The vast majority of viewers who turned in to watch Wrestlers on Netflix experienced Louisville wrestling for the first time. Most had never been to Louisville, Kentucky, much less set foot in Davis Arena. It was all new to them, an exciting, thrilling peek at a world they had no idea existed, and it’s attracted some big name fans like Rainn Wilson and Ken Jeong.
For those of us who lived and breathed Louisville wrestling for years, long before creator and director Greg Whitely came to town, viewing Wrestlers was a non-stop reenactment of that Leo DiCaprio meme we’ve all seen over and over. You know. The one where he’s excitedly pointing at the television in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Aside from a brief glimpse of the late Sean Patrick O’Brien, a beloved referee and friend to all who can be seen sitting at the Holiday Inn bar in episode one, the biggest “Leo” moment came when the docuseries took viewers to a different arena, a building many call the Jeffersonville Arena or simply The Arena. Located about 30 minutes from OVW on the sunny side of the Ohio River, The Arena sits just north of downtown Jeffersonville, Indiana, at 1416 Spring Street.
The docuseries returned to The Arena a few times. They captured footage of HollyHood Haley J practicing with her longtime trainer, “Reverend” Ronnie Roberts, and other aspiring young wrestlers, and they conducted Roberts’ personal interview in that same space.
Here’s what the camera didn’t show you:
- The Arena will mark its 9th anniversary in 2024.
- Multiple promotions have used and continue to use the space including Paradigm Pro Wrestling, Wrestling Revolver, Pro Wrestling Freedom, CHIKARA, IWA Mid-South, Girl Fight, Shane Mercer’s XCF, and coming soon, Legendary Larry D’s Generation Next.
- Stars who have appeared in The Arena include Jeff Jarrett, MJF, Slick, Sandman, Super Crazy, Princess Victoria, Su Yung, Jordynne Grace, Sami Callihan, Ruby Riott, Orange Cassidy, and Valhalla (aka Sarah Logan, aka Crazy Mary Dobson).
- Their in-house school, Grindhouse Academy, has churned out a number of talented young wrestlers and already has an AEW/ROH star among its alumni.
- While OVW was struggling to fill half of Davis Arena, Grindhouse Pro Wrestling’s crowds were growing steadily.
“Over the summer, I got a call from a guy who was starting a new promotion in Louisville,” says Tony Borcherding, better known to fans as 2 Tuff Tony. “Their next show fell on a Sunday afternoon when we were running, and he asked if we could move out date. I told him absolutely not. We were here and running Sundays long before they came to town.”
Grindhouse drew very well that afternoon when the new guys ran across the river. They’re now selling out, thanks in part to the Netflix series, and the phone is ringing off the hook as prospective students want to come check things out.
2 Tuff Tony takes a great deal of pride in The Arena. He’s put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the building. He grew up in the Frankfort Avenue /Crescent Hill neighborhood, and like many kids, he saw the Memphis shows on TV as well as Louisville Gardens.
Tony started training by complete accident. “I was hanging out with these guys who wrestled as The Kentucky Sluggers, and they were headed to Arkansas to train with the Moondogs. I had never been outside of Louisville, so I rode with them to Arkansas.
“I was sitting at ringside, just watching them work, when Moondog Rex waved and said, ‘Come here, boy!’ He was trying to show the Sluggers something. Rex whipped me into the ropes and had me take a bump. I started to get out of the ring, but Rex said, ’Stay in here.’ Rex started training me right along with the Sluggers.
“At the end of the day, I told Rex, ‘I don’t have any money.’ Rex said, ‘Just keep coming with them.’ So I did for a few months.”
Tony’s real training began when he caught the eye of Bull Pain. Bull made Tony pay his dues the hard way, but Bull took a liking to him and broke him into the business.
2 Tuff Tony is a big man but surprisingly nimble for his size, unafraid to climb the ropes and take off through the air. He logged a lot of miles across the US and around the world, including a very successful run in Japan with Mad Man Pondo as the tag team Baka Gaijin.
As Tony’s bookings were starting to slow down a decade ago, a friend named Tracy Johnson proposed the two go into business and open a wrestling school. Tony had plenty to keep him busy with a growing landscaping business, but he told Tracy, “If you find a building, we’ll do it.”
A few months went by before Tony got a call: Tracy had found a building in Southern Indiana. “Indiana was the plan all along,” says Tony. “We wouldn’t have to worry about licensing like we do in Kentucky.”
