Meet The Wrestling Club, 2023's Viral Sensation Representing a New Generation of FansFebruary 28, 2023
When Jonah Williams first heard about a new wrestling club that was formed by one of his teachers at KIPP AMP Middle School in Brooklyn, he expected to find his classmates in the gym. The now-12-year-old had assumed it was a wrestling team that would compete against other schools.
Williams asked Victor Perry, who teaches sixth-grade English, for clarification on what The Wrestling Club was going to be.
"When I asked Mr. Perry, he told me, 'No, it's just that we're watching wrestling,'" Williams recalled. At the time, he says he didn't have many chances to sit and watch matches on his own, so his interest was piqued when he found out he'd get that opportunity during school. "When I heard that, I was immediately ready to join, because now I know that I have people who like wrestling just as much as me, and that's like, really cool."
But it wasn't just watching matches. Perry incorporated wrestling into his curriculum by using it to teach his students about the art of storytelling and character building. And through the power of social media, The Wrestling Club became a shining example of the power of the next generation of wrestling fans.
Fast-forward a year later, and Williams was in attendance when WWE Superstars Big E, Shelton Benjamin, Cedric Alexander and Titus O'Neil visited The Wrestling Club on Feb. 13 in recognition of Black History Month and surprised the students with tickets to Monday Night Raw that evening at the Barclays Center.
"Seeing the way that we impact young men, young women of color, and seeing their passion for wrestling, seeing the way they bond over that, is really beautiful," Big E said. "I'm such a big fan of what Mr. Perry's doing, of The Wrestling Club in general, it really touches me in so many different ways."
Sporting a blue TWC hoodie that reads "The Future of Wrestling" on the back, Williams overcame nervousness and delivered a presentation detailing Benjamin's influence on him and his own dreams of becoming a wrestler. He received a big hug from Benjamin after he was done, and the veteran wrestler admitted to getting emotional while listening to the report.
It was the type of moment that creates a lifelong wrestling fan, a moment he will never forget. One of the best days of his life?
"The best, honestly," Williams said.
Perry first got the idea for The Wrestling Club in November 2021 when he and a student won tickets to Raw at a meet-and-greet with WWE Superstar Bianca Belair. When the student bragged about the experience to his friends the next day, Perry had multiple kids telling him, "Mr. Perry, you should've taken me!"
What started as a small group of four students grew to seven, then to nine, then to 21 by the end of the 2021-22 school year. Now, The Wrestling Club boasts over 60 members, whom Perry splits between lunchtime and after-school sessions so everyone has an equal chance to attend. There are no requirements to be a part of the club, but Perry ensures that all the students are completing their schoolwork and any who aren't must attend tutoring.
The 29-year-old said he was strategic when picking matches for the club to watch, as he noticed students gravitated toward wrestlers who looked like them such as Bianca Belair, Mercedes Moné a.k.a. Sasha Banks, The New Day, Carmelo Hayes and Ricochet. From there, they eventually fell in love with the high-flyers like Will Ospreay and Seth Rollins, who reminded them of their favorite Marvel superheroes.
Victor Taylor Perry @wallflowerperry
The first official match we had to watch today in The Wrestling Club was <a href="https://twitter.com/Carmelo_WWE?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Carmelo_WWE</a> vs. <a href="https://twitter.com/KingRicochet?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KingRicochet</a> at World's Collide. 👏🏽<br><br>One of my favorite matches and a contender for Match of The Year. 🐐 <a href="https://t.co/V9rlruzERH">pic.twitter.com/V9rlruzERH</a>
Now, Perry says these kids have reached a level of sophistication in their fandom usually reserved for those who have been watching wrestling for decades. Therefore, they focus on the storytelling more than the in-ring action.
"It first started out with representation, then it was showmanship and athletic ability, and now, we have kids who will sit with me and watch a 60-minute wrestling match from start to finish, just purely for the story of the match," Perry said.
The evolution in how The Wrestling Club watches the sport has allowed Perry to expand its horizons beyond WWE, as the students have been able to enjoy matches in All Elite Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Impact Wrestling and more. He has organized outings to WWE house shows as well as local indie events, working well beyond school hours to satisfy the youngsters' growing love for the sport.
