On Thursday night, Jake Manning will do standup comedy for Cabarrus Brewing Company’s Craft Comedy Night. Then on Sunday afternoon, his alter-ego – pro wrestler Man Scout – will defend the PWX championship title against Anthony Henry at Premiere Wrestling Xperience’s Rise of a Champion XII at Cabarrus Arena.
Comedy and wrestling may seem like a strange dichotomy to most, but not to Manning, whose wrestling character is an overgrown boy scout that might consult his scout handbook mid-match. In 2015, after a 10-year career wrestling on the indie circuit, the current PWX champion (a title he’s held since summer) decided to try his hand at comedy.
“I’ve always been a comedy wrestler,” says Manning. “I realized I always like making people laugh. I grew up on a farm with my two sisters and didn’t have much interaction with the neighbor kids. I remember writing down a list of things I knew would make my sisters laugh.”
In retrospect, Manning had been mixing comedy and wrestling since high school, where everyone knew he was a Stone Cold Steve Austin fan.
“I shaved my head and grew a goatee for homecoming when I was 17,” he recalls. “I would have them play a wrestling song when they announced me at football games.”
Manning is just one of the multi-hyphenate entertainers helping to restore the Carolinas, and Charlotte in particular, to its former glory as a pro-wrestling hub. On Sunday, PWX celebrates its 12-year anniversary at Rise of the Champions XII. Former WWE champion and current Impact! tag team champion Jeff Hardy is also on the bill. According to Manning, Hardy’s brother and tag team partner Matt’s appearance at December’s show drew a sell-out crowd.
In 2005, Manning (real name Feuerbach) moved to Charlotte from his native Illinois for what was supposed to be a three-month internship at High Spots, a Charlotte-based online retailer that sells everything from wrestling ring aprons to action figures and DVDs. He never left.
Instead, he continued in-ring training at High Spots’ wrestling school, where he helped train the future stars like WWE cruiserweight Cedric Alexander, who now appears on “Monday Night Raw.” In fact, Manning is seeing many colleagues and former students on television now.
“Cedric I helped train,” he says. “And Kevin Steen (aka WWE World Champion Kevin Owens) stayed in my guest room.”
For his part, Alexander – along with four-time Raw Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair (another Charlotte native) and wrestlers like former PWX champ Caleb Konley, who debuted on Pop TV’s “Impact!” earlier this month – have brought a lot of attention back to the area, as have indie shows from Raleigh to Spartanburg.
Wrestling is a branch of the entertainment world that’s actually growing with its more diverse rosters, less attention to exploitation, and the rise of women’s wrestling.
Manning’s girlfriend, former wrestler Josie Bynum, runs the all-female wrestling promotion Queens of Combat, which has a show in Gibsonville Saturday. Bynum exudes enthusiasm when talking about the girls she books. This weekend, it’s a drag queen tag team called the Fella Twins and the Sea Stars, a pair of mermaids managed by a shark (no word on how they wrestle around their fins).
“It’s the hottest thing,” says Bynum, who wrestled for Total Non-Stop Action as Sojo Bolt and now works in the restaurant industry when not booking shows. “Women are considered athletes, not just eye candy. We are sought after and cherished and well-trained and can actually wrestle. Impact!, WWE, Lucha Underground all push women to the forefront.”
WWE has actually signed several QOC wrestlers.
“I’m not looking for a contract or to get back on TV,” says Bynum, 39. “If I put on shows that give girls exposure and necessary experience, if WWE comes in and wipes out my roster, that means I’ve done a good job.”
Like Bynum, Manning is at an age where his in-ring days are numbered. He juggles both gigs on the road to make travel more economical. At home, he hosts Evening Muse’s Organic Comedy Night and records podcast series like his 100-episode “Stranger in a Southern Land” and the “Mystery Science Theater”-style “How Did This Get Booked?” where he invites wrestling neophytes to review videos of notoriously bad wrestling shows.
And while professional wrestling might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering equality, “How Does This Get Booked?” actually shines a mirror on the homophobia, sexism and racism once prevalent in the ring.
“Some things are very dated. That leads to thought-provoking conversations,” he says. “Pro wrestling has become far more progressive. Female wrestling is great, and the way we expose minorities is far better than a few years ago.”
Premiere Wrestling Xperience’s Rise of a Champion XII
When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Cabarrus Arena, 4551 Old Concord Road, Concord.
Tickets: $10-$15; $5-$8 for ages 5-12.