Ryan Shope grew up watching wrestling on TV as well as wrestling himself and developed an all-around love for the professional sport.
And that love and devotion led Shope and his business partner Timothy Dubuisson to create The Gulf Coast Wrestling promotion in the style known throughout the 1980s era as World Champion Wrestling. Mississippi Seawolves pro-hockey player Joe Pace, who is also a pro wrestler, approached Shope and Dubuisson about putting together a wrestling promotion.
“Since we all came from a wrestling background, we decided to give it a shot,” Shope said. “And we are really trying to gear it toward getting the emotions back into wrestling. Especially with the kids. When the kids are emotionally invested in the wrestlers then it gives them something they would rather do on the weekends than just play on their phones and tablets all day. And it gets people back out into the community, back out into society and that’s definitely important to us.”
Shope explained that fans of all ages are extremely invested in their favorite wrestler’s signature moves and highspots as well as the tag teams, alliances, and rivals more than the actual match outcomes. There’s even a reserved area for the children to stand, watch, and cheer as the wrestlers emerge from the curtain at the beginning of the house shows.
“The kids are right there side by side with the wrestlers and can smack their hands as they walk by instead of being all the way back in the second row or further,” he said. “And their parents don’t have to buy ringside or anything special. If you’re a kid you can just walk straight up to the edge and I think that’s important for the kids to get that personal relationship with their favorite wrestler. Touch is also important. Being able just to slap their hands and give them fist bumps. It’s important and means a lot to those kids.”
It takes dozens of volunteers to make each wrestling match happen.
“They all work for free and do everything from security to taking tickets and working concessions,” he said.
Of course, there’s also merchandise. Shope is also the owner of T-Shirt Fantastic in Long Beach and designs custom t-shirts, logos, and business cards. He creates custom t-shirts for the wrestlers to sell at matches and can even print wrestling trading cards.
“They don’t get paid great,” he said. “So if they sell their t-shirts and other stuff at the shows, it helps supplement their gas money and their gym memberships and it helps get kids excited about something besides their cell phones.”
And it wouldn’t be wrestling without gorgeous ring girls.
“We want our sponsors to get as much love as possible so we have a beautiful woman walk around with a huge poster with each sponsor’s name on it before and during the matches,” he said. “We felt like that was something we should give to the sponsors and help build up the people that sponsor us because most of our sponsors are local businesses. We always want to support our local businesses.”
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“And we are adding people every day,” he said. “The wrestlers that truly love the sport all see how we love the sport and want to join in. Every one of these guys is important to me and always gives 100 percent in that ring.”
There are even plans for a school of wrestling where anyone, any age will be able to train, but wrestlers must be 18 to compete professionally.
“None of us are going to be here forever,” Shope said. “And what we leave behind is going to be a legacy of community spirit.”
All photos are courtesy of The Gulf Coast Wrestling.