Wrestling with the pandemic

Crowds are slowly returning to New Evolution Wrestling to the delight of fans and performers.

The man behind the Denver Peters character, Nigel Collins, is the complete opposite of his in-ring persona. Nicholas Conway/Kicker

Nicholas Conway

Two of the major industries affected by COVID-19 have been performance arts and live sports. Professional wrestling, being a wacky combination of the two, wasn’t spared from the ravages of the pandemic.

A live crowd is everything to a professional wrestler. The boos and cheers from the audience let a wrestler know if they’re doing their job correctly. The pandemic took those crowds away.

Nigel Collins is a local wrestler who, in the ring, goes by the name of The Educator Denver Peters. He’s a bad guy who talks trash to his opponents and the audience, otherwise known in the industry as a heel. Beneath the arrogant and egotistical character is a 24-year-old security guard in the infancy of his wrestling career. He is always learning from his mentors in local wrestling promoters New Evolution Wrestling.

“With COVID-19, we have a limited roster,” said Collins, who is currently sidelined with a partially torn ACL. “I am very thankful to have a spot on that roster because we have a lot of pedigree in Newfoundland wrestling. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the help of those guys that have been around for so long.”

Wrestlers have been body slamming each from outport parish halls to Mile One for more than six decades.

New Evolution Wrestling fans got their first look at Denver Peters in October 2019. It came just seven months after Collins first began training. Five months later, the pandemic hit.

“Having it all come to a complete halt sucked,” Collins said. “There’s nothing better than having a packed CLB Armoury.”

“Watching this live brings out a completely newfound respect for (the wrestlers) because it’s such an active performance.”

The group ran its first show after the pandemic at an outdoor event in Badger in August 2020. As the restrictions eased, the group put on indoor shows with a limited capacity of 80 people.

The Quidi Vidi Brewery is home to two of these shows fittingly named Bash at the Brewery. These shows turned Ben Gosse, a worker at the brewery, from a wrestling skeptic to a fan.

“Watching this live brings out a completely newfound respect for (the wrestlers) because it’s such an active performance,” Gosse said. “We’ve had a lot of people who have become converted NEW fans through the brewery.”

The wrestlers can’t do everything they could pre-pandemic in terms of fan interaction, but Collins says a crowd of 80 loyal fans can feel like hundreds.

“During our matches we can’t be fighting each other outside the ring, the babyfaces (good guys) can’t high five the fans. Myself as a heel, I can’t be right up in people’s faces talking them down to the dirt,” Collins said. “I’m looking forward to the day I can be right back in your face again.”

Wrestling, like all forms of entertainment, is an art form. The fans become one with the performers inside the squared circle. The wrestlers feed off the energy of the crowd and vice versa.

“It’s insane how fun the shows are, especially coming from someone who was never into wrestling prior to watching NEW,” said Gosse. “It’s one of the coolest things to do in the city.”

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