Professional wrestling is cool in the U.P. | News, Sports, Jobs

UPW Pro Wrestling’s Samson (in red) prepares to deliver a chop to his opponent during UPW Pro Wrestling’s 25th Anniversary Spectacular on Feb. 24, 2024 at the Delta County Chamber of Commerce in Escanaba. (“The Big Dog” Mitch Vosburg/Daily Press)

ESCANABA — Popular – liked, admired, or enjoyed by many people or by a particular person or group.

It’s a term associated with countless people and teams in the sports world, often linked with success. Whether it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mike Trout, Connor McDavid, Patrick Mahomes or John Cena, popularity and sports go hand-in-hand like an ice-cold glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade on a scorching hot summer day spent mowing the yard.

But what about sports that are considered unpopular?

Sure, professional bowling, bass fishing and auto racing may be popular exclusively for niche audiences with popular competitors like Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Van Dam. Hell, Pete Weber became bowling’s most popular face after he muttered the famous phrase “who do you think you are? I am!” after winning his fifth U.S. Open with a championship-clinching strike.

But there’s one sport that walks the fine line between popular and unpopular. One sport that is either revered or jeered.

This ain’t tiddlywinks we’re talking about. We’re talking about professional wrestling.

And for 25 years, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has seen one independent promotion provide countless moments of entertainment and memories for its fans.

On Feb. 24, 2024, UPW Pro Wrestling returned to its roots in Escanaba for the first time in a decade to celebrate its 25th Anniversary spectacular in the way it best knows how.

With passion, violence, high flying and, of course, a few weapons sprinkled in.


The quartet of Rick McCarty, Brent Webber, Shayne Junek and Peter Sischo all had childhood dreams of one day being professional wrestlers. In 1999, that dream became a reality with the promotion’s first show at Escanaba’s Delft Nightclub. With a headlining match between Bastion Booger and Escanaba’s own Peter B. Beautiful, Ultimate Pro Wrestling (UPW) began to find traction at the Upper Peninsula’s home for professional wrestling behind inaugural UPW Champion Slick Rick.

But reaching 25 years of wrestling didn’t come without hardships.

The promotion went on hiatus multiple times, yet always found a way to bounce back.

UPW resurfaced in 2011, and behind the support of local promoters and a full-time home at the Delft, UPW was rebranded as UPW Pro Wrestling.

That was until Delft shut down in 2014, forcing the promotion to move to the UPW Arena in Gladstone and eventually to its current home at Iron Mountain’s Maxx Entertainment Center.

The promotion now holds events outside of Michigan with shows and Wisconsin. With ventures like MarquetteMania, UPW remains the Upper Peninsula’s go-to promotion for professional wrestling.

But similar to any sports team, a few key names are needed. Joe Louis Arena was sold out because fans wanted to watch the likes of Steve Yzerman, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom play for the Detroit Red Wings.

Professional wrestling is no exception. And with original pieces like Peter B Beautiful and Slick Rick, among others, as core members of the promotion, UPW has plenty of familiar faces. But the rest of the card features wrestlers that come from an array of backgrounds and experiences.

“You have to bring in talent that people are going to recognize, but more importantly you need to have a core group of people that can work, that can entertain and deliver,” UPW Pro Wrestling owner Lloyd Sarrel said. “I think that’s what we got here. We have our own roster of talented professionals. Complement that with (wrestlers) that we bring up from anywhere from Green Bay, Milwaukee, in that vicinity. I think that’s what keeps people coming.”

There’s countless archetypes of professional wrestlers. But on that cold February night three archetypes shined bright.

The Young Gun, The Grizzled Veteran and The Special Attraction.

The Young Gun: The Dev

Standing at 6-foot 2 and weighing 400 pounds at 21 years old, The Dev’s journey into professional wrestling started at an incredibly young age. The professional wrestling world was first introduced to him as a manager for his dad. This was when The Dev was 6-months old.

He made his debut as a professional wrestler at 13, tag teaming with his father, Peter B. Beautiful.

“I was really nervous,” Dev admitted. “I was nervous to the point where I didn’t even know what to do.”

For the last eight years he continues to enjoy his passion while staying in the family business of wrestling.

“I love this business. I love everything about it,” Dev said. “I watched wrestling as a little kid every single day. It was my escape from reality.”

But his current persona is unique. It’s not a path most pro wrestlers would typically go down.

The Dev is also known as “The Prince of Hardcore” and specializes in a specific type of professional wrestling that is not suitable for everyone. It’s a special type of wrestling that the squeamish will probably never watch, yet has an incredible cult following.

Deathmatch wrestling.

It’s as brutal as the name implies.

This style tends to feature a fair amount of gore and use of any type of weapon. While light tubes, barbed wire and tables are commonly known as weapons in these matches, the only limit in selecting an item to do damage in deathmatch wrestling is one’s imagination.

Legos, cheese graters, skewers, thumbtacks, a bed of nails or even fire are fair game. If the darkest part of your mind can concoct something that can inflict damage to someone, it’s probably been used as a weapon in a deathmatch to a chorus of cheers mixed with a few innocent fans left gagging while struggling to keep their lunch in their stomach.

