Every professional wrestler remembers his or her first match. But for Drew Gulak, his initial match is memorable because he helped promote his debut event and it was held in his high school gymnasium.
A wrestling fan for as long as he can remember, Gulak joined his school wrestling team when he was 15 years old. Two years later, in August of 2004, he started training for the squared circle with Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW). Gulak and his younger by three years brother, Rory, had already ingratiated themselves to those in the organization by being fans and volunteering to help the ring crew at the live shows. The brothers were invited to tryout and then started their training under the tutelage of Chris Hero, Mike Quackenbush and Skayde.
“We both got our mom to sign the waiver because we were under age,” reminisced Gulak, now 27 years old, in a phone interview from his hometown of Philadelphia. “It was the same waiver for both of us so I don’t even think it was legal. You have to be at least 18 to train or have your parent’s consent so we said to our mom that we needed her to sign this and we never really said what it was for.”
Gulak went on to debut in April 2005 at the age of 17. Gulak would not just be on the card, he would help book it. Even though still in high school, Gulak took on the role of co-promoter by putting together a charity wrestling show with Maven Bentley.
“We decided to do the event at my high school,” explained Gulak. “We thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to get in there and utilize the fact that I’m a local and it worked.”
In order to make it happen, Gulak spent a week in his high school’s cafeteria selling tickets and planning the event, even getting excused from some of his classes to do so. But his efforts didn’t all run smoothly. When one of his teachers saw Gulak taking a phone call about the event during class, he was given a one-day in house suspension. Gulak insists he had cleared the call with his teacher beforehand, but he got the suspension anyway.
The event drew a crowd of over 200 people and raised approximately $4,000 for the education of young children in the Delaware Valley. The show began with Gulak thanking and welcoming everyone, only to be interrupted by Bentley and Daunte Sweet.
“They were looking for any student to wrestle for a $10,000 prize for charity,” recalled Gulak. “I just happened to be in the ring and then I got laid out. Later I ended up being in a three-on-two handicap match. I teamed with DJ Hyde who was the biggest guy I could find to go against Maven Bentley, Robbie Mireno and Sabian who is now BLK Jeez. Eddie Kingston and Daunte Sweet were at ringside.”
Gulak says he felt prepared for the match after training with and getting to know everyone involved in the match for a long time. He admits it may seem weird, but he was more nervous about the entire show going off without a hitch, then his own debut in the ring. Gulak was announced as just “Drew” for the match, so as a result he has always wrestled under his given name.
Gulak would also be involved in his brother’s debut in 2008, a moment he says is one of the highlights of his wrestling career. The brothers would square off against each other and Gulak even took a chair shot to the head from his younger sibling.
“It wasn’t strange to wrestle my brother,” shared Gulak. “It was cool. It was fun. We had trained together and fought for years in the living room, so it was just like any other day!”
Gulak’s name isn’t the only real life aspect of his wrestling career. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Gulak says his character is an extension of himself. He’s made a name for himself as an outspoken activist type, sharing his true feelings about subjects that some people might find controversial or even inappropriate.
“I became this no-nonsense heel,” commented Gulak. “And when I started to get the opportunity to do commentary and microphone work, I started speaking out about issues in the company that I thought were valid at the time. Like hey, maybe we shouldn’t throw a referee through a table at every show. That kind of stuff. Maybe we should listen to the refs and make it mean more for the product which were all things that I would hear the veterans talk about in the back and I felt it would make for a very compelling character.”
Gulak relishes the role of speaking out on issues in wrestling including the amount of violence in the sport, medical treatment received by wrestlers and the treatment of women in wrestling. In 2010, after it was revealed that fellow wrestler Nick Gage was sentenced to prison for participating in a robbery, Gulak felt the real-life incident was fair game to comment on in the ring. Gulak mocked Gage and in turn CZW, chastising the company for hiring a criminal. He also wore Gage’s ring gear to the ring and Gage’s former manager, Dewey Donovan, became his manager. Gulak’s antics were even noticed by Gage’s brother, whom Gulak says threatened him as a result.
