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.
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.
Bobby Blaze can be found on Twitter.