Wrestling’s stars of yesterday and tomorrow are closer to you than you might think.
DES MOINES, IA – Travis Shillington has been involved in the professional wrestling business for 19 years. He grew up as a fan and began training to be a wrestler when he was 24 years old. “I used to work my butt off in the weight room to try to get big enough to be a small guy,” Shillington said. He wrestles under the ring name “T.S. Aggressor”. His life in the wrestling business has changed over the years. He now focuses more of his efforts on training aspiring wrestlers.
Shillington is the head trainer for Impact Pro Wrestling (IPW). IPW has a training center based in Shillington’s hometown of Algona, Iowa, called The Vault, which also houses IPW wrestling shows. IPW is one of two wrestling promotions in Iowa to also offer training. The other is 3X Wrestling which is based in Des Moines.
IPW is an independent or “indie” wrestling promotion. Independent promotions could be considered wrestling’s version of the minor league in baseball or the developmental league in basketball. Independent promotions vary in size and prominence. Ring of Honor is one of the most well recognized independent promotions in the United States today, and has produced many stars such as Daniel Bryan and CM Punk.
Independent wrestlers differ from minor league baseball players in that they often act as independent contractors. That allows them to work for multiple promotions. Professional wrestling has a worldwide talent pool competing for a limited number of jobs. WWE has brought in talent from all over North America as well as Japan. IPW encourages their wrestlers to network and seek bookings outside of their promotion.
The rigors of wrestling go beyond the high risk and sometimes superhuman feats seen on TV. Wrestlers also undergo months of training before ever stepping into the ring for a show. Shillington also mentioned the time that wrestlers spend on the road away from their families as a difficult sacrifice. According to Shillington, networking to find work can be the most difficult hurdle of all. These are some of the reasons why he enjoys helping young wrestlers get their start. “It is a great thing to be able to take something that is difficult and make it easier for other people,” Shillington said.
Troy Peterson is the co-owner of IPW along with Shillington. Peterson handles the promotion side of the company. They started IPW in 2001, and it is now the longest running wrestling promotion in Iowa.
Peterson discussed some of the struggles that come with trying to run a wrestling company. “I remember the first show, we lost so much money,” Peterson said, “and I thought this is the greatest single thing I’ve ever done!”
Peterson’s dreams began with the idea of putting on just one show. Now his company puts on around 30 shows a year. One of their yearly shows is for the George Tragos and Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa, otherwise known as the pro wrestling wing of the Dan Gable Museum.
Every year the pro wrestling wing of the Dan Gable Museum brings in legends from the wrestling world to be recognized with various awards and hall of fame inductions. This year’s hall of fame will have the biggest lineup yet including guests such as The Iron Sheik, Terry Funk, Gerry Brisco, and Jim Ross.
Along with the hall of fame ceremonies, IPW puts on a wrestling show. The ticket sales from the show are donated to the pro wrestling wing of the Dan Gable Museum.
Peterson said, “I’m going to look like a genius every time Magnum T.A., Lex Luger, Nikita Koloff, Iron Sheik, and Bob Backlund are in the same room and I’m there.”
IPW has used its shows for other events and benefits as well. In 2001, IPW took part in a fundraiser for the family of Sean Beisch of Algona, Iowa. Beisch was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 5 years old. He passed away in the fall of 2000 at age 8. (Reporter, 2001).
“We raised a lot of money to help that family out,” Shillington said.
James Jeffries has been wrestling since 2007. “I was a fan growing up. I watched [wrestling] with my dad…he’s the one that really got me interested,” Jeffries said. Jeffries is now a regular on IPW’s lineup. He won the World Tag Team Title at the hall of fame show in 2014 with partner and former WWE wrestler Perry Saturn.
Professional wrestling tends to attract many critics. Troy Peterson said, “Pro wrestling falls into such an unfortunate category.” He acknowledges the critique that wrestling is “fake” so sports fans can’t get behind it.
Danny Wagener wrestles for IPW as “The Intellectual Punk” Tony Sly. Wagener said, “It’s a unique form of entertainment and it’s one that I would recommend that people check out just to see the spectacle that is professional wrestling.”
Wagener took part in competitive speaking while in college. When his eligibility ran out, he was looking for an outlet to perform. He started wrestling with some of his friends at the University of Northern Iowa. They eventually formed an official student organization at UNI that put on wrestling shows. Wagener was the faculty advisor of the organization for two years.
Wagener didn’t originally aspire to continue wrestling after college. A year after graduating he began to get interested in the idea of wrestling again. Some of his friends were still wrestling so he went to one of their shows. “I got in the ring and started bumping around…and I thought I can still do this and I’d like to do it legitimately.” In October of 2004 he began training with Travis Shillington.
Professional wrestling has a long history in Iowa and the Midwest. Frank Gotch, a legend in the wrestling world, was born in Humboldt in 1878. Gotch is famous for his matches with George Hackenschmidt in the early 1900’s (Palmer, 2007).
In 1989, on an episode of WWE’s (then WWF) Saturday Night’s Main Event, Hulk Hogan defended his WWE championship in a cage match against The Big Boss Man at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines.
On April 30 IPW held the first cage match to take place in Iowa since the Hogan versus Boss Man match in 1989. The match was for the IPW Heavyweight Championship. The champion, Justin Decent, defeated Ricky Love to retain his title. They followed it with a second cage match featuring Kansas City’s Riegel Twins defending their championship against The Legend Killers.
Current WWE wrestler and recent heavyweight champion, Seth Rollins, was born in Iowa as Colby Lopez. Rollins’ first paid booking was for IPW in Delta, Iowa. He is now a co-owner and trainer for Black and Brave Wrestling in Moline, Illinois.
Troy Peterson’s dreams for his wrestling promotion continue to evolve. With IPW’s involvement with the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, their wrestlers are given the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of former WWE talent scouts like Gerry Brisco and Jim Ross. Peterson hopes that one day, one of his wrestlers will break through to the WWE. He also wants wrestling to regain its prominence in mainstream media.
Travis Shillington returned to in-ring action on March 18 in a tag team match. The match had a stipulation that if Shillington’s team lost, he would be forced to retire from wrestling. His team was victorious.