LOUISVILLE, KY —  “They’re sold out.” 

Two couples made their way back out of the Davis Arena at 6:33 p.m. looking very disappointed. From the looks of them, all four were first timers, hoping to get a glimpse of the real life action they’d witnessed during the last week on Wrestlers on Netflix. 

They weren’t the only ones. A comment on Bryan Kennison’s Facebook page stated that one fan’s mother had traveled in from out of state hoping to see the show. They pleaded their case, but they too were turned away.

Lesson learned: right now, you better buy your tickets for Ohio Valley Wrestling online, and buy them early. 

Truth be told, my daughter Lydia and I might have been on the outside looking in had I not cast a glance at Facebook around 12:30. Ring announcer Eric Cornish. Freya the Slaya, and others shared the news that the Thursday night TV taping was nearly sold out. I texted Lydia, confirmed we were going, and bought tickets right away. 

By 3 p.m., they were all gone. Four hundred seats sold out, the first time in eight years a regular Thursday night TV show had sold out. 

We could tell just listening in to the people waiting to get inside that many people were making their first ever trip to Davis Arena. 

“Where do you even watch it on TV?” 

“It’s on the FITE app, and also channel 21 WBNA.” 

It’s on a lot more channels and streaming services than that. Odds are good the viewing numbers are up significantly this week. 

OVW’s resident rally man Joe Cooley was doing his best to fill every seat opposite the hard cam even at 6:35. Not that he had to work as hard tonight as he did last summer during the filming of Wrestlers. Every section on all four sides would be filled, including the seats beside Becky Cady’s merch table that, a few months ago, was inhabited by the cast of the forthcoming film Queen of the Ring. 

Walter Goggins, man. Walter Goggins was in Davis Arena just three months ago! But I digress. 

I was curious to see what OVW would roll out for real test of the “Netflix Effect.” The crowd was definitely up a tick last week, one day after Wrestlers debuted on the streaming service, but Al Snow knew darn well this week was his real chance to hook new fans for the long term. Would he roll out the featured stars of the documentary series? Would he introduce the newbies to some of the other members of the roster. 

A bit of both would happen as it turns out, and very well planned I might add. Al made sure the fans saw at least some of the stars they wanted to see, but the OVW roster is so much deeper than viewers saw on Netflix. Many of those stars were on full display tonight. 

The Outrunners fire up the crowd in a dark match prior to OVW TV on September 21, 2023. Photo by John Cosper

OVW kicks each week off with a handful of dark matches starting at 6:30, and this week’s dark match session ended with a bang. Manny Domingo received a strong reception, as fans no doubt connected with his brief moment in the show tearfully talking about his family. He came out with the masked luchadore Star Rider for a clash with arguably OVW’s biggest organic success story in 2023, The Outrunners. 

You could see the joy on Truth Magnum and Turbo Floyd’s faces as they spun their way into the ring. They’ve both been a part of OVW a long time, going way back to the days when, in the glow of the OVW developmental years, this building was near capacity every week. Truth and Turbo didn’t get much screen time in Wrestlers, but they’ve been all over AEW, Ring of Honor, and the NWA as of late. The new fans got the hint from the regulars and cheered along as the two babyface teams slugged it out. 

Just before air time, a familiar face picked up a microphone at ringside. Matt Jones, co-owner of OVW and semi-heel in Wrestlers, thanked the crowd for showing up. He asked everyone to keep the energy up all night, reminding fans there are “more eyes than ever” watching OVW. Executives from multiple networks and of course from Netflix were all watching. What happens next, on this night and in the coming weeks, will dictate where OVW goes from here. 

OVW co-owner and Netflix star Matt Jones addresses a sold out crowd. Photo by John Cosper

Season two, perhaps? 

A new television deal, maybe? 

But first, a night of action as only OVW can deliver. 

The live broadcast kicked off with two of the younger stars, Will Austin and “The 80s Baby” TW3. Both of these young men are exciting to watch, and Austin, in particular, seems to be coming into his own. He’s where “Superior” Tony Evans (more on him later) was about a year ago, just starting to emerge from the pack as a man the fans love to hate. You get the sense that one of the veterans in the locker room is in his ear, coaching him week to week. More important, it’s very clear he is listening. 

Match number two saw the return of “Big Al” Alice Crowley versus a new women’s contender, the green haired Ti Ti. The match ended with some interference by the new bad girl faction of Tiffany Nieves, Jada Stone, and Leila Grey, but Freya the Slaya raced in to make the save. 

