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Glory Pro Wrestling has Taken Some Bumps, but Fought Its Way Back 

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KLD (left) and Danny Adams had been building for months toward a high-stakes tag-team match against rivals, Knicks and Brubaker. - MONICA MILEUR
  • MONICA MILEUR
  • KLD (left) and Danny Adams had been building for months toward a high-stakes tag-team match against rivals, Knicks and Brubaker.

Long before Glory Pro showed up on the scene, the St. Louis area had a storied history with professional wrestling. From 1959 to 1983, weekly television show Wrestling at the Chase aired on KPLR-TV (Channel 11). Filmed at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in the Central West End, the show was promoted by the now-defunct St. Louis Wrestling Club, a member of the National Wrestling Alliance (which has, bizarrely, been owned by Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan since 2017 and recently launched a YouTube show).

Although mostly a local sensation, the Chase ring saw some of the most prolific and celebrated wrestlers of the time, including Ric Flair, Bruiser Brody and Ted DiBiase. Missouri native Harley Race, who achieved international stardom with the World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE), was a familiar face at the Chase as well. In 2000, he founded the Harley Race Wrestling Academy in Troy, Missouri.

Growing up in St. Louis, Adams remembers the impact this promotion had on his family, albeit from the stands. "My roots go back to Wrestling at the Chase days, because my great-grandfather was a super fan of Wrestling at the Chase; he was at every single show," Adams remembers. "He instilled that into my dad, because they'd watch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and that just trickled down from my brother and cousins to me. I don't remember a time in my life when there weren't wrestling tapes and action figures; it was just always a part of my family."

If Wrestling at the Chase doesn't ring a bell, mention of South Broadway Athletic Club likely will for many St. Louisans. Maybe that's because it actually predates it — the club has operated in Soulard for more than a century — or because it has run monthly wrestling shows for more than 40 years.

When Glory Pro was founded in Alton, Illinois, in February 2017, it was aiming to offer a different kind of local wrestling experience to fans — one that drew from more modern styles and trends in professional wrestling. With Glory Pro, the hope was to reflect not just the current state of mainstream wrestling but also the best talent the indie circuit has to offer. This wouldn't be a place where fans would see the same faces year after year, but one where talent from across the country would travel to perform, including industry superstars.

That mission was embodied by Glory Pro's founder, Aaron Frobel (ring name "Unbreakable" Michael Elgin), a world-traveled professional wrestler who has worked in high-profile promotions including New Japan Pro Wrestling, Impact Wrestling and Revive Pro Wrestling. Elgin's industry experience and connections are impressive, and he'd already opened a successful sister business locally, a wrestling school in St. Louis that was getting buzz well beyond the metro area.

Davidson and Adams both trained at Elgin's school, as did Camron Rogers (ring name Curt Stallion), who moved from his home in Texas to do so. Stallion says he gave Glory Pro its name.

"We wanted something that stood out, as opposed to All American Wrestling or everything else out there today," he recalls. "We wanted something that people would hear and instantly be like, 'OK, that's different.' The original thought process was royalty and kingdoms and stuff like that, but it evolved from the first show. We knew we had something special."

That something special was talent, and not just from within the regional or indie scenes, but nationally and internationally. In less than a year, Elgin booked some very big names in the industry, including The Lucha Brothers, Marifuji, Donovan Dijak (now known as Dominik Dijakovic in the WWE) and Cody Rhodes. (The Rhodes show alone sold a staggering 650 tickets in advance.) Most of these events were held at the Spaulding Club, a bar and banquet hall in Alton, save for the Rhodes show, which was hosted at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center in Belleville.

Glory Pro also took pains to stage a polished professional wrestling show, including branded ring aprons, turnbuckles, walk-out curtains and a ring announcer who only appears in a suit. The aura of early shows was that this was a cut above what you'd find elsewhere, not just in terms of entertainment but in quality. Glory Pro quickly gained a large following, both on the backs of strong regional mid-card wrestlers and the famous names headlining events.

