A local wrestling company overcame the odds to make a return to the ring on Saturday.
John Gruen, a former UNM student, started Destiny Wrestling Organization with several of his friends in 2006. He said they all loved wrestling and decided to work together to take a chance.
“We wanted to bring it back to the glory days when the Civic Center was still around and Rocky Romero, Terry Funk and Dory Funk used to come down from Amarillo and wrestle,” Gruen said.
Kevin Van Der Aa Keeffe, one of the owners, said even though the company came from humble beginnings, they are far from a backyard wrestling outfit. He said most of the athletes have high school or collegiate wrestling experience, and received training to perform.
Van Der Aa Keeffe said he loves New Mexico and wanted to provide the state with local talent that the community could get behind and support. Van Der Aa Keeffe said the low cost for the value of the entertainment it provides is one of its main selling points.
“There aren’t a lot of entertainment options available in Albuquerque, and some can be really expensive,” he said. “Our experience is fun, interactive and unique.”
DWO went from performing in front of dozens to several hundred fans over the next several years. It managed to fly under the radar for about six years before catching the attention of the New Mexico Athletic Commission. It was forced to cease performing after failing to satisfy the governing body’s requirements.
Matthew Roblez, an engineer from Utah, became a part owner and started performing in 2011. He said he had experience in handling similar situations and worked to get the group compliant, which included the requirements of having a doctor on site and for all wrestlers to become licensed.
“We’re listed as a combat sports promotion,” Roblez said. “So it’s the same as (mixed martial arts) or boxing and the same (rules) apply.”
Roblez said there are many challenges to growing a business, but the ability to bring in big name talent hasn’t been one of them. Over the past year the company signed LuFisto and Crazy Mary Dobson, who competed in the company’s first female wrestling match in Albuquerque.
In perhaps its biggest signing, DWO brought in wrestling icon Bubba Ray Dudley (Bully Ray) for multiple appearances in 2015. Dudley has since signed a contract and moved back to the WWE.
“It is very easy to bring in good talent when you treat people the right way,” Roblez said. “Because we treated Bully Ray, LuFisto and Mary Dobson so well, the word is out that you want to work with Destiny Wrestling.”
After satisfying the athletic commission requirements and reaching top attendance numbers, the company was dealt another blow when it lost its regular venue. After several months, it secured a new venue and is ready to perform its first show in 2016.
For the upcoming show, DWO signed Mia Yim, who wrestles as “Jade” for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, to compete. She is scheduled to face Crazy Mary Dobson.
Most of the ownership group portrays villainous characters known as heels. They are all scheduled to appear along with former WWE superstar Sinn Bodhi and crowd favorite, Hobo Hank.
DWO will debut “Faces of Hesh” at its new venue, the Westside Community Center, located at 1250 Isleta Blvd. SE this Saturday at 7:00 pm. Available ticket prices range from $15-20. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/DWOwrestling.
Robert Maler is a sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers cross country, tennis, and track and field. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @robert_maler.