Warrior Wrestling: Back to school
By Mike Pankow
August 29, 2018
Cody and The Young Bucks don’t get to have all the fun in the Chicago area this Labor Day weekend.
There’s plenty of high-caliber professional wrestling to go around as the calendar turns to September.
With All In taking place Saturday night at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, there was an opportunity for Steve Tortorello to pounce.
Tortorello, 32, a native of South suburban Tinley Park and resident of Munster, Ind., is the head of Warrior Wrestling, and he is promoting another star-studded event Sunday night at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights.
After a successful show in May, Tortorello is back with Warrior Wrestling 2. And to borrow a phrase from Cody and the Bucks, he’s going all in.
“Strike while the iron is hot,” Tortorello said. “We knew there’d be 10,000 wrestling fans in town, so we thought that this would be the perfect time.”
Warrior Wrestling 2 features top stars such as former WWE Champion Rey Mysterio, Pentagon Jr., Fenix, Rich Swann, Jeff Cobb, Tessa Blanchard and Chelsea Green. Also in the lineup are IMPACT Wrestling World Champion Austin Aries and IMPACT X Division Champion Brian Cage.
The main event is an eight-man War of Attrition Match with Aries, Cage, Mysterio, Pentagon, Fenix, Swann, Cobb and Sammy Guevara. The bout has a set of unique rules with the winner being crowned the first Warrior Wrestling Champion. The eight men will be grouped randomly into teams of four. The winners of the 4-on-4 tag match move on to a regular tag team match where the four remaining competitors will be randomized into teams. The winners of the 2-on-2 match will then square off 1-on-1 for the championship.
“The War of Attrition match concept is kind of my baby,” Tortorello said. “It was awesome to see so many great guys come together to be a part of it. Look at all of the 1-on-1 combinations that we can have in that match. I’m excited just as fan to see what they all can do. You’ve got eight guys in there, each of whom can put on a killer match on his own, and they’re all going to be in the same spot.”
The card is filled with matches of all different styles, including two phenomenal women’s matchups with Blanchard against Jordynne Grace for the Black Label Pro Title and a four-way match with Green, Britt Baker, Mia Yim and Santana Garrett.
The quirkiest match of the night features former WCW Champion David Arquette (yes, that David Arquette, the comedic actor) and independent wrestler RJ City teaming up against former WWE superstar James Ellsworth and Frank the Clown, a Chicago-area WWE superfan who is best known for dating Noelle Foley, the daughter of Mick Foley.
Other Chicago-area talents on the card include Colt Cabana, Jay Bradley and former IMPACT Wrestling X Division and Tag Team Champion DJZ (aka Zema Ion).
“This is a unique card,” Tortorello said. “The War of Attrition is the first-time-type of match. This card is going to have a little bit of everything, so if you like different styles, if you like women’s wrestling or Lucha Libre or big, strong power guys.”
All proceeds from the event will go toward Marian Catholic students for financial aid and tuition assistance. Tortorello noted the wrestlers “will retain their regular rates” for working the show but added that some wrestlers anonymously “lessened their rates” to help out the cause.
Initially, Warrior Wrestling was supposed to be a pet project for Tortorello, because of his love of wrestling. But Eric Hamilton, a close of friend of Tortorello, suggested that he wasn’t in it for the money, so he told Tortorello to make it a fundraiser for the school.
Tortorello isn’t just a fledgling wrestling promoter, he is the principal and teacher at Marian Catholic, from where he graduated in 2004, and now he’s combining his passions of education and wrestling.
“Sixty percent of the kids here at the school are on financial aid or tuition assistance,” Tortorello said. “Kids are able to come here because we able to offer that.”
Tortorello grew up a wrestling fan but got out of it in the early ’90s, but one moment hooked him back in a few years later – the Undertaker vs. Mankind match in the Hell in a Cell at WWE King of the Ring in June 1998.
Ever since, Tortorello has been a die-hard fanatic, naming Chicago’s own CM Punk, Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Owens, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega among his all-time favorites.
His passion carried over into this schooling at the University of Notre Dame.
“In college I wrote my senior honors thesis on the history of pro wrestling from World War II to the present,” Tortorello said. “It was a blast. My advisor loved the idea and I went nuts with it.”
Tortorello also applied for a creative writing position for WWE while finishing up at Notre Dame.
