FEST Wrestling: Let the bodies touch the ground


Tables, ladders, chairs and doors …

Let the bodies fall to the ground.

One of Gainesville’s biggest pro wrestling events, FEST: We Are Family, returns to Knockin ‘Boots Saloon for its fourth edition after an extended hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FEST: We Are Family was one of the fan favorite events of the weekend during the local punk festival simply named The FEST.

For nineteen years, the FEST has been held annually in downtown Gainesville to bring together the best alternative artists for three days of stand-up music and comedy.

This year, Gorilla Biscuits and Philadelphia natives, The Wonder Years, will star in the lineup of over 60 artists.

But emo music fans can take a break from stage diving and moshing on October 30 to watch professional athletes swing steel chairs at each other’s heads and deliver flying elbows from the top rope.

The two forms of entertainment seen at FEST are very different, but their fusion has become an annual spectacle for swamp punk rockers. Several years ago, FEST promoter Tony Weinbender was inspired by the joy of comedic wrestling.

The first FEST fights were jokes featuring the powers Godzilla and Mothra: two random guys faking a kaiju battle in a wrestling ring with fake cardboard cityscapes.

But comedy was the perfect bait for anyone attending the FEST, and the audience was hooked. Hardcore wrestling fans and casual music lovers alike kept their eyes on the ring to see who would win the battle over a cardboard Tokyo, Japan.

The following year, various Luchador wrestlers from Mexico were brought in to entertain the masses. Weinbender felt it was even more successful than the parody wrestling, but the show was about to be removed from the FEST program.

Nonetheless, Weinbender was determined to set the wheels in motion for a new independent wrestling show with the inspiration of two words.

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“We fucking decided we’re going to do our own fight,” Weinbender remarked.

Phone calls were made and links clicked to hire performers, referees, and most importantly, hire a wrestling ring. Independent wrestlers from across the country have joined the craze, such as current All Elite Wrestling performer Ruby Soho.

The DIY company even has its own championship belt, which will be defended at the main event. Defending champion Taylor Gibson, also known as Effy, handpicked its opponent MV Young, who will put his ENJOY championship at stake in a belt for belt competition.

Effy is on the rise in the local wrestling world thanks to her flamboyant yet lovable character. The “Weapon of Destruction Sass” embraces the boos and cheers, cradling a blond mullet, sleek mustache and hot pink leather jacket as he walks towards the ring.

Before dominating the competition in Gainesville, Gibson and his friends were just spectators. He loved the environment filled with waves of black t-shirts rushing downtown like a darkened tsunami.

As a member of the LGBTQ + community, Gibson was drawn to the accepting wrestling world around Gainesville as other rural communities in Georgia and Alabama were less accepting of his character.

“I was hitting a wall with my artistry, where I wasn’t necessarily always allowed to be myself and was asked to portray silly characters or gay versions of myself who were a bit more au- beyond what I usually would. “

Gibson graduated in Public Relations from the University of South Carolina, and he’s used every technique to type a professional email and be part of the FEST wrestling family.

He was greeted with open arms.

Now Gibson has bled and made his way to the top of the locker room to become the reigning FEST champion. He will defend his title on October 30.

Professional villain CJ O’Doyle, also known as Jerk all around, said if you’ve never attended a wrestling FEST event, “I don’t know what you’re expecting.”

O’Doyle returns with 255 pounds of brute force, and even off the ropes he stays true to his infamous mantra. When asked if he was a regular at FEST, he replied:

“The only thing I’m used to is kicking a …”

This statement will be put to the test when O’Doyle and 14 other wrestlers enter the square circle for the Liquid death Battle Royal, where only one competitor will remain standing.

The list is slowly revealed on the FEST Wrestling Twitter account, but with every wrestler announcement O’Doyle said he only sees one more hurdle waiting to be hit by a Celtic Crunch. It doesn’t matter whether it’s current FEST champion Effy, Minnesota native Arik Cannon, or fan favorite Hot Dog Starkes: in O’Doyle’s eyes, everyone is doomed.

“Whether it’s one of the aforementioned or someone I didn’t mention, it doesn’t matter,” O’Doyle said. “Because at the end of the day, they all go through a door. “

The born villain is heavily inspired by Extreme Championship Wrestling, a business now disbanded. ECW started out as a hardcore show in Philadelphia and featured overblown fights like the infamous 1997 “barbed wire rope” match between ECW legends Sabu and Terry “Chainsaw Charlie” Funk.

While ECW is a staple in the pro wrestling community, O’Doyle believes FEST is a whole different breed, much like him.

“They say the comparison is the flight of joy,” O’Doyle said. “I don’t think FEST is just another wrestling business, I think it’s an attraction. Even when (FEST) first has its own stand-alone shows without the music, it’s still in its own unique attraction and it deserves eyeballs not only from all over the country, but from around the world because of its uniqueness and of its completeness. “

FEST 19 kicks off on October 29 with alternative bands Teenage Bottlerocket, Origami Angel, Eve 6 and many more. FEST: We Are Family 4 starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 30 at Knockin ‘Boots Saloon. Hardcore punk band Comeback Kid made the post-show headlines in the same venue.

Full weekend passes are available on thefestfl.com and single tickets to FEST Wrestling are on sale for $ 30.

Contact Jesse Richardson at jrichardson@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @ JesseRich352.

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