackets, the Crew, the Buckeyes, and the Clippers, it’s hard to make a name,” says Hoover. “Eventually I’d like to have a building we can call our own, where our talent can train, and we can do this regularly.”
Hoover and NOW are making all the right moves with the limited resources he has to work with to make New Ohio Wrestling a household name, or at least a wholesome night of action-packed entertainment that skews heavily from the norm.
New Ohio Wrestling next event is NOW 8: A Champion is Crowned, Saturday April 14 at Kickmaster Footgolf. Visit facebook.com/newohiowrestling/ for more information.