“I like the reaction I get once the glass breaks,” Dev said. “It’s like adrenaline goes through your blood and you bleed more. It’s the best.”

The Grizzled veteran: J-Sin

While professional wrestling requires a sense of showmanship, some sort of athletic ability is also needed. While Sin loved watching wrestlers like Shawn Michaels growing up, his go-to sport was professional speed skating.

“I was the biggest wrestling fan, but it was never in my thought process to become a pro wrestler,” Sin said. “It wasn’t a dream. It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it. It just wasn’t in my reality.

That was until he turned 21 when he decided he wanted to give professional wrestling a try. So he did what any ambitious person did in 2000: call 411 and asked to be directed to the nearest wrestling school.

He wound up being connected with John Rambo in Hagerstown, Maryland three hours away from home. And since then it’s been a 22 year career that’s seen him battle some of the best wrestlers on the planet today.

Sin’s competed in promotions like All Elite Wrestling, Combat Zone Wrestling and Ring of Honor, just to name a few. He’s stepped in the ring with wrestlers known today as Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Eddie Kingston and Claudio Castagnoli.

Sin admitted that the lone common denominator throughout his life is his love for professional wrestling.

“I never take it for granted,” Sin said. “It’s been a pleasure and a journey. I have a lot of friends that work in WWE, and I tell them they make their living off wrestling and I make my life off of wrestling. There’s a difference. My network and what I do has been through wrestling. All the different things I’ve done in my career are based off of that.

“I don’t ever feel bitter. I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished.”

The Special Attraction: Eugene

Since 1996, Nick Densmore has spent his life inside the squared circle. From 1999-2004 he competed in Ohio Valley Wrestling, which at the time served as a developmental promotion for the WWE.

During Densmore’s time in OVW, the promotion also developed the likes of Randy Orton, John Cena, Batista, Brock Lesnar, Carlito and Shelton Benjamin.

Densmore got his opportunity in WWE as a character named Eugene, the nephew of then Monday Night Raw general Manager Eric Bischoff. The twist: Eugene was a bit special.

Eugene was a professional wrestler who maintained a childlike sense of innocence.

“I watched how kids reacted in the front row when the divas came down, or a guy like The Boogeyman,” Densmore said. “I tried to emulate that. I don’t know if it’s adolescence or a childlike spirit, but I tried to put that into Eugene.”

But once the bell rang he possessed master-like wrestling abilities, often using moves of wrestlers which every fan dreamed of doing.

Densmore shared the ring with the likes of The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Triple H, Ric Flair and even Hulk Hogan, just to name a few.

“It was magical,” Densmore said. “I had trained for 10 years, and by the time I got my shot I made so many mistakes before, in wrestling terms, that when I got out there I kept doing well. The Eugene character just shot a lip as far as you can write for him.

“I wanted to have a t-shirt one day, an action figure, I wanted to be in a main event with Hulk Hogan. I got all of those.”

Densmore had three stints with WWE, two as a wrestler from 2004-2007 and again in 2009 before joining them as a trainer in WWE’s NXT brand from 2013-14.

On that February night he didn’t wrestle as Eugene. Instead, he threw it back to his 90’s persona: “Mr. Wrestling” Nick Densmore.

Squashing the stigma

When fans walk into a professional wrestling show like UPW, they have the opportunity to forget about anything going outside of the building. They have the chance to live in the moments, albeit violent ones, throughout the evening.

They have a chance to be entertained.

But a good chunk of potential fans scoff at the thought of being affiliated with professional wrestling.

“It’s probably a little bit of a closeted industry,” Sarrel said. “People don’t go out and say ‘hey, we’re pro wrestling fans,’ but I think everyone’s pro wrestling fans. It’s a soap opera. There’s good guys and there’s bad guys, and you follow the storyline.”

J-Sin knows this first hand. There have been countless times where people have approached him and said they used to be fans when they were younger, but felt like they outgrew the sport.

Sin’s response is simple: do you think wrestling has changed, or have you changed?

“When you get older you start thinking different things,” Sin said. “Coming here and getting lost in the moment could be like being a kid again. That’s what it’s about, smiling and having fun.

“When’s the last time somebody went to see an Avengers movie and was like ‘oh, that’s fake,’ like come on man. What are we doing here?”

While professional wrestling may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is here for everyone that wants to enjoy it. Whether you’re a “odd-ball” or the popular jock, no matter what you identify as or what’s going on in your life, professional wrestling can be a safe haven for you.

“There’s some magic with professional wrestling that draws in people like a family,” Densmore said. “Once the ball starts rolling people will invest their time, invest their heart into a professional wrestler or professional wrestling company. When a company has a good product and has characters that people can relate to they keep coming back.

“UPW definitely has done that.”

Now UPW Pro Wrestling prepares for its biggest event of the year: MarquetteMania 2.

This event features multiple special attractions like Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart, The Headbangers, Gangrel, Ricardo Rodriguez and Sharkboy, just to name a few.

UPW Pro Wrestling Heavyweight Champion Joey “The Jet” Avalon taking on Mr. Kennedy (…Kennedy) in the main event.

MarquetteMania 2 starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 4 at Lakeview Area. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at

Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *