Professional wrestling circuit hits Iowa City

BY BEN SCHUFF | JUNE 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Fans cheered as the “Iowa Fight Song rang throughout the Wildwood Smokehouse & Saloon on Sunday and professional wrestler Mike Pride stalked towards the ring, wearing black leather pants with the word “Pride” and a gold Tigerhawk logo printed down each leg.

Around 15 minutes into his match against Mick Wiqied, the wrestler found himself caught in a figure-four leg-lock. The crowd of roughly 70 chanted, “Let’s go Pride,” as he struggled to break free of the hold.

Even though he lost the match, Pride — whose real name is Mike Ray — said he’s living his dream.

“There’s nothing like coming out and having a bunch of people yelling for you and asking for your autograph,” Ray said. “It’s a feeling you don’t forget.”

Ray, 27, is in his fourth year with the Midwest Xtreme Wrestling Alliance. The Muscatine native has traveled throughout the eastern half of the state, wrestling in such towns as West Liberty, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and his hometown.

But everything started on a trampoline in the backyard with his friends. Ray said 1998 was a starting point for what became the Midwest Xtreme Wrestling Alliance, a company he helped create.

By 2006, Ray and his friends were renting an actual ring from Impact Pro Wrestling. A Public Access channel in Muscatine televised the events for a while, giving them fans and exposure.

“It was a big process, going from a backyard of, like, 30 people to a building of 250 people,” Ray said. “A lot of the money came out of my own pocket. There were times when I lost money on shows, but I kept it going in hopes that it would find itself and grow — and it did.”

The current version of wrestling alliance wouldn’t be possible without owner Rod Blair. Now 45 years old, he started wrestling professionally in 1986, and occasionally grappled on TV with World Wrestling Entertainment earlier in his career.

He first came into contact with Ray when he was working with Impact Pro Wrestling and traveled to Muscatine to help set up a ring.

“They wanted to know if I would go down and wrestle in a show and help the guys out,” Blair said. “So I went to Muscatine and started helping out with Mike and co-promoting. I bought our own ring and got it all licensed with the state of Iowa.”

Around a year passed between the time Blair helped set up the ring to when Ray asked him to join as a business partner. Blair said he spent $5,000 on equipment in his first week of starting wrestling alliance after it was licensed — all out of his own bank account.

“Everything just kind of evolved over time,” Blair said.

While few original backyard wrestlers are now on the current roster, Blair and Ray try to get local talent in their ring. One of those is current wrestling alliance champion Carl Forgy, who wrestles under the name Owen Donovan.

Forgy, who has been with the company for three years, has several family members from around the Iowa City area. The natural fan attraction is one reason Blair likes having local talent.

“My past three years with wrestling alliance have been amazing,” Forgy said. “Rod has an invested interest in the up-and-coming talent. He spent a lot of time with us getting us where we wanted to go. He was definitely instrumental in me going as far as I’ve gone.”

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