If nothing else, young up-and-coming wrestler Chuck Taylor has his sense of humour firmly intact. When asked to describe his style, he labelled it “white trash lucha.”
The 25-year-old regular in Evolve, Dragon Gate USA, CHIKARA and Pro Wrestling Guerilla further expanded his self-image. “It’s kind of a mixture of what white trash lucha I’ve learned — some American-style high flying, I try to do some comedy in there, because it’s easy and I don’t like getting hit in the face. It’s kind of just a hodge-podge of terrible stuff. I don’t understand why people book me.”
While Taylor (real name Dustin Howard) may be a little self-depricating, it’s not accurate.
Evolve and Dragon Gate USA booker Gabe Sapolsky said that Taylor is a valuable part of the team.
Chuck Taylor has a natural connection to the crowd and a natural charisma. Some guys either have it or don’t. He has it,” Sapolsky said. “He is a very athletic wrestler capable of many different styles, a very versatile performer. Chuck is a lot of fun to watch wrestle.”
Despite his young age, Taylor has been in the business almost a decade. A fan in late elementary school, the native of Murray, Kentucky — billed from Raccoon City on the circuit — really got into pro wrestling around 2001, and the Internet helped supply him with VHS tapes of Japan and the independent scene.
He started training with Brandon Walker at the Old School Wrestling Training Academy in Hardin, Kentucky before he was old enough to drive. His parents “could not have been more supportive.”
“I started when I was 15 and I didn’t even have a license, so my parents had to drive me to and from training every time, for about a year and a half. They’d have to drop me off. It was Friday night from 6-10, then Saturday from about 2-10 at night, then Sunday from noon-6. They’d have to drop me off and come pick me up.”
Kentucky had a requirement that wrestlers be 18 years of age, so he had to travel out of state to work initially, including Illinois and Tennessee.
The Chuck Taylor wasn’t really planned out, he said. “I originally wrestled in those original Chuck Taylor Converse shoes. It just kind of came from there. If I had known that people would have started calling me Chuck, I might have picked a better name. It’s not exactly the coolest name, yet I thought it was cool when I was 15 to be called Chuck Taylor, and now I don’t know about it. It might be too late to change.”
Taylor is often tied in with another Kentucky-based wrestler, Ricochet, whom he helped train despite his own youth. “I had no right to be training anyone. It just kind of fell on me. I was free a lot, because I was still in high school, and he would come around. We would go set up the ring and bop around for a bit. He started when he was 14, I believe,” recalled Taylor. “People started booking us together because we traveled from the same place; he’s from about 30 minutes away. We were always in a car together, and people would just start booking us against each other all the time. That’s how that started in 2003, man, that’s been nine years now — that’s crazy. We always seem to end up against each other.”
Since catching on with CHIKARA, and now penned to deals with the Evolve/Dragon Gate USA combination, the 6-foot-1, 184-pound Taylor has faced a far more varied level of competition than just his old training partner.
When Evolve and DGUSA announced the promotions were merging, Taylor was not surprised. “I think Evolve, from the start, was always kind of in the vein of what Dragon Gate USA was meant to be, with the styles and everything. I think it’s going to lead to a lot more opportunities, not only for the Evolve guys, with bigger names coming in and stuff like that now that they’ve kind of merged.”
Having done a tour of Japan in March 2011 for Dragon Gate, Taylor has a greater appreciation for the reach of the Japanese promotion. “Dragon Gate in Japan definitely has a bigger profile than Evolve could ever hope to achieve on its own. I think a lot of young guys on the roster that wouldn’t get that kind of exposure.”
Working the DGUSA shows does present a challenge compared to traditional indy shows, given the language barrier. “Some of the guys speak a little bit of English. CIMA, especially, is almost conversational. A lot of them don’t hardly speak a word, and none of us really speak any Japanese. It can be tough. In the ring, wrestling’s kind of a universal language. It’s easy to put it all together. In the back, it kind of creates a little bit of a separation. They kind of keep to themselves … we can’t exactly have conversations, so we sit around looking at each other anyway,” he chuckled. “They’ve got their part of the locker room, and we kind of take ours.”
