|||

Old Man / Young Boy

Dan Gutierrez on Pro Wrestling, Identity, and Bringing Marx into the Ring

An Interview for BRUISER by Madison Coan

If you go to see pro wrestling near Baltimore you might come out to a flyer on your windshield promoting a different show. The flyers feature wrestlers with fantastic sounding names—Eel O’Neal, The Weight of the World” Cory Bush, Sly Scarpone (who does look a little like Sylvester Stallone)—and sometimes boast Every Match in a STEEL CAGE! These flyers are for EWA Pro Wrestling, an promotion based in Dundalk, Maryland. The matches seem funny and wild. We resolve to go.

The show lives up to the flyer’s promise.The wrestlers have funny names but they get the crowd going and there’s even some solid wrestling. That sounds unkind, but at an independent wrestling show the actual wrestling part can be a little…uneven. The show is more intimate, the crowd is rowdier and the wrestlers often try out gimmicks that would never work on TV. It’s fun! But you might also be watching the second or third match someone has ever wrestled. Indie wrestlers have a wide range of experience, and with that comes a wide range of skill.

Leaving the show, my friends and I are energized. As we go over the highlights of the night, one name keeps coming up—Oldman Youngboy. He comes out dressed in the black trunks and boots worn by trainee wrestlers in Japan (often called youngboys) and wearing a huge, false white mustache. The look is silly. but once he’s in the ring he’s great at wrestling (I remember an especially impressive dropkick). We all instantly pick him as our favorite.

Months later, I see an Instagram story from Oldman Youngboy linking an article covering the sometimes negative response to wrestlers with political gimmicks. The text on top of the post proclaims Oldman Youngboy is a goddamn Marxist! Book me in West Virginia and I’ll cut a promo on the bourgeoisie!” Now I’m fully in. I have to know more. I DM to ask for an interview and he invites me to the EWA training center in Dundalk.

When I arrive I can see through the glass doors a black-painted room just large enough to fit the wrestling ring—there’s not room for much else. The lights are on but I don’t see anyone. As I press closer to the window and sheepishly knock, I notice a pair of legs sticking out from under the ring. The figure pulls their head out briefly to wave me in through the unlocked door. I enter and ask what he’s doing—“Just some ring maintenance.” I duck down and he shows me that he is tightening the ratchet straps that keep tension on the posts at each corner of the ring. I’m genuinely embarrassed by how excited I am to see the underside of a wrestling ring. He finishes up and we wander around the space to find a folding chair that is still usable enough for me to sit in.

Note: We use some wrestling-specific terms in this interview. For the uninitiated, a spot is a bigger or more impressive wrestling move or series of moves. A work or to work something means to manipulate it—physically or conceptually—to drive the narrative of the match or the show. Babyfaces and heels are good guys and bad guys, respectively. To blade is to intentionally nick your face with a hidden razor to bleed theatrically.

MC
So, my name is Madison, and you are?

DG
Dan Gutierrez—also Oldman Youngboy

MC
How did you get into wrestling?

DG
A friend from grad school got me into it. I came to Baltimore in 2017 for a teaching program in secondary math education and a friend of mine from the program was a big pro wrestling fan. We got really close and he was looking to have people over and invited us to see the Royal Rumble. I was not a wrestling fan, but he sold me! He was like, Just watch some Competitive Murder Gymnastics” and I was like, Okay, in that mindset, I will watch this”.

MC
When did you actually start wrestling?

DG
Super irresponsible, but the pandemic—2020, I think June. The first or second stimulus check was the down payment on wrestling school. You know, most wrestling schools have not entirely lost their carny roots and continue to ask for a year or two of payment upfront.

MC
Were you doing anything related to wrestling before this? Like gymnastics or martial arts? Dance? Or you were just a guy who decided to become a pro wrestler?

DG
I felt like I had so many things like that in my background that pro wrestling was going to pull a lot of them together. My mom was a gymnast and she got me started when I was fairly young, but I didn’t stick with it. I tumbled too and that stuck with me. My parents actually met getting their black belts in taekwondo, so they started me off in martial arts when I was ten. I didn’t stick with that for as long as I wanted to. I think I would say that about most things. But I kept coming back to it and a lot of it’s still there. I did some taekwondo, judo, aikido and tang soo do. I’ve been in a lot of those gyms but I was never good enough to be competitive. As I was coming into my thirties I started really wanting to get good at something. No version of competitive MMA was going to be available to me. I was past that point, but pro wrestling looked like a lot of fun. I was excited to challenge myself to do more—more gymnastics, more tumbling. And to incorporate what I already knew into wrestling.

