In modern society, there seems to be conflict and divisiveness about almost everything. Political differences, social unrest, and whatever the latest argument is on social media fuel an often negative narrative among the public.
However, there are a few rare topics that everyone can agree on. Nobody, regardless of their economic status, will be sending the tax man a Christmas card after he collects every April 15, which is why the portrayal of IRS in the early-90s is probably the most well-known persona of Mike Rotunda’s career that spanned two decades. The other profession that receives almost unanimous grief is the lawyer, the often shady character that will use loopholes in the law to exploit the public. From Johnny Cochran to the local yokel that chases ambulances or looks for an icy sidewalk, the reputation of manipulative conman seems to follow those in the field.
As we know, Mike Rotunda, despite his glasses, suspenders, and trademark tie, didn’t actually collect for Uncle Sam. After a comical battle with The Bushwhackers, he didn’t untie his boots and start to check a W-2 in the locker room. Ironically, Rotunda’s real-life background was an an accomplished amateur at the University of Syracuse. But, that’s show biz, the ability to perform and entertain an audience.
Still, wouldn’t the concept of the snarky lawyer be tailor made for the genre of sports entertainment? A villain that can exploit the rules of the sport and threaten legal action to get the advantage?
Of course, in the world of professional wrestling, there is a grappler that touts himself a legal czar. Pittsburgh native, “The Gavel” David Lawless, antagonizes audiences throughout his home turf and doesn’t mind taking a short cut when the opportunity presents itself, something Saul Goodman would probably appreciate. However, the six-year pro isn’t merely just a “wrestling lawyer,” but rather a legitimately licensed and practicing wrestling attorney, starting his own firm just a few years ago after polishing his skills under the Robert Pierce and Associates banner for almost nine years.
“The individuals in my profession who had given up on their dreams and were miserable in their lives and their careers, I decided that it was now or never to pursue my career as a professional wrestler. I didn’t want to turn into the 40-year-old who punched the clock and didn’t pursue his passion. The decision to pursue a career in wrestling has been the most important and meaningful decision in my life,” Lawless explained.
At 30, the accomplished attorney that would eventually become “The Gavel,” Max Petrunya set foot inside a ring for the first time in 2014. Already very successful with his legal take downs of foes in court, Max didn’t have to bank on professional wrestling for fame and fortune, but instead wanted to pursue a goal based merely on his passion for the larger-than-life spectacle that he watched beamed through his television screen for years. To learn the ropes, Petrunya sat under the learning tree of Brandon K, a nearly 25-year-old veteran that is regarded as one of the most well-rounded wrestlers in Pittsburgh wrestling history, as well as the founder of Ryse Wrestling, one of the region’s fastest rising organizations.
“I continue to learn from Brandon to this day. Confidence, timing, footwork, positioning, pacing, and selling. There is a reason why Brandon is one of the best in the areas and is one of the most respected trainers. Brandon also taught us to work hard and really study the craft. Brandon taught us the basics in a way that I feel most people can understand,” Max commented.
The grappling arts was completely new territory for Petrunya, who had a Flair-level list of accomplishments in court in his own tailored suit, but had Cousin Vinny experience in spandex and boots. Despite the dramatization in film, an attorney doesn’t just rush through the doors of the court room to deliver an earth-shattering swerve to the plot. Instead, the path of higher education for those that want to become legal representatives takes the better part of a decade with a dedication rarely seen in other fields of study.
In 2003, Max was accepted into Villanova University, a prestigious establishment known for its high standards for those that are granted entrance. Four years later, he graduated with honors, majoring in political science with minors in business, communications, and philosophy. Ironically, that was just the beginning of his educational journey, as he was accepted into Duquesne University Law school, graduating in 2010 before he passed the Bar Exam in July of that year. He officially became licensed to practice Pennsylvania in October. The following year, he passed the exam again to be licensed to practice in West Virginia. Along the way, he competed for and won many regional competitions for aspiring law students, and even competed in a few national contests.
Just as he polished his legal knowledge during his previously mentioned tenure with Robert Pierce, Max was ready to apply the skills he learned from Brandon K by 2015. In an example of art imitating life, he based his wrestling persona on the notorious reputation of his profession. During that rookie year in the sport, he gained valuable experience by competing on smaller cards in the area, often in front of sparse crowds, but he was noticed for the poise he brought to the ring and a crisp style that went beyond his experience level. It also gave him a chance to develop his professional wrestling persona, an aspect of his career that made him known for being a wordsmith on the mic.
