In 2015, pro wrestling officially became cool again. Hip hop artists like WALE and KILLER MIKE have made their love of the mat game extremely well known. ESPN’s SportsCenter and Grantland covers WWE like it’s the NFL. John Stewart’s first new job after leaving his desk at “The Daily Show” was guest hosting SummerSlam and hitting John Cena with a chair. Cities all across the country have benefitted from wrestling’s resurgence, with different independent promotions putting on shows every week. On September 25, that all changed with NOVAProject, the debut event from NOVA Pro Wrestling.

Growing up as a wrestling fan in Northern Virginia, it was easy to see WWE or WCW at the Verizon or Patriot Centers. But, if you wanted to see a future star before they hit the big time, your best bet was a drive to Philadelphia. Even though there have always been a handful of promotions further south, those tend to focus on past stars of a bygone era. Think of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler or the “It’s Still Real to Me, Dammit!” guy on YouTube and that’s what you’d get in most of the Commonwealth. In NoVa, there hasn’t been anything significant in a very long time.

We recently spoke with NOVA Pro promoter, Mike E. King about how this event came together, and what it means to finally have indy wrestling to Northern Virginia.

After all this time, how did you finally bring a homegrown independent wrestling company to Northern Virginia?

It’s been an idea of mine my entire life. I’ve been going to wrestling shows since I was a little kid. We’d go to Philadelphia a lot, or Indiana for IWA-Mid South shows. We would travel to all these states to see these great wrestling shows, and we’d always bump into people from Virginia who did the same thing. The first thing we’d talk about would be, “Why isn’t there anything like this at home?”

My friends and I have always been really well connected to the independent wrestling scene. We know a lot of the wrestlers and the guys who put together the shows, from the production aspect. Anyone that would have us, we’d help out in the back and do whatever we could. It ended up becoming this thing where we knew we had the right guys behind us so that we could make something really special. Once the finances finally worked out and we found the right building [The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia (JCC)], then it all just clicked into reality.

NOVA Pro Wrestling was going to happen, and it was going to happen our way. It was going to be what we always wanted it to be, which is a place where, not only will you see performers from Northern Virginia, or D.C. and Maryland give their hometown crowd 100 percent, but we’re also going to give you some of the best wrestlers in the world so that you don’t have to travel to Philly or Baltimore or New York to see them.

What was it about wrestling that hooked you so deeply to the point that you’ve chased down this lifelong dream?

My dad has always been a fan. He would always go to the WWE or WCW shows when they came to this area, but there was this one little independent promotion in Manassas called KYDA [Keep Your Dreams Alive] that he would go to around 1999 or 2000. There were a few really bright spots in the company, performers like Sonjay Dutt, who you’ll see at NOVAProject, and [former WWE Divas Champion] Mickie James, and another guy named “High Profile” Dylan Knight, who was kind of a big deal at the time on the independent scene. This was way before YouTube so the big thing was tape trading over the Internet. [Through advertisements placed in magazines and on early message boards, fans would send each other copied VHS tapes all around the world.] If people wanted to see wrestlers like Sonjay or Dylan, they had to go through my dad, because he had the tapes. That’s how we started traveling to different shows-not just to see wrestling, but to meet people he could trade tapes with.

I was also hooked by the storytelling. I was mesmerized by two guys in a ring, telling a story.

I got caught up in the athleticism of it too, obviously, but personally I’d rather see a great story than a bunch of moves. That’s what has always kept me interested. Ever since I was a kid, I never wanted to be a wrestler. I had no aspirations of training or learning to take a bump. But I’ve always wanted to promote shows. I had notebooks filled with ideas, and I’d fantasy book cards while watching the shows every week. Once I got older, I was pitching ideas to any promoter who would listen.

The name of this first show is NOVA Project because any time we talked about putting on a show, we just called it “The NOVA Project.” This is the result of all that.

A lot of independent promotions don’t run shows frequently enough to have much connective tissue between events. Being such a big fan of storytelling, do you plan to run NOVA Pro based on detailed stories your fans can invest in, or will each show be a stand-alone event?

Our goal is to absolutely be story line and character-driven. I want to watch young wrestlers develop their characters over time. It looks like we’re going to be able to run shows bi-monthly, about every six weeks. We want to try that until we pick up enough steam to sustain a monthly audience at the JCC in Fairfax, or until we find a second building.

We’re also going to have guys there from Smart Mark Video filming for distribution after each show. All of our events will be available on MP4 VOD and DVD through their website, so people can follow our stories that way if they’re not able to make it to the actual shows. For people unfamiliar with Smart Mark Video, personally, I think they offer the best quality and the best turnaround time of indy wrestling production companies. It wouldn’t shock me to see NOVAProject available on their website a week or two after the show.

Wrestling has always been popular in Virginia, but why, outside of KYDA, do you think there’s never been a real promotion in Northern Virginia until now?

A lot of it probably has to do with money. A building up here is going to cost more to rent out than some place in Newport News. Also, for a long time, people didn’t think there were that many wrestling fans in this area. KYDA ran shows for years, but they were never in front of really big crowds, unless they traveled somewhere like Stanton or Fredericksburg. Even when the bigger companies like Ring of Honor ran shows in Manassas, if you looked around the crowd, a lot of those people had come down from Baltimore or further south.

