An all-out brawl erupts in Northeast D.C. on a sweltering summer weekend afternoon. Fists fly through the thick air and bodies are tossed around. A whistle pierces through the mayhem and everyone in the room stands at attention.
No, it’s not the Metropolitan Police breaking up a rowdy, beer-fueled fracas in the middle of DC Brau. It’s the Grammar Cop. A man adorned in a Party City-chic tactical suit issues a citation for incorrect verb tense usage to a man playing the role of high school gym teacher — and he responds by promptly hurling the officer over the top rope and into the metal barrier surrounding the pop-up ring on the warehouse floor.
The battle royal resumes as the brawlers whale on each other with punches and, occasionally, wrench each other’s nipples.
Welcome to Prime Time Pro Wrestling, the District’s newest independent wrestling organization.
The wrestling promotion was founded earlier this year by Nick Capezza and Lolo McGrath, two fans who met at local indie wrestling shows. Capezza performs on the mic and works behind the scenes to handle booking wrestlers from across the country. McGrath was a bartender at Shaw’s DC9 before they got into wrestling a few years ago on the recommendation of friends, and now handles the organization’s branding efforts from Chicago.
Together, Capezza and McGrath have created an intimate spectacle that also reflects what makes Washington special to many: building a community that embraces the outsider status of wrestling and blends it with a mission of inclusion by highlighting queer wrestlers and having intergender matches.
“There’s a ton of people from all kinds of different backgrounds [in D.C.] and walks of life, we need to create shows that feel super, super welcoming,” McGrath says. “We want to show people this is what wrestling can be.”
Prime Time has found an audience; its first three shows at DC Brau, including this weekend’s Embassy Row event (Sept. 28 at 3 p.m.), have sold out the 300-person-capacity brewery-turned-wrestling hub. It’s also not the only indie wrestling organization that’s taken over an unconventional venue in the area: CRAB Wrestling has staged events at Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, for instance, and Flying V has set up shop at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre.
Yes, this is all “fake” wrestling like World Wrestling Entertainment or All Elite Wrestling, which will debut its weekly TNT show “Dynamite” at Capital One Arena on Oct. 2. It’s fake in that the results are predetermined, but it’s certainly real for the athletes who spend hours every weekend on the road hoping to impress onlookers with their ability to orchestrate or withstand an artistic beatdown.
We talked to five of Prime Time’s marquee grapplers about what drives them to lace up their boots every weekend.
Sometimes it’s all in the name. Pronounce “Breaux” like the French would — “bro” — and that’s the origin story of the jockish nom de grapple Breaux Keller.
“It’s kind of an extension of myself,” Kori Meshaw says. “I know a lot of people say the best characters come from that — if you crank up your own personality to 11 or 12. Even still, when I work in my office, people were just like ‘you’re such a frat bro’ and this and that, and as I was trying to think of where I wanted to go with my career, I went ‘oh, I could use that, actually.’ ”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Meshaw, the reigning champion of Prime Time, is essentially the physical prototype for a professional wrestler. The bubbly 29-year-old, who works as an account manager for a restaurant supplies company, was a track and field athlete through high school and college, and that clearly translates in the ring — the athleticism oozes as he springboards off the ropes or darts around the ring.
Meshaw has been an on-again, off-again wrestling die-hard since childhood, when he would pester his older brother to let him watch the backstage dialogue of wrestling programs and not just the fighting parts. It’s that connection to younger fans that makes Breaux Keller tick.
“These people are paying to escape reality for however long it might be,” Meshaw says. “They’re trying to have fun and cut loose and if they have any sort of problems in the real world, they don’t want that for however long it is they’re in that venue. And I want to make sure I’m playing my part in allowing that to happen and doing what I can to put a smile on their face.”
Lady Frost and Savage Gentleman
Traveling from town to town every weekend and ending up in the mishmash of makeshift wrestling rings that dot the East Coast can grind you down. But it makes life a lot easier when your significant other is walking you down the aisle.
Shane Chojnacki got his first action as a mixed martial arts fighter before gravitating away from cage fighting to professional wrestling. At his various shows, his then-girlfriend (now wife), Brittany Steding, tagged along for the ride — selling his merchandise to fans until she got bitten by the bug.
“I had never been around independent wrestling. I hadn’t been to any televised [wrestling] shows since I was a little girl,” Steding says. “But I had no idea about any of it and I definitely didn’t think it was cool. It wasn’t until that second or third match that I went to when a little girl came up to me with those big, beady eyes and asked me for my autograph. And I felt melted because it was just the sweetest thing ever and I was a nobody — literally, I was just a wrestler’s girlfriend.”
