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FTC Lights Up the (Mid)Night

The setting felt as outlaw as they come. Nestled less than a stone’s throw between the Ohio River and an active rail line sat a rusted, metal warehouse with an empty gravel lot just big enough to hold a wrestling ring. A trailer bearing the promotion’s logo stood next to the metal-framed entrance curtain, and four, bright LED lamps on fifteen foot stands provided all the illumination around the wrestling ring. The night air was at least cool, thanks to a few thunderstorms earlier in the day, and the bridge from Ohio to Kentucky illuminated in purple gave the scene an almost romantic backdrop.

Fans were already claiming their spots in the grass opposite the warehouse when I arrived at 7:30. There were a hundred or more by the 9 p.m. bell time, when the ring announcer took a moment to honor the veterans in the audience before asking everyone to stand for the national anthem. Finally, the first wrestler’s music hit, and FTC’s Midnight Madness was underway in Ironton, Ohio.

If you’re picturing the infamous meme on social media mocking your typical, local wrestling promotion (the champion is also the owner, the champ’s kid is on the card, and the veteran who once worked as an extra on Raw), you’ve got the scene all wrong. There were several names on the card that made the three hour trip from my hometown worthwhile: T.I.M. The Infinite Man, Dani Mo, Facade, and the big surprise added to the fatal four-way at the end of the night, Dustin Jackson.

“Is that OVW’s Dustin Jackson?” I whispered to my host after hearing his name announced.

Bobby Blaze grinned. “Yes, sir!”

As I said on a few social media accounts Saturday night, this evening’s entertainment reminded me why I fell in love with indy wrestling. The show had a little of everything: singles, tags, a street fight, and the aforementioned fatal five way. Facade thrilled everyone by taking a leap off the top of the only port-a-pot on the grounds, and Calab Thorne gave everyone a jolt when Misery tossed him off the top of the FTC trailer, over my book table, and onto a pile of three other guys.

@johncosperauthor

And they missed the book table. Phew! Great night in Ironton watching FTC wrestling. #indiewrestling #ftc

♬ original sound – John Cosper

The intimacy of the setting led to some great interaction between fans and wrestlers, the kind of thing you just don’t get at a TV taping. Two little girls raced up to get hugs from every babyface, and one of them got a bit of a fright from T.I.M. when she boldly ran up to taunt him after his loss. Nursing his injuries, T.I.M. turned and screamed, “AAAAAA!!!” at the girls, causing the smaller one to leap back a good ten feet.

I have Bobby Blaze to thank for my ringside seat Saturday night, and the fans have Bobby to thank for the quality behind much of the action. Many of the wrestlers working the show are students of his, and I couldn’t help hearing shades of Tracy Smothers as I listened to Bobby silently comment all through the action.

“Slow it down! Take your time! There you go, that’s it! Now why are you taking him back there? The fans can’t see you!”

Bobby’s passion is evident not only in the commentary, but the way he brags on his kids. As Jock Sampson did his own Tracy Smothers impression, running down the fans on the mic, Bobby filled me in on the kid in the opposite corner, Steve Meek. “He’s a great singer. He’s in a barbershop quartet, and he’s headed back to college this fall.”

One young lady I was eager to see was Reese Ramone, who I spotlighted a few months ago on this blog. You can read my previous interview with her here. Reese took on the heel role in a street fight/ blow off match with fan favorite Sarah Bubbles. The ladies brawled in and out of the ring, with Reese taking a hard bump off the side of the trailer and Sarah taking some wicked shots from Reese’s cowboy boots that everyone could feel. Proud wrestling poppa Bobby Blaze had nothing but praise for the girls throughout the fight. “Take your time! Don’t rush! That’s it, perfect!”

Reese demonstrated her skills as a majorette, a role she fills for the Marshall University marching band, twirling her baton and using it on Sarah as a weapon. Alas it was Sarah who seized the baton, using it to finish Reese and bring the match – and their current feud – to an end.