MC
How did you come up with your name and your gimmick?

DG
It’s how I was feeling about my entrance into pro wrestling. I came in at like 30 or 31, with a bunch of guys who were 25 to 27 and had already been wrestling for ten years, right? It’s pretty common for people to come in young. So to be here at 30 and just starting off—being told to go show up to shows to set up the ring for free, shake hands—that grunt work is how you’re going to get booked. It’s very much the youngboy side, and feeling like an old man while doing that. In training, you start taking some bumps that aren’t quite right and then it takes me longer to recover than the 19 year old, and it’s like old man youngboy was how I felt about the whole thing.

MC
So you’ve always had this name?

DG
I had some trainers tell me that you should find a name or a gimmick or a mask that you’re not attached to and go have shitty matches because, no matter how hard you train, your first five or ten times in front of a live audience—you’re not going to be super proud of those matches. Once you pick a name as a pro wrestler and try to promote yourself, people are going to google you and they might find your second match from five years ago. So I was told to wrestle under a name and gimmick that I was willing to throw away. But pretty early in, I got to wrestle for Flying V and the first time they booked me [cult favorite pro wrestler] Cheeseburger said I had his favorite name in pro wrestling at the moment and then [up-and coming TV wrestler] Lee Moriarty chimed in and I was just like, Okay, I think I have to keep this name now.”

MC
Something I’ve been very curious about is—what kind of moves hurt the most? At least for you.

DG
It depends on the individual wrestling and it depends on who you’re with. Like, you might take ten body slams and maybe you come out of it fine. You land flat each time, but you take that 11th one and you don’t land flat. You land a little tailbone heavy or you land a little hip heavy. And that’s the one that hurts for two weeks. It could be something really simple that might end up hurting you for a long time and something that looks crazy might be fine. Like, a friend of mine took a body slam on pavement and he was really injured after the show! I assumed it was the body slam. But he was like, No, that was fine. He hit me with a clothesline and that’s what did it.” He broke a rib.

MC
Oh, shit.

DG
So yeah, it’s really hard to say which thing hurts more than everything else. When everything goes right, nothing’s doing permanent damage—but things don’t always go right.

MC
How do the referees function in a live wrestling match?

DG
The ref is another performer, right? They’re the third or maybe even the fifth performer in the ring. The way most matches function, you can’t really have a heel if there is no ref. If a heel is putting somebody in the corner and, like, working them over and grinding their face into the turnbuckle, if there’s no ref then there’s no one to shout to the crowd that what the heel’s doing is Illegal. The ref is there to remind people that there are rules. They’re there to remind people that this is a sporting competition, in theory. Also, the ref sells, the ref is emoting. If they’re worried about someone’s safety while they’re in a submission hold, that indicates to an audience who might not be aware of what the submission is, what’s supposed to hurt. The ref screaming, Is your shoulder okay?” adds to it.

MC
How much communication or planning goes in with your opponent pre-match? Are you walking through things step-by-step like you’re rehearsing for a play, or are you just talking through them?

DG
It really depends on the people in the match. I think it’s becoming more common that virtually everything is called ahead of time. You might say, This is the shit I’m going to do. How do you cut me off? Now you’re up. What are you going to do?” There are also people who don’t call beforehand. Whether you call before or during changes the types of matches you can have. If you’re not doing the most over-the-top and acrobatic work then maybe you’ll plan the finish and that’s it. Everything else happens on the fly, which might make it look smoother or more reactive—like you’re in a fight. But if you’re doing things that are highly coordinated and acrobatic, that’s not something that can be called on the fly because it’s complicated and has a lot of moving parts.

MC
So how does in-ring communication work once you’re in front of the audience?

DG
It’s so much simpler than you’re thinking. We just talk to each other.

MC
Do you have to make an attempt to hide it? Like burying your head in someone’s shoulder when you grab them? Or are you just next to them and talking and nobody notices?

DG
You can just talk. In the ring there’s projecting to the audience and then there’s just talking to the dude next to you. You don’t have to whisper. I’ve seen things on Botchamania and stuff where people hear it and point it out. But I feel like the only person who talks in the ring and gets caught all the time is John Cena. He calls all his matches on the fly—I swear, it’s not something you have to try hard to avoid getting caught doing, but he’ll just have his head up. Almost like he’s talking to the audience while calling the match, and I’m just like, What? How?”

MC
Do you know how to blade?

DG
I don’t and I do not plan on learning.

