FARGO — For Drew Ross, professional wrestling is an outlet for an alter ego that’s been lurking in his brain since he was a kid.
Having the chance to experience “Rock Solid Ross” in public is cathartic.
“It’s just a way for me to represent it to the masses and keep my sanity,” Ross says.
Taylor Schatz loves being in the wrestling ring because he can be physical and entertain people at the same time.
Schatz, who wrestles as “Jake Taylor,” says there’s an adrenaline rush to land a knockout and hear the crowd go wild.
“That feeling…there’s nothing like it,” he says.
Ross and Schatz are among a handful of professional wrestlers who call Fargo-Moorhead home.
They are associated with Below Zero Wrestling, the newest local professional wrestling organization started nearly a year ago by longtime fans Nick Stokke and Zach Werre.
Below Zero joins Timebomb Pro Wrestling, operating for just over three years, to feed the appetites of fans who devour the mix of athletics and drama.
“I like to be radical. I like to skate at the cutting edge of radicalism,” jokes Ross as he prepares to do the bench press at the Metroflex Gym, where he trains.
Both organizations hold most of their shows at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.
Below Zero bills itself as family entertainment for all ages and even held a pre-Christmas Santa Village toy drive, promoted by Ross, Schatz and a few others.
“It was easy to have these guys on board,” Stokke said.
Timebomb, operated by Eric Morrison, has a more hardcore reputation.
Most of its shows are aimed at fans 21 and older, and alcohol is served. Wrestlers can bleed when hit with chairs and other objects.
Timebomb’s last show in October titled “Violence Is Forever” brought in a wrestler from Japan and attracted nearly 400 people.
“I always tried to push the boundaries of what Fargo wrestling could be,” says Morrison.
Most professional wrestlers come to the ring with a background in sports, bodybuilding, or martial arts.
Ross, 32, started amateur wrestling at age 3 and while a high school student became the first wrestler from Fergus Falls, Minnesota to have an undefeated season.
He went 39-0 and was the state Class AA champion at 189 pounds in 2008.
North Dakota State University recruited him to wrestle, which he did throughout his freshman year.
But while training to become a heavyweight, he injured his back and had to quit.
“Now I’m a professional wrestler, so go figure. I guess time heals all wounds,” he laughs.
Schatz, 36, was on the high school football team in Linton, North Dakota, and played on its team of nine state champions.
Years later, while watching pro wrestling on TV, he thought, “I can do this.”
He sought formal training with Pat Tanaka, of Fargo, formerly with World Wrestling Entertainment and other organizations. Ross trained at a Twin Cities professional wrestling school.
“The first thing you’re going to learn is how to land, otherwise you’ll never survive,” Ross says.
Schatz says that, at a minimum, prospective professional wrestlers should train for six months to a year before performing in front of television audiences, or any live audiences, for that matter.
A small percentage of pros make wrestling a full-time job filled with traveling to small communities, modest pay, and repeated matches that give their bodies little chance to recover.
For Ross and Schatz, it’s a fun gig.
Ross is a mental health practitioner at Lakeland Mental Health and strength trainer at Moorhead High School.
As someone who has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder, he says he struggles with his own emotions, but takes an approach of being a “joy advocate”.
“I found a way to persevere, so it’s my calling to let others know about it,” says Ross.
Schatz coaches at Elite Kickboxing and teaches taekwondo at Northwest Martial Arts. He also works for Nocturnal Resources, a sister company of Jade Presents which provides event production for tours and concerts.
Ross and Schatz are sticking primarily to pro wrestling shows in the Fargo area, but will also travel to the Twin Cities.
“About twice a month is ideally what I like to do. … Just enough so I can afford the chiropractor,” Ross laughs.
The two also have a background in theater in common – a big plus for performing in front of crowds.
Schatz earned a degree in Fine Arts and Theater Arts at NDSU with a major in performance.
He describes his in-ring persona as his own personality has gone to 11.
“I just keep the cuteness and amp up the aggression a bit. So you won’t see me smiling, that’s for sure,” Schatz says.
Ross was involved in theater as a child and was never afraid to be flamboyant.
“I’ve always been very theatrical and over the top, unfortunately for my parents and anyone with ears,” he jokes.
At shows, he mostly wears his tank top and purple and green underpants, but he occasionally dons leggings.
“I hope I’m not revealing too much behind the curtain, but I have some nice cheetah tracks,” he says.
As for the question of what’s real and what’s “fake” in pro wrestling, it’s important to keep some mystery in the air.
“Do you really want to know how everything works or do you just want to enjoy the meal? I think most people just want to enjoy the meal,” says Schatz.
But wrestlers also can’t “fake” gravity, a chop, or jump and land hard, Ross says, and the risk of serious injury is always there.
“If you don’t feel like you’ve been beaten the next day, chances are you haven’t given enough of an audience,” he says.
Audiences can experience the athleticism and antics of professional wrestlers at upcoming shows in the New Year.
Below Zero hosts WinterSlam on Sunday, January 23 at Sanctuary, featuring former WWE star Erick Redbeard, Impact Wrestling stars Madman Fulton & Ace Austin and wrestlers from Below Zero.
Timebomb is hosting Here to Stay on Thursday, February 24 at Sanctuary, featuring Timebomb Pro Champion Dominic Garrini, Kevin Ku, Arik Cannon and former WWE Superstar Ariya Daivari.