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‘This one is going to get nasty’: Going inside the ropes of Omaha’s pro wrestling scene

Strong personalities and passion have helped the local wrestling world endure the death of one of its biggest stars.
Wrestling story
Posted at 7:03 PM, Oct 23, 2023

A dozen adults, one holding a baseball bat, surrounded the ring as Cody Guffey conducted the pseudo-staff meeting. In two hours, Guffey would become his alter ego Brixton Nash and his blood would stain the canvas before 300 fans in a sold-out Omaha Firefighters Union Hall.

But at this moment Guffey wanted the other wrestlers on the same page. Wait for your mark before stepping through the curtain. Care for each other. And don’t take too long to set up the 10-foot-tall steel cage. The audience will only wait so long, he told them.

Just like that September event, fans have packed every show organized by Omaha-based Magnum Wrestling since they resumed in March.

The fans in the seats, the wrestlers in the ring and the supporting staff making it all possible – they are the diehards. They are teachers, insurance agents and other occupational staples of everyday life who, outside of their day jobs, are dedicated to a spectacle that enthralls millions of fans across the globe.

Casual fans may think of global brands like WWE when they hear pro wrestling. But the universe extends to more than 100 active promotion companies across the U.S. Those smaller circuits feed the fan appetite and often launch the careers of pro wrestlers.

Still, a rabid fanbase isn’t a guarantee at these smaller shows, as former WWE superstar EC3, fresh off winning the NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion, informed the Magnum crew in September.

“The hardest thing to do in this business is draw,” he told them. “So, congrats to all of you for selling this place out.”

Wrestling story
Wrestler Alvin Falcone pins Ethan Everheart under his foot as Joe Desanti, right, hypes the crowd at Omaha’s Rathskeller Bier Haus & Restaurant on Friday, Oct. 13. Photo by Joseph Saaid for the Flatwater Free Press

Magnum Wrestling’s endurance is largely attributed to wrestler Jaysin Strife.

At 13, the Council Bluffs native started a backyard wrestling promotion with a few friends. They slammed each other onto old mattresses. The high-fliers climbed atop his family’s shed and dropped elbows on each other.

He launched Magnum Pro Wrestling in 2010 and it quickly gained steam.

He brought in future WWE stars like AJ Styles and Drew McIntyre and helped develop local talent. Strife made it on national television for both WWE and All Elite Wrestling, WWE’s closest competitor.

When one of wrestling’s storied championships was defended in Omaha in January 2022, the marquee listed Jaysin Strife as the challenger.

Less than a year after that title match, Strife, whose real name was Nathan Blodgett, died from an autoimmune disease. He was 37. Outside the ring, he was a financial adviser, a hobbyist auto mechanic and substitute teacher at Lewis Central School District.

“He was probably one of the best wrestlers out there that never got signed as a national wrestler. There were so many national wrestlers that, when he passed away, tributed him,” said Logan Davis, one of Magnum’s current co-owners.

Magnum resumed in March with a show that reflected Blodgett’s passion beyond the wrestling world.

He loved rescuing and adopting animals, often volunteering with local humane societies. The event raised over $3,000 for Midland Humane Society in Council Bluffs.

At September’s show, homages to Blodgett were everywhere.

The wrestler known as Redwing wrote “#Strife” down the spine of his singlet. Others wore shirts reading “I’m A Jaysin Strife Guy.”

A handful of fans wore the same shirt, including Michael Propst. Propst went to his first show at the old Ralston Arena when Jaysin Strife improbably won the Mangum championship belt.

Strife, a good guy and face of the company at the time, ripped up the belt after the match and went from hero to villain.

“God rest his soul, love you man,” Propst said, pointing to the rafters. “After that I was like, ‘I have to keep coming back.’”

Propst sat in the second row during the September show with Magnum friends Mike Hamilton and Ean Brown.

Brown became hooked in 2015 at his first Magnum show. As wrestlers chased each other throughout the crowd during a tag team street fight, one grabbed a chair and swung. The sound of swinging steel hitting flesh and bone seared into Brown’s memory.

“From that moment on, this is what I love. This artform. This is what I want to be part of. This is beautiful,” Brown said.

As fans started taking their seats, Davis, Magnum’s video producer as well as co-owner, nervously ate pizza behind the curtain. After months of planning, it was nearly showtime.

Outside the production area sat Davis’ girlfriend, Diane Crary, and their 5-month-old daughter.

Davis was considering leaving wrestling when Crary came to her first Magnum show nearly two years ago. After the show ended, she pleaded with him to stay.

Crary eventually joined Magnum and oversaw music production before taking a hiatus: She was pregnant with her and Davis’ child.