By the end of 2017, though, the new and promising promotion was in trouble. In December, Elgin was publicly accused of mishandling a sexual assault allegation made against one of Glory Pro's featured wrestlers. The news broke on social media and myriad wrestling sites. The backlash was so swift that Elgin, who was wrestling in Japan at the time, deleted his Twitter account. A few days later, he released a public statement acknowledging the allegations and apologizing for his handling of events, but for many Glory Pro fans, the damage was done.

In the statement, Elgin announced that he was in the process of transitioning ownership of Glory Pro. "I love the company I've helped build, the wrestlers that have worked for it and I love that the fans enjoy the product," Elgin said in the statement. "If me being involved harms that, I wanted to make sure that Glory Pro was able to stand on its own without me if necessary." (In an email, Elgin declined to comment.)

It was a mess, and the timing was terrible. Glory Pro was heading toward its most important event yet, a one-year anniversary show featuring New Japan Pro Wrestling star Tetsuya Naito as the main event. In 2017, Naito was named the twelfth-best wrestler in the world out of 500 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated; to say that the show was a big deal to fans would be an understatement.

Davidson and Adams were too personally invested in Glory Pro and what they'd helped build there to see it die, yet they had no previous experience running a wrestling promotion. (Inskip, a Glory Pro business partner from the beginning, stayed on.) Davidson, who spent his early twenties as a music promoter and concert venue owner before giving up that career for wrestling, knew a thing or two about running shows, but admittedly not as much as he'd have liked before hosting Naito. Even today, Adams quickly channels the anxiety of that first show.

"The guy who started [Glory Pro] got himself into trouble, and the company was in danger of just going away; it was going to be done because there was no one to step up and run things," Adams says. "Just for me, personally, I couldn't let all of the hard work that everyone did — all the wrestlers — that first year building it up for it to just be thrown in the garbage."

Scheduled for February 18, 2018, at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the show was billed as the promotion's one-year anniversary, but behind the scenes, Davidson and Adams were struggling to pull it off. "Six hundred tickets sold and, at the time, we had one of the top wrestlers in the world coming in, and we didn't know what we were doing yet," Adams remembers.

Yet the day of the show, the biggest snafu was a disorganized meet-and-greet with the headliner, something that Davidson and Adams still regret but that hardly sunk the show. Over the course of 2018, the pair found their groove as promoters, balancing the needs of Glory Pro with their own personal ambitions as wrestlers.

"I think when we first started, with our experience as wrestlers, we were able to build a wrestler's wrestling show, in that, when I get to a show, what do I want my experience wrestling on the show to be like?" Adams says. "I like shows that are laid back and everyone kind of has the creative freedom to do what they want to do. We're not trying to control the wrestlers. It's not a power-trip thing."

Impact Wrestling's Tessa Blanchard headlined Glory Pro's first Missouri show. - MONICA MILEUR
  • MONICA MILEUR
  • Impact Wrestling's Tessa Blanchard headlined Glory Pro's first Missouri show.

With the October 5 show, the new owners have gone beyond what Elgin built with Glory Pro by overcoming another hurdle: hosting the promotion's first Missouri show. This may seem like a small thing to industry outsiders, but it required quite a bit of time, money and work. (Inskip and Adams have full-time jobs on top of Glory Pro, Inskip as an attorney and Adams as an IT professional.) The state of Illinois requires no regulation, licensing or fees to stage professional wrestling shows, which is one of the reasons that Glory Pro had previously only hosted events in Alton, Belleville, Collinsville and Edwardsville. "If you find a big hall in Illinois and put a ring in it, there's nothing stopping you from having a show," Adams says.

To begin hosting shows in the St. Louis area, Glory Pro would need to comply with the regulations and licensing governed by the Missouri Athletic Commission. Regulations for pro wrestling events vary from state to state; some states consider it "sports entertainment" (the term industry titan WWE uses as well), while others label it a sport but don't charge the same fees for licensing and regulation. The Missouri Athletic Commission is a fee-funded agency, which means that it is sustained by the income it collects, says Missouri Athletic Commission executive director Tim Lueckenhoff.

