Wrestlers And Fans Venture “Out Of The Darkness” With Drive-In Show

Jul 20, 2020

You’ve heard of drive-in movies and drive-in restaurants… But how about drive-in professional wrestling? 

The All Star Wrestling company out of Madison, Boone County, held its first drive-in event Saturday night to more easily adhere to social distancing guidelines for the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 50 cars surrounded a padded ring in the middle of a field behind Lee’s Studio of Dance in Winfield, Putnam County. The site sometimes doubles as the haunted attraction “Fear on the Farm.”

Many fans wore face masks to prevent COVID-19 spread, and most watched at a safe distance from the ring and each other. Between matches, someone would hop into the ring with wipes and disinfectant, to sanitize the ropes and padding. 

“The Mobile Home Wrecker” Bruce Grey walks into the ring for the evening’s first match.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“Pro wrestling is about the energy that comes from the live crowd,” said ASW owner and promoter Gary Damron, who donned his own ASW-themed mask for the event. “The boos and the cheers, that’s what makes wrestling wrestling.”

The company already had to cancel three summer shows due to the pandemic, according to Damron. “The Return: Out of The Darkness,” the show Saturday night, originally was going to happen indoors at the Madison Civic Center, until the company decided outside was safer. 

ASW heavyweight champion “Pure Trash” Ron Mathis prepares to defend his title in a match against Shane Storm.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

ASW isn’t the only group navigating a global pandemic. World Wrestling Entertainment and All Elite Wrestling, both of which televise their matches nationally, closed many of their matches to fans earlier this summer.

In late June, several WWE employees shared they had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the company to temporarily halt production and test staff, according to USA Today.

For the ASW show Saturday night, Damron said wrestlers were screened for symptoms before matches.

Huffmanly, “Leader of the Yeet Movement,” shouts to fans from the corner of the ring.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Of all the wrestlers and others at Saturday night’s show, including AEW manager and visiting personality Vicky Guerrero, the crowd was the loudest. Fans booed at body slams, cheered at body flips and lined up around merchandise tables, where wrestlers and the company sold themed t-shirts, stickers and DVDs. 

Fans like Ben Musick and Al Scott from Portsmouth, Ohio, arrived hours early. 

“I’ve watched wrestling in 17 states now, I think,” said Scott. “And West Virginia’s up there, it’s probably in my top five. … You can’t do certain moves in certain states and all that good stuff, but in West Virginia it’s sort of like the Wild West. You can do whatever you want.” 

The Neon Ninja Façade throws Seth “Flippin” Martin into the air.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This wasn’t Musick and Scott’s first wrestling event of the summer. Both were at another show in Milton, Cabell County, from the IWA East Coast Company the previous weekend. 

“I think they drew about 180 people, is what the Facebook [page] said, and usually that crowd makes like 100,” Scott said. “People are stir-crazy, they want to get out and watch their wrestling.”

The Neon Ninja Façade enters the ring for a match against Seth “Flippin’” Martin.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The wrestlers were eager to get back, too. KC Shingleton, also known as wrestler Kirk Blackman, wasn’t in the ring Saturday night, but was present to help and support other wrestlers. 

If not for the pandemic, Shingleton would normally spend summer weekends wrestling, or performing with other musicians in a band called Jerks.

“So many people just have nothing to look forward to,” Shingleton said. “Some people aren’t back to work yet, some people are laid off, they have nothing to do, everything seems hopeless. So, I guess the importance of this show is just to make sure that people are entertained, and make sure that everybody goes home with a smile on their face.”

ASW heavyweight champion “Pure Trash” Ron Mathis sits down outside the ring during a match against Shane Storm.
Credit Emily Allen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Summer and pandemic permitting, Damron said he hopes to hold more drive-in shows in the future.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.