Like many of the featured stars from Wrestlers, Freya’s had a change of status since the show was filmed. She’s now a babyface, and Ti Ti, it turns out, is her cousin from Alaska. Safe to saw Freya now has some backup, dealing with heel Leila and her fellow baddies. 

A quick note about Jada Stone. This young lady lives up to her nickname “The Spark.” She’s tiny, but she dazzled fans over the last year with her high energy and sweet smile. It turns out she’s also a wicked little heel, and she’s got a huge fan in former OVW heel manager Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin. She fits right in with Tiffany and Leila. 

Once the ladies cleared the ring, Adam Revolver and Shannon the Dude entered, armed with a microphone. Adam, as has been noted in social media in the last week, deserves credit for keeping OVW together during some of its leanest times. He’s highly regarded backstage as one of the best minds in the company, a true professional and a ring general. 

Of course out in the arena, he’s a marked man. The fans booed and hissed as he ran down Eric Cornish. “You may have lost some weight in the last year, but all people will see on Netflix is that you’re fat!” 

Adam then went after Bryan Kennison, eviscerating the voice of OVW for the tearful moments from episode two of Wrestlers. “The only thing you’re worse at than being an announcer,” he said, “Is being a dad!” 

Revolver went on a rampage, knocking out Eric Cornish and Steven Johnson and choking out Bryan Kennison. Cornish had to be helped to the back while Linda Kay stepped up to take on all the announce duties. 

It was almost too much for my daughter Lydia, age 15, who said the segment made her madder than anything she’d ever seen at OVW. “When he went after Eric,” she said, “Oh, I was so angry!” And they say people can’t suspend disbelief any more. 

A semi-familiar face from Wrestlers, Ryan Von Rockit, faced off with “Superior” Tony Evans in the next clash. Evans, as noted before, has come a long way in the last year. He gets instant heat the moment he walks through the curtain, and he throws fuel on the fire by repeatedly commanding the fans to “HUSH!” Evans wants to be seen as championship material, and he makes a strong case, even with his hired muscle Jay Diniero at ringside. 

Hour one wrapped up with a non-title tag team match between Beaches and Cream, Omar Amir and Luscious Lawrence, and the OVERmen, Joe Mack and Luke Kurtis. I’ve sung the praises of Luke Kurtis on here and social media many times, particularly as a guy who can sell. But man, he’s so much more than a guy who can bump. Kurtis oozes confidence and charisma. He feeds off the hate of his fans, and he always knows exactly what to do to push their buttons. 

This match could have been on any nationally broadcast wrestling show. Joe Mack might be the least experienced of the four, but he towers over the others and he can hang with anyone. Amir is a master ring technician with a great look. And Lawrence? Lawrence has the physique, the charm, and arguably the best entrance theme in the company. He’s one of my daughter Lydia’s absolute favorites. 

Hour two began with a clash between Leila Grey and Freya the Slaya. Their babyface/heel roles have been reversed since the 2022 edition of The Big One, and while Freya’s clearly the big dog in the yard, the numbers game puts her at a disadvantage — especially with Tiffany Nieves wielding Hollywood Haley J’s infamous sock of rocks, which Tiffany fancied up earlier in the evening. 

Freya seemed to have things in hand, but when Jada Stone and Tiffany decided to interfere, the fans got one of the treats they came for: Hollyhood Haley J herself.

Al Snow played it smart. He kept the Netflix stars to the second half of the show. My guess is he wanted to use them to  keep the energy going in the second hour, and if that’s the case, it worked. Haley, the current women’s champion, came in to assist Freya, only to suffer a smack in the head from her own bag of rocks for her trouble. It was a brief appearance, but the new fans turned on by Netflix were smiling. 

Then it was Cash Flo’s turn. 

Part of the night’s sellout might have been a group calling itself “Friends of Cash Flo” that organized on Facebook today. Cash received a standing ovation when he walked down the ramp for a handicap match against Kyle Roberts and Brandon Espinoza. He got some cheers when he started chopping away at his two foes, but when Cash left his feet to hit a flying head scissors on Roberts, the crowd rose to its feet again. The big man soaked in the adulation as he received a third standing O after getting the win. 

Spoiler alert: if you want to know where the James Storm title run went last year after Greg Whitely’s camera crew left town… Storm became a double champion by defeating Omar Amir for the OVW Heavyweight title, then lost both of them to Cash Flo.

A pair of babyfaces took the ring next for a non-title match. Rush Division Champion Kal Herro, aka “The Fanny Pack Kid,” aka Lydia’s favorite wrestler, faced off against the ever popular Tony Gunn. The babyface vs. babyface clash kept the energy going but the Tony Gunn victory was tainted by interference fro Kal Herro’s act nemesis, Adam Revolver. 

