It's rare to see tailgating in the parking lot of the Gardenville Masonic Temple in Affton. The unassuming building at the intersection of Gravois and Heege roads has hosted magic shows and weddings, but on a recent Saturday, it features a very different kind of ring: one built for professional wrestlers.
The October 5 event marks the comeback of wrestler and Affton native Kevin Kwiatkowski, one of three owners of Glory Pro Wrestling in St. Louis. Known in the ring as Kevin Lee Davidson or KLD, at 378 pounds, Davidson cuts a commanding figure. With a line of attendees snaking out the entrance and across the Affton parking lot before doors open, Davidson can be seen shaking hands and saying hello to friends, family and fans. Free beer is served to those patiently waiting to get inside, but Davidson doesn't partake — this isn't that kind of wrasslin' show.
The day is a long time coming for him. At a match in late January, while catching another wrestler who was doing a dive, Davidson was hit by a second wrestler, and the combined impact tore his bicep tendon clear off the bone. In the nine months since, he's gone through surgery, recovery and training to heal and regain his strength. The past year has also been trying for Davidson personally; in August 2018, his father, David Lee Kwiatkowski (who inspired KLD's ring name), was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. He died a week before Christmas and about a month before Davidson's injury. "That stretch right there really wasn't good for me," Davidson says. "I was going through a pretty bad time."
During his recovery, the promise of this comeback show in his hometown helped keep Davidson motivated. For most of 2019, his #NoNewFriends tag-team partners, wrestlers Mike Outlaw and Danny Adams, built up a storyline with two wrestlers representing The Four Star Heroes from Chicago. On October 5, KLD and Adams would finally settle the feud in a no disqualification street-fight match for the United Glory tag-team championship title. Much of the feud revolved around the Chicago wrestlers hating St. Louis and bad-mouthing our fair city, which swiftly made them enemies with #NoNewFriends and fans.
"It was very important to me to have my first match back from surgery in my hometown," Davidson says. "I'm more motivated now than ever. I really did feel like this was a very crucial year in my career that I missed out on. I'm looking to make the most out of these last few months of the year."
It's also a big day for Glory Pro, a promotion that's endured its share of challenges in the past two and a half years, including a public scandal involving its former owner. And though Glory Pro is about to head into its third year of business, the October show is its first in Missouri. Previous events were hosted in venues just across the river in Illinois due to Missouri Athletic Commission licensing and regulation fees that proved prohibitive for the upstart enterprise.
It took a lot of work for Davidson and his current business partners, Dan Kujawa (a.k.a. Danny Adams) and Corey Inskip (an attorney with no ring name, unfortunately) to get to this point. With a final headcount of about 300, their first Missouri show is sold out, thanks in large part to the charisma of its card, including Impact Wrestling star, Tessa Blanchard, featured in a women's fatal four-way match.
As the sun dips low in the sky, the temperature on this early October evening is cooling, yet inside, the packed room of wrestling fans is not only warm, it's hot — that is to say, it's a rowdy and rapacious crowd that's ready for some damn professional wrestling. The fans are excited, fueled by months of hype (and, of course, free beer). Now it's down to the three partners to make sure the night isn't just a success, but hopefully the first of many Glory Pro shows to come in Missouri.