Walk into Hi-Wire Brewing’s Big Top production facility, and odds are pretty good that you won’t get booed or cheered. But once a month when the men and women of Urban Combat Wrestling make their dramatic entrances and step into the ring, the audience’s reaction to the villains (aka heels) and heroes fills the cavernous space, transforming it into a bizarrely wonderful theater for a few hours.
Wait a second: Did you say wrestling in a brewery? While such a pairing may seem as unlikely as archrivals teaming up to take down a new enemy, forging the partnership has been a decidedly smooth process for all involved.
The wheels of the collaboration began moving in 2019, mere months after Asheville-based performers Davaion “Spaceman Jones” Bristol and Marcus “Mook Massacre” Cunningham started UCW. The duo noticed a lack of storylines in wrestling that prominently featured minorities and marginalized communities and sought to fill that void.
A series of mutual connections led Bristol to Hi-Wire co-owner Chris Frosaker, a fellow wrestling fan who loved the idea of pairing UCW’s brand of entertainment with the brewery’s cheerful circus theme.
“Hi-Wire’s all about fun and creating community,” Frosaker says. “It’s not every day that you can come to an affordable, super entertaining, super well-produced event that’s unique and unavailable anywhere else.”
The two sides agreed to a five-show Brawls at the Brewery series, which launched in November and runs through March.
The residency led off with “Rap & Wrestling X,” in which hip-hop artists performed in the ring between battles, followed by “Season’s Beatings II,” which featured Santa Claus and other holiday-themed fights. January’s “Laugh Now, Cry Later” event included comedy sets between battles by a trio of local stand-up comics.
The variety continues on Sunday, Feb. 26, with “Mimosa Slam II,” which Bristol describes as a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and will feature performances by area drag queens. Wrestling, says Cunningham, is for everyone. And UCW, he adds, strives to feature Black, female, gay and transgender performers in its entertaining yet respectful shows.
“From the beginning, we wanted to create an environment where people who normally haven’t gotten the spotlight in traditional wrestling were going to be able to come here, be themselves and shine,” Cunningham says. “We want people to know that wrestling is a safe space, and we’re changing the narrative of it.”
The series concludes on Sunday, March 19, with “The Big Beer Bash.” The event will be a celebration of the host site and the local craft beverage industry overall, though the UCW team is coy on the specifics of the evening.
“We’ve got some stars coming out who are beer related, so take that however you want to take it,” Bristol says. “It’s going to be an expansion on our party theme. Every party is a good party. But a wrestling party? Man, that might be the greatest thing ever.”
‘They hate my guts’
Prior to landing its residency at Hi-Wire, UCW members honed their craft in more modest spaces where wrestlers tested out elements of their show and fine-tuned their deliveries. During these initial stints, the group amassed a passionate fan base that has followed the production from location to location.
By the time UWC partnered with Hi-Wire, longtime attendees had developed relationships with the wrestlers and became invested in the ongoing narratives, encouraging their favorites while taunting their enemies.
Both sides of the rope double down on their roles, and as much as Cunningham notes that he and his fellow heroes love their good-guy personas, the heels have just as much fun being showered with hate. Perhaps no one digs in deeper than AC Reddick, half of the despicable White Claw Outlaws, who recently lobbed continuous insults at his rivals during the January event. At the time, he was being pushed around in a wheelchair, sporting a host of bandages and casts from injuries “sustained” in a previous bout.
“He’s very happy being booed,” Bristol says. “He’s like, ‘This is awesome! They hate my guts.’”
Consistent with UCW’s welcoming mindset, all ages can attend the shows. Though as frequent event emcee Jeff Baker noted at the start of “Laugh Now, Cry Later” and at other shows, young attendees will hear some R-rated words that they shouldn’t repeat at school the next day.
They’ll also see a move created by Cunningham that’s inspired by UCW’s current home and has been used by different wrestlers at each series event. Mook Massacre describes the Hi-Wire Bomb as a variation on the Powerbomb, a throw-in which an opponent is lifted up — typically while seated on the other wrestler’s shoulders — then slammed back-first onto the mat.
Frosaker’s eyes light up as Cunningham informs him of the move, and it’s connections like those that have made UCW and Hi-Wire want to continue their partnership. Once the Brawls at the Brewery series concludes in March, UCW will take its show on the road in April and May, and hold events at Hi-Wire’s taprooms in Knoxville, Tenn., Charlotte and Durham.
The two sides are also in early talks for a summer outdoor series at Hi-Wire’s RAD Beer Garden, and chatter has additionally begun on a collaborative brew.
“I am a chef,” Bristol muses. “And I have been wanting to make a beer. I almost took a class at A-B Tech.”
“And I just have really good taste,” Cunningham says with a laugh.
“That’s right,” Frosaker says. “We should make a beer together.”
WHAT: Urban Combat Wrestling presents Mimosa Slam II
WHERE: Hi-Wire Brewing Big Top, 2A Huntsman Pl.
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. $10. avl.mx/cej