Prior to the main event, the OVW theme played, and Al Snow made an appearance. As with Matt Jones, Al came out to thank the fans while giving the new Netflix fans another familiar face to cheer. 

“It’s because of you, this is happening,” declared Al. 

The final match of the night was for the OVW Heavyweight Championship. Crixus, the Scottish War Machine seen rooming with Mahabali Shera, challenged “The Veteran” Jack Vaughn for his title. Jack was seen only briefly in Wrestlers but has amassed a large audience on TikTok over the last year. That didn’t keep him from getting under the skin of the fans, making sure everyone was solidly behind Crixus. 

Vaughn and Crixus, who is also currently the Country Boy Brewing Kentucky Heavyweight champion, could not only be on any nationally broadcast roster, they could travel back in time and star in just about any territory. They’re both heavyweights, both heavy hitters, and both characters made for the main event. Alas, this was not to be the night Crixus reached the top. “Superior” Tony Evans, who has his eyes on reclaiming the belt Crixus won from him, interfered to make sure Crixus fell short. 

Fans were in an uproar. They hated Jack, and they hated Tony. They wanted justice. They needed a hero to step in and help Crixus. 

Enter Mr. Pec-Tacular. 

Jessie Godderz takes matters with Jack Vaughn into his own hands. Photo by John Cosper

Talk about a man who has transitioned since Wrestlers. I doubt any of the regulars at OVW would have thought they’d ever be cheering for Jessie Godderz. Yet over the last several weeks, the mastermind Al Snow transformed the Face That Runs the Place into OVW’s Man. It started with friction between Jessie and EC3, his former stablemate in The Faction. Then EC3 won the NWA World Heavyweight championship, and The Faction turned against Jessie, ostracizing him. 

Over the next few shows, fans began to chant his name. There were still some boos last week, when Jessie did an interview in the ring with Bryan Kennison that further brought him from darkness to light. By the time he hit the ring tonight and laid into Jack Vaughn, the crowd was screaming his name. 

Jessie Godderz, Mr. Pec-Tacular, is now a babyface. 

Of course Jessie wasn’t the only big star waiting in the wings. EC3 emerged, along with Luke Kurtis, Joe Mack, Adam Revolver, and Shannon the Dude. The OVERmen left Jessie lying on his back, beaten and bruised, as the TV cameras went off. This story is not over, but now, the fans clearly know whose side they are on. 

After getting some assistance Jessie made it out of the ring. He gave some fist bumps. He gave high fives. He posed and flexed with fans for photos. Odds are next time Jessie takes the ring and goes into his signature promo, the fans will recite along with him: “As I was saying, you love me. You need me. You want me!” 

It’s worth noting, by the way, someone was absent for the Jessie Godderz beatdown. I’m talking about another fellow who got a lot of love after Wrestlers debuted: Mahabali Shera. Despite having Shannon the Dude at ringside last Thursday, Shera had people lined up for fist bumps and high fives just like Jessie this week. You could see the joy on his face, seeing the love everyone now has for the Indian Lion. 

Good luck keeping him heel in the short term. 

Leaving OVW took a little longer tonight, as the capacity crowd took its time greeting the wrestlers assembled at the gimmick tables. There were more wrestlers at the table tonight than normal, and the vast majority of fans wanted to see one lady in particular. 

“Do you know,” said Maria James, Haley J’s boss and real life mother, “I got a bump of like a thousand social media followers this week, and she got, like 18,000 overnight?” 

It sounds like sour grapes, but don’t be fooled. Maria’s darn proud of her girl. 

Of course, not everyone had come to see Haley. A gentleman in front of us in the greeting line told Cash Flo he had flown in from Seattle, just to see Cash. That really put a smile on the big man’s face. 

Fans greet OVW stars after the TV show. Photo by John Cosper

Time will tell if this is a temporary surge for OVW or the start of something bigger. Al Snow, Matt Jones, and the rest of OVW’s leadership have set some lofty goals for this long-time, regional promotion. They want a bigger spotlight. They want sold out shows weekly. They want to become not just a stop on the road, but a destination for wrestlers to come and work. 

It all starts with filling Davis Arena every week. As Al Snow told me two years ago while I was working on the 10th anniversary edition of my book, Bluegrass Brawlers, there’s no reason why they can’t pack all 400 seats in that building every Thursday. 

If you go: Davis Arena is located at 4400 Old Shepherdsville Road in Louisville. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ovwrestling.com, and right now, you definitely want to order tickets in advance of the show. Doors open at 6, dark matches begin at 6:30, and the live broadcast on FITE starts at 7 p.m.