When Tony pulled up to 1416 Spring Street (conveniently located right across the street from the hospital), he shook his head. The street-facing side of the building looked very tiny, sandwiched in between a shop on one side and a dentist’s office on the other. Tony looked at Tracy and shook his head. “I thought, There’s no way, no way this tiny building could be a wrestling venue.”
What Tony didn’t know was this tiny facade led into a much larger space behind both the other buildings on Spring Street. At his partner’s insistence, Tony climbed the wooden steps and set foot inside. He found himself standing atop a small platform with a long set of wooden steps leading down into a large, empty concrete space. Plenty of room for a ring, a couple hundred fans, some gimmick tables, and concessions, with just enough space for a backstage and a restroom.
The building had an unfinished basement as well, a perfect space to create a locker room area for the wrestlers. But at the time Tony and crew first moved in, The Arena was far more primitive than it looks now.
After working out a deal with the building owner, Tony brought in a crew to fix the place up. Within 36 days, they were running their first show under the banner KPW. Tony also started renting the place out to other promotions. If you had the money, and were willing to abide by the terms (no blading/blood allowed), you could run at The Arena.
Several promotions found early success in the building, including “Juicy” Jimmy Feltcher’s outstanding Pro Wrestling Freedom and Mad Man Pondo’s Girl Fight, but KPW struggled as Tony and Tracy quickly realized they had different views of how to run the promotion. They agreed to part ways, with Tony buying Tracy out.
Tony found it hard to run the wrestling promotion alongside his landscaping business, so he brought in a new partner, former OVW wrestler Rudy Switchblade. Rudy brought a second OVW alum into the fold, Raul LaMotta, and the three men started Grindhouse Academy and its sister promotion, Grindhouse Pro Wrestling.
Tony took a completely unique approach to running a wrestling school. Where many promoters charge a huge fee up front and try to beat students into submission, he wanted everyone to have an opportunity to try it out. Initially, Grindhouse only charged a small fee per class. You paid as you went. You stayed as long as you liked. And no one took liberties with students in the ring.
Zach Pittman is proud to call himself Grindhouse’s first student. He wrestles under the name ZDP, and he’s part of a faction called The Fallen over at Ohio Valley Wrestling. He was thrilled to see The Arena get some love on Wrestlers.
“No matter where I go that place will always be top five,” says ZDP. “It’s where I learned how to do my first rolls, took my first bump, had my first match. The Arena is home.”
Other students began showing up to train at The Arena. Charlie Pierce, an Indianapolis native, relocated to Jeffersonville to start her training. MLW signee and rising deathmatch star AKIRA worked out at the school. A tag team known as The Bruisers is now starting to find traction on the indies.
A photographer known in the wrestling community as Mouse shot many shows at The Arena with his young daughter. One day he approached Tony with a request: would he be willing to take the girl on as a student? She was just 13 years old at the time.
After discussing the request with Rudy, Tony sat down to talk to the girl. “As long as you keep your grades up, we’ll train you.” The girl had already made up her mind she wanted to be a wrestler, and she agreed to the terms. Six years later, Billie Starkz is signed to AEW, working a program in Ring of Honor as Athena’s minion, and duking it out with Ronda Rousey.
“Whenever I have a young kid asking to train,” says Tony, “We take those on a case by case basis. I tell them all the same thing. I tell them they have to keep their grades up. Billie not only got straight A’s, she was the valedictorian of her high school.”
To say Grindhouse is proud of Billie Starkz would be a huge understatement. “She was like an 18-year-old at 13,” says Tony. “She knew what she wanted to do. She told us what she was gonna do. And she did it.”
Grindhouse was doing well, but when Rudy and Raul decided they needed to step away, Tony went looking for another partner. He reached out to Ronnie Roberts, who was training with Legendary Larry D in Cynthiana at the time.
“I pretty much begged him,” says Tony.
“No, no!” said Roberts. “I badgered him to let me come!”
A native of Lexington, Roberts spent every summer growing up in Barbourville, a tiny town in Southeastern Kentucky close to the Tennessee border. “My whole family, from my great-grandmother down? All wrestling fans. My great-grandmother and great aunt were always front row, throwing shoes and stuff. They were that kind of fans.”
Roberts always shares one particular memory about his great-grandmother. “I was sitting on the floor in front of her while she was resting on the couch. She was ill, and she had the old school oxygen tank hooked up and everything. Here come the Horsemen, beating up Dusty Rhodes. For a sick lady, my great-grandmother moved real quick. She sat up, threw her house shoes at the TV and screamed, ‘Oh those Horsemen are dirty! Somebody help poor Dusty!’”