Gulak makes no apologies about his comments and actions. He doesn’t feel he crossed a line, in fact he doesn’t believe there is even a line to begin with. Gulak is all about intensity, honesty, and making people think deeper.
“My stance on that (Nick Gage incident) was very simple,” Gulak stated. “There was nothing covered up or being hidden from the public about it. He committed a felony. Here’s how I look at it, whenever there is something controversial in wrestling, say for example someone murdering somebody or committing suicide, those kinds of things, these are public things that have to be spoken about and are going to be spoken about regardless if there’s an official stance from the company or not. Me being someone who is just a performer and happened to work with this guy, I didn’t say anything contrary to what had happened. I was just speaking out about the incident purely from an inside perspective.”
Continued Gulak, “If there was something I had done, I would expect people to talk about it and I would hope that they don’t try to lie to people blatantly and obviously to cover it up because that isn’t good. That is bad publicity. We don’t want that. I was just being honest, open and candid about my feelings and I feel like a lot of people did share my beliefs.”
Beyond his mic skills, Gulak is also making waves with his technical proficiency inside the ring. Gulak’s abilities have led to a full dance card of wrestling matches for a variety of independent wrestling organizations in the United States, Canada and Europe. Gulak says he sees every wrestling spot as a chance to learn more about his craft and become worldlier.
“His stock is definitely on the rise,” wrote James Kee, Managing Director of Canada’s Smash Wrestling, in an email to SLAM! Wrestling. “I firmly believe as more and more people continue to see what he is capable of and how entertaining he truly is. I think the reason he’s skyrocketing up a lot of people’s top talent lists is for the same reason he means a lot to Smash Wrestling. He’s unique. He’s a wrestling purist; a mat technician at heart. Yet, we’ve seen him do it all, from spot style matches, to hardcore battles as well. He really is so versatile.”
Gulak will also be wrestling during the EVOLVE show being held on the biggest weekend in professional wrestling, the extravaganza known as WrestleMania weekend. Gulak has been involved with the show for the last three years.
“My goal is just to stand out,” he revealed. “If I can make people remember me for something, that’s my strategy. Remember me for being different, that would be great.”
EVOLVE’s co-founder Gabe Sapolsky appreciates what Gulak brings to the table. “Drew is very creative, very intelligent and he brings fresh ideas to the table based off the lessons from wrestling’s past,” said Sapolsky. “He is a valuable asset to giving EVOLVE a unique identity with his modernized throwback realistic wrestling style. Yes, all those words together make sense when describing a one-of-a-kind wrestler and person like Drew.”
Despite the venue and not knowing if any big wrestling shakers will be in the audience or not, Gulak says he only has nerves for the things he can’t control — like whether his flight will make it there on time or be cancelled.
“There is always pressure, but I’ve gotten over those nerves a long time ago,” he remarked confidently. “I can go out in front of a huge crowd and it wouldn’t make a difference to me. You still get excited about things you have in mind. You never know if they are going to go right or wrong or how the crowd will react. But I like the challenge, I like anticipating one thing and being thrown a curve ball when I get out there. That’s great. That can only make me better.”
Despite the lack of nerves, Gulak does have aspirations to join the World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE’s) roster. But he says he is not willing to shove himself down people’s throats to do so. Instead, he focuses on his career by training twice a week and being the assistant trainer and program coordinator for the CZW Wrestling Academy. Gulak says he has taken the long road on purpose.
“I feel like I took a longer time to get things down than many of my peers,” reflected Gulak. “I’ve watched people blow by me as far as getting their name out there and traveling and maybe getting signed to a larger company. It has taken me 10 years to get to where I am now. It’s taken a lot of meticulous work. A lot of time and a lot of listening and a lot of learning.”
In the meantime, there is one goal that he would like to achieve sooner rather than later.
“The only real goal I ever set for myself and this is corny,” said Gulak with a laugh. “One day I would like my 8 x 10 to be hung up in a cheese steak place in Philadelphia. If I can make it to that level at some point, I will know I have made it.”
Gulak will be on the card for the Smash Wrestling show in Toronto on Sunday, March 15. More information at smash-wrestling.com.