Photos Rob Smith
Some sports have been around for so long, no one knows where they started. Wrestling is one of those. From Asia to Egypt, artwork from the days of antiquity shows people grappling, tumbling, hoisting one another into the air, and throwing their opponents to the ground. And wrestling has long combined competition with theater. The ancient Greeks, for instance, knew two things that still hold true today: people love a good show—whether it’s comedy or tragedy—and they also love wrestling.
Narrative. Big personalities. Grudges. Threats. Anticipation. The final showdown. Enthusiasm for such things has passed the test of time and is still going strong today. It’s more popular than ever in the South, and a new enterprise is now jumping into the ring. With a love for athleticism and a flair for showmanship, Prime Time Wrestling is bringing its brand of classic wrestling to Northwest Georgia and the wider Tri-State Area.
The two driving forces behind Prime Time Wrestling, based in Rome, Georgia, are Shawn Ambrose, promoter, and Rocky Shaw, wrestler and community relations man. As with many Americans, their fascination with wrestling began when they were children. “When I was a boy,” says Ambrose, “I became a fan when I watched WrestleMania I in 1985. I was nine years old. After that, my best friend and I would watch wrestling on TV every chance we got, then we’d go outside and wrestle on the trampoline, pretending we were our favorite wrestlers. Of course, we’d get in trouble with our parents because, inevitably, someone would get hurt.”
Shaw’s earliest memories of wrestling were of watching legends like Ric Flair and Sting on TV. Typical of little boys, entertainment demanded action and inspired imitation. He says, “When I was eight or nine years old, my friend Jeremy and I would go to his grandfather’s house, where the front yard was perfect for wrestling. It had trees arranged almost like a wrestling ring. We did every move on each other that we could think of.” As with Ambrose and his childhood friend, Shaw’s matches sometimes ended with minor injuries. “Once I climbed up a tree,” says Shaw, “and I flew off and fractured a couple of ribs.” But Shaw’s grandparents weren’t of the generation that ran to the ER with every bump and bruise, so “my grandmother just taped up my ribs and sent me back outside.”
When answering who his favorite wrestler is, Ambrose doesn’t hesitate a moment. He says, “My favorite wrestler is, was, and always will be Hulk Hogan. When I was a boy, he was a superhero. Larger-than-life. I was in awe.” For Ambrose, that fascination continues until this day, informing his concept of what makes this hybrid form of sport and entertainment appealing to so many. He says, “That’s what intrigued me so much about wrestling…it wasn’t just Hulk Hogan who was larger-than-life; it was all of them. You felt like you knew them, even though, really, they were just playing characters on TV. It’s very powerful.”
Growing up, Shaw was inspired by wrestling great Shawn Michaels (also known as the “Heartbreak Kid” or “Mr. WrestleMania”). Despite not being as physically imposing as many of his competitors, Michaels won a heavyweight championship, which impressed Shaw. “He was a smaller guy,” says Shaw, “and so was I back then, so I thought, ‘Hey, if he can do it, maybe I can too.’” After that, Shaw got involved with the gym and started working out.
Into the ring
In his 20s and 30s, Shaw did not pursue wrestling as a possible profession. He had a career in sales while following wrestling as a fan. Then a chance encounter changed all that. Shaw says, “When I was forty years old someone said to me, ‘You’re in good shape. Would you be interested in getting involved in wrestling? I think you can do it.’” That got Shaw thinking, but he was uncertain. He says, “Part of me wanted to try it, but another part of me said, ‘Hey…you’re forty years old.’”
His wife encouraged the dream, pointing out that he had always enjoyed martial arts, and this might be a natural extension of that. For a long time, he had practiced Jeet Kune Do, a fighting style developed by actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, so he knew he was not likely to be intimidated in the ring. His decision was made easier when his wife pointed out: “You’re always telling our girls [Lana and Lola] to chase their dreams, but you can’t say that without doing it yourself.”
Ambrose was also drawn into the wrestling world in an unexpected way. He has been a member of a tribute band called The Georgia Blues Brothers since 2007. Thirteen years ago, the band was invited to perform during the intermission of a wrestling show in Calhoun, Georgia. Ambrose says, “I insisted on us playing inside the ring; I’d never been in one before. After the show, we sat around talking to the promoter, and we started discussing the possibility of doing a fan fest, where we could bring in all the guys that entertained us when we were growing up. We talked about a wrestling fan fest in North Carolina called Mid-Atlantic Memories, where a lot of old wrestlers that we grew up watching came and sat at tables, met the fans, and signed autographs.” Ambrose knew he had to try something like that. So he did.