To host a pro wrestling event in Missouri, you first need a $400 promoter's license. These licenses are issued every two years and aren't prorated based upon when you buy it; if you need it a month before it expires, it's still $400. Next, a promoter has to provide a surety bond or letter of credit for $25,000, which acts as insurance in the event that a promoter defaults on paying anyone involved with the event. You then need an event permit, which costs $150.

In addition to these permitting fees, the state takes five percent of ticket sales for every show; a portion of that five percent is meant to cover the agency's costs for inspectors, who are on-site for every show. The day of an event, at least one state inspector visits the event venue ahead of the start time to verify that all of the wrestlers participating have state licenses and have had blood work and a comprehensive physical (two more expenses required for wrestlers) completed within the past year before they're approved to participate that day.

The Missouri General Assembly passes the laws that give the commission the ability to regulate the sports in the state. The commission has the power to file requests for statute changes, which first must be approved by the governor's office. Although pro wrestling is often seen as entertainment, it is a physical, full-contact sport that often involves injury and bloodshed. "Several years ago we went to our legislature and tried to not require blood work for wrestlers, just to ease the cost burden, but the legislature advised us that we need to continue because it is a sport where they do bleed," Lueckenhoff says.

For Glory Pro's first Missouri show, Davidson, Adams and Inskip paid for the blood work and physical exams needed for their featured wrestlers whose insurance wouldn't cover those costs, as well as the $40 licenses required for each wrestler to participate. The trio estimate their total upfront costs with the Missouri Athletic Commission for their first Missouri show at about $2,000.

"It's not a bad thing, but it's a huge pain when you want to bring guys in from out of state and you have to explain to them the licensing process, and then they have to go to the doctor and do that on their own time — especially for the wrestlers where it's not hard for them to get work," Davidson says. "It's going to be hard for us to deal with stuff like that in Missouri; luckily we have a core group of wrestlers who are very invested in this product."

The fees required by the Missouri Athletic Commission are perfunctory for industry heavyweights like WWE, which hosts a handful of televised and untelevised shows in Missouri every year, but they can be daunting for new promotions without much capital like Glory Pro, which operates on razor-thin margins. In addition to paying for bloodwork and physical costs for wrestlers whose insurance wouldn't cover those fees, Glory Pro also paid for expenses for its two Impact Wrestling headliners, Tessa Blanchard and Daga.

Blanchard is a rising star in the independent wrestling circuit with promotions including Impact Wrestling, Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide in Mexico and Women of Wrestling. In 2018, she was named the fifteenth-best female wrestler in the world out of the top 100 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. In the ring, Blanchard displays incredible strength and intensity; her billed weight is 126 pounds yet she wrestles as if she's twice that size, attacking opponents with forceful chops and kicks and landing brutal moves. She is captivating — and most importantly, a lot of fun — to watch, regardless of a given match outcome.

The booking reflects how much the professional wrestling industry has evolved in the past decade: The sun has set on the misogynistic and degrading days of bra and panty or string bikini matches, with female wrestlers finally appreciated for their skills and athleticism in the ring.

At Glory Pro's first Missouri event, Blanchard faces a St. Louis wrestler, Savanna Stone, and two Chicago natives, Elayna Black and Laynie Luck, in a fatal four-way. All four women are extremely talented in the ring, with each bringing a different style and persona to the match. Blanchard is a huge get for Glory Pro; she is one of the most talented and ambitious women working in the indie wrestling circuit right now, if not in the industry in general.

The challenges that Davidson, Inskip and Adams have faced with Glory Pro in the past two years have resulted in greater opportunity for up-and-coming wrestlers, too. In the almost two years since Davidson, Adams and Inskip have run Glory Pro, they've seen the profiles of many of their longtime wrestlers rise, with some even positioned to potentially break into mainstream wrestling in the coming year.

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