COMMERCE CITY | By now, Joe McDougal is used to the disbelief and the criticism; he’s accustomed to the audience members who call him a fake and a phony from the comfort of their seats.
It’s an inevitable part of being a professional wrestler, McDougal said. After 12 years wrestling and managing in the local pro wrestling circuit, McDougal has suffered plenty of real bruises and spilled plenty of real blood in the ring. He’s also resigned himself to the fact that those injuries don’t always impress American crowds. That background made the voyage to Mexico all the more eye-opening for McDougal, an Aurora resident who owns and manages Primos Hardcore and Wrestling, a company established in 2007 that runs matches across the Denver metro area.
“I went to Mexico City for a month this past year to hone my craft as a wrestler … They wrestle seven days a week down there,” said McDougal, 31, who took the trip with a group of fellow Colorado wrestlers. “In America, the first obstacle is that most people think that pro wrestling is fake. In Mexico, they believe in it. It goes soccer, boxing and then ‘Lucha Libre.’”
The masked wrestlers who take the ring in the Mexican circuits are treated as local legends, McDougal added, athletes who boast complicated backstories and intrigues that audiences follow as closely as televised soap operas.
“They look at the luchadores and the wrestlers as athletes. They hold them in high esteem,” he said, adding that the visit would change how he managed his company and trained his wrestlers. “To me, if you want to be a professional wrestler, you should take it as seriously as if you were on a professional football or basketball team.”
McDougal insists that he brought that intensity back from Mexico. The trip has transformed the regiments McDougal and the rest of the Primos staff use to prepare wrestlers at the company’s training facility, a gym built out in a small warehouse in the industrial stretches of Commerce City nicknamed “The Butcher Shop.”
“The training is a lot harder. If I’d say I brought anything back, I brought back lots and lots of new techniques,” said McDougal, who wrestles under the professional name Joey Terrifyin’. “It’s very hard work. I call (training) Primos 90X now; I repackaged the whole regiment. It’s tough. It’s really, really tough.”
The trip also inspired McDougal to add a new attraction to the Primos menu of matches, a Lucha Libre-style match titled “Evolucha” that’s set to kick off at Club Galaxy in Aurora on June 17. The new show will be added to Primos’ regular events — matches that feature a corps of about 50 wrestlers and theatrics straight out of larger companies like World Wrestling Entertainment.
“There are no other wrestling companies that do any shows in Aurora. I wanted to tap into that market and appeal to the Hispanic community,” McDougal said. “That’s why I feel like Aurora has a very high ceiling for growth.”
The new show comes at the tail end of a period of growth and transition for Primos, a wrestling company that includes veterans and newbies alike. Following the dissolution of the local IWF wrestling company last year, Primos took up a larger role in the local wrestling community, taking on new personnel, equipment and events. McDougal and the rest of the Primos staff saw the shift as an opportunity to broaden their local appeal and add new attractions, a push that brought them to Mexico City and helped launch “Evolucha.”
“We work together every day trying to get sponsors, just to make it stronger, keep it big,” said Mike Gill, the company’s marketing director who also wrestles under the persona “Bud Doobie.” For many of the wrestlers, trainers and referees, that effort is largely a labor of love. The wrestlers suffer constant physical abuse and sustain weekly injuries, sometimes for a pretty slim paycheck. It helps that Primos is the only local company with its own training gym, and that rookies can learn the craft in a dedicated space with professional equipment.
“The major league guys, they’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year … (But) most of our guys aren’t making much money,” Gill said. “They do it for passion, determination and their dream. When you’re in school, a lot of people want to be football players, basketball players. These guys are basically living that kind of dream.”
A big part of that dream is performance. There’s a showmanship to professional wrestling, a kind of performance art that features larger-than-life characters, fictional backstories and over-the-top acting on the microphone. Still, Gill insists that the core of the sport is physicality and real combat, elements that many underestimate.
“People automatically assume that it’s completely fake and it’s not,” Gill said. “If we were in a match and I punched you as hard as I punch the other wrestlers, it would knock you down. The blood is real. The tables and chairs are real.”
For McDougal, part of the lure of the upcoming “Evolucha” event is performing for an audience that understands those consequences. McDougal, who hopes to make the Lucha Libre match a monthly attraction, looks forward to a crowd that shows the same zeal and dedication that was so common in Mexico City. Bringing that fervor to his hometown is an added bonus.
“I’m 31 years old. I’ve sacrificed a lot for this. I’ve given up a lot of good jobs, a lot of relationships … I’ve given my everything to this, my blood, my sweat, my tears,” McDougal said. “I think it’s something that we can build in Aurora. It’s an exciting thing for me to bring it home.”
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-449-9707