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School’s Out: The Evolution of OVW

In a last minute turn of events, I made my way to Ohio Valley Wrestling tonight for the live broadcast of television episode 1199. I’ve witnessed many TV tapings in Davis Arena since my first visit twenty years ago, and I saw some terrific action tonight. What struck me the most, however, is how different this OVW is from the OVW I used to know.

I still have a program from the first night I ever visited OVW. Kurt Angle was in the main event, and a number of WWE stars like Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Rob Conway, and The Bashams, were on the card. Outside of Angle, however, none of the above were Superstars at the time. They were students, wrestling on a televised program from a wrestling school. Yes, these were the Superstars of Tomorrow Today, but it still had the feel of a wrestling school program.

I don’t get that feeling in Davis Arena these days. OVW continues to evolve under new management, and it no longer feels like you’re watching wrestling in a wrestling school. Everything about OVW screams “territory.”

First of all, there’s the arena itself. From the lighting rigs above to the seating arrangements to the presentation itself, nothing screams “wrestling school.” It looks and feels like any other professional promotion. I take that back; it feels a cut above most wrestling promotions, including some others that are televised. This is Professional wrestling with a capital P.

Second, take a look in the ring. Can you identify the students? Are they the young ones in the ring? Or maybe the newer faces? Perhaps the officials, or maybe the television crew? Every OVW card is stacked with talented men and women including long-time independent stalwarts (Hi, Cash Flo!) and faces you’ve seen not just on wrestling TV but reality TV. (I see you, Jesse Godderdz!)

The matches do not feel like students vs. students. The storylines do not smell of amateur booking. Once again, OVW  presents Professional wrestling with a capital P.

Now truth be told, everyone backstage at OVW, save for one, is a student of OVW. From the wrestlers to the refs to the production team to the announcers, every man and woman has come to sit under the learning tree of Al Snow. Even Doug Basham, who made a cameo during tonight’s pull apart between Amazing Maria and her daughter Haley J, is a student here. Yes, he’s a former WWE Tag Team Champion. Yes, he’s now teaching the advanced class. But he will tell you how much he has learned from resident “Mr. Miyagi.”

Al Snow is a born teacher. His stated goal is that everyone who works for OVW will take what they learn and use it to reach their goals in pro wrestling. The testimony to Al’s genius is how very professional, how very “non-wrestling school” his burgeoning territory looks in person. OVW is run like a territory. The people working OVW are taught to perform as professionals. Every time I attend a show, OVW moves further and further away from their wrestling school roots.

OVW tours like a territory. They’ve been all over the state this summer, putting on house shows in big towns and small. They’re across the river in New Albany tomorrow night (August 5), and they’re back at Davis Arena Saturday (August 6) for a stellar card that includes a casket match, the return to action by Amazing Maria, and a special appearance by Scotty 2 Hotty.

And of course, OVW broadcasts not only locally, but internationally through Fite TV. OVW’s wrestlers and announcers receive fan mail (and email) from around the world. Every week, more and more eyes are on the long-running Louisville promotion, one that marks its 1200th episode in seven days. Tonight’s episode is worth catching on Fite and included some great tag team action with Jesse Godderdz and Tony Gunn, a hard-hitting eight man match at the very end, and some fun video segments with Freya the Slaya and my old pal from the Three Blind Refs video, Aaron Grider.

OVW may not be in the same conversation as AEW, WWE, Impact, or New Japan, but the students of Al Snow have transformed what was once the nation’s top wrestling school into an honest-to-goodness, 21st century territory. Great things continue to happen at Davis Arena, and greater things are on the horizon for the students: in and out of Davis Arena.

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Long Time OVW Wrestler Thrilled to Give Back

Randy Royal came up in the same class at OVW as Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar. He was there when the WWE was promoting students from Louisville to RAW on a weekly basis. Royal never got a shot at the next level like his classmates, but Royal is grateful for everything he has – including his life.

Royal grew up a wrestling fan, and when the opportunity to train with Danny Davis presented itself, he jumped at the chance. “I’d been been enamored with wrestling since I can remember, so I don’t think my parents were TOO surprised. I’m sure at first they figured that I wouldn’t stick with it. Seventeen years later, I guess I proved that theory wrong.”

Royal started at OVW right around the same time the WWE came to down, anointing OVW as its developmental territory. “I was in same training class as Randy Orton, Dave Batista, Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin. Jim Cornette was in charge of producing our television at the time. I was lucky to sit under that ‘learning tree’ as he would explain the psychology behind the matches.”

Royal remained in Louisville working with OVW even after the WWE left town. He kept on wrestling, never suspecting he had a ticking time bomb inside him that would threaten his life.

“I was born with Wolfe-Parkinsons-White Syndrome. I had no idea. Then in 2012  I went into V-fib. They had to medically stop my heart and try to shock me back to life. The doctor said that they all agreed that after trying numerous times that they’d give it one final shock before they’d have to officially pronounce me deceased. I’m glad they did! I had to have a little surgery to correct that and hear I am.”

Royal jokes that his favorite match is any match he doesn’t get hurt, but in seriousness, he remembers his return to the ring after heart surgery with great fondness. “The amount of love and support from fans that I never dreamed would even know anything about ‘Randy Royal’ was overwhelming. I didn’t think returning to the ring was even possible, so when I stepped through those ropes, I’ll admit that I reared up a little.”

Royal says he’s the same man inside the ring that he was before his heart troubles came to light. “The only difference in that ‘Randy’ and this ‘Randy’ is that I see things a lot differently and make the most out of life.”

To that end, Royal’s number one goal for 2017 is to give back, sharing his knowledge with the next generation. “Wrestling is going to move on with or without me, and it doesn’t owe any of us a thing; we owe it. It’s allowed me to travel to places that a “poor kid from Georgia who moved to Kentucky and had to pay for his ticket to see Jerry Lawler wrestle in nickels and dimes” never thought he’d see. So if I can help someone else to even achieve that, I feel like I’m giving back in a sense.”

Royal is working twice a week now with OVW, on Wednesday TV tapings and Saturday spot shows. He is also taking bookings outside OVW, “just to work with different people who have different styles.”

You can find Randy Royal online on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Be sure to watch all his social media profiles to discover another of Randy’s talents: he’s an artist, and a darn good one.