MC
Dammit. So you will not teach me how to blade?

DG
No.

MC
Dammit. Fuck.

DG
I know somebody if it’s something you really want to do.

MC
I really want to blade while playing a show. But nobody in my life wants me to because I don’t know how and I’m sure it’s really dangerous. But I’d very much like to.

DG
I think they’ve essentially learned from boxers that it only takes a small nick on your forehead. You’ll bleed a lot

MC
So you’re just sort of doing it and hoping that you don’t fucking bleed out?

DG
This is outside of my area of expertise. I’m not going to do it.

MC
Alright—basic questions. Favorite promotion?

DG
I definitely watch more New Japan than anything else. That’s probably my favorite.

MC
Favorite wrestler or people who you’re inspired by?

DG
Kota Ibushi. He just does everything! And Trent Beretta—Trent’s Twitter is, like, a big selling point.

MC
It seems like you’ve been experimenting with your identity and moving towards a narrative where Oldman and Youngboy are separate people. Talk about that.

DG
I think I’ve always practiced antagonizing myself? Or at least, playing the other side of every argument. It’s something I’ve always done and, sometimes, to the point where I kind of believe both sides of the argument a bit. The nice thing about wrestling is that it’s a sport that can be worked. It’s kind of hard to tell the difference between worked wrestling and the version where we’re really trying to murder each other. There are a lot of people now who want wrestling to look real” because they believe it will be more engaging if it looks like a fight. And then there are people who want big goofy character spots where the wrestler does a dance from a cartoon before getting cut off by a double clothesline. I genuinely think that there is room for both of those things. I’ve had people tell me, You’re going to wear a big goofy mustache on your face? Make sure you’re not just typecast as Big Goofy Mustache Guy.” Which is why I try to have a lot of the things that I do look intense and have it tightened up and clean. I want the wrestling side of it to look good enough that people aren’t just like, Oh, you’re just the Big Goofy Mustache Guy.” I think you have to have both. Like, as a wrestler, is it more important for me to train to look more like a bodybuilder? Or should I be training to functionally be a good wrestler? Should I be doing the work to function and wrestle and win? Or does none of it matter if I don’t look like somebody who gets booked? I want Oldman and Youngboy to play out bits of those conversations.

MC
I wanted to pivot a little bit—on you’ve spoken several times about your political identity on social media. So I’m curious about how you came to Marxism?

DG
I think [pro wrestler] Bryan Danielson is to blame for that. Before I started training, he posted something along the lines of If you’re going to read one book, read Utopia for Realists.” I read it and it was great. Before that I—and I think a lot of people my age—were Democrats their whole lives and grew up on media like the West Wing, which paints this really rosy picture of politics and the Democratic Party and sets a baseline for what common sense” is in so many different parts of politics. For a long time, that had been my baseline for how the world works, which is weird. I hadn’t really thought to challenge the idea of capitalism, but around the time I read that book, those concepts finally started to break down. And then I saw this post make the rounds on social media. It was this interview with pro wrestlers who were saying how they go down to West Virginia or Alabama and do a liberal” heel gimmick for years where they come in and just say these basic Democratic talking points. People booed, but these guys are supposed to be heels so it’s expected. But recently things have been really different. People aren’t booing because they know this person is the villain in a pro wrestling match. They really seem to hate them. They’re having things thrown at them. Some people are getting attacked in the parking lot. All this shit. I read that and thought Fuck that! Book me in West Virginia! I’m a goddamn Marxist!”. I felt really strongly in that moment. So just hearing that these guys are going out there and saying relatively toned down Democratic stuff and being booed and hated, I’m going to tell them fucking capitalism is a lie and you’re voting for people that are making your life actively worse!

MC
How has the response been to Oldman Youngboy as a Marxist?

DG
I did run into some interesting things with that lately. I’ve been trying to make t-shirts which is a lot to learn. I have undergraduate degrees in math and art, but only drawing and painting—nothing with the computer. But I was really proud of this frickin’ hammer and sickle graphic [the design is in the shape of a hammer and sickle and says Oldman Youngboy: Grappler of the Proletariat”] and I showed it off to some people. The first, like, eight people were like, It’s fucking great! You’ve got to do it!” And then somebody was like, I don’t know, man.” That symbol is complicated. We can have discussions about the Communist Manifesto and Lenin. That symbol in particular does mean Marxism to some people but also symbolizes Russia as a country—in a war I don’t want to be associated with—to others. I’ve created a downstream design and decided to take the hammer and sickle out. But I really want to keep Grappler of the Proletariat because I’m proud of that. I’m proud of that phrasing.

