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  • OHara Shipe

The Good Fight, 907 Pro Wrestling Academy's family


907 Pro Wrestling Academy

There’s only one place you will find JT West on Tuesday nights—in the ring. Or, more specifically, in the makeshift wrestling gym that represents two decades worth of dreams. Scarcely big enough to house the requisite 16’x16’ ring, the gym isn’t much to look at. A few old photos of West’s heyday as a professional wrestler hang on the badly battered white walls. Rolled-up carpets and forgotten boots are strewn underneath the ring alongside a few brightly colored out-of-place children’s toys.


Down a short, dank corridor, West’s wrestlers change into their training gear before their 6pm session. It’s a scene reminiscent of a Rocky Balboa training montage. Although West doesn’t have the same enigmatic presence as Balboa’s iconic trainer, Mickey, he is nonetheless awe-inspiring as he shouts commands from the side of the ring. Each demand is met with an enthusiastic “yes, coach!”


The reverence West’s wrestlers show him stands in strong contrast to the irreverent, flamboyant, and sometimes confounding personalities, they’re known to have as members of 907 Pro Wrestling. “At the end of the day, pro wrestling is about putting on a show. It’s meant to take you somewhere where rent isn’t due the next day, or the electric company isn’t threatening to turn off your electricity because of past-due bills. This is a form of entertainment that is for the blue-collar workers out there who need to escape reality for a little bit,” explains West.


907 Pro Wrestling owner JT West

Born in West Memphis, Arkansas, West came from humble beginnings. “I think my graduating class had about 38 people in it. It was such a small place that we didn’t even have enough people to form sports teams,” says West. But for a few hours every week, West got to escape his small-town life and become engrossed in something far afield from reality when he watched World Wrestling Federation (WWF) on TV.


Inspired by characters like Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Jimmy Valiant, West envisioned only two possible career paths. “The only two things I wanted to be growing up was a professional wrestler or professional basketball player. But when I figured out I wasn’t going to magically shoot up to 6’8” anytime soon, I decided I wanted to do the pro wrestling thing,” says West. However, like most childhood dreams, West’s wouldn’t come to fruition in the way he imagined.


AN UNEXPECTED TURN

At 19, he fell in love with an Alaskan girl from Elim. “I was a freshman at Southwestern University in Waxahachie, Texas, and full of all the bravado and machismo young men are known for. So, when I met my future wife for the first time, and she refused to talk to me, I knew I had to do whatever it took to win her over,” recalls West. His labors were fruitful, and within a few months, the couple married. Not long after, they welcomed their first child. Unfortunately, their infant son would have to battle a slew of illnesses which caused the trio to uproot several times, putting West’s dream on hold.


“My oldest son was born with RSV [Respiratory Syncytial Virus] and double pneumonia. He spent the first two months of his life in NICU, and we were giving him seven breathing treatments a day. It was rough all across the board,” says West. The cost of medical treatments took its toll on the young family, and it seemed like a career in professional wrestling was slowly slipping away. Still, West believed he could circumvent circumstance, and in 2000, his chance finally came.


“I was literally going to try and pay my utility bill to keep them from shutting it off. While I was in line, I heard two ladies yelling at each other from behind the counter,” says West. Then, with what can only be described as divine intervention, West heard the word “wrestling” through the cacophony. “She said, ‘Y’all need to hurry up and flip the switch. This wrestling school was supposed to open yesterday!’ And oh, man, did that catch my ear,” recalls West. Minutes later, he found himself at the corner of Pine and 13th in Memphis, gearing up for a professional wrestling tryout. “I literally did my tryout in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt,” laughs West.


For the next 15 years, West would wrestle professionally around the US until a shattered ankle ended his career in Alaska. “The one thing about when you’re doing sports, and it’s something that you really love, you can’t just walk away. Especially when it’s taken from you. That kind of thing can destroy you, and it definitely sticks with you. And that’s exactly what happened to me,” he says.


WEST'S SECOND ACT

Not ready to leave wrestling for good, West decided to chase another impossible dream—founding a professional wrestling organization and gym. In January 2015, it seemed like things were moving in the right direction. He had a venue in the Valley and a built-in audience of wrestling fans. That is until an electrical fire decimated the building. West lost thousands of dollars of equipment and would once again find himself on the outside looking in. “There were people who lost their homes that night, so I consider myself lucky. I could always replace equipment. It might take a while, but I knew I could do it.”


AJ Radical and Kid Money wrestle

In July 2019, West had finally saved enough to repurchase training equipment, and he had worked out a building rental agreement with a silent partner. This time, it seemed like things were going to work out. Then, eight months later, the world shut down. “I mean, what can you do,” asks West with a shrug.


Well, if you’re JT West, you keep moving forward one small step at a time. “We’re back putting on shows, and all of the bad things have ultimately been worth it. Seeing people get lost in what we’re doing and seeing my students excel makes it all worth it,” says West.


