Photos Rob Smith
Growing up, he often got in trouble with his parents for staying up long past his bedtime. But he felt like he no choice. After all, wrestling was on. WWF television shows bookended his week; there was Monday Night Raw, then Friday Night Smackdown. What was a boy to do? That was the childhood of David Holbrook, founder and owner of Rome Wrestling Entertainment. “I grew up with that early 2000s wrestling, and I went for it hook, line, and sinker.”
Having premiered in 1993, Monday Night Raw has inspired legions of faithful fans to take professional wrestling seriously, giving it its due as both entertainment and as a sport. With justifiable admiration, Holbrook says, “Raw has run a long, long time. And it’s still around. There’s a reason for that. There’s a magic to wrestling.”
Throwing his hat in the ring
The idea of creating a business that championed wrestling was in Holbrook’s mind years before he made it happen. He says, “I always said that if I every got in a position where I could have the manpower to make up a good roster [of wrestlers] and access to the resources—a wrestling ring and a venue—I would start RWE, Rome Wrestling Entertainment.”
That dream officially came to fruition on September 19, 2020, when Holbrook launched RWE with its first event, a wrestling match held at a lumber yard on Alabama Highway. “We held a six-match card that night,” he says. “It was a triple-threat qualifying match for the final entry in that rumble.” At the end of the night there was a championship match, “which,” Holbrook adds, “I ended up winning.” So, David Holbrook became the first ever RWE Three Rivers Champion.
The following January, RWE held an event at Peaches, a bar and entertainment venue on Broad Street in Rome, Georgia. “We blew that place away!” Holbrook says. “It was awesome!” As it turned out, the night was as hard as it was fun. RWE rented a 16’ x 16’ wrestling ring from Peach State Wrestling and set it up in the bar. The ring was bulky and very heavy, so it was a challenge to put together, and Holbrook says, “That was a stiff ring—it didn’t have a lot of give.” But neither Holbrook nor his roster of wrestlers seemed to mind. Holbrook says, “We wrestled all night, and when the bar closed, we packed everything up and hit the road. It was a vicious process. That ring’s heavy.”
Content is king in the ring
In the world of wrestling, storytelling is paramount. Challenges. Grudges. Trash talking an opponent. Revenge. These are the types of things that drive the narratives that motivate fans to buy tickets. Showmanship and spectacle are crucial to the success of any wrestling organization, and Holbrook makes sure that RWE’s events portray the content his customers expect.
For instance, in their annual event, “Do or Die,” matches have gimmicks (called “stipulations”), such as a steel cage or a bull rope, etc. This event featured several memorable stipulations. For instance, there was the first ever “Hard-Core Casket Match.” Holbrook explains, “To win you had to roll your opponent into a casket and shut the lid.”
“That night I faced a good friend of mine from high school, The Reaper Jared Cole, in a steel cage,” Holbrook says. “It was one of my top three favorite matches of all time.” Holbrook won and retained the championship.
Then there was a five-way elimination match, in which five men started in the ring, and the last man standing won a contract from RWE. That contract guaranteed that wrestler a championship match at a time of his choice. Big Deal David Boaz, one of RWE’s all-time best wrestlers, won the Do or Die and cashed in the contract. Holbrook recalls how Boaz entered the venue, dragging a referee behind him, and handed the briefcase containing the contract to the general manager. “I was a bloody mess after that match,” Holbrook remembers. “We really went to war, and I was pouring blood. We crowned a new champion that night, and things really changed for us there.”
A vital part of offering good content for the audience to enjoy is creating exciting and entertaining characters for them to watch. Big Deal David Boaz is an example of this. Another powerhouse personality for RWE is their current United States Champion, Big Country. Holbrook describes him this way: “Big Country is about two-hundred and fifty pounds, has long black hair and a Duck Dynasty beard.
When he enters the ring, he wears jeans, old-style wrestling boots with duct tape on them, and a shirt that says ‘Mama Tried.’ He also wears a huge leather duster and a cowboy hat, and he carries a bull rope with a bell on it.” This is not only a sport; it’s also entertainment, and a good show requires characters.
