Not The Typical Rookie:Phil Cross

“It’s exactly that, a dream, something that even now doesn’t seem real. It still feels like this tenuous thing. I don’t think it’ll really hit me until I go through that curtain, one way or the other. But, it’s something that I’ve always dreamed of since I was an unpopular freak sitting alone on a bus, dreaming of tag teams and moves.”

You’ve heard the cliche from countless people about countless genres, they don’t want to sit on the porch in their 70s and look back with regret of “what if” they took a chance to chase that improbable dream. Sure, it’s easy for any local yokel to say that they could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve accomplished that wild goal they set for themselves in the midst of their youthful optimism years earlier.Quite frankly, it takes guts to get off the couch, especially after the general consensus says the window is closed, to take a leap of faith toward the goal to truly be able to look back with no regrets when someone reaches their golden years.

Phil Cross, by any standard, is not your typical pro wrestling rookie, and when he laces up for boots for his first pro bout this Saturday for Ryse Wrestling at the Uniontown Mall in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, he will be twice the age of some of his peers that are also set to compete that night in the converted Sears building that was transformed into a full scale wrestling arena. The entrance way, complete with lights and banners is complimented by a video screen, which is a stark contrast to the blue collar atmosphere of the town that is just south of the city of Pittsburgh.

Ryse Wrestling, founded by longtime trainer and 25-year wrestling veteran, Brandon K, in 2016, touts its ability to give enthusiastic newcomers a chance to chase their dreams of sports entertainment glory. Many of those featured on Ryse cards, specifically after the pandemic allowed for more regular events again, are youngsters that broke into the sport under Brandon’s guidance at The Stronghold Academy, the training center that is run alongside another twenty-year pro, Dean Radford, in the same mall complex. Jason Hendrix, an arrogant villain that started his career at the beginning of the year, already travels to compete for other organizations outside of his home base, as an example of the talent that is developed in the Stronghold center.Just a few months ago, Hendrix graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University, while one of his stablemates in The Great Success faction, Gorgeous Gregory finished high school around the same time.

For Phil, he will be 40 years old for his next birthday, and the gray streaks in his trademark beard reflect his hard-working attitude as a forklift operator during the week. He trades in the warehouse for the squared circle most week nights at the Stronghold, under the direction of Brandon and Dean, the two coaches that were impressed with his grit from the time he walked into the office just prior to the pandemic a few years ago after Phil discovered that one of his co-workers in the warehouse was a friend of a local wrestling star. Ironically, that was Brandon K.

“Once I knew there was a chance, a real chance to try, I knew I had to do that. Because in five years my body was going to hurt regardless of whether or not I did it, but at least this way I wouldn’t have the regret, wondering what might have been. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s taken longer than it might have, and it’s been a real journey,” Phil explained.

Make no mistake about it, the long hours shifting crates around in the dusty warehouse is a tough task during the day, but Phil knew from the first time that he stepped onto the canvas of a wrestling ring that his week night gig was going to be just as difficult, as he began the tedious process of hitting the stiff mat repeatedly to learn how to do so in the safest manner possible, as well to understand the in-ring maneuvers.

“Some of the toughest aspects of learning the sport are conditioning and bumping. Conditioning, because no matter how athletic you are or were, ring shape is different from anything else you’ve ever done. Bumping is about as counter intuitive a thing as you can ask yourself to do. For Brandon, he’s a remarkable trainer, if you give him the sweat equity, show up, and put in the effort, he can teach you what you need to know. That aside, he’s also a remarkable human being, one of the outright best I’ve ever met or known,” Cross commented.

The circumstances that brought Phil to his first match are almost as unique as the industry itself. Ron Mathis, a wild mid-west wrestling veteran, made a career with combination of technical skills outrageous brawling tactics. Proudly dubbed, “Pure Trash” Ron Mathis competed with tables, chairs, and barbed wire, as he zigzagged around the independent circuit. As such an accomplished veteran, Mathis became a regular at Ryse events, and when he disregarded the rules, it was Phil’s job as Head of Security at events to try to restore order. Of course, this created conflict and the two have clashed over the past several months. This led to a challenge from Mathis for Phil’s official wrestling debut this Saturday in Uniontown.

“Ryse is my home, Brandon and everyone else there are people that I love. Mathis thinks he’s going to come in and run things because he’s willing to play dirty. I’ve spent my life getting dirty, it’s part and parcel of working for a living and growing up where and how I did,” Phil said.

“I wasn’t sure I could co-sign this match. I know how dangerous Ron Mathis can be, and Phil has been a loyal member of our staff for years now. However, Phil made his case and man can only take so much,” added Chris LeRusso, a longtime pro that transitioned from the ring to the office last year when he took over as the matchmaker for Ryse.

So, the kid that sat alone quietly thumbing through wrestling magazines on the bus a few decades ago will accomplish something that he never thought would be a reality, and he won’t be alone. Phil will have the support of his peers and the fans in a jam-packed building in Uniontown when he walks through the curtain to live his dream of finally becoming a pro wrestler.

“It’s never too late to follow your dreams and if you commit to something, you can do it. It can still be the realization of a dream,” Phil concluded.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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