In North America, professional athletes typically begin their careers in their early twenties, usually peaking in their late twenties.
Professional wrestling, not a sport in the traditional sense, relies heavily on athleticism to execute in what is effectively a continuous fight scene. Wrestling is a young person’s sport.
Yet, in 2005, 39-year-old Steve Bouranis began training to become a wrestler.
At the time, Bouranis has seen and done nearly everything there is to see and do in and out of the squared circle.
“I was the medic. I was the ref. I was a manager. I was a wrestler. I did whatever,” he said. “Because I’m the old guy.”
Growing up and watching wrestling at his grandfather’s side in the 1960s, Bouranis’ involvement in the sport came significantly later than most. He started as a medic where?. It tied together with his then-job as a firefighter into something he was already interested in.
But when New York Wrestling Connection, of which he is now a co-owner, needed a referee, he quickly moved from the sidelines to the center of the action.
“Here, ref training is the same as the wrestler’s training, you have to learn how to take bumps because you’re going to take bumps,” Bouranis said. “You have to know what you’re doing since you’re in the ring.”
NYWC is the oldest wrestling school on Long Island, with its base in Deer Park, New York. Former WWE wrestlers Matt Cardona and Brian Myers are two of the school’s most famous alumni. However, in recent years, the company has seen a new generation of talent emerge.
Serving as a school and promotion, NYWC’s students are also their performers: their product is reliant on the talent his school produces.
“We’ve always looked out for people and give them 100 chances and you know, you get some kooks [tough people]. They fuck up and take a vacation,” Bouranis said. “But the doors always open for that person — it’s just a matter of coming to sit down to talk about it.”
Bouranis confesses that his current role as co-owner is that of the “mean grandpa.” When Covid-19 struck, however, it hit his business from all sides. It was impossible to train performers since there was no close touch, and putting on shows was impossible because there were no social gatherings.
Companies like the WWE or AEW could afford to run crowd-less shows in Florida, where both were deemed essential businesses. But for Bouranis and NYWC, this wasn’t financially viable or legally possible.
Yet, as regulations in New York loosened up, training resumed. Bouranis claims that it still took a great deal to make sure that they were keeping everyone safe while minimizing potential contact.
“We set up a key box, and you would pick somebody as a partner, and you guys were the ones who were going to work out together,” Bouranis said. “You had a time slot to come here, take each other’s temperature, sign in, clean the ring and everything else. That’s how we did that for the longest time.”
Another Long Island promotion that only puts on shows, Victory Pro Wrestling, suffered as well. VPW’s owner, John Radioo, took over the company during the pandemic.
“I’ve only been running the show for the last year,” Radioo said. “Those six shows and this one that’s all I’ve done. So that’s crazy. What have I done? Nothing, I’ve done nothing.”
While the company could not put on shows, he took the time to transform his website into a local news hub, allowing followers to stay informed while also providing them with a reason to visit the site.
Radioo maintains an upbeat attitude and has already begun implementing methods to keep VPW developing as shows are allowed to be put on again.
Booking his shows through two or three-month stories, he’s hoping to make his company’s monthly shows more captivating. Through defined story arcs, with a clear beginning, middle and end, Radioo hopes to give audiences more to latch onto besides the wrestling itself.
“Give them just enough to know that that’s what they want and then you don’t give them the whole package,” he said. “Now they’re salivating the one again. They want to see more of it. They want to see what happens next.”
VPW will have its 16th-anniversary show in March 2022. When asked what keeps him hooked, Radioo explains that he’s in love with pro wrestling: “The roar of the crowd, the excitement, the behind the scenes, shock over surprise. All that is a good place to start.”