“I actually got pretty far along in the hiring process, and it was very much intimated to me that I might be coming in after graduation,” he said. “And then they changed how they hire and what they’re looking for. Then they were like, ‘You need to have Hollywood experience, sorry.’ I met a lot of people in that process.”
After getting his bachelor’s degree in 2008 in American Studies and English and master’s degrees in 2010 and 2013 in Education and Education Administration from Notre Dame, Tortorello moved to Los Angeles for a short time to teach in a volunteer program. While there he trained for six months in hopes of possibly becoming a wrestler. He learned under Joey Ryan and Johnny Goodtime at Mach-1, a school based in Anaheim.
Tortorello’s pro wrestling dreams were shelved temporarily when he moved back to the Chicago area to return to Marian. He was named the school’s first lay principal in 2014.
Back home, Tortorello still had the itch. He attended pro wrestling shows around the area and wanted to do something in the business.
“A year or so ago, I wanted to get involved in some way,” he said. “I started poking around a lot of different independent groups to see if I can get involved and really got a lot of doors closed in my face. It’s kind of a closed business. So I decided I’m going to do it on my own.”
After that fateful conversation with Hamilton, Tortorello was ready to roll, but he had to convince one other person, his boss, Marian Catholic President Vince Krydynski.
“I told (Krydynski), ‘Hey, I’ve got a crazy idea. If you give me 15 minutes of your time and if you tell me if it’s crazy and dumb, we’d never speak of it again,’ ” Tortorello explained. “I put together a PowerPoint presentation. It was 22-slide PowerPoint and by slide four, my boss was like ‘Done. I’m sold, let’s do it.’ I got the green light to put together a budget and to do one show last spring and it went really well.”
So Tortorello, with his Drew Gulak moment, had won over Krydynski.
In May, Tortorello promoted the first Warrior Wrestling show and it was a rousing success. He was able to book a WrestleMania 29 rematch between Jake Hager (fka Jack Swagger) and Alberto El Patron (fka Alberto Del Rio) as his main event. Other matches included Cage against Moose and Blanchard against Garrett. Matt Sydal, Swoggle, current NXT star Deonna Purrazzo and current NWA Champion Nick Aldis were among the others on the stacked first edition.
It was the first show Tortorello ever promoted, saying he “made a lot of rookie mistakes and whatnot.” But obviously he did some things right as he has not only booked some wrestling’s biggest stars for Warrior Wrestling 2, but he also was able to enlist some local help from Freelance Wrestling, which runs shows about once a month.
Sunday’s event with include a six-man tag team match featuring competitors from Freelance.
“I’m excited about having all of the guys from Freelance Wrestling,” Tortorello said. “Freelance has been awesome. When we started this in the spring, I reached out to a lot of local promotions to see if we can co-promote. Nick Almendarez (Matt Knicks) is a great guy, infinitely helpful, bends over backwards for us. He and his crew are wonderful guys.”
If Warrior Wrestling 2 is a success like the company’s initial show, then expect more events in the future. Tortorello is cautiously optimistic.
“Hopefully this one goes well and we can keep doing it,” he said.
Vince McMahon, look out.
WARRIOR WRESTLING 2 primer
When: Sunday, September 2. Fan fest at 5:30 p.m., belltime 7:30 p.m.
Where: Marian Catholic High School, 700 Ashland Ave., Chicago Heights, Ill., 60411
Tickets: Main show tickets start at $30, fan fest admission $25.
For more information and ticket sales: http://www.warriorwrestling.net/
War of Attrition match for Warrior Wrestling Championship: Rey Mysterio vs. Sammy Guevara vs. Fenix vs. Jeff Cobb vs. Austin Aries vs. Pentagon Jr. vs. Brian Cage vs. Rich Swann
Tag team match: James Ellsworth & Frank the Clown vs. David Arquette & RJ City
DJZ vs. Pat Monix
Black Label Pro Championship: Jordynne Grace (c) vs. Tessa Blanchard
Four-way match: Chelsea Green vs. Britt Baker vs. Mia Yim vs. Santana Garrett
Six-man tag team match: Matt Knicks & Isaias Velazquez & Gringo Loco vs. Steve Fierce & Bryce Benjamin & Robert Anthony
Sam Adonis vs. Colt Cabana
Darby Allin vs. Jay Bradley