Some days work is a punch in the face. Some days guys fly at him like their legs are a pair of scissors and his neck is a piece of paper.
“After eight years, it seems like I feel every bump and bruise,” said Shane Strickland, a Tacoma-born professional wrestler. “There’s always soreness that I can’t remember exactly what caused it.”
Grueling as his dream job might be, he says wrestling was the easiest part of his job when he was launching his career. Unless you’re humble, the sport will piledrive your ego on a regular basis.
In his early days, Strickland worked in a cemetery and a thrift store to help pay the bills as he tried to make a name for himself. He handed out fliers and set up chairs before events. He picked up higher profile wrestlers at the airport.
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Other than the regular suplex, Strickland, 27, says making it as wrestler requires paying your dues in similar ways as aspiring comedians or musicians.
“You just have to keep positive and know that you’re going to make it,” he said. “I never let myself doubt that I would make it.”
Now, Strickland appears regularly on the wrestling show “Lucha Underground” (available on Netflix) as the popular masked character called “Killshot.” And he has become a star on the independent wrestling circuit, with more than 150 performances per year.
Thursday he’ll be at the Temple Theater as Defy, a new wrestling circuit, makes its Tacoma debut. Defy producer Matt Farmer says “Defy 4: Gigantic” is expected to sell out with an estimated 700 fans in attendance. Tickets are $25-75. More Defy wrestling events are scheduled for Tacoma on Aug. 3 and Sept. 10.
Strickland has performed previously with Defy in Seattle and says the events are different than what you’d expect at a World Wrestling Entertainment show.
“We have more freedom to be ourselves,” Strickland said. “In the WWE everything is scripted and people can feel that. This is a more genuine performance.”
Farmer says it’s like the difference between a play and an improvisation show.
“It’s edgier than the WWE,” Farmer said. “I mean, it’s still fun for the family. There is no cursing or blood. But there are different styles of wrestling you’ll see here. ... It’s pro wrestling with a punk rock edge.”
The event is still scripted with the intent of putting on an entertaining show, Farmer said. Defy is quickly carving out strong reputation by using experienced talent like Strickland (who now lives in Orlando) and Davey Boy Smith Jr., who arrived Wednesday from Japan. They also use former WWE wrestlers like Cody “Stardust” Rhodes. The events are streamed live on defyondemand.com for those paying the $3.99 per month subscription.
“They are great events,” Strickland said. “You have former WWE guys and guys on their way to the WWE. It’s a great chance for fans to get in at that start.”
Strickland says he does aspire to someday join the WWE, but for now he’s happy with the success he’s found as an independent wrestler.
“Everybody wants to get there (WWE),” he said. “It’s like the difference between an independent musician and signing with a record label. You can make a pretty good living when you are independent, but you make a lot more with the record label.”