By Danny Frost
After twenty grueling minutes, an exhausted Michael Cammett muscled his way onto the top rope. A front row full of excited children rose to their feet as they awaited their hero’s fate.
After a diving splash onto his opponent and a count of three, “The Golden Boy” was the new Independent Wrestling Federation American Champion.
The music blared and the fog machine poured as the new champion embraced his fans. For one particular fan, James, IWF’s “Fall Brawl” event was a birthday party that he will never forget. For owner and William Paterson University alumni Kevin Knight, experiences are what matter most.
“The more you do for your community, the more they will do for you,” said Knight, a Nutley native. Lending a hand in the community is the primary goal for the six-foot-five “Master of Chaos.”
Knight stumbled into the world of independent wrestling. While working for a small north Jersey radio station. Knight attended a local wrestling show to serve as the guest ring announcer for one of the bouts. Towering over all of the wrestlers, he stood out in the crowd and looked like he belonged in the ring rather than the radio booth. Knight’s monstrous, wide-shouldered frame and long black hair was the idealized “look” for pro wrestlers. This led to his recruitment into the sports entertainment industry. That is when the wrestling career that Knight had never planned for began.
“I wanted to pursue art,” Knight said as he reflected on his time at WPU. “Once I toured the radio and TV stations, that was it, it was done. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Knight spent his time at WPU on campus radio, as well as providing commentary on WPU sports broadcasts with his broadcast partner, Kevin Burkhardt, who has since risen to prominent roles at SNY and Fox Sports.
With radio and television experience under his belt, he saw the wrestling business as an opportunity to continue working under the entertainment umbrella.
Knight started the IWF in 1998 with the goal of providing family entertainment for local residents. Applying the knowledge he obtained from his time at William Paterson University working on campus television and radio station WP88.7 he set out to produce quality weekly content for his community.
Now he is at a permanent location, the IWF Centre in Nutley which opened in the spring of 2014. Knight and his wrestlers now have a home base for the promotion, allowing their performers to find comfort from the familiar faces in the crowd. One particular face, Kyle, also got to experience the thrill of a lifetime. Kyle was asked to step between the ropes and act as the guest ring announcer for one of the matches.
As Kyle and his father exited the arena after the show, he told his father that “This was the best show out of all the ones we’ve been to.”
Between live events, private birthday parties, and local fundraising events, the IWF focuses on being positive role models for the children of Nutley and its surrounding towns.
The birthday boy’s mother, Liz, had high praise for the federation.
“It’s fantastic that they involve the kids so much, and they really put on a great show,” she said.
Liz got to sit with her son and his closest friends in the front row, and view firsthand the amazing experience that Knight and his roster of wrestlers create.
For James, getting lifted over the barricade and brought into the ring to celebrate with Knight after his victory is a moment that he will never forget.
“It was the best birthday party I ever had,” he said with a huge smile.
“When every kid goes back to school on Monday morning, how many are going to say they had a Chuck E. Cheese party? Or a bowling party? Now, how many can say they had a wrestling party? Well, we did three this weekend,” Knight said proudly. “Five, ten, twenty years from now, nobody is going to be telling their grandkids about their party at the bowling alley.”
In addition to the birthday parties, the IWF also dedicates one weekend each month to teach youth clinics for aspiring grapplers aged 13-17. This outlet to learn the unconventional craft is incredibly unique, as most trainers would not even consider working with minors.
Knight and the IWF avoid any potential liability issues by conducting safe low-intensity courses.
“It’s very basic, fundamental stuff. We keep it closely supervised.” Knight said.
Liz explained how such a class could be beneficial to not only her son, James, but to countless others.
“It gives them something to look forward to, and to strive for,” she said. “It’s a great motivator for them to see how much hard work goes into all of this.”
IWF Heavyweight Champion and fellow WPU alumni, Roman Zachary, said he takes great pride in working with these children.
“When you love what you’re doing, that’s a reward in and of itself. But yeah, seeing the kids get so excited makes it all worth it,” he said.
Earlier in the evening Zachary competed in the main event of the show, and made sure to spend a moment with the children in the front row before entering the fray.
It may not have been WrestleMania, and the performers may not be global superstars, but to the fans in the audience that did not matter. The IWF puts on an entertaining show by sticking to the basics of professional wrestling.
“There’s a good guy, and there’s a bad guy. It takes anywhere from four to six seconds to figure out who’s who,” Knight said. “Audiences just want to be entertained.”
Despite the federation’s humble beginnings and limited resources, Knight spares no expense in presenting the best show possible.
“The lights, the fog, the sound systems all cost money. But, whether it’s a concert, or a wrestling show, or a baseball game, if the tickets are $15, then you have to give them a $150 show.”
For James and his pals and all the other children who attend events, the IWF provides them with an experience that money cannot buy.