Buffalo pro wrestler Anthony Gaines recently suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action for an indefinite period of time. This interview was conducted prior to that injury – KD
By KIP DOYLE
Anthony Gaines could hear the roar of the crowd. It was a sign that he, at the very least, had survived one of the most shocking exits from a wrestling ring that any wrestling fan – not just the 400-plus at the St. Johnsburg Fire Hall in North Tonawanda – had ever witnessed.
Gaines, a lean, mohawked upstart, had flown around 14 feet after being hit by a massive tackle/shove hybrid – or “pounce” – by the 400 lbs. Ace Romero, an independent wrestler from Dayton, Ohio making his debut for Empire State Wrestling (ESW). After launching over the top rope sideways and landing on one of the promotion’s cameramen, Gaines took in the intense crowd reaction of “Holy shit!” chants as he laid outside of the ring.
Wrestlers being propelled or leaping out of the ring to the floor below has become relatively common in recent decades. Diving out of the ring is practically a prerequisite for any wrestler viewed as a high flyer or risk taker. It’s so common that fans have become somewhat numb to the risks involved with being hurled out of the ring.
But that wasn’t the case at ESW’s Summer of Sleaze event on June 30. Not only did the maneuver ignite the live audience, it captured the attention of an international television and online audience that has viewed clips of moment over six million times. The clip has been shown everywhere, from the Washington Post to ESPN to ABC News – not common distribution channels for independent wrestling clips. Dozens of wrestling luminaries and celebrities shared the clip on social media, including Jamie Foxx.
In a era where untold numbers of wrestling clips depicting outrageous bloodletting, athletic feats and surreal silliness are uploaded every week, how and why did this particular moment from Buffalo’s independent wrestling scene crossover so deeply into the mainstream?
“I’ve been telling everyone that I expected it to go viral in the Buffalo scene, and if it went out to the tri city area, I’d be pretty happy,” Gaines said. “I never thought it was going to blow up this big.”
Gaines, who was raised in Arcade but graduated from Maryville High School in 2013, has seen a dramatic rise in public interest since taking his fateful plunge out of the ring. He attributes the popularity of the clip to its undeniable physicality.
“Wrestling has such a bad stigma as it is, you know. ‘It’s fake it’s choreographed’ whatever people want to say. I think when people see something that looks absolutely real, we aren’t talking about a really well-timed bodyslam… (this was) something that looks like, ‘Oh shit, that guy might not stand up!’ I think that’s what got their attention,” he said.
ESW promoter Brett Stymus said Gaines has come a long way since his debut with the promotion. At one point, Stymus believed Gaines’ “big mouth” would be his downfall. But hard work and dedication has prepared Gaines for his moment to shine, Stymus said.
“He’s one of the few guys who still shows up early to help set up and stay late to make sure everything is loaded on the truck at the end of the night,” Stymus said. “I’m really proud to see him doing well and excited to see where the future takes him.”
Gaines hopes that his future involves a roster spot with one of the larger wrestling promotions in the country, like Ring of Honor, where he feels he would make a good fit. Boasting a biting verbal attack to compliment his “none of a kind” ring style, Gaines has built a strong foundation to carry him in the wrestling business.
But with the bar raised high in terms of shear risk due to the viral clip, will fans and promoters expect Gaines to continue to put his body on the line with long distance falls from the ring?
“I try not to think about it, honestly. The unpredictability factor is what keeps wrestling fun. I can’t say that people are going to expect this out of me (in the future), but I can’t say that they are not,“ Gaines said. “Did people expect for Mick Foley to jump from higher and higher buildings? Yes. Did he necessarily (do that)? No. But he kept on the same wavelength of unpredictability and straight-up insanity, so to speak. So I wouldn’t put it past me.”
Gaines’ viral video coincides with an independent wrestling “moment” for Buffalo. In recent months, local standouts like Kevin Bennett and Daniel Garcia have been featured in WWE television matches. Meanwhile, a number of local talents are creating a buzz about the Buffalo scene by competing in popular promotions in Ontario and the Northeastern United States.
“I’ll put my money on this: Buffalo is the best independent wrestling hub right now in the United States,” Gaines said. “I put it over Ohio, I put it over Maine, I put it over LA strong, I put it over everybody – bar none.”