The teacher wasn’t done with the student. Reese not only got feedback from Bobby following her bout, she sat under the learning tree as he continued to share his own private commentary with the two of us through the night’s remaining matches. Bobby’s a hell of a teacher. That much was evident last summer when I discovered his former student Judi-Rae Hendrix, who is now with OVW. Reese is smart, talented, and oh so good at being bad. She’s also a heck of a nice person, when she’s not telling booing little children to shut up. I expect to see her have great success in the years to come.

One of my long-time best friends lives across the river from Ironton in Ashland, Kentucky. He’s not a fan, but he had told me several times the last few weeks what a great job the local wrestling promoters were doing. He wasn’t exaggerating. FTC runs shows all over the tri-state area, and if you’re close by or passing through when the next show kicks off, it’s worth the trip. I had a blast watching the action, seeing good friends, and getting my own ear full of Bobby Blaze’s wisdom.

You can follow FTC on Twitter and Facebook.

Bobby Blaze can be found on Twitter.

Reese Ramone can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

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The Education of Reese Ramone

I thought I knew what busy was. Then I met Reese Ramone.

Reese and I shook hands for the first time last weekend in Ashland, Kentucky. She’s an avid fan of history. Not just pro wrestling, but history in general, and she checked out all the books on my table. She’s minoring in history at Marshall University in addition to majoring in electrical and computer engineering. She’s also a majorette who performs with the university’s marching band.

Oh yeah, on top of all that? She’s a professional wrestler.

Reese’s journey to lacing up her boots began when she discovered wrestling on television. “I was just flipping through channels and found Smackdown. I saw Cameron dressed in a pretty school girl’s outfit, and it caught my eye. I always did dance, and I loved pretty outfits, and I thought it was so cool.”

Reese’s father noticed her interest and started telling her about the wrestling he grew up watching. Right from the start, she knew she wanted to try it. She just didn’t know how! “I didn’t know about wrestling schools, and it seemed unattainable. I decided it was something I could just enjoy on TV.”

When Reese arrived on campus in Huntington, West Virginia, she heard about the Art of Grappling wrestling school in nearby Ironton, Ohio. She met with owner Joe Pace, who also runs FTC Wrestling in Ashland, Kentucky. Pace told her he was planning to build out a women’s division at FTC, and with his encouragement,  she decided sign up.

“I didn’t tell my parents at first,” she says. “I had a show the day before my birthday, so they finally found out. They were scared of me getting hurt, but they were pretty supportive.”

Reese had her first few lessons with former WWE Diva Jillian Hall. “I took my first bumps in front of her, and she taught me a lot about working the women’s style: hair pulling and cat fighting.”

Her second of third week, Jillian was joined by another trainer: Bobby Blaze. Hall and Blaze worked together for a while, and Reese learned a great deal from them both. When the two decided to split, Reese stayed with Bobby.

“He’s been so good to me. He’s invested a lot of time and wisdom in me. He helped me build my social media presence. He introduced me to the guy who did my entrance music. He’s a world class trainer.”

Reese has learned a lot by doing. “I was told on my first night I had to cut a promo! I thought, there’s no way! It wasn’t bad, but I was so nervous.”

It helped to have a lifeline available. “Bobby called me that night. He talked to me for like an hour, giving me confidence and talking me through everything. He’s been so good to me.”

Reese is juggling a lot with school, wrestling, and marching band, but she’s found a way to balance everything while looking to the future. She’s considering a number of career and post-secondary options, but she also hopes to wrestle for the WWE one day.

“Being a majorette helps so much with my conditioning,” she says. “People have no idea how physically demanding marching is. It helps a lot with my cardio.”

Reese can also talk history, and as a history nut myself, it was difficult to stick to wrestling when we spoke. Suffice to say next time I see her at a show, it’s just as likely I’ll strike up a conversation about the new Netflix movie Operation: Mincemeat with her as talk shop about wrestling.

Reese has the drive to succeed in pro wrestling. She’s also got a trainer who has her back and has laid a solid foundation for her. I’m glad our paths crossed last week, and I’m excited to see where she goes in the years to come.

You can follow Reese on Twitter and Instagram!