If there were a battle royal among states, Florida would emerge the undisputed pro wrestling champion of the U.S. Over the years, WCW and TNA have done live tapings at Universal Studios, the WWE promotion NXT has done the same at Full Sail University in Winter Park, and scores of high-profile wrestlers have lived or still live in the Sunshine State — John Cena, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, to name a few. And even though we’re a long way from the territory days of Jim Crockett and Sam Muchnick, the indie circuit — where up-and-coming wrestlers brawl in front of small but enthusiastic crowds for a chance to make it big with WWE, NXT, TNA or Ring of Honor — is thriving here in Florida.
Jacksonville’s premier indie promotion is United States Wrestling Alliance, owned by hometown babyface Ella Quillen.
The USWA began in 2011, holding its first event at Snyder Armory off Normandy Boulevard. Over the next few years, the USWA built a solid reputation on imaginative booking, creative characters and interesting angles. A lifelong wrestling fan, Quillen worked the door and helped behind the scenes in the marketing department. Unfortunately, like a lot of creative group projects, the USWA dissolved into a mess of petty arguments, delusional personalities and unnecessarily inflamed egos. Suddenly, the promoters wanted to be in the ring and on the mic more than the wrestlers. The booking became inconsistent and as the promotion crumbled, Quillen grabbed the reins and took over as owner in October 2014.
“I’ve wanted to run a wrestling promotion my entire life. I didn’t want to see the USWA die and I saw my chance to save it,” Quillen says. The 46-year-old Quillen, whose torn jeans and ’80s hair-band T-shirts reflect her rock-’n’-roll personality, has made a reputation for herself as a spirited promoter. She claims WWF and TNA stars like Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy and Bret Hart are her favorite wrestlers.
As a female in charge in a male-dominated business, Quillen says she faces unique challenges. “The fact that I’m a woman — no one takes me seriously,” she says. “They don’t think women should be in wrestling in any professional capacity unless they’re one of the WWE DIVA wrestlers.”
For her part, Quillen’s proved her toughness under some challenging circumstances.
The USWA had its first show under Quillen’s ownership in January with Wrestle Bowl 2015. Though the event drew a large crowd, many of the wrestlers fans expected to show from the promotion were absent. Little things go a long way in indie promoting — there wasn’t a merchandise table set up, and not enough of a pitch of building the angles. It was simply a tournament. This didn’t go unnoticed by fans in the audience.
Things took a sharp turn for the worse at Wrestle Bowl’s follow-up in May at USWA: Invasion at the Armory.
“I lost my ass on that show,” Quillen admits. “However, there was no way I was going to quit.”
Though she’s not one to make excuses, she cites poor word-of-mouth, as well as back-biting from certain envious local indie wrestling personalities as contributing to the event’s dismal attendance. “There’s no shortage of haters in Jax,” Quillen is quick to point out.
The stakes were high for the next event. Quillen couldn’t afford another financial hit and there were rumors the promotion would fold if July’s show bombed. Quillen decided it was time go back to what originally made USWA succeed.
“We needed to bring key players back in the locker room and make this a better event in every way,” Quillen says of the event that had the potential to be her last.
According to many who were there, July’s USWA: Red, White & Bruised was a dynamite return to form. Back were fan favorites Jon Davis, Chance Champion, Flash-N-Cash Hayden Price, Ian Shire, Brandon Alexander, the tag-team Circle of Disrespect, and exciting newcomers like Clyde Braddock and Eric Wayne. And the Armory was packed. The merchandise tables, absent at the past two shows, engaged the fans and allowed the traveling stars to make some much-needed cash.
Quillen is hoping to build on the success of Red, White & Bruised for the upcoming show this month, Fall Brawl. She’s upping the ante with an Open Challenge Match between USWA’s Heavyweight Champion Dagon Biggs and current TNA talent known as “England’s Most Violent Wrestler” Martin Stone. The show also features the return of original USWA wrestlers like Tim Zybysco and Maxwell Chicago.
Quillen’s driving force is her love of pro wrestling. “Listen, this is my passion. That’s why I do it,” she says. But to keep indie wrestling alive in Northeast Florida, she’ll need more than passion. “In terms of money, the goal is to break even. Which is fine. In this age, if you want to do something like this, you’re going to have to put some of your own capital into it and realize you’re not going to get rich. That’s the deal.”