HAZLETON — On Jan. 24, World Wrestling Entertainment will hold its 29th Annual Royal Rumble. The pay-per-view features the eponymous 30-man Royal Rumble match, which is traditionally used to decide the contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the promotion’s biggest event, Wrestlemania. This year, however, the aforementioned title will be defended in the Royal Rumble match, with the last man standing winning the gold.
This stipulation may sound familiar to fans of Hazleton’s Sanctuary Wrestling; the organization crowned its first champion in January 2015 after a 30-man Stampede Rumble match. On Jan. 22, the winner of last year’s Stampede Rumble and current Sanctuary Wrestling Champion, Ahtu, will defend his title against 29 other competitors. This may seem like a Herculean task, but Ahtu has one advantage over the demigod: he’s The GodKing.
“His character is God; an undefeatable alpha and omega,” Sanctuary Wrestling founder Jon Trosky said. “He is not a heel, he is not a face, he just is. He is Undertaker and Ultimate Warrior and everything else superhuman combined.”
Trosky said there are a few other performers to keep an eye on out of the more than two-dozen against whom Ahtu will defend his championship. Those looking to dethrone The GodKing include Ben Ortiz, a graduate of Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore wrestling school and participant in Ring of Honor’s 2016 top prospects tournament, Rude Boy Riley, who holds two championships with New York organizations and Mike Orlando, a former Division I football player.
Ahtu will carry more than his Sanctuary Wrestling championship into the Stampede Rumble match; his undefeated record will be on the line. The 41-year-old Philadelphia native learned the value of good storytelling during his wrestling training and he plans to work with that mentality Jan. 22, even though he’ll be working with an unusually large amount of fellow performers during the match.
“There’s so many people involved that there’s not time to be so delicate and detailed with fancy storytelling,” Ahtu said. “There will be storytelling involved though. Fans should be looking for moments; I will have planned moments where certain people will get pummeled a certain kind of way. This is what I’ll leave for the fans.”
Sanctuary Stampede and all other Sanctuary Wrestling events take place at a renovated church in Hazleton called The Sanctuary. Trosky bought the building two years ago when his stunt career began winding down and renovated it to serve as a multi-purpose studio. Trosky, a former professional wrestler who helped train Mickey Rourke for his role in 2008’s “The Wrestler,” started The Sanctuary because of a conversation he had with the movie’s lead and stunt coordinator.
“I talked to Mickey Rourke and Douglas Crosby about all the situations that are in the wrestling business and how we could remedy them and we really didn’t come up with any solutions,” Trosky said. “I made a commitment to myself saying if I ever do anything with my life in this business (film) I’m going to do my best for the wrestling business.”
Since its first event in July, Sanctuary Wrestling has emphasized the entertainment aspect of professional wrestling; in fact, the former professional wrestler called the term “archaic.” He sees wrestling differently and freely admits to heavily scripting his events; he considers the emphasis on preparation and acting an important part of the business moving forward.
“The concept was ‘pro wrestling is a legitimate sport’ and we never admitted it was fake until around 2000,” Trosky said. “The perception is simulated fighting presented as reality; I train guys to be very good actors and entertainers. Nobody cares about the moment Bruce Willis gets punched in the face, they care about the look he’s going to give you after. It’s about the sell.”
Ahtu plans to make a lot of competitors sell in the Sanctuary Stampede match Jan. 22, but will he walk out with his championship and perfect record? Thanks to the 30-man match’s detailed minute-by-minute script, The GodKing and Trosky don’t have to ask that question; the rest of us will have to wait until the free event’s conclusion to find out the answer.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts
IF YOU GO
What: Local organization Sanctuary Wrestling’s Jan. 22 event will include a 30-man Stampede Rumble, and the winner will be crowned Sanctuary Wrestling champion.
Where: The Sanctuary, 172 N Wyoming St, Hazleton
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22
How Much: Free!