‘We’re hardcore’: Inside the world of underground wrestling in Cleveland

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CLEVELAND -- It's rough, rowdy and extreme.

Wrestlers with names like Karnage and Psycho Mike face off in the ring, performing a mix of acting and athletics that riles up the crowd inside an auditorium on Cleveland’s west side.

Promoter Gary Copley, who goes by the wrestling name G-Moe, runs the matches through his Cleveland Wrestling Alliance.

“Our neighborhood expects that kind of an atmosphere,” Copley said. “We’re hardcore. We believe in the real stuff. We believe in, if I’m going to hit you with a stop sign, it’s not going to be a rubber gimmick stop sign or something. I’m going to smash you.”

The state of Ohio takes issue with that.

“Right now, I’m in the dog house with the state,” Copley told FOX 8.

Ohio law requires all promoters to be licensed and all matches have a permit, which costs $100.

“What you're saying when you get that permit is you're going to comply with the rules in wrestling that the state of Ohio has adopted,” said Bernie Profato, Executive Director of the Ohio Athletic Commission, the state agency responsible for approving licenses and permits.

According to the Ohio Athletic Commission, Copley’s wrestling promoter’s license is the only one in the state that is currently under suspension. A match he organized on Cleveland’s west side in late August did not have a state permit, according to commission records.

The commission is charged with keeping participants safe in sports like wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA).

In boxing and MMA, events are taxed, fighters must be licensed in addition to promoters, insurance is required, and a state inspector is on site for every match.

“It's strongly regulated,” Profato said of MMA. “The striking in MMA and the kicking and stuff like that are meant to knock their opponent out.”

Those involved say wrestling is more about entertainment, with fewer regulations in Ohio than boxing and MMA.

In addition to requiring that promoters be licensed and events permitted, under state law, participants must be at least 18 years old, there must be a certified medical staff member positioned ringside and security must be provided.

The state also bans the use of blood and unapproved props in the wrestling ring.

No tax is paid on ticket sales, insurance is not required, and the state eliminated a bond requirement about a decade ago, Profato said.

Profato maintains there have been few problems since.

“Most of this is controlled by the wrestling world, themselves. The legitimate, properly licensed promoters and people who love the sport will call us,” he said. “The wrestling world has been able to meet these requirements, and if we find out they don't, then we would maybe have to step in and step up regulations.”

There’s little proactive oversight. State inspectors have not been to a wrestling match in several years, Profato said, and the commission was unaware of Copley’s unpermitted match in late August.

Even if the commission were aware, Profato said it does not have much enforcement authority.

“We're not a policing agency here, we're a regulatory agency,” Profato said.

Ohio law states “violation of any of the prescribed rules and regulations may result in the suspension of all licenses, a fine or both.”

Beyond suspending a license, Profato said the commission would likely contact the venue hosting an unpermitted event to discourage similar events from continuing. As a last resort, the commission would get local police involved, Profato said.

Copley, who said he lost hundreds of dollars in costs associated with hosting the August event, thinks the Ohio Athletic Commission is simply out to make money through license and permit fees without meaningful oversight.

“No one’s getting hurt from this,” Copley said, noting he’s involved because he loves the events and seeing young wrestlers advance.

“The state is in it because they want money,” he said. “And what do they do? You take out a permit, that’s it. They never come to a show, they never help, they never promote.”

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