Enter Pretty Proper, a coupling of the Savage Gentleman, a time-traveling steampunk brawler in search of his beloved, and Lady Frost, an ice queen ready to dress down her husband’s opponents on the mic as his manager or primed to step in the ring and strike down foes with a heel kick.
The duo got their start in Pittsburgh and had similar paths as other independent wrestlers, balancing their day jobs (Chojnacki worked in a corrections facility and Steding owned a fitness company) with sacrificing their weekends pursuing their wrestling passion. However, once they got the call to train at Ring of Honor’s dojo, they dropped everything and packed up their lives with their sights set on Charm City.
“As far as sacrificing everything, I mean, we sold our house and moved our whole life to a new place with no guarantee of anything,” Steding says.
“We threw everything away for a chance because we believe in ourselves that much. We don’t want to just be weekend warriors, we want this to be our careers, we want this to be our entire lives,” Chojnacki says. “We’re investing everything that we have into ourselves and into professional wrestling.”
When you talk to Justin Basnight — whose in-ring mannerisms consist of using the entirety of his 6-foot-3 frame to wreck the place with a snarl on his face as O’Shay Edwards — the thing that strikes you the most is his expressiveness, delivered in a Southern drawl. Especially when you ask him what inspires his bulldozing monster of a persona who’s also known as the Big Bad Kaiju.
“O’Shay Edwards is a walking disaster film,” Basnight says. “It’s a walking superhero movie in terms of that final fight where these two guys are here to beat the absolute p--- out of one another, and they’re going to destroy a whole city doing it. I am the walking embodiment of that. I am going to go through you, not because I can, but because I want to.”
Basnight, 35, is a late bloomer by wrestling standards. He started in his native Atlanta five years ago while working as a firefighter, but only began to see wrestling as a career opportunity after training with Robert Gibson, one half of the legendary wrestling tag team the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.
Spurred on by his wife’s encouragement, Basnight auditioned multiple times and nabbed an offer from Ring of Honor, an independent wrestling organization owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and shown on its affiliate television stations, to move up to Baltimore and train at its “dojo.” The recognition could be a path to bigger things for Basnight, who works in repairs for insurance companies.
“My life is a giant game of spin the plates,” Basnight says. “[My wife] wants to see me happy. She knows that wrestling is what makes me happy and so she’s always my ride or die for that. Because she supports me so much, to me, it’s my duty to make sure that I support her. That’s why I do work the 40-hour-a -week job and I still find the time to do everything else I need to do, because she can support me in chasing this silly ass dream of mine.”
The military fatigues that Trish Adora wears out to the ring isn’t just a fashionable choice; it’s a reminder of her life before she stepped into the squared circle. The Southeast D.C. native served in the Army for eight years and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 before she pursued her passion for professional wrestling.
“While I was [in the Army] I had these moments where I was faced with the decision where I was like, ‘All right, either I’m going to re-sign up and do this for the rest of my life, or I’m going to try out wrestling and do that for the rest of my life,’ ” Adora says. “It wouldn’t be fair to me if I didn’t at least explore what wrestling was.”
And once she takes off her jacket, Adora reveals more and more of what she represents: The makeup and colors of her ring garb signal her desire to be a strong representative of the African diaspora across the world.
Adora, 30, grew up with five wrestling-obsessed brothers, and it was hard not to get caught up in a peak era for WWE. The wrestling giant has a long, complicated history with its treatment of its female athletes, and Adora only had a few names such as Chyna and Jacqueline to look up to. So, she hopes to be that role model for generations of wrestlers to come — thanks in no small part to the tutelage of former WWE wrestlers Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley, whose 3-D Academy trained Adora.
It’s certainly not easy taking weekends off to travel the country in search of the next match — when not in the ring, Adora bartends at Navy Yard’s Shilling Canning Company — but Adora jets around the world to show off her craft. While she won’t be at the upcoming Prime Time event because of other bookings, nothing tops the thrill for Adora quite like the pop from D.C.
“I come out to the ‘Circle of Life’ intro then it cuts into a rap song and it’s such a crazy feeling,” Adora says. “It’s crazy sometimes, I’ll be so in the moment that I get back and can’t even recall some of the moments that happen because your heart is beating so fast. [Getting to perform in your hometown] is a dope feeling, I think everyone should feel that at least once.”