Mike Quackenbush, Hallowicked, Green Ant and Razerhawk give an in-depth look at one of the most prestigious wrestling schools in the world.
By Michael Melchor, Executive Editor
Aside from the hoopla in Chicago earlier this month, Labor Day weekend also saw CHIKARA’s annual King of Trios, the biggest tournament in pro wrestling. The 2018 iteration featured the return of several names very familiar to wrestling fans. “The Pirate” Jean Pierre Lafitte (known nowadays as PCO), Katrina Waters (the former Katie Lea Burchill), members of The Nexus and Mighty Molly were a handful of names that made this year’s tournament a memorable affair.
In addition to names from the past as well as visitors from other companies (such as Beyond Wrestling, Shimmer Women Athletes and Tokyo Joshi Pro), the three-day tournament also served as a grand stage for both trainers and trainees of the Wrestle Factory.
Founded in 2002 by Mike Quackenbush and Tom “Reckless Youth” Carter in Allentown, PA, The Wrestle Factory is one of the largest and most prestigious pro wrestling schools in the country. Throughout the years, the facility has a expanded and landed a permanent home in Philadelphia, PA and boasts a full curriculum for those wanting to take the dive into pro wrestling.
As founder Mike Quackenbush told The Gorilla Position in an exclusive interview, the existence of CHIKARA alongside The Wrestle Factory is no coincidence.
“When Tom Carter and I launched The Wrestle Factory, it seemed obvious we would need a stage on which we could showcase the kinds of students we were producing,” Quackenbush said. “It was part of the plan from the outset. In terms of how we saw it, it just felt like we needed a store front for the products of our system, otherwise, no one would really see what differentiated us from other competitors. At launch, there were 2 other wrestling schools within a half-hour of our place on Linden Street, so we needed to stand out from the pack.”
In the 16 years that have followed, CHIKARA has become a family-friendly staple of the American pro wrestling scene, blending expert athleticism, immersive characters and stories that break the barriers of what pro wrestling has traditionally been capable of. The promotion and the academy work in tandem to demonstrate the finer aspects of the business in a complete package.
According to The Wrestle Factory website, “Pro-Wrestling is the collision of performance art and athleticism, and demands multifaceted skill sets ranging from improvisation to self-promotion.” It is a definition that reaches far beyond being just promotional copy and defines not only what The Wrestle Factory has to offer prospective students but also its view on the sport itself.
“In the last 4 years, that’s become our mantra,” said Quackenbush. “I’ve reinvented the curriculum at the Factory, basically from bottom to top, to align with this.”
That reinvented program is a result of change and growth, both in the industry and the school.
“It’s always evolving, even now,” Quackenbush said of the school. “When Tom Carter resigned from the company in August of 2002, it freed me to take a stronger hand in shaping the way in which the classes were taught. All the guest trainers we’ve had over the years, like El Pantera and Jorge Rivera, they’ve influenced what we do. My fellow co-trainers, from Claudio Castagnoli to Ophidian have influenced what we do. A few years back, I was lucky enough to attend hundreds of hours of improv workshops and classes, that was very powerful. My time coaching for the WWE was very powerful. I bring all of those experiences back to the Factory. I’m always learning, so that I can be a better teacher for my own students.”
Several current students attest to the diversity of education received at the Wrestle Factory.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to learn a variety of wrestling styles, such as high-flying lucha libre, American catch style, European technical, and Japanese puroresu,” said Razerhawk, a recent trainee and member of the CHIKARA roster. “This training has allowed me to adapt easily to a variety of opponents and situations. Apart from learning the ins and outs of the ring, I’ve learned to have trust in my teammates, and to trust my instincts with regards to my movement – something we like to call ‘body agency.’”
Razerhawk’s comprehension of the overall art form also extends outside the ring thanks to his time at the school.
“I know a lot more about the production side of things and what goes into making an event happen than I did before my first day,” Razerhawk said. “As a trainee you’re expected to help out on Ring Crew – this includes helping with setup and takedown of the ring and equipment during events, making sure fans are taken care of, attending to merch and concessions, doing security, and a whole host of behind-the-scenes tasks as well. There’s so much to do that doesn’t involve rolling around the ring in tights that it’s mind boggling how it all comes together!”
Green Ant, another Wrestle Factory trainee in the roster, has also experienced different facets of performance during his training.
“I’ve learned to watch wrestling for the emotions and moments since starting training,” Green Ant said. “Learning moves is important, but what those moves can evoke in a reaction from the [audience] is even more important. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different wrestling which serves as a reminder that not everyone reacts the same and strengthens my ability to serve a larger audience.”
Aside from learning the performance and discipline of the art form, another idiom ingrained in trainees is respect for the business and those in it.
“The group I started training with were very supportive of everyone in the class and the differences in skills between trainees,” Green Ant said. “I never felt like I was in bad hands with any of the trainers I have had, each knowingly finding the limit of what I thought was possible and pushing me past it.”
Current Wrestle Factory Trainer Hallowicked expands on how the school assists trainees by blending skill levels in each class to help all of their students reach higher.
“Some students enter with a natural ability to pick things up very easily while others need extra coaching and repetition to master techniques,” Hallowicked said. “There are advantages and disadvantages to being in either group and I find having a mix of both types is good for both. The naturals help push the others forward and the ones that need help often end up with an attention to detail that can only come from extra repetition which both groups end up getting. We are all bound by a love of pro wrestling so no one who comes through the doors is an outsider.”
Quackenbush sees the shared love of professional wrestling as an overall change in the philosophy of the business that has helped the industry grow as a whole.
“I think the main way in which our approach has changed is that the bullying and hazing that were part-and-parcel of a bygone era, are, thankfully, bygone,” Quackenbush said. “There’s a more modern approach to all of it, even from Day One. My students now incubate far, far longer than they used to, years back. They have to bake in the oven and harden like never before, or they’ll come out all soft or gooey into an artform that tolerates neither. I don’t want my name, or my school’s name on someone that isn’t ready. I take tremendous pride in each and every student that earns my stamp of approval.”
That pride and dedication has been ingrained in several well-known names in professional wrestling, including Cesaro, Drew Gulak and NXT Assistant Head Coach Sara Amato – all trainers at The Wrestle Factory. The tradition and demand for excellence is shared by Quackenbush and the current trainers of the school.
“We have put into the wrestling community wrestlers that are going to carry the name of the school with them,” Hallowicked said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to have any of our students represent The Wrestle Factory anywhere in the world because I know they are going to do right by us. I want people to be so impressed by their performances that it is a deciding factor for them to come train with us.”
Hallowicked also points out that watching the growth of students under their watch honor the school and the sport also carries a sense of personal accomplishment. “Seeing a student use a technique the exact way you taught them is a validation of the work you both put in together,” Hallowicked said. “Seeing them graduate to shows, going out and impressing live audiences, promoters and other wrestlers is the height of your role as a trainer.”
After 16 years steady growth, The Wrestle Factory has evolved into one of the most complete academies to learn the art, the performance, the craft and the camaraderie of professional wrestling. From seven-day courses for beginners to year-round learning for those wanting to learn it all, the school has provided an unparalleled education from the ground up and looks to be an important stop for many of tomorrow’s superstars as they begin the journey and chase their dreams.
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