It sounds like the set-up for a joke: A chef, a clown, and a villian walk into a wrestling ring.
In reality, they’re members of North West Pro Wrestling, an independent wrestling organization based in Vaughn. The punchline, if there is one, is that North West Pro’s roster of 15 crazy characters draws more than 100 fans to the Key Peninsual Civic Center once a month for a 90-minute show.
North West Pro is the brainchild of Jeremy Dilley, who graduated from Henderson Bay High School in 2006 and started NWP in 2013.
“We have characters, big giant dudes, brawlers, cowboys — you name it,” said 29-year-old Dilley, whose wrestling name is JD Mason.
Out of costume, the NWP wrestlers live ordinary lives, but one thing ties them together: their love of entertaining.
Chuck Payne is a 36-year-old who lives in Shelton. By day, he’s a stock associate at JCPenney. By night, he’s a super-villain, drawing energy from the booing, frenzied crowd as he dispatches his opponents in the ring.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling — I love it,” Payne said. “For those few minutes, you get to be somebody else. The day-to-day, week-to-week life is gone. You’re a different character. There’s no bigger high in the world than going out and doing that.”
In the ring, Mark Fergason, a 45-year-old Port Orchard resident, is known as The Chef.
His character is a good guy, and his costume includes a big stock pot filled with candy that he throws to the kids who eagerly follow him around the ring before the match.
Fergason, a small business owner who held childhood ambitions of being a professional chef, watched wrestling on TV in the late 1970s and 1980s.
“They had a lot of gimmick characters back then,” he said. “I thought, ‘What could be better than to be a chef?’ ”
Like those around him, the allure of performing in the ring keeps him coming back.
“Entertaining the fans is the biggest thing,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s any way to describe it, unless you perform in a play or for an audience or something. Whether they’re cheering you or booing you, there’s no other feeling like that.”
DREAMS OF GLORY
Dilley once harbored ambitions of making it to the big show — the WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment.
After graduating from high school, he enrolled in a now-defunct wrestling school in Auburn. Attendees trained eight hours a day, seven days a week inside an old mechanic shop.
“It was a Russian chop shop, to be honest,” Dilley said. “It was pretty shady.”
He had his first match in Milwaukie, Oregon, in 2006.
“It was a six-man tag-team match,” Dilley said. “It was on a Sunday night, so I had to go to school the next day.”
He started getting more gigs and wrestled on a “loop,” hitting two or three cities most weekends.
“I’d have one in Poulsbo, then Portland, then Wenatchee,” he said. “Then the next weekend, I’d take it off.”
Wrestling became an obsession for Dilley.
“I’ve quit jobs where I was making $16,000, $17,000 per month for a $10 payday, just to get my name out there,” he said.
Yet over time, he grew tired of the politics and grind of the business.
A disagreement with one promoter could poison the well with others. Spending all his time trying to get booked became tiresome.
“I just got tired of playing that game,” Dilley said. “And I had a few friends that were tired of the same scenario. I was very confident in my wrestling abilities, so I started training people.”
Heart, soul and time
Training others led to NWP, which put on its first show July 6, 2013.
On top of driving about 1,400 miles a week for his day job, Dilley trains five days a week in Port Orchard with anyone who wants to join him.
He estimates he also spends about 90 minutes every night creating storylines for NWP’s characters and working on the script for the next show.
“I change the card six or seven times usually,” Dilley said. “I’m never satisfied until about a week before the show.
“I always compare it to making breakfast — you’re not going to put a Whopper with your eggs. That wouldn’t make any sense.”
Add all that to being a family man: Dilley has a wife, a daughter and a son on the way.
“I come home every night just in time to put my daughter to bed,” he said. “I have a WWE wrestler’s schedule without being a WWE wrestler.”
He pours his heart and soul into the events, and for those who work with him, it shows.
“I’ve worked with people from all over the place, and it didn’t feel welcoming all the time,” said Payne, the super-villain. “I love (NWP). It’s the first place I’ve been where it feels like you’re going into a family there.”
The shows at the Key Peninsula Civic Center are family-friendly, first and foremost.
“If anyone does something that isn’t family friendly or is out of line, I’m the first one to jump down their throat,” Dilley said. “We have good music, food and drinks, T-shirts — just a fun family atmosphere. It’s similar to going to a movie — like a live-action movie.”