Some New York wrestlers are set to make a racket at the city’s world famous tennis venue.
All Elite Wrestling is set for a sold-out show at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, where the U.S. Open champs are crowned each year.
Wednesday’s event will show the upstart wrestling promotion, started barely two years ago by Tony Khan — the son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan — can compete with Vince McMahon and his WWE, which have had a stranglehold on the city’s wresting scene for decades.
And for many of its wrestlers, the show, before a crowd of at least 15,000, is a homecoming.
“Wrestling has always been part of New York City culture,” said 30-year-old Mike Draztik, who wrestles as Santana in the tag team duo Santana and Ortiz. “We go hard for our teams, we go hard for our people.”
Santana grew up on the Lower East Side and now lives in the Bronx, a 20-minute walk from Yankee Stadium. His partner, Angel Ortiz, was born on the Upper West Side and spent most of his life in Harlem.
Eddie Kingston, who found mainstream success with AEW after more than a decade working the independent circuit, moved from the Bronx to Yonkers when he was 8 because his dad insisted on living close enough to Woodlawn to take the 4 train.
Orange Cassidy is from New Jersey, MJF is from Long Island.
Arthur Ashe Stadium isn’t just the biggest stage most of AEW’s wrestlers have ever played. It’s home.
“The northeast, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island was where we broke in and made a name for ourselves,” Ortiz, 29, told the Daily News. “It’s definitely going to be very fulfilling for those fans to see us on a big stage, especially the fans that have watched us in a really crappy hole-in-the-wall ex-mechanic’s shop in Prospect Park.”
Kingston was weeks away from quitting wrestling when he signed with AEW in July 2020; indie matches dried up because of the COVID-19 pandemic and he sold his wrestling gear to pay his mortgage.
After wrestling in the area since 2002, he said he had to accept that it just wasn’t going to work out. Now, he and Jon Moxley are expected to fight Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer at Arthur Ashe on Wednesday.
“When I saw the U.S. Open, I would peek in and out just to see that stadium and knowing that we’re going to be there is just very, very surreal,” Kingston, 39, told The News.
Orange Cassidy, who skyrocketed to popularity as an aloof slacker who wrestles only when forced to and almost exclusively with his hands shoved in his jean pockets, was an architect in New Jersey and spent his weekends under a mask for Chikara, a wrestling promotion based out of Philadelphia. Now, he’s one of AEW’s brightest stars.
“I guess I gotta find a new jean jacket or a new pair of shades,” he joked about the Flushing Meadows show. “Something special.”
MJF — Maxwell Jacob Friedman — the pretentious Long Island-born heel who sports a Burberry scarf, loafers and a pinkie ring, is ready to take on Brian Pillman Jr. at the stadium, in what he calls “a disgusting place filled with rats and grotesque people.”
“Wear some nice attire for once,” he told The News in a message to fans who love to hate him.
“I see you schmucks, you’re always in wrestling T-shirts and sloppy sweatpants and New Balance dad shoes. How about just one time in your life you dress up? It’s a night out. Buy a suit.”
For everyone else, the city show is a chance to give back to the wrestling scene that raised them, sweatpants and all.
“I was at the last three ECW shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom,” Kingston reminisced.
“I still see myself as that kid who hung out… in front of the bodega waiting for people to come out so we can go to Van Cortlandt Park and hang out.”