As a promoter, Ambrose brought Impact Wrestling to Rome. He says, “Back then, Impact was the second biggest wrestling promotion behind the WWE We brought in guys like Kurt Angel, Jeff Jarrett, Jeff Hardy, and Rob Van Dam.” When the event was a success, Ambrose realized that Northwest Georgia had a real desire for wrestling, so he set about to help fill that need. He says, “I thought, hey, this isn’t so hard. I think I could do this.”
Ambrose found a mentor in Tracy Myers, the organizer of America’s biggest wrestling fan fest, WrestleCade. “Tracy easily pulls in ten thousand people at his events,” Ambrose says, “and when I contacted him and told him I wanted to do something similar in Georgia, he gave me a lot of great advice.” Ambrose established Superstars Fan Fest I. “Our very first headliner was Ric Flair. We also had Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Scott Hall, and other big names.” That show brought in more than 1,500 fans, so Ambrose knew he had found his market.
After Shaw had been performing in the ring for a while, Ambrose took note of him, called him up and asked, “Hey, you’ve built up a good fan base. Do want to learn how to do this professionally?” Ambrose used his connections to help Shaw hone his craft. Shaw says, “I got to train with Mike Golden—the Golden Boy—and Jimmy Wang Yang, and others. They really helped me sharpen my craft and learn the ring. Everyone was just incredible.”
New show, old-school attitude
In this new venture, Ambrose and Shaw have a vision for making Prime Time Wrestling more like the wrestling they remember from their childhoods, in the golden days of the sport. Ambrose says, “This is old-school wrestling meets the Attitude Era of the WWE.” The Attitude Era is widely considered the most popular period in the history of professional wrestling. Ambrose explains, “That was the time of Stone Cold Steve Austin, D-Generation X, and The Rock. It was reality-based, but it was edgy.”
Shaw and Ambrose agree that the most important thing in wrestling is the story, the narrative that is created to engage and entertain the fans. Ambrose goes on to explain that the 1980s were the best time for telling a story through wrestling. “That’s when it took three or four months to build up the story, then they’d pay it off on a big pay-per-view event. But nowadays, it all happens in only three or four weeks.” Prime Time Wrestling wants to bring that magic back to their beloved sport by reintroducing that slow-burn element to the drama. Ambrose says, “We want to draw the story out for a few months, let the characters build their grievances, and then settle it all with a big show. Then, we’ll start over with a new story. That’s how we’ll keep it fresh.”
Shaw sees classic wrestling narratives as abiding memories in the collective conscience of the fanbase. “Storytelling is the top of the pyramid,” he says. “Nobody can forget that great match between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant and all that led up to it. André had turned on Hogan and it broke Hogan’s heart. All of that led up to that Big Slam, and now it’s all history. It left its mark. The Four Horsemen were a big part of Georgia’s history, and Art Anderson was born right here in Rome. So, this is our history, and we want to help keep that sort of thing alive in Georgia.”
Another way Prime Time Wrestling is seeking to evoke wrestling’s classic past is by restoring the territory system. Wrestling shows used to run in regional circuits. An organization would do a show in one town and then move on to the next city, making the rounds in the places where their fans lived and worked. Ambrose says, “Eventually, all the territories got eaten up by Vince McMahon and WWE, which basically eliminated all the competition.” Ambrose goes on to say, “So, we’re going to build our own territory, running shows not just in Georgia, but also in Alabama and Tennessee. A Tri-State territory. But our base will be in Rome.” Through this burgeoning territory system Prime Time Wrestling will not only produce regular shows featuring their top talent but will also continue offering their annual Superstars Fan Fest, where fans can come and meet some of their heroes of the ring. It’s old-fashioned family fun, with attitude.
Shaw says, “We want to bring back the passion for the sport—that sense we got from Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair. We want to let people live that story again and experience the physicality of it. And we want to be the people telling that story, honoring that history, and passing it on to the next generation.”
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