The contrasts have led to the various factions in DGUSA; Johnny Gargano, Rich Swann and Taylor make up Ronin. “It started as, the Japanese weren’t really giving us the time of day. I don’t think they respected a lot of the American wrestlers and they were kind of slow to integrate us into their groups and stuff. Myself, Rich and Johnny just figured if they didn’t want us, then we didn’t need them, so we just came together to shake things up a bit. Johnny and I now team pretty much everywhere, and we’ve always had a lot of chemistry together. Rich just seemed like a good fit. He’s got the same mindset, a little bit of a warped sense of humor; he fit right in, really.”
Given his many years with CHIKARA, he is following the CHIKARA invasion of Ring of Honor with great interest — as a fan. “It’s really interesting. It’s something that, as of right now, I can’t be a part of for contractual reasons,” he explained. “It’s great for the company, and I’m happy for CHIKARA’s growth. CHIKARA’s my favorite place to wrestle. It’s the product I believe in the most, which I’ve said several times. To me, it’s the most fun and the most entertaining product out there.”
There are differences from promotion to promotion, Taylor said. “I think CHIKARA and PWG out in California have a similar mindset. They’re both more laid back and fun, for the wrestlers and the fans, I think. I think of PWG as an R-rated CHIKARA. They do have similar mindsets. You go to a place like Evolve, which takes itself more seriously; the whole win-loss record thing is important there. It’s defintely fun, but me, I’ve always preferred the goofier side of wrestling. I just really like the characters in CHIKARA, I think they’re interesting.”
The fans are also a noticeable difference, said “The Kentucky Gentleman.” “Fans in PWG are crazy. They sit there and they just get wrecked on booze there at the bar. At the end of the night, they’re just going nuts for everything. Really, they love wrestling; they’ve got a great little environment out there. I enjoy going out there for them. CHIKARA fans are a very strange crowd to me, the strangest mix of true wrestling fans who aren’t generally the best-looking people — I’m kind of generalizing here, but you see guys in sweatpants and Undertaker T-shirts sitting right next to hipsters with beards and flannel, right next to little kids. It’s an interesting crowd.”
Being from a younger generation, he can’t imagine pro wrestling without the Internet.
“We were in California a couple of months ago at that WrestleReunion. I don’t know how people would have known who I was without the Internet. I’ve only wrestled with, I’ve been with PWG for four years now, but I’ve only wrestled out there a handful of times, not very often, and I don’t think anyone outside of Western Kentucky, which is where I started, would know who I was if it wasn’t for the Internet,” Taylor recalled, adding a warning to promoters about counting too much on the Internet. “I think it’s a great tool that can be used for many things. I do think some promoters rely on it too much, and then don’t want to actually go out and do the legwork of promoting locally. They post it on their Twitter account that they’re having a show and they expect a thousand people to show up. I don’t think it can work like that.”
With DGUSA and Evolve a part of the WrestleMania weekend in Miami, and then two weeks later, in Toronto to put on a show during WrestleReunion, Taylor will get to showcase his skills for new fans, and some old faces. (He is also on the CHIKARA tour of Toronto and Ottawa this weekend.) Recently at the Los Angeles WrestleReunion, he found it surreal to have Jimmy Hart checking into the hotel behind him, as the New Age Outlaws — with his personal favourite Road Dogg (Brian Armstrong) — entering the lobby.
“I was a big, big fan of the Road Dogg, I was a huge fan of his growing up. I’ve always thought, man, if I could just somehow get into a role like that, that guy made millions, literally millions of dollars, wearing baggy pants and a T-shirt, punching people and dancing,” laughed Taylor. “If I can just get in doing that kind of role, oh! I don’t need to be world champ; I just want to put on baggy pants and dance. That sounds like fun!”