From a young age, Northern Kentucky native Ricky Henry was enthralled with professional wrestling. “You’re 7 or 8 years old, and you see guys like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man and the Ultimate Warrior in their neon outfits, and they’re like walking, talking superheroes,” he says.
Little did young Ricky know that he would one day climb into the ring, albeit as a 39-year-old rookie.
“During the lockdown, the whole world was shutting down, time was ticking away and I started thinking, ‘What is something that that I’ve always wanted to do?’ Something I could work toward to keep my spirits high,” Henry tells CityBeat.
At the same time, he thought about folks who were really struggling with lockdown, mainly those with mental health issues. “I knew it was tough on them not having a lot of social contact or interaction. Then everything started falling into place.”
Henry decided he would fulfill his lifelong dream of participating in a pro-wrestling match. He also wanted to help those, including several close to him, dealing with mental health issues. So he came up with the idea of wrestling for charity — hopping into the ring to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The main event features Leva Bates, the "wrestling librarian" of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), taking on Shawna Reed. Stand-up comedian Garrett Titlebaum will perform, as will singer/songwriter Kaley Eberle.
Fans can also meet Frank the Christmas Gargoyle from social media and T-shirt fame. He's a local porch decoration anthropomorphized by his owner after "a neighbor complained that Frank should be taken down because he isn't 'festive' and is not what she considers 'in keeping with the Christmas spirit,'" per Frank's Facebook page.
“I really felt it was the right move,” Henry says of deciding to follow his wrestling dream.
It wasn't easy, though.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Henry says. “I was never a superstar athlete. I played basketball a little bit and did some amateur wrestling, but when I turned 18, I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, and wrestling wasn’t going to be a thing.”
He instead became a graphic designer and content creator.
The first step on his path to the ring was contacting trainer Hawk of Hawk's Pro Wrestling Academy in Hamilton. Hawk had experience as a pro wrestler in the late 1990s and early 2000s but found greater success coaching and training others, including wrestling superstars Dick Ambrose, Dru Skillz, Heather Owens and more.
Hawk was impressed with Henry’s idea and even more impressed when the graphic-designer-turned-wrestling student paid for the entire training ($2,000) upfront. Hawk was ready to pack up his wrestling school and head down to Florida to wait out the pandemic but stayed to train Henry.
“It’s not so much about hitting people with chairs,” Henry says of pro wrestling. “It’s about the drama and the storyline."
Indeed, pro wrestling was revealed to be scripted entertainment years ago. That being said, Henry knew that wrestling still demanded a high degree of athleticism and intense preparation.
“When I showed up, I wasn’t out of shape necessarily — I had taken kickboxing — but this is stuntman-level training,” he says.
Friends who started training with him dropped out, but Henry carried on, even after hurting himself during condition. “I was walking with a cane for a while," he says. "I also had a hairline fracture on one of my ribs.”
He stuck with it and after a year and a half, he was ready to step into the ring for a live match.
Of course, every wrestler needs a stage name, and Henry is no exception. He is going with the name Elliot Warshaw, inspired by two of his other passions.
“Elliot is the kid from E.T.,” Henry says. "And Warshaw comes from Howard Warshaw, programmer of the E.T. Atari video game."
Henry is a fan of both and even reached out to the game’s programmer seeking permission to use his last name. “He said, ‘absolutely,’" Henry says.
Henry is excited about the match, but also relieved.
“I wanted to quit a hundred times,” he says with a laugh. “I’m so happy I’ll no longer have to drive up to Hamilton and put my body through that.”
The Fight For Life takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27 at Future Great Wrestling, 190 North Brookwood Ave., Hamilton. For more info and tickets ($15 general admission; $20 front row), visit eventbrite.com.
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