Roberts’ mother took him to the matches, and his siblings endured Roberts to practice moves on them. “I had two dreams. I wanted to play pro football and get into wrestling. I played semi-pro up in Canada, and when I moved back to Kentucky, I got into wrestling.”
A co-worker at the truck plant where Roberts was working connected him with Johnny Badd, who then connected him to Larry D. He trained with both men and found himself in the right time at the right place when Tony needed a new partner.
“Something brought Ronnie and me together,” says Tony. “We have the same vision, not just about teaching but everything. We never worry about anything, and things always fall into place. We tell each other, ‘Don’t worry. It’s gonna happen.’ And it does.”
“When you have good intentions, and you’re doing things for the right reasons, things work out for you,” adds Roberts.
Roberts brought another female prodigy to The Arena with him, a brash, blonde firecracker named Haley James. Her mother, Maria, was a long time friend of Roberts, and Roberts had watched young Haley grow up. Haley trusted Roberts to train her when she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps. He’s exceedingly proud of the woman, and the wrestler, HollyHood Haley J has become.
“Just for the record, she stole a lot of my stuff,” Roberts laughs, only partly joking. “Seriously, though, I thought she had something special about her the day I met her.”
As for the building itself, the look of The Arena has been a work in progress from day one — whenever Tony has time to make it happen.
“I’m a one-man band,” says Tony. “It takes a while to get things done.”
To his credit, just about any time you walk in the building, there’s something different. The announcer’s desk has moved locations a few times. Murals of famous lucha masks began to cover the walls. A large mural of an American flag and a flying eagle serves as the focal point any time DJ Eric Montgomery plays the National Anthem before a show.
For many years, a solid black toilet sat in the lone bathroom available to fans and wrestlers. She became known as Black Beauty, and for a time, she had her own Facebook page. Sadly, Black Beauty is no more, but with that renovation, Tony added a second bathroom.
While some fans still lament Black Beauty’s departure, another recent upgrade brought tears of joy. The heating and air conditioning system now works, thanks in no small part to Reverend Ronnie and fellow trainer Mitchell Huff.
“Nobody wants to sweat or freeze during a wrestling show,” says Roberts.
Tony shakes his head and laughs. “It costs money to cool and heat a building that big.”
Tony has done a lot of work to keep the building up to code, and out of necessity, he’s fostered goodwill with the local officials in Jeffersonville and Clark County. Southern Indiana has often been described as the “Wild, Wild West” of pro wrestling. With no state regulations to dictate who can run where, some promoters resorted to underhanded tactics to shut down their competition. A call to the Clark County Department of Health about cache of deathmatch weapons in a roller rink resulted in IWA Mid-South losing that building several years ago.
When the Department of Health showed up at Tony’s door, thanks to another “anonymous” call, Tony was ready. He welcomed them with open arms and proudly showed him around the space. The inspector asked Tony to bring a few items in the concessions area up to code, which Tony agreed to do and made happen. Tony gave the man free passes for his family to an upcoming show.
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge The Arena faced was COVID-19. Before the pandemic, you could see at least one wrestling show a week, if not more, at The Arena. COVID-19 shut all of independent wrestling down.
Being in the north side of the Ohio River had its benefits as 2020 moved along. Indiana began lifting restrictions long before Kentucky, but due to a family situation, Roberts was unable to return to teaching right away. Tony reached out to Mitchell Huff, a respected OVW alum who had some nice runs with a few local promotions, including Destination One Wrestling, before settling down to have a family.
Huff was no stranger to the building. He was the original trainer at The Arena for a year and a half before Rudy Switchblade came on. When Tony called in 2020, Huff was feeling the itch to return.
“I was in talks to go back to OVW at the time,” says Huff. “And I was missing teaching, so I said yes. It was only supposed to be short term, but here I am, three years later.”
Huff loved what he found when he started teaching at Grindhouse. The class at that time, which included Billie Starkz, was a bit more advanced, which was right in his wheelhouse. Once Grindhouse started running shows again, he began agenting matches, which he views as another opportunity to teach.
“It scratches my itch to get back in the ring,” Huff says.
“Mitch is tough,” says Tony. “A lot of the kids didn’t want to work with Mitch at first. But he’s old school, just like me and Ronnie.”
The students weren’t the only ones coming back to The Arena. Independent promotions, including IWA Mid-South, began using the building to tape empty arena shows for pay-per-view. “They helped us stay afloat during COVID,” says Tony. “And yes, I got paid for those shows.”
