Wrestling the Mic From Colt Cabana
Underground wrestler-turned-podcaster slams SXSW
By Richard Whittaker,
12:01AM, Fri. Mar. 17, 2017
For the last eight years, Chicago-based wrestler Colt Cabana has been one of the top names in grappling podcasting. Before strapping on his kneepads for Wrestlecircus at SXSW, he'll be recording his laidback and conversational The Art of Wrestling. He said, "We're bringing new people and new attention to the underground wrestling scene."
Wrestling podcasts have become big business, with in-ring legends like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Ric Flair, and backstage insiders like former WWE announcing hall of famer Jim Ross and legendary booker Jim Cornette all sounding off online. Cabana's podcast (available on Soundcloud, Stitcher, and iTunes) is the working wrestler's blues, telling stories with friends and foes about life on the road. While he keeps up his in-ring career as a wrestler in front of thousands weekly, his podcast has a much wider audience; famously, his sit-down with his former tag team partner, ex-WWE champion-turned-UFC-fighter CM Punk, was downloaded six million times, and actually broke his old website.
Cabana admits he became "obsessed" with the medium through comedy podcasts, and names Marc Maron's WTF (on which he has since guested several times), Comedy Death Ray, Doug Loves Movies, and the Sklar Brothers as models to emulate. "The fans really get to know this persona on stage, but really don't know what's happening offstage, and a podcast is such an intimate medium that it's allowed it. People thrive on that journey into the real lives of these performers that they like watching."
In many ways, pro-wrestling and stand-up comedy are very similar animals. You may travel hundreds of miles for a small payday, perform a few minutes, and be back on the road before the show is even over. Moreover, Cabana quickly realized that the way comedians talk about their craft on podcasts was just like every locker room conversation he'd had on the road. "I saw so many similarities when comedians were talking to comedians to when wrestlers are talking to wrestlers."
Booking guests is pretty easy: Since he spends around 200 nights a year on the road wrestling, he knows just about everyone on the indie wrestling circuit, they know him, and it's pretty easy to get locker room buddies to agree to be on the show. He said, "I became such a fan of a lot of these comedians for knowing more about them, and my goal was to allow my friends to be known by their audience a little better."
The wrestling industry is in an incredible state of flux. Atop the mountain is WWE, the multi-billion dollar trailblazer of 'sports entertainment,' and for years it seemed like a pro-wrestler went there, or just struggled in the doldrums. But eight years after Cabana's own brief tenure there, the indie circuit is hotter and cooler than ever – so much so that even the WWE has had to change its product and its roster. The reality for Cabana is that social media and podcasting has made indie wrestlers into international stars without needing the WWE's PR machine behind them. Instead, he said, "We're all our own promotion. Ring of Honor is a promotion, New Japan is a promotion, even WWE is a promotion. But Colt Cabana is a promotion, the Young Bucks are a promotion, Zack Sabre Jr. is a promotion. So we're all our own things, and it all depends on what our machine can get behind."
Matt Hardy, Cabana's opponent at Friday's Wrestlecircus show, may be the most impressive machine in the business. After nearly two decades in the business, his current gimmick of Broken Matt Hardy – a jaw-dropping metatextual, cross-promotional riff on the heel grappler as Doctor Doom-style super-villain – has become one of the most must-see fixtures in American wrestling. "He's at the apex of his careeer," said Cabana. "I think he's a genius, I'm proud of him, and how cool is it that I get to wrestle him at SXSW, a place that has been on my bucket list for years. Now I get to come, I get to wrestle Matt Hardy, and I get to do my podcast. So it's a real win-win-win."