|It was the first time I had been physically attacked for being a pro-life activist or a reporter. “You’re that guy from The Interim,” said the assailant with a snear. His name was Brad Hexum: he was young, muscular and renowned in local professional wrestling circles for his ill temper and even worse attitude. He shoved me to the ground and starting kicking me.
I turtled to protect my head from the incoming blows. Suddenly, the speakers blared familiar music. Hexum froze; as the fear left my face, it engraved itself in Hexam’s. The crowd began to cheer. Out rushed “Extreme” Bull Wheeler, the local heavyweight champion and Michigan’s 2005 independent wrestler of the year. As Hexam fled to the dressing room, Bull helped me to my feet. I had been rescued by a four-year veteran of the ring, a fellow Christian and fan of old-school wrestling.
Old school is the professional wrestling Bull and I grew up watching. After the show, we reminisced about how, in our day, wrestling didn’t need sex and dangerous weapons to tell a good story. Back then, good guys didn’t cheat and bad guys didn’t get cheered. Back then, wrestling was a sport the entire family – from grandma to one’s little sister – could enjoy without embarrassment.
“We can recapture this magic of the old school,” Bull said. “I’ve been praying about it and talking to my pastor, and I’m putting together an old school alternative to today’s television wrestling. As Christian family men, we have a responsibility to provide to do something for our kids. It’s a work in progress. Why don’t you come down-state for one of our shows?”
Down-state in the context is Bay City, Mich., where Bull runs Tri-City Championship Wrestling out of the gymnasium at North Euclid Church of God. Pastor Stan Hunter is in charge of the church’s youth ministry and he supports Bull’s endeavor.
“To put things in a theological context, we’re definitely a conservative church,” the youth pastor said. “We believe the Bible is God’s word. Within a pro-life context, we teach our youth to remain chaste until married, that marriage is between a man and a woman and that abortion is wrong.”
Troubled youth is a familiar subject for Bull, who by day works at a juvenile correction facility under his real name Doug Grew. “I’m a social worker by training,” Bull said, “but I’m also the guy who breaks up the fights. They call me a behaviour management specialist.” Although he bears a physique that is well over 200 pounds of raw muscle, Bull recognizes that being a good example goes a lot further in helping youth to modify their behaviour.
“Wrestling is entertainment – good versus evil; good guys versus bad guys,” Bull said. “You noticed a lot of kids at our show tonight. Whether we like it or not, we as wrestlers have an influence over these kids. For example, I heard a couple of the kids cussing at the show tonight. I can’t change how they were brought up or where they learned these words. But I can teach them that you don’t need to use four-letter words to be tough like the Bull.”
Pastor Hunter explains: “Bull is trying to use the wrestling part of his life to reach out to other people, to make it a ministry and we’re trying to support him in that.” Some examples of the wrestling ministry include using the shows to raise food for the food bank, clothing for the poor and Christmas presents for underprivileged children.
Nevertheless, Pastor Stan admits that he and the congregation still struggle with how this ministry can give effective pro-family witness. “It’s definitely ministry outside of the box,” Pastor Stan said. “We’re taking Bull’s vision and allowing him to run with it, but we’ve also put in some parameters and guidelines.” For example, wrestlers are not permitted music with satanic or overtly sexual lyrics. Nor is blood or the excessive use of foreign objects allowed.
Swearing and profanity, now a staple of most professional wrestling promotions such as World Wrestling Entertainmnet, are prohibited at Tri-City.
As the promoter of the wrestling ministry, Bull also runs all his scripts by the youth pastor. Both pastor and promoter insist that there be a clearly defined good guy and bad guy in each match. In the major nationally televised wrestling promotions, bad guys are, ironically, fan favourites and good guys cheat, swear and swill beer in the ring.
“It’s a work in progress,” the youth pastor explained. “We’re hoping to start injecting some overtly Christian moral themes into the storylines – like the dangers of drugs and premarital sex –as soon as we address some other issues that have crept into wrestling, like good guys cheating.”
Bull finds the promotion is just as much a ministry to the performers as it is to the fans. For example, prior to the show he had taken aside one valet whose outfit consisted of a mini-skirt and low-cut blouse and politely told her to cover up. “Yes, she’s playing a woman of questionable reputation,” Bull explained, “but there are ways of doing that without compromising one’s personal dignity. This is what I want my talent (performers) to understand.”
“Wrestling is entertainment,” Bull said, concluding the interview. “In putting together this promotion, I’m trying to let people know that it’s possible to be entertained through athleticism and good clean fun.”