The Roman Rumble
Peaches on Rome’s Broad Street became a favorite venue for RWE. Holbrook says, “We love Broad Street. We always do well there, and there’s always a great wrestling crowd down there. It has a small-town feeling; we like that. In June of 2021 we were back at Peaches,” Holbrook says, “and we had a phenomenal show! A lot of great things happened there that night. There were probably four-hundred people there, and I wrestled Hunter Chastain.” A Rome native and country music singer, Chastain now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Of the match, Holbrook says, “It was really a bit of a publicity stunt for him, but it was good for us, too, and a lot of fun.”
In February of 2022 RWE put on “The Roman Rumble” at Peaches. This was a 15-man match; last man standing was the winner. It was designed to fill a vacated championship. It was an exciting but grueling night for all involved. Of course, Holbrook was on the roster. “I was in the ring for an hour and seven minutes,” he says, “I wrestled Tony the Wild Child Styles.” Winning the match, Styles became RWE’s new champion. Holbrook says, “Tony’s a really good athletic guy. He embodies what RWE’s attitude is right now. We’re all so proud of him.”
Sometimes, Holbrook takes the show on the road, like when they did a show in the parking lot at Harley-Davidson in Cartersville, Georgia. “It was a very interesting environment,” Holbrook says. “All these bikers pulled up, and there were food trucks and lots of loud music. It was a true outing for families on a Saturday morning. If you wore leather, you were there. We had some guys get injured at that show, and I was one of them. After that, we took a break for a while.”
This nomadic nature of RWE is both a blessing and a curse. The benefit is they don’t incur the ongoing expense of overhead, but the downside is they have no place to call home. But Holbrook has plans for RWE’s future in this regard. “My short-term goal is to get a venue for our upcoming anniversary show. I already have that pretty much planned out, as far as the card and the storylines are concerned. That’s just a matter of a date and a location.”
There are numerous outdoor venues available for use, but Holbrook is concerned about what the Northwest Georgia heat might do to his wrestlers and the audience. He adds, “Long-term, we need to acquire our own building, which is, of course, expensive. It’s hard to justify paying an arm and a leg when you don’t know if you’ll draw in enough to pay for a lease.”
In the ring, on the field
Growing up in Rome, Holbrook developed his love of sports by playing football for Rome High School and lifting weights. Later he received a degree in physical education and health from Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama. Today, he lives in Pine Mountain, Georgia, and he coaches football at Harris County High School. For the time being, his coaching and teaching responsibilities have curtailed his pursuit of wrestling, but he plans to have a full roster back in the ring soon.
Holbrook sees a lot of crossovers in discipline, training, and performance between wrestling and football. “Coaching football really walks hand-in-hand with wrestling,” he says. “It’s a chance to take the way you see the game of football or the vision you have for wrestling and lead the group you have in the direction you believe they need to go.”
In both sports Holbrook has a certain attitude that he expects out of his young men. Both football and wrestling require not only a high degree of physical prowess, but also strategic thinking and emotional toughness. “In football, we’re not out there playing a two-hand touch game; we’re being as physical as we can.”
Whether coaching football or training and wrestlers, a great deal of leadership skill is involved. Holbrook says, “As a defensive line coach, I put my trust in my defensive line when I put them out there on the field. The same is true in running RWE. I put my trust in my roster to go out there and put on a kick-ass show.
In wrestling, you have to do this because you love it, because there’s no money in it and it’s just constant abuse to your body. As a matter of fact, you might have to have a few loose screws to do this, but you have to take your time and put everything you can into this, it will all pan out in the end.”
The reality of the ring
The perennial debate about wrestling involves the question “Is it real?” Holbrook has no qualms about answering this question. He decries the fact (as he sees it) that wrestling is the most disrespected form of combat entertainment in the world today. To him, detractors call it fake because they don’t really understand what it is.
He says, “I know it’s not fake because I’ve been slapped across the chest and had my forehead split open.” Holbrook explains that, for the wrestler, the sport is as real or as phony as he choses to make it. “If you go out there and fake it,” he insists, “then, yeah, it’s fake. But if you go out there and do your job, and you tell a story, and you make real contact with your opponent…well, I don’t see how anyone can call that fake.”