RAHWAY, NJ — Beefy babyfaces and heinous heels were clobbered with folding chairs, launched into the turnbuckles and tossed clear out of the ring and onto the Rahway Recreation Center floor. The feigned expressions of agony, right down to the full-body convulsions, whipped the hundreds of pro wrestling fans who packed this gym Friday, Sept. 7, into a frenzy.
But to know what real pain feels like, talk to Pat Buck.
Buck built a reputation as an athletic and charismatic wrestler on his way up the ranks, but each time he got close to achieving his dream of securing a lucrative contract with a major league promoter such as WWE, the steel cage door slammed in his face.
Like a wrestler rallying to his feet after an atomic leg drop, the Rahway resident has picked himself up off the mat many times. Everything changed a few years ago when he began to focus on the promotional side of the industry and created WrestlePro. The business is based inside the Rahway Recreation Center, where more than 1,000 fans file in to cheer on the wrestlers who do battle there several times a year.
The crowd at the Sept. 7 show cheered when LSG pinned Matt “Bad Apple” MacIntosh, but booed after Team Espana beat The Breakfast Club, whose members reportedly had a combined IQ of 300 and entered the ring to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The night reached a crescendo with a 30-man battle called “The Gold Rush Rumble.”
Buck is trying to deliver a unique brand of independent wrestling, which he said usually falls into one of two categories: Promoters looking to stage well-designed but poorly attended shows or those more focused on drawing big crowds by hiring a couple of big-name pros.
“I’m both,” Buck said. “I’m going to put on something for everybody. I bring in the big names. I want a quality show. I kind of have a game plan where I knew that the hardest part of pro wrestling is the budgeting. The financials are not very much on our side. So, I wanted to put on a show that was a mixed bag.”
WrestlePro stands out in a wrestling world filled with small-time promoters who pack fans in by the dozens at local middle school gyms.
“I come to WrestlePro shows as often as possible because most independent groups, even if they can put on one good show, they can’t maintain a consistency, they can’t maintain a quality of product, they can’t figure out how to stay in business,” said Sam Roberts, who hosts the Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast.
Roberts pointed out that the shows are guaranteed to be good because many of the wrestlers on the card have been trained by Buck, who started the Create A Pro School as a way to mentor others who harbor dreams of flying off the top rope at Wrestlemania. His students are former bodybuilders, ex-football players and weekend warriors who want to give wrestling a shot. Buck has a lot to teach them, from how to take a bump to how to manage the inevitable bumps in the road.
After all, Buck has been a big fan since he was about 4 years old. He once drew a photo of Ricky Steamboat and sent it into a wrestling magazine. To his astonishment, the magazine published it. And the little kid who grew up admiring Steamboat, Sting, Ric Flair and other wrestlers entered the industry at 17. He’s been paying his dues ever since.
Buck relocated to Kentucky to join Ohio Valley Wrestling, which has a reputation as a fertile breeding ground for the WWE. Pat Buckridge became Pat Buck and he started to chase his wrestling dream, even if it took him to West Virginia one night, Tennessee the next, Indiana the day after that. He hit the road under the names “Cactus Pat,” “The Hitmaker,” “Platinum Pat” and “The Buck,” playing good guys, villains and everything in between. He clung to the dream, no matter how desperate the situation became; on any given night, Buck could be in the ring against a guy making six figures for the match but often he wouldn’t be paid gas money for the ride home.
He said it was an odd existence. On one hand, he was on his way to superstardom and all the fame and money that comes with it; on the other, he had to get jobs bartending and bouncing to make ends meet.
“I was there for four and a half years as an active talent,” Buck said of his time with OVW. “I kept hearing a lot of times, ‘You’ll be next. We’re considering you for work on this or work on that.’ It just never happened. I got older and 20 turned into 24 and 24 turned into 26. So, I was like I could keep staying down here or I can kind of do my own thing. I had probably close to 30 tryouts for WWE. I have essentially probably wrestled maybe a quarter to a half of their active roster now. It just never happened for me.”
Buck could have used his hospitality degree from Sullivan University in Kentucky, but he wanted to stay in wrestling. So, he forged his own path: He went into promoting and eventually WrestlePro was born. It’s become a family affair for Buck. His wife, Lauren, a special education teacher in the Bronx, works the ticket booth at the door during shows. She said that, aside from her husband’s good looks and physique, she was attracted to his can-do attitude, which has made him a success in wrestling.
“He doesn’t give up,” she said. “He decided that, ‘Well this isn’t going to happen for me here, so I’ll create my own thing.’ I believe a lot of that is having a positive attitude and putting out to the universe what you really want for yourself. If you believe in something and you know it’s going to happen, you have to put that positive energy behind it and not let yourself get bogged down by the negativity.”
The only negativity is reserved for guys like Craig Steele, a 300-pound bruiser with a menacing stare who defeated two wrestlers Friday night, much to the crowd’s chagrin.
“The best part about the Rahway shows is that you see the same faces every month,” Steele said. “People are excited to come every month. You’ll see people standing outside three, four hours before the start, waiting to get inside the doors.”