“I thought about the most detestable characteristics of lawyers in our society and developed them into my persona. Lawyers continue to have a terrible reputation in our society. Most people view lawyers as rich, whiny, pompous, smarmy, ego-maniacs. I would say that embodies the characteristics of The Gavel that makes him so villainous,” Petrunya explained.
“David Lawless is such a talented performer, but that is sometimes over shadowed by his egotistical attitude. As a matter of fact, he’s so self centered that when he goes to a funeral he’s upset he is not the corpse,” added Paul Atlas, a thirty-year grizzled veteran that has spent the past five years since his in-ring career concluded as a color commentator, as well as an organizer behind-the-scenes in Pittsburgh.
As time went on and especially in more recent years, “The Gavel” became a staple of cards around the tri-state area, wrestling for several organizations because his character and style were adaptable toward different audiences. From the long-running International Wrestling Cartel organization, where he is a member of “The Regulators” stable to Brandon K’s Ryse Wrestling group, Lawless remains a key performer in many promotions. He often zigzags across Western Pennsylvania and into West Virginia with steady work in 2PW, Fight Underground, Imagine Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling Conquest as just of a few of the local leagues.
“I am so proud to get the opportunity to work with all of the companies that I am affiliated with Each of the companies has a unique roster and different approach to wrestling that makes it entertaining for the fans.I also love the opportunity that I have to subtlety tweak the presentation of the The Gavel for each of these promotions. It is so rewarding to be able to work with all of the talented individuals in our area. I am so proud of the work The Regulators did in IWC over the past year during the pandemic. I learned so much and grew so much as an athlete and performer from that experience,” Max commented.
“Lawless is just as good on the mic and in the ring as I am. My IWC title reign wouldn’t of ever happened if not for David Lawless,” said Jock Samson, the rambunctious leader of The Regulators in IWC.
But, wrestling a busy schedule as “The Gavel” isn’t without its challenges for Max Petrunya when he has to balance the over-the-top world of sports entertainment with the legal business of his own law firm. It’s not uncommon for him to put down the literal gavel he takes to the ring with him as a villain and trade it for a blue-ink pen to jot down notes ahead of his meeting the following day. Indeed, Max has spent a Saturday night with a championship title defense before he met with clients over breakfast the following morning.
“At times, it can be difficult operating my own law firm and keeping up with everything that goes along with a successful wrestling career. However, this career has given me a lot of flexibility to be able to accomplish everything I need to in my professional and wrestling career. I might have to catch up on work on a Sunday night, but if that means I can take an entire Friday off to drive to a show, it is well worth the trade,” Petrunya remarked.
Similar to how Mike Rotunda didn’t check the 1099 status of his opponents, the real-life Max Petrunya is on the other end of the spectrum from “The Gavel” that riles up a live audience. The majority of Petrunya’s legal work is based on assisting those in a perilous situation that need proper representation. Personal injury, nursing home abuse, asbestos exposure, and other medical type scenarios are often the situations that come across his desk.
“Ultimately, handling personal injury cases, I am interacting and helping individuals who have experienced an injury to themselves or a loved one. It is stressful enough dealing with that, let alone working with a lawyer in the justice system. My number one goal in my practice is to help my clients and make this process as easy as possible for them. If that means adjusting my schedule to accommodate them, I am happy to do it for their sake,” he explained.
But, Max also looks to apply his legal mind to the professional wrestling industry to give more of a fair piece of the pie for the athletes, a topic that has been debated for decades.
“Hands down the most rewarding aspect of my wrestling career and legal career is the assistance I can bring to make the sport better and the help I can provide to my brothers and sisters in the business. it is without a doubt incredibly rewarding to be able to help the men and women that I get a chance to work with. I hope that I will continue to grow as a performer and gain more national traction as a professional wrestler, but I know that the most lasting mark I will leave on the business in this area and beyond is the legal skills, knowledge, and help I can provide to wrestlers navigating this business. It is my hope that I will get the opportunity to help these individuals manage their brands, their business, and negotiate their contacts in the name of making sure that no one gets taken advantage of. I will never let that happen to anyone in this area and I encourage anyone that reads this to contact me with any questions,” Petrunya said.
So, the takeaway from David Lawless’ story might be that it’s never too late to pursue a passion. It certainly takes dedication and determination to become a commodity in the sports entertainment industry while balancing the duties of a law firm. The real-life Max Petrunya focuses his practice on those in need of representation for their medical situations. Max isn’t the greedy ambulance chaser that “The Gavel” appears to be when he entertains the audience in the ring, but hey, as we know, that’s show business.
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