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By Paul Lonardo
Mike Antonucci, who grew up in North Providence and is now living in Johnson, has been a wrestling fan all his life. His father used to be the head of security at the Providence Civic Center at a time when the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.) used to come to town quite often. His father would take me backstage to meet many of the acts who performed there, including the professional wrestlers.
“I’ve been around the product for as long as I can remember,” Mike says. “I love the backstage environment just as much as the in-ring environment, so I always knew I was destined to somehow be a part of this business. When I developed heart trouble at a young age, it kept me from being an in-ring performer, so I did the next best thing; creating XWA.”
Mike started XWA (Xtreme Wrestling Alliance) in 2000, and it has been going strong ever since. Over that span of time, many former WWE stars have come through their doors, and some even became XWA champions, such as Big Van Vader, Rhyno, Tommaso Ciampa and Mike Kanellis.
“I pride myself that XWA is still around after 18 years, and has remained a family friendly product. We also take great pride in not allowing just anyone to ‘play’ wrestler. Our athletes go through rigorous training at my school.”
Xtreme Wrestling Alliance (XWA) is one of New England’s premier independent wrestling organizations. It is a training facility as well as an entertainment forum showcasing up-and-coming talent.
Professional wrestling has been around for a long time, growing out of the traveling carnival strongman, who would challenge anyone to defeat him in the ring in under a specified time. Of course, no matter how much bigger a challenger might be, the strongman would have helpers who would resort to cheating if necessary in order to ensure his victory. Eventually, carnies realized they could make more money off the crowd than the entry fees of the fighters. They soon began accepting wagers on the fights, which were always fixed. Sometimes, the local fighter would even be in on the fix, which only served to further hype up the fight. These early wrestlers used fake names and played up the animosity of the crowd to encourage betting. Around the turn of the previous century, promoters put wrestling events in arenas, much like boxing. Over the years, many different individual promoters held wrestling events. Although there were championship belts in existence, none of them had any real authority until promoters got together to form a loose organization called the National Wrestling Association (NWA). This was the start of the modern era of professional wrestling. After WWII, the NWA divided wrestling into regional leagues, or federations. A gentleman’s agreement was in place not to steal each other’s talent, or expand their arena shows into another league’s region. The Northeast federation, known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), was started by Vince McMahon, Sr. in the early 1960s.
As the popularity of professional wrestling began to grow in the country, many Rhode Island fans of the sport poured into Jack Witschi’s Sports Arena just across the line in North Attleboro MA. The facility on Route 1 had 1,600 seats, though capacity could be stretched to 2,000 for really big shows. There were always great Friday night match ups, where for the price of admission you could witness the WWWF stars of the day, such as Chief Jay Strongbow, Haystacks Calhoun, Toro Tanaka, Gorilla Monsoon, Killer Kowalski, Gorgeous George, Mr. Fugi, Ken Patera, and many others. Witschi’s was an interactive event, where fans would become part of the action by hampering the villains, or vociferously jeering the referee’s decisions. The building burnt down in 1979, but today you can experience that same brand of excitement and entertainment at the XWA facility in West Warwick.
If you’re someone who enjoys watching raucous, over-the-top wrestling bouts, cheering on “good guys” and jeering “bad guys,” then XWA is must-see action. Or, if you are looking for a wrestling school because you always wanted to develop wrestling skills and test them in the ring, you need not look any further. The XWA Wrestling Kingdom Training Facility features head trainers “Miracle” Mike Bennett, TNA (Total Nonstop Action) wrestling star, and Matt Taven, ROH (Ring of Honor) wresting star.
How about being a referee or a manager? XMA can get you on your way to realizing these ambitions, as well.
The names you will likely encounter at an XMA bout include, The Bulldozer Matt Tremont, Warbeard Hanson, Team Tremendous, Devin Blaze and Joey Bones, but have all the theatricals, excitement and athleticism you would expect with top-notch wrestling.
XWA rents their facility, as well as their wrestlers to host private events in your own backyard to entertain guests at a party you are hosting. Or if you want to run your own event and need a ring, chairs, sound system and even a steel cage, they can do that as well.
“For me, the most rewarding this that we do is put smiles on faces,” Mike says. He also enjoys seeing a student who has worked hard for six months to a year, and going out and making their debut to the roar of the crowd. “It is one of the most rewarding things I will ever do in this business. We make fans dreams come true by meeting their heroes. We make students dreams come true by giving them the tools and instructions on how to become superstars and heroes. We just make dreams come true. Period. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The XWA Event Center is located at 3 Bridal Ave in West Warwick. It runs weekly events on Thursdays nights for just $5. The events showcase their student wrestlers as well as some of their regular roster of talent. They open their doors at 7pm.
Mike recently launched the XWA network, where fans can gain access to hundreds of hours of our events to relive, which can be found at www.xwanetwork.com.