HIS OWN KIND OF HERO

Y.T. Jones and wrestler Kid Money

While West was doggedly pursuing wrestling, 4,000 miles away in Alaska, a young boy was searching for a dream of his own. “I went into foster care when I was 8, and because of everything I went through, I wasn’t a ‘go outside’ kind of kid. I was seclusive and really stuck to myself,” explains Y.T. Jones. Spending a lot of time inside, Jones found solace in TV, particularly, The George Michael Sports Machine.


“I actually found out about that show after my foster dad changed the channel because he didn’t want to watch a commercial,” recalls Jones. Although Michael mostly covered mainstream sports like football and basketball, on occasion, he would feature a clip from the WWF. “I remember the first time I saw wrestling on the show. It was in 1984, and Hulk Hogan was fighting the Iron Sheik for the championship,” explains Jones. Hulk Hogan would go on to win the match, and Jones would go on to fall in love with WWF’s infamous villains.


“For some reason, I always liked the bad guys. You know, they had so much power over the audience and would get people so worked up. The idea of having an audience in the palm of your hand for those 10 minutes you’re in the ring is what made me gravitate towards wrestling,” says Jones. Wrestling represented all the things Jones didn’t have as a foster child—undivided attention, adoration, and perhaps most importantly, power. “When you’re playing the bad guy, it’s almost like you have the privilege to do exactly what you want to do. You can’t do that when you’re playing the good guy,” he adds.


With a demure height of 5’6” and a slight build, Jones didn’t have the body type of a WWF wrestler, nor the outrageous personality of one. And so, his hopes for competing were dashed before they even started. That is until he met West. “When I met him at a training camp, he saw something in me. You know, I didn’t have the athleticism to be in the ring, but I did have this Katt Williams schtick that I’d been doing for years. When JT [West] heard it, he said I’d be the perfect manager,” says Jones.


In the world of professional wrestling, managers are considered a vital part of the performance. Their role? To antagonize the audience as much as possible. It’s something that Jones does with exceptional skill. “When I’m in character, all that shyness, and pain that I felt as a kid goes away. I’m strong. I’m vocal. And when I talk, people listen,” says Jones.


However, according to Jones, “wrestling doesn’t take away everything I’ve been through, and it doesn’t stop me from experiencing all the difficulties someone who was abused as a child goes through. Those memories, they don’t go anywhere. But wrestling has given me a chance to be my own kind of hero.”


FOLLOWING A NEW PATH

Pro wrestler AJ Radical

Jones is not alone in finding solace in wrestling. Fellow 907 Pro Wrestling star AJ Radical’s story of redemption is also profoundly rooted in wrestling. A California native, Radical was a national-level Greco Roman wrestler growing up. Wrestling was his entire world, and he was good at it. In fact, he was so good that at 15 years old, he claimed a medal at the Junior Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. “I was on top of the world, and then my whole world came crashing down,” explains Radical.


The day he arrived home from Tokyo, his parents announced that they were filing for divorce. His meteoric crash landing led him to turn his back on wrestling. “This great accomplishment in my life was tainted. I was mad at wrestling. It became dead to me,” says Radical. Now aimless, Radical’s life spiraled out of control. “I just started making really bad decisions, and my drug of choice was meth. I overdosed twice and was doing all sorts of bad things. I didn’t like who I was, but I didn’t know how to change,” explains Radical.


Luckily, there was someone in Radical’s life who knew how to help him find sobriety and reclaim his life. “My uncle, who was living in Alaska, called me and told me I should come to live with him. I just thought, well, the way my life is going right now isn’t working. I needed to make a big change, and Alaska was that change. I hit the pipe one last time before my flight, and I’ve been sober since November 9, 2005,” says Radical.


Out of the throes of addiction, Radical began to fill a familiar itch, that of being on a wrestling mat. “Wrestling is kind of like an addiction to me. The camaraderie of being in a locker room, the smell of the mat—just the smell of the room. There’s something about it. Plus, I don’t know if it’s a male thing or just a human thing, but l feel like one of the best ways for a guy to meet their best friend is by whooping their ass,” laughs Radical.


For Radical, wrestling has paradoxically nearly ended his life just as much as it has saved it. “As a teenager, it felt like everything went dark, and it kept getting darker after I left wrestling. Now finding it again as an adult has been a kind of redemption, a reclaiming of something I lost. I regret losing those 20 years, and sometimes I wonder where I might have been if I didn’t’ quit. But then again, I doubt I would be where I’m sitting right now—next to [Kid] Money [Maurice Mitchell], who I consider a brother,” admits Radical.


ONE LAST FIGHT

Pro wrestler Auron West

For West, stories like Jones and Radical’s solidify the importance of following your heart. “There was always something in me pushing me to follow wrestling. It wasn’t easy. But by listening to my heart, I unknowingly created a healing space, and that’s pretty cool,” says West.


The inaugural inductee into the Alaska Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, West has already accomplished more than most do in a lifetime. Still, there is one last thing on his to-do list. “I want to have a tag team bout with my son, Auron. I mean, how many people can say they got to professionally wrestle with their kid,” he says with a smile.


After donning the boots for the last time, West insists he will finally retire. However, if history is any indicator, West won’t be going down without a fight.



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