Crary said she doesn’t want to force their daughter, Ciri, into the ring. But they’ve already chosen her first ring name just in case: Kay Otic.

At the mic, ring announcer Pete Sakaris, a stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy and a day job at an insurance company, introduced the in-house commentary team of Ryan Russo and Daisy Daniels.

Russo, known to his band students at Fairbury High School as Ryan Dusso, has worked with Magnum for eight years. He put on his headset and laid out the importance of the evening.

For just the third time, the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion would wrestle at a Magnum event.

The NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship is one of the most storied titles in professional wrestling. It was born in 1948 by the National Wrestling Alliance, wrestling’s overarching governing body, as a way of building up stars within each regional territory while allowing one true champion to defend his gold across the country.

The belt’s Nebraska history extends beyond its three Magnum appearances.

Omaha native Steve Borden, better known as Sting, twice won the title. Retired hall of fame wrestlers Dave Sullivan and Baron von Raschke, both Nebraskans, competed for it.

Wrestling story
Wrestler Kyle Pro laughs in the dressing room at Magnum Wrestling’s Oct. 13 show at Omaha’s Rathskeller Bier Haus & Restaurant. Magnum hosts monthly events at various locations in the Omaha area. Photo by Joseph Saaid for the Flatwater Free Press

Nebraska used to be home to the Omaha Wrestling Alliance. That promotion ceased operations in 2002. From the ashes rose Magnum and PWP Live, another current Omaha-based promotion.

PWP typically holds its shows at The Waiting Room in Omaha and at different festivals in the area. Zac James, an executive producer for PWP’s live shows, said they typically get a rowdy crowd and heavily rely on word of mouth to grow their audience.

While Strife wrestled in shows for both promotions, there’s no current working relationship between PWP and Magnum.

Magnum’s September show got underway with a singles match that ended when a group of workout-clothing-clad women forcibly hauled the manager for one of the wrestlers through the crowd, creating a distraction that allowed his opponent to win. The 20-person battle royal followed, flooding the ring with zany characters and familiar faces.

Few received a reception like Wisconsin-based Sierra, the event’s lone female competitor. The crowd hollered with each sharp kick she delivered. They groaned when an opponents’ kick slowed her momentum. She rolled into a corner to avoid elimination.

With only three other wrestlers remaining, Sierra ran over and flipped two wrestlers over the top rope. Momentum carried both to the floor.

Fans shot out of their seats.

The two-person commentary team came unglued. Russo and Daniels told the audience that Sierra’s win – the first Magnum battle royal win by a woman – earned her a shot at the Magnum Wrestling title in December.

The seeds of what Davis called the “women’s wrestling movement within Magnum” were planted in April. Fans, a large group of whom are women, wanted more female performers. Magnum listened.

Davis cherished the reaction to Sierra’s win.

Wrestling story
Ethan Everheart barks at opponent Alvin Falcone to stay down. Photo by Joseph Saaid for the Flatwater Free Press

Then it came time to assemble the cage.

Mason Groth, a 24-year wrestling veteran, ensured its sturdiness. He started in his hometown of Sioux City, where he was first drawn to the charisma and work ethic of Blodgett. Groth also worked with some in PWP, which makes him a self-described “proud grandparent” of professional wrestling.

The Nebraska Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame inducted him under his ring name, Mason Patrick, this summer. He refereed more than 1,100 shows in multiple states during a 20-year career, often working shows where he was the only referee.

Groth said he would have been reffing on this night if he wasn’t forced to retire in 2020 after undergoing a third back surgery.

“I’ll always come down and help these guys as long as I can because it’s continuing Nate’s legacy,” Groth said.

Groth returned to his spot by the production area as the tag-team cage match started.

“I’ve done a few over the years,” he smiled before leaning forward in his chair. “This one is going to get nasty.”

Joey Dozer, a member of the team Guns N Beer, eventually scaled the cage. Fans held their breath as he steadied himself in the corner. He lept. Time seemed suspended as he plummeted onto his opponents.

The 10-foot descent brought astonished applause. Blood from both teams spilled across the canvas.

Capable hands tore down the cage and replaced the blood-stained canvas for the main event, which didn’t disappoint.

Fans recapped the night while walking to their cars. Inside, the crew tore down the ring and production equipment. Months of planning and years of dedication forced into totes, then stacked in a trailer.

They did it all over again a few weeks later, maintaining their monthly pace of shows around Omaha. Planning and pain. They’ll do it again at The Granary in Ralston on Nov. 3. They expect another packed house.

“The genuine fans here are ride or die for Magnum,” Hamilton said. “If I don’t lose my voice by the end of the show, I’ve failed. That’s how invested we get. It’s part of this whole community and how much we believe in these people and this program. We want to be part of it. We love it.”

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