MC
So—compliment moment—you’re my favorite EWA wrestler in part because you can really go in the ring. But also your posting about your political identity really hooked me. The last time we went to an EWA show we sat behind some people who had made buttons for you and put fake mustaches on. We assumed they were friends of yours, but it turned out they just liked you. When we talked to them, the Marxism was a notable draw for them as well. So it seems like—at least in that incredibly small cross-section—that’s getting traction and getting you an audience. Do you feel like that’s happening on a larger scale or do you feel like people are generally a little stressed by the political element?

DG
So this was a conversation I was having with some other wrestlers. One of them was like, Dude, make something that appeals to everybody.” But I was like, Look, if I make 50 of these goddamn t-shirts and bring them to the brewery shows where a bunch of people came for a metal show and pro wrestling, they would sell”. I get what those guys are saying, that there is a demographic that’s going to see that image and not understand. So I’m struggling with that right now. And it’s not like I intend to stop being anti-capitalist or that I’m not willing to do that as a part of my wrestling character. But I’m starting to think that, when it comes to putting images on things, maybe I’m going to be more careful than I was initially thinking.

MC
Are you okay with Oldman Youngboy being divisive?

DG It’s hard to imagine really being divisive when your primary go-to is to be a big goofball. It’s like every promo I cut, I try to be a goofball and then when I’m in a wrestling match I really try and wrestle. I think right now I’m not worried about it? Or, I don’t know, maybe I am? Maybe that’s the discussion I just had? I think I’m going to be willing to say the things that I really believe in. There are some hard critiques of the way our governing systems and our whole economic structure work. If somebody is going to get offended I’m willing to say, All right. We can have the conversation or you can fuck off.” But what I don’t want to do is use symbols that have really impacted people negatively, even if that’s not how I view it or my connection to it. I don’t want to make those associations too casually. There are things that I believe and mean and will be willing to say. For example, the way Social Security is structured is bullshit. That’s an easy example of something that I talk about, which I don’t think is actually divisive. But if you ever watch C-SPAN, it apparently is?

MC
Final question: when somebody comes and interacts with Oldman Youngboy in a performance setting, what do you hope they leave thinking about you?

DG I just hope they had a good time. People talk a lot about the storytelling of a pro wrestling match, but, ultimately, there should be high and low points of a match and that’s a part of gaining or maintaining people’s attention. I don’t think escapism is necessarily a bad thing and I get a lot of joy out of pro wrestling. I hope people get that when they come. That’s the big thing for me.

Madison Coan

IG: @itsme_yourson

Photos by Mark Wadley

IG: @markplasma

Up next How Many Times Should a Baltimore Band Play Baltimore? [Anything for a Weird Life] Fiction: "How Many People Will Die in IKEA Tonight" by Tim Frank
Latest posts Fear Eats the Soul: Reflections on a Masterpiece BRUISER ZINE 004: Saturn Returns by Ashley E Walters Tape World: O.K. Let's Rock with... Nirvana "Deconsecrators" by Terence Hannum "Pottery Fragment, early 21st century" by Jennifer Stark Review: Semibegun's Shitty Music on Tape and I Loved You a Lot "Octopus Facts" by Chris Heavener On the Importance of Infrastructure [Anything for a Weird Life] "The Executive Pool" by Steve Gergley "There is a Flame Called the Endless Night" by Juliette Sandoval "Gigantopedia" by Alexander Gradus Review: Smog Mother by John Wall Barger Spring Break Scene Report [Anything for a Weird Life] Two poems by Rob Kempton "Series in Which My Body is Not My Body" by Arden Stockdell-Giesler "Rows of Jaw Bones and Worn Down Teeth" by C. Morgenrede Two prose poems by Howie Good from "Founders' Day" by Arzhang Zafar Social Media and its Discontents [Anything for a Weird Life] "Jubilee" by Damon Hubbs "Nothing to See Here" by Bernard Reed Three poems by Kimberly Swendson In Praise of Phantomime [Anything for a Weird Life] Two stories by Robert John Miller Review: Greetings from Marquette: Music from Joe Pera Talks With You Season 2 by Skyway Man "Holiday" by Serena Devi Two poems by Jordan James Ranft How to Write a Song [Anything for a Weird Life] BRUISER ZINE 003: Founders' Day by Arzhang Zafar "March Madness" by Parker Wilson "At Hirschmann Hospital" by Jan E. Stanek