The most surprising development during COVID was when Ohio Valley Wrestling reached out. Unable to get back into Davis Arena because of Kentucky’s more stringent restrictions, OVW taped its first TV shows post-pandemic in The Arena, just a stone’s throw away from the original Davis Arena. Billie Starkz, who could not wrestle at Davis Arena because she was under 18, was able to make her OVW debut during those tapings.
Eric Montgomery has witnessed much of the building’s history from the beginning. He’s only worked in the ring once — when he DJ’ed an adult prom held in the building — but he’s run sound from the booth for more shows than he can count. “The Arena gave me a place to hone my craft and meet and work with many wrestlers who have been on AEW, IMPACT, MLW, NWA, and WWE! Tony and his crew have put their blood, work and tears into The Arena from the opening day to now.”
The school has changed a little in recent years, particularly with its tuition. It’s still pay as you go, but students now must put down a $300 deposit and pay $125 monthly. Training sessions take place three days a week: Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings and Friday mornings. The change simplified the payments for students, and the down payment gave them more of a feeling of investment.
“We want them to stay,” says Tony. “We want them to work hard and do well. But wrestling’s not for everybody, and that’s why we keep the deposit low. We can sleep good at night knowing we’re not screwing these kids over.”
What has never changed about The Arena and Grindhouse is the core philosophy. Whether a student attends one class or dozens, they want everyone to have a positive experience. “We tell our kids, you will never work in a place like this ever again,” says Tony. “They may get a bad taste in their mouths and walk away from the business working some place else, but they’ll always remember they had a good experience here.”
2 Tuff Tony and Ronnie Roberts have many wrestlers asking to work Grindhouse shows, but they are very picky and choosy about who they use and how. They want their kids to succeed, at The Arena and beyond, and their sole focus is on giving their kids programs and matches that will help them grow in the eyes of the fans and as people.
Grindhouse has a few up and coming students fans should keep an eye on, starting with the kid who is literally first in the building and last out every time. Ethan Heyre was in the building even before his trainer, Mitchell Huff on a recent Wednesday night and shared why he chose Grindhouse.
“The two schools closest to me were OVW and Grindhouse,” Heyre said. “I could have worked and saved up for a few months to enroll at OVW, or I could use part of a paycheck to make the down payment and start right away at Grindhouse.”
Heyre began training in the summer of 2022 and made his debut before a crowd in January of 2023. Despite his size, he’s already one of the most popular members of the Grindhouse roster.
“Ethan is five-foot-five tops,” says Roberts. “But man. The last show we had? The fans literally did not stop chanting his name the entire time.”
Not long after Heyre arrived, he was joined by Chyann, a young lady who wrestles as Dixie Douglas and has a very familiar backstory. Born in Louisville, she began training at a school near Columbia, South Carolina two years ago at the age of 14.
When her step-father, who is in the Army, received a transfer to Georgia, Chyann had a problem. “I wasn’t going to be able to keep wrestling their because of the age restrictions,” she says. “My mom is friends with Coal County Crusher, and he told her about Grindhouse. My grandma still lives up here, so instead of moving to Georgia, I moved here to keep training.”
Kevo is a long-time student going back to the days of Rudy Switchblade and Raul LaMotta. It took him a bit longer to find himself in the ring, but a recent match with veteran indie star Chris Michaels impressed his trainers. “He’s ready to go make money,” says Roberts.
“Klayton Cannon, our champion, is top notch,” says Tony. “Allie Allbright is coming into herself. When Ronnie works with these kids, the light comes on. He does a great job with them, and so does Mitch.”
Tony also takes pride in having trained Darren the Inspirer, a blind man who finally was able to achieve his dream of becoming a wrestler thanks to Grindhouse. “Nobody else wanted to train him. We did.” Darren the Inspirer made his pro debut in 2021 at The Arena, becoming an inspiration to many in the visually impaired community.
“The Deaf World Order is coming to train with us now,” adds Tony. “Matter of fact, we just had another deaf guy come to train with us last week.”
“We’re going to give you the opportunity,” says Roberts. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to make it, but you’ll get every opportunity.”
One of the big money makers for The Arena are their birthday parties. Parents of kids who love wrestling can book a party at The Arena and enjoy a show put on by the students. The students say these are some of their favorite shows, and the shows have led a few novel recruits to their door.
“A kid came up to me after a show we put on for his birthday and asked when he could start training with me,” says Tony. “I told him to keep his grades up and come see me when he turned 18. He kept his grades up, and he came back to train. He’s now wrestling as Leo Grymm. I was so proud the day he wrestled his first birthday party show with us.”