Students who used to fear public speaking are now delivering live commentary for matches to entertain their classmates and asking Perry to film them cutting promos to post online. Original members like Elyssa McKenzie Mark, 13, and JessicaAnn Torres, 12, describe TWC as "a safe space" where they can let loose with their peers over a common interest, and they credit Perry's initiative as the reason they became wrestling fans.
"He spends money out of his pocket just for us to be happy... He literally thinks about the club 24/7, at night he's always looking up new matches to show the club," said Mark, who describes Perry as "a father-figure."
"He's just so dedicated to the club, and it shows that we have someone who really cares about us as Black individual kids. You don't usually have people who really want to invest in us, so when you have someone like that, you've got to hold on to them."
Perry would post videos on his Twitter account with 17.8K followers and on TWC's official Instagram of the students reacting to classic matches, which went viral and quickly caught the attention of wrestlers online.
"For me, I was jealous, I wanted this when I was in school," Alexander said of his first reaction to seeing a video of The Wrestling Club.
Perry has been able to raise money for a trip to WrestleMania 39 in Los Angeles on April 1-2 for a contingent of five seventh-graders in the club. Inspired by immense growth in the confidence level of some of his students, the Thomasville, Georgia native plans to overcome his own fear of flying to provide a special experience for them.
"I just want to see them smile," Perry said. "As long as they can tell me at the end of the day that this meant something to them, that's all I care about."
Victor Taylor Perry @wallflowerperry
You're welcome. ❤️ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WWERaw?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WWERaw</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheWrestlingClub?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheWrestlingClub</a> <a href="https://t.co/UiAuAGeRt6">pic.twitter.com/UiAuAGeRt6</a>
This Black History month, The Wrestling Club has been working on special assignments where each student picked a Black wrestler from a long list provided by Perry and wrote a report on the impact they've had on their lives. In addition to the 12-year-old Williams' presentation to Benjamin, the other Superstars also had the pleasure of hearing reports dedicated to them. The experience was a reminder of how much wrestlers can inspire the next generation.
"We get a chance to be on a global stage every single week, 52 weeks a year, and exhibit Black excellence, and we never know until we come to a place like The Wrestling Club just how impactful it is," O'Neil said.
WWE Superstars <a href="https://twitter.com/WWEBigE?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WWEBigE</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/TitusONeilWWE?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TitusONeilWWE</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/Sheltyb803?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Sheltyb803</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/CedricAlexander?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CedricAlexander</a> surprise "The Wrestling Club" at KIPP AMP Middle School in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlackHistoryMonth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BlackHistoryMonth</a>. <a href="https://t.co/fMoPbWItqn">pic.twitter.com/fMoPbWItqn</a>
Perry, who also is a musician and has aspirations of writing and performing theme songs for pro wrestling companies, said he never imagined The Wrestling Club would reach a point where wrestlers are showing up to their school and wearing their merchandise, or where the club is being featured in a WWE commercial.
But his long-term goals remain simple, as he hopes the club helps students gain a sense of self-belief that their dreams, in wrestling or otherwise, can be achieved. He also wants to take the entire club to a show one day, expressing no fear at the idea of chaperoning 60 kids.
"It's a large goal, but I know it's gonna happen... I'm not afraid of that challenge," he said.
Thanks to the viral clips of The Wrestling Club, Perry receives messages "almost daily" from teachers and students across the country hoping to start their own iterations at their schools. Seeing that, and hearing from wrestlers and fans that they wish they had a professor like him growing up, keeps him focused on providing a space for his students where their wrestling fandom can grow and evolve.
"I'm committed because I wish I had it," Perry said. "As a kid, I often thought I was too short, not as athletic, and I wish I would've had a space where I felt like I could've belonged, to have fun with just exploring the possibility of something. So that's what literally drives me to spending hours on weekends creating lesson plans, watching matches and figuring out what I want to show the kids, because I wish I had it as a kid."