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The All Star Wrestling company out of Madison, West Virginia, recently held its first drive-in event to more easily adhere to social distancing guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 50 cars surrounded a padded ring in the middle of a field behind Lee's Studio of Dance in Winfield, Putnam County. The site sometimes doubles as the haunted attraction "Fear on the Farm."

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The Neon Ninja Façade throws Seth "Flippin" Martin into the air.

Many fans wore face masks, and most watched at a safe distance from the ring and each other. Between matches, someone would hop into the ring with wipes and disinfectant, to sanitize the ropes and padding.

"Pro wrestling is about the energy that comes from the live crowd," said ASW owner and promoter Gary Damron, who donned his own ASW-themed mask for the event. "The boos and the cheers, that's what makes wrestling wrestling."

ASW heavyweight champion "Pure Trash" Ron Mathis sits down outside the ring during a match against Shane Storm.

The company already had to cancel three summer shows due to the pandemic, according to Damron. "The Return: Out of The Darkness" show on July 18th was originally scheduled to happen indoors at the Madison Civic Center, until the company decided outside was safer.

ASW isn't the only group navigating a global pandemic. World Wrestling Entertainment and All Elite Wrestling, both of which televise their matches nationally, closed many of their matches to fans earlier this summer.

In late June, several WWE employees shared they had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the company to temporarily halt production and test staff, according to USA Today.

For the ASW show that night, Damron said wrestlers were screened for symptoms before matches.

You can't do certain moves in certain states and all that good stuff, but in West Virginia it's sort of like the Wild West. You can do whatever you want.

Of all the wrestlers and others in attendance, including AEW manager and visiting personality Vicky Guerrero, the crowd was the loudest. Fans booed at body slams, cheered at body flips and lined up around merchandise tables, where wrestlers and the company sold themed t-shirts, stickers and DVDs. 

Huffmanly, "Leader of the Yeet Movement," shouts to fans from the corner of the ring.

Fans like Ben Musick and Al Scott from Portsmouth, Ohio, arrived hours early. 

"ASW heavyweight champion "Pure Trash" Ron Mathis prepares to defend his title in a match against Shane Storm.

"I've watched wrestling in 17 states now, I think," said Scott. "And West Virginia's up there, it's probably in my top five… You can't do certain moves in certain states and all that good stuff, but in West Virginia it's sort of like the Wild West. You can do whatever you want."

This wasn't Musick and Scott's first wrestling event of the summer. Both were at another show in Milton, Cabell County, from the IWA East Coast Company the previous weekend. 

"I think they drew about 180 people, is what the Facebook [page] said, and usually that crowd makes like 100," Scott said. "People are stir-crazy, they want to get out and watch their wrestling."

The wrestlers were eager to get back, too. KC Shingleton, also known as wrestler Kirk Blackman, wasn't in the ring that night, but was present to help and support other wrestlers. 

If not for the pandemic, Shingleton would normally spend summer weekends wrestling, or performing with other musicians in a band called Jerks.

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"The Mobile Home Wrecker" Bruce Grey walks into the ring for the evening's first match.

"So many people just have nothing to look forward to," Shingleton said. "Some people aren't back to work yet, some people are laid off, they have nothing to do, everything seems hopeless. So, I guess the importance of this show is just to make sure that people are entertained, and make sure that everybody goes home with a smile on their face."

Summer and pandemic permitting, Damron said he hopes to hold more drive-in shows in the future.


Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member. This piece was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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