Pro Wrestling During A Pandemic -- How SoCal's Brody King Faces COVID-19 Travel And Performing Without Fans
There are a lot of things that people haven't been able to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. One activity that may not be happening in Southern California, but is still taking place: pro wrestling.
Brody King (known as Nate Blauvelt in his non-pro wrestling life) wrestles for Ring Of Honor. The Southern California wrestler grew up in the Antelope Valley and currently lives in the Sylmar area. ROH broadcasts a syndicated wrestling show across the country, as well as streaming shows online -- King is in the main event on the streaming pay-per-view ROH Final Battle on Friday night.
WRESTLING DURING COVID
During the pandemic, King has been appearing for both ROH and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He hasn't been able to get in the ring as often, with TV wrestling shows being taped less often and non-televised wrestling shows largely not being an option.
"About every eight weeks, I've been able to have a couple matches. So while the ring rust is still there a bit, it's not as much as some guys, who had to take six months off," King said.
Wrestlers are known for hard travel schedules, flying across the country and driving from town to town frequently.
"The travel is weird -- it's just a strange feeling. You're always worried now," King said. "You're always worried about people sitting next to you, about people being near you. I would definitely say the travel is the worst part of it."
Thanks to COVID-19, these pro wrestling shows are also being taped without any fans in attendance. Some wrestlers, whose personas rely more on drawing from the energy of the crowd and interacting with them, have had to pivot in this new era. But King said that he's been going to a style that's less crowd dependent.
"Obviously, your attitude and your energy level probably gets elevated because of the crowd, but I feel like my physicality and my approach to wrestling is pretty much the same," King said.
HOW BRODY KING GOT HIS START
King trained in Southern California at Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy in Bell Gardens, starting in 2014. He found it by accident -- after seeing a friend post photos online, he asked how he could do it himself. He went to a wrestling school class show, and he was hooked. He was signed up for the beginners' class starting the next Monday.
He also made a name for himself on pro wrestling's independent circuit with SoCal's Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. PWG made a name by focusing less on storylines and more on the athleticism of the wrestlers involved.
"They just want to have the best wrestlers that are available at the time, and have them go and put on the best match possible," King said.
That's made it into a showcase for talent, with many wrestlers using it as an opportunity to launch themselves to that next level of stardom in the pro wrestling industry -- including King. He started wrestling in 2015 as wrestling was started experiencing a boom in popularity, and social media has also helped him to get noticed. One of the biggest new wrestling companies, AEW, has its own wrestlers based in Southern California, which King said has helped Southern California pro wrestling get more attention as well.
THE FUTURE OF ROH AND PRO WRESTLING
King's excited for when he's able to do shows in front of live crowds again.
"There's just some things that we can't do because of it," King said. "If you have any kind of hardcore match, it's like you're beating each other up with chairs and kendo sticks for no reaction, and most of the time, that takes the pain away from the match."
King's currently being featured in Ring Of Honor, getting a chance to shine as a solo pro wrestler rather than a focus on being part of a tag team or other group. He's hoping to help be a leader in helping ROH get more attention, as it's not as big a part of the pro wrestling fan community discussion as it once was.
"I feel like, over the past few years, ROH kind of lost its identity a little bit," King said. "It's time to bring it back to its roots."
His plan for taking it back to its roots includes more exciting athleticism, with a style that combines brawling with high-flying. He also thinks wrestlers need to put on the highest caliber match they can, even if they're not being featured as prominently.
"I feel like it won't take a lot. I mean, we have the talent -- the roster is stacked from top to bottom," King said. "Ring Of Honor is one company that has always tried to use the bigger indie guys, or whoever's hot at the time, so I think we really need to get back to using that formula of getting the guys off the indies, then elevating their stardom within Ring Of Honor."
The athleticism of pro wrestling is unlike anything else, King said.
"You have to move in ways that you never thought you could. You have to be willing to put your body through actual hell on a daily basis, and pretty much know that, in the long run, you're going to permanently damage yourself -- and be OK with that," King said. "I know that some matches I have, after it, I'm going to go, 'Yeah, in 10 years, that one's going to hurt a lot.'"
He's also glad to be working in ROH due to the creative freedom he feels with the company. Other wrestling companies, particularly wrestling name brand WWE, are known for changing wrestlers' names and having wrestlers be much more scripted, both in their matches and in interviews.
"[ROH officials] pretty much are willing to listen to any ideas you have, and they never really tell you you have to be this guy, you have to do these moves, and you have to look this way," King said. "The creative freedom I find in wrestling is just creating something out of nothing. You go into every match with a blank slate, and just create something with the other person that didn't exist five minutes ago."
Whether he's in or out of the ring, King is always creating. He's also a musician, doing vocals with the punk/hardcore band God's Hate (under his civilian name of Nate Blauvelt). He's been with the band since 2014. But while it can take months to hone a song, he loves the immediacy that comes with pro wrestling -- and is excited to be back in front of fans in both of his passions whenever he can be.
You can watch Brody King in ROH Final Battle streaming Friday night and later on demand, as well as on ROH on Sinclair Broadcasting TV stations. And you'll hopefully be able to see him in person sometime next year.