HANNIBAL — Saturday was a special day for dozens of professional wrestlers and scores of fans at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center, as the American Championship Wrestling event ushered in the hometown debut for Roy Lewis (Aaron Roy), and appearances by World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar Kane (Glenn Jacobs) and WWE Superstar and trainer Dr. Tom Prichard.
The all-day event began with a wrestling clinic led by Prichard, who partners with Kane at the Jacobs-Prichard Wrestling Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. Kane, Lewis and Prichard agreed that independent wrestling is stronger than ever — Kane remembered wrestling in venues like the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center before his career in WWE took off, and Lewis recalled watching wrestling matches at the same place where he was now stepping through the ropes. With the growth of independent wrestling, more opportunities are available than ever for wrestlers to compete and for fans to experience the sights, sounds and fast-paced action of a live show in their community.
Prichard trained Lewis and several fellow wrestlers earlier in the day, emphasizing the use of psychology through actions in place of words. He encouraged each wrestler to observe the techniques employed by yesterday's stars like Harley Race, Terry Funk, Brad Armstrong and Nick Bockwinkel.
“I think a lot of times the kids breaking in today don't understand when I say 'everything you do means something,' because they've never seen it when the guys took the time to tell a story in the ring and didn't take shortcuts,” Prichard said. “Everything — every hold, the look on their face, every movement — meant something.”
He said “there's no other feeling” like experiencing a live wrestling event and the connection that forms between the wrestlers and the fans — whether they're cheering or booing.
“You know when you got it,” Prichard said. “Too many guys think they've got it, and they don't. It takes years to get it — there's no substitute for experience.”
Kane said Prichard has trained wrestlers all over the world, including WWE's Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Henry and Kurt Angle.
“Hopefully, these folks today will at least pick up a few things that helpthem along the road,” Kane said.
Lewis learned wrestling fundamentals from Harley Race in the beginning of his career, practicing for a year before competing four years ago. He's slept in his car and trained an entire summer in a St. Louis warehouse packed with multiple wrestling rings, and he regularly runs late-night sprints to bolster his cardiovascular strength.
The years of work paid off for Lewis, and he said professional wrestling involved multitasking with a dose of adrenaline. There are endless clues to pick up on — excessive wear on the front of an opponent's boots is a sign of a “head charge” style of combat.
As Lewis made his way to the ring, he taunted some of the fans, reveling
in a sea of boos as he climbed to the top rope. He recalled the satisfaction of fulfilling his lifelong dream.
“One thing I've been thinking about is how truly full-circle it is,” Lewis said. “I left not having an identity, not knowing who I am. Four years later, I'm coming back — treated differently, respected. It's hard to describe.”
Kane shared advice for anyone who wants to become a professional wrestler, recalling setbacks like a knee injury he suffered while playing football for present-day Truman State University.
“I think that everyone can accomplish a lot more than they think they can, if they're willing to just hang in there and overcome obstacles and keep going,” Kane said. “My career was a testament to that, because it wasn't always easy. Kane essentially debuted in St. Louis...Oct. 5, 1997 was a special night for me.”
Kane was thrilled to take a similar circular journey, visiting the area where he grew up. It's been years since he had been any closer than St. Louis or Kansas City for WWE events. Regardless of the location, his favorite part of the experience is interacting with everyone. He enjoyed the chance to catch up with fellow wrestler Marcus Mansfield, who's training his 15-year-old son, Blake. Mansfield shared his enthusiasm for the day.
“We're really glad to make it an experience for people — versus just 'I did this,'” Mansfield said. “We want it to be a whole experience — we want it be something people will remember forever.”