“He’s on his way up,” adds Roberts.
“And he’s a good kid,” adds Tony.
A dad named Eric Booher booked a wrestling birthday party for his son and took things one step further. He trained to wrestle just so he could be part of the show on his son’s big day. He loved it so much, he stayed with it and now wrestles for Grindhouse as Big D.
“The birthday parties are our bread and butter,” says Tony. “All our kids want to work them because they’re so much fun.”
Grindhouse has a sterling reputation for training women to wrestle, a badge of honor not many wrestling schools can match. Chyann’s proud to be part of a legacy that includes Billie Starkz and Haley J. “The teaching is great, and it’s a very healthy environment. There are a lot of other ladies who work out here, and it’s better here for the ladies than other places I’ve been.”
Like everyone else who was involved with the Wrestlers docuseries, Tony and Roberts had no idea how much footage from The Arena would be shown, or if any of it would be shown at all. Tony was a proud papa the day he met Greg Whitely and showed him the space he’d been cultivating for seven years at the time.
“They had no idea what we have over here,” he says.
Whitely conducted interviews with both Roberts and Haley J at The Arena. “They filmed a whole lot that didn’t make it on the show. But that’s the whole show, really. A lot of things didn’t make it. I’m very thankful they showcased us. They didn’t have to do that.”
“I’m hoping if there’s a second season, they’ll come back,” says Tony.
“They almost came to one of our shows,” says Roberts. “I wanted them to see us. It’s just different than OVW.”
Different or not, many former and current OVW roster members use The Arena as a place to stay sharp and further hone their craft. Some of the new students have already taken bumps alongside men and women two of three steps ahead of them on the journey to the top. Iron sharpens iron, and while the area’s two wrestling arenas may seem worlds apart in the eyes of the fans, the wrestlers enjoy sharing the journey with one another.
“It’s a great learning environment for sure,” says Heyre. “We say it all the time, this is the place to make mistakes and learn and become the best performers we can be.”
Tony echoes a sentient Al Snow shared in the Wrestlers docuseries. “We tell our kids, this will be the most fun place you ever work. Not that you can’t have fun other places, but there’s less pressure here than anywhere else you will go.”
In addition to wrestling, The Arena has has been used for concerts, dances, commercial shoots. Filmmaker Ash Avildsen looked at The Arena as a possible location for the Mildred Burke biopic Queen of the Ring. “They didn’t film here,” says Tony, “But I sold him some old school lockers for props.”
The Arena continues to host shows for other promotions, and many of these shows are well worth the effort to attend. Paradigm Pro Wrestling began in the Arena prior to COVID and has built a strong following through on-demand services. Shane Mercer, a long-time fixture for many promotions in the building, used The Arena to resurrect XCF, a backyard promotion from his earliest days in the business. Roberts’ mentor Larry D, who made many appearances at The Arena, will bring his Generation Next promotion to town in December.
“We have turned people down,” says Tony. “We ask a lot of questions, and we have certain requirements. We’re also protecting our territory a bit. We run in this building too!”
Odds are if you attend all of these events, you’ll see many of the same faces in the crowd. Just like OVW across the river, the patrons of The Arena and the wrestlers who call The Arena home base are a family. Fans grow especially fond of the home-grown Grindhouse kids, and not just the wrestlers. When Sean Patrick O’Brien passed away in the spring of 2023, Paradigm Pro Wrestling made him its inaugural Hall of Fame inductee.
“Many fans I’ve spoken to have said they love going to The Arena because it brings back the old school arena vibes,” says Montgomery. “They love the artwork on the walls, as that makes The Arena stand out more than any other wrestling building they’ve gone to.”
“The Arena truly started from the bottom; now it’s here!” says ZDP. “From nothing to something. Now if you know about wrestling, you know about the world famous Jeffersonville Arena. It’s pretty incredible for really.”
He’s not joking. One of the Grindhouse wrestlers was spotted by a fan in the restroom during the recent AEW show at the Yum! Center in Louisville, less than five minutes from The Arena. The fan shouted, “Who’s house?”
Others in the room replied, “Grindhouse!”
The Arena sits at 1416 Spring Street in Jeffersonville, but if you go, plan to park in the dentist’s office lot next door. The church behind the building, which is where the front entrance is located, recently fenced off its lot. You can follow or contact Grindhouse Pro Wrestling Academy on Facebook. You can also follow many of the promotions that run in The Arena on social media including XCF and Paradigm Pro Wrestling.