What’s going to set NOVA Pro apart from what KYDA was, or from promotions in those other cities, is the roster. It’s going to be a group that you won’t see on any other indy show. There are a lot of promotions out there that use a lot of the same guys and put them in the same matches, thinking, “Let’s just fill the card with as many Ring of Honor or PWG [Pro Wrestling Guerilla] guys as we can.” While we do have some big names like Sonjay, The Bravado Brothers, and Tim Donst, my hope is that people will come to see those stars and stay to see the local talent, because the people we have in this area on our show are just as special.

We don’t want to be too big of a promotion, but my goal is for NOVA Pro to be a place where guys come to get ready to be on those bigger shows. I’d love for our fans to say, “Before Ethan Case was a big deal, I saw him in Fairfax, Va.”

What is your ultimate goal for NOVA Pro?

This promotion will only live as long as people support it, and we’ll make sure that every time you buy a ticket or a DVD, you’ll get your money’s worth and more. For years, people have wanted to see wrestling in this area. Well now it’s here. Let’s support it. Let’s keep wrestling in Northern Virginia.

Just a few hours before NOVAProject, I also spoke with Sonjay Dutt, a NOVA Pro roster member from Burke, Va. Dutt has spent more than a decade performing on global TV with the second-ranked wrestling company in the world, TNA Impact Wrestling. We spoke about his career and how it feels to finally wrestle at home.

Sonjay, what was it like to grow up as a wrestling fan in Northern Virginia?

It’s such a diverse area, but I learned very quickly, “I’m a pro wrestling fan, but not everybody else is.” I had to pick and choose who my friends would be because there was this huge part of my life, and I had to talk about it. Most of the guys I knew didn’t watch [pro wrestling]. Of course, over the years, the boom period hit, and everybody was watching. Now I wasn’t the weird wrestling fan anymore.

In Alexandria in the mid-90s, there was a place called The Secret Cove bar. I remember it to this day. They had wrestling there. I never got to go. I was only 12 or 13, and my dad’s not going to take me to a Thursday night wrestling show. But that was it, locally. Everything else was WWE or WCW. You had to go to the MCI Center or the Cap Center. Now, though, [admiring the NOVA Pro setup] look at this. It’s awesome. I still live 30 minutes from here, still a Northern Virginia guy. I wish there was a show here every week.

Why do you think there hasn’t been an official Northern Virginia promotion until now?

Running an event of any magnitude is a big undertaking, especially in this kind of area where you can do anything and everything that you want. You can have the whole world at your fingertips in D.C. in 20 minutes.

I think it’s hard to make that jump and say, “I’m going to run an event that’s catered to a very niche audience.”

Ring of Honor had a couple of shows in Manassas that I was on a few years ago. As far as a bona fide local scene, though, there just hasn’t been one. Hopefully this isn’t just a one-off thing, and we can get more. I know plenty of people who have wanted to do shows here, but nobody has ever gotten off their ass and tried. It’s such a big and diverse area. I know there are wrestling fans out there that want to come and see local wrestling shows.

Being the “weird wrestling fan” as you said, what was the process like when you finally decided you wanted to become a wrestler?

I knew from as far back as I can remember that I wanted to be a pro wrestler. When I finally did make the leap, I never had any aspirations of making a great living at this or of being on TV. I just wanted to be a wrestler, get in the ring and that was it. Luckily, it snowballed from there.

It was just a matter of time before I turned 18 when I finally made the jump. Before that, my parents wouldn’t let me go, but my initial foray was in D.C. Larry Sharpe had opened a wrestling school called The Monster Factory. Unfortunately, I learned rather quickly that he was actually franchising out his schools, and it was another individual running the place. I was still in high school at the time, so from there I went to KYDA and finished my training. But honestly, I learned on the road, just getting out there and working as many shows as possible.

Thinking back to that kid growing up in Burke, and where you’ve gone in your career, can you pick a favorite moment?

There’s no one specific thing. This whole ride has been incredible. I’ve been doing this 15 years in 15 different countries. Last year, I flew 138,000 miles. I’ve seen the world. Getting to not only make a living at professional wrestling but make a living doing something I wholeheartedly love.

I never have a bad day at work. That’s something that’s tough for anybody to accomplish, let alone a teenager from Northern Virginia.

After a career like that, how does it feel to come home and perform in the place where this whole journey started?

Awesome. I’ve had to travel all over to perform. Going to other states and other countries, I’ve never had the chance to say I’m performing in my backyard. To have that happen now, 15 years into my career, is crazy. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when someone would be running a show in Fairfax.

For updates on NOVA Pro Wrestling, be sure to visit its website, “like” its Facebook page, follow it on Twitter, and subscribe to its YouTube channel.

Alex Aloise

Hi. I’m Alex. I write stuff. For two years I worked as a professional wrestling referee in Virginia (I’ve got the license to prove it). In that time I was “knocked out” by a lumberjack, signed autographs for approximately 4 children, had a locker room heart-to-heart with a Ugandan Giant and was paraded around on the shoulders of a little person named Shortsleeve. I currently work as an advertising copywriter and contributing writer for Inspired Magazine