The rise of Nick Gage has been one of the most consistent, yet surprising stories in independent wrestling over the past few years. It’s also one of the most heartwarming, as long as you can find it in your heart to be warmed by the pure, unbridled, aggressive joy of a crowd cheering at their town being declared “gang affiliated” and responding to “MDK!” with “All f*cking day!”
The 38-year-old New Jersey native started wrestling in 1999 and worked mainly for Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), practicing their trademark ultraviolent style, for about a decade. In 2009, Gage nearly became the Tournament of Death’s first actual casualty when he had to be airlifted away from an outdoor ring in Delaware for what he says was life-saving emergency surgery when his “200 Light Tubes, Panes of Glass, and All the Other Shit in the Back We Could Find” deathmatch with Thumbtack Jack went wrong.
Gage didn’t only make risky decisions in the ring. In December 2010, while homeless and addicted to painkillers, he robbed a bank in Collingswood, New Jersey. He pled guilty and, in the spring of 2011, was sentenced to five years in prison. When he was released on parole in 2015, he started wrestling again, but any momentum in his career and life was halted when he was reincarcerated after a parole violation.
Some might have written off Gage at this point, but since he was released again he’s only become more popular and successful. In 2017, he entered and won his new home promotion Game Changer Wrestling (GCW)’s Tournament of Survival. He defeated Matt Tremont at their second anniversary show that December to win the GCW Heavyweight Championship. He has now held it for over five hundred days, reigning over the company as their bloody, babyface ace.
He’s also toured independent promotions across the country, becoming especially associated with Beyond and Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW.) He gained notoriety in the fall of 2018 at Joey Janela‘s LA Confidential – a show that had to move venues because the management of its initial location “had concerns” about Gage’s criminal past – when his deathmatch with David Arquette, which included a pizza cutter, looked like it included some unplanned violence.
The incident that gave Gage his most mainstream exposure made him seem like a dangerous person to some, but the audience at LA-based no-ring promotion Suburban Fight‘s May 25 (with a start time of 11:59 PM, so effectively on May 26 at midnight) show in Las Vegas showed no trepidation towards the main event winner, only love and comradery. He defeated Darby Allin and was carried to the stage in a spontaneous occurrence of crowd surfing to close the show with an extremely well-received promo.
After Gage briefly went backstage, he reentered the venue – the upstairs bar/lounge of the Sahara Event Center, a roller rink that also hosts pro wrestling – to hug, take pictures, and drink with the fans. When I approached him about an interview a little after two in the morning, Gage opted to talk outside of the building while he was smoking weed. The conversation that ensued is below and has been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: So, we always ask wrestlers who was your favorite wrestler as a kid or who made you want to start wrestling?
Nick Gage: Alright, what made me want to start wrestling was ECW as a whole. I stopped watching wrestling – I remember I stopped watching wrestling because WCW got corny and WWF was corny and then I turned the TV on and seen ECW. And that made me want to watch wrestling again. And that made me go in the backyard and start going on the trampoline and doing crazy shit that led me to a wrestling school called CZW that led [to] me doing what I do. So I would say ECW – not one man, but the company made me want to wrestle.
I love Cactus Jack. He’s my favorite. Terry Funk. Ric Flair. Arn Anderson. Tully Blanchard. NWA guys. Barry Windham. I like all them people. Nikita Koloff. F*ck yeah. I seen all them guys today at the f*cking thing [Starrcast], you know that?
I turned my back, I had JJ Dillon and Barry Windham behind me. I look in the front, I got Greg Valentine, Brutus Beefcake, and you got f*ckin’ Shane Douglas next to me. They’re all f*ckin’ veterans, man. It’s dope. And I’m around them. That’s awesome.
I mean, you’re pretty veteran…
I’ve been going for twenty years. But, you know, them guys been doing it longer, man, and I respect the business and it’s cool to be around them guys. I feel like I done something, you know what I mean?
It seems like the wrestling business has changed a lot since you started. What do you think is the biggest thing that’s changed that you’ve seen?
What, since I started and now?
A lot’s changed. The style of wrestling’s changed. The fans have changed. The business as a whole has changed. What’s awesome is every show I do the f*cking fans are great, freaking out every state I go to. I travel the f*cking country – it’s what I do – and everywhere I go the fans are awesome. Before it’d be, oh, you might have to draw it out of them, but now it’s great everywhere I go, so I guess the crowds.
It seems like fans connect with you in a really positive way.
Why do you think fans connect with you so much?
I don’t know, man. Maybe I’m just true to who I am. I’m an honest guy. I come from the heart. I think they see how much I enjoy this. At shows, I come out there and hug them motherf*ckers and say, “You’re the reason why I do it.” That’s the honest truth. That’s the way I feel. I speak what I feel. I think they gravitate toward that. Maybe they see that I didn’t give up when I got locked up. Could’ve quit, threw the towel in. Did the total opposite. Maybe they connect with that stuff, stories like that.
Listen, I was doing that Q&A today and I said it on the mic today. Some of them fans that came up, especially if they were females, spoke to me, said some shit that was inspirational to me, and it made me realize, I’m glad I do what I do. I’m glad I get up early and get on a plane to go to this bumblef*ck town and tear it up. I’m glad I do that…
Did you ever think about, especially when – I don’t know how much you want to –
Go ahead, go ahead, it’s cool.
You mentioned you were in jail. Did you always know you were going to go back to wrestling when you got out?
Absolutely. I started training right away to go back. Yeah, it’s what I do. What I didn’t know was all the support I got. I didn’t know how popular I was ’til I went away. Then I seen all these fan mail and everything like that sent to me and it told me to keep my head up and shit like that. That shit meant a lot to me. I didn’t know that. That was cool. I figured that out.
Did you think it might hurt your career when you got –
What, going away?
Yeah, when you came back?
I didn’t care at that point, you know? Clearly, something was going on. I didn’t give a f*ck. But clearly it didn’t hurt my career; it only helped it.
Yeah. Dope, right?… I think that’s because I f*cking came out and f*cking tore it up. As soon as I came out I went right into f*cking wrestling. No time off.
You and Joey Janela have been kind of the figureheads of GCW as it’s kind of blown up the past couple years.
Yes, GCW’s on fire right now.
Yeah, why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I guess I would say the matchups are unique. I think the style of wrestling is pretty cool. I think we give them a little bit of everything, and everything that them people do, they do it very well. We got lucky with the workers we got in the locker room. The guys are f*ckin’ great, and, uh, I don’t know.
I do know that f*ckin’ I’ve been the champ for five hundred-some days. That’s pretty cool. You know why? Because I go out there and the f*cking fans cheer me and freak the f*ck out. That’s why. That’s why I’m the champion.
You guys have Tournament of Survival coming up.
Yeah. Is there anybody you’re really excited about in that?
Uh, G-Raver. I got him in the first round. I never worked him before.
Yeah, it’s my first time. He’s been on fire, so. I like getting in with the guys who are doing the best right now. It makes me feel like I’m still there and doing it, you know? I’ve been doing it so long, so when I get there with guys who are tearing it up and I can hang with them. So definitely G-Raver. And any time you get in there with the Japanese guys, they’re f*ckin’ machines. They just keep going. You can put them through anything and they just get up and keep going, so that’s cool.
So GCW’s going to Japan.
Yeah, we’re doing a show there.
Do you know – are you going?
Now, I am going. I do not know if the country will let me in, but I will be going, and we’ll see if I get in or not. If I get in, it’s on… It is what it is. You gotta try it… It’s pretty dope that we’re doing our own show there. It’s not attached to or tagging along with a company or something like that. It’s GCW in Japan, doing our own show. That’s pretty cool, man.
In any other company, out of people you haven’t worked with yet, is there anyone you really want to work with?
I don’t know. I get that question asked a lot and I never answer it. I don’t know why. I’ll work with anybody that’s good. I don’t really have a person I really want to work with. Just good people. That’s it.
With WWE hiring a lot of people off the indies and now AEW’s a company, people say the indies are dead. Are you worried at all about the state of the indies?
Not at all… I’m on the indies every f*cking day. That’s pretty good to me. All the shows I’m on are pretty awesome. I was at AIW in Cleveland and they f*cking drew a packed house, probably like four, five hundred people. People on the balcony and shit. I don’t know, man, I’m on a lot of indie shows and they’re drawing, so. There’s always going to be talent. If you snag up talent, there’s going to be more talent. I don’t know. I don’t think so, right? What do you think?
I don’t know, it seems like –
A man in a baseball hat walks up to Gage and gives him another joint.
That’s my boy. I love this motherf*cker.
They hug and exchange a few words and the man leaves. It’s hard to guess the nature of their relationship. With most wrestlers, I would think an interaction like this was with someone they knew out of character, in their personal or professional life. But after seeing how Gage acted with fans at the bar after the show, it seems possible he could have met this man for the first time today.
Do you know that guy, or is he a fan from the show?
I mean, yeah, he’s a fan from the show, but I know him, so every time I see him, it’s f*ckin’ – I don’t know, I look at them as my friends and shit. I don’t really look at them as, like, fans.
Another man who was at the show decides to enter the conversation.
Man: Oh, here’s a question. What happened to the pizza cutter? You didn’t bring it yesterday or today.
Gage: Nah, Dewey keeps it, man. I don’t have a pizza cutter.
Man: Oh, that’s why!
Gage: So when I go to shows without Dewey I don’t have a pizza cutter. If a fan has one, that’s the only time I use it.
Man: We were thinking of buying you one, but then we were like, “They wouldn’t have let us in with one.” Sorry about that. Next time.
Gage: Next time… It’s because of Dewey. Dewey. That’s the god honest truth.
Man: Oh, and one more question. You used to come out to Fight, right? By Little Crazy?
Gage: Yeah. Oh, you remember that.
Man: I remember that. Dude, I remember that shit… and then it was, like, your own version, right?
Gage: Yeah, I had the live version.
Man: Live version. That’s what it was. I was like, “He’s coming out to Sabu’s song.”
Gage: Sabu’s shit, yeah. Respect to Sabu.
Man: We’re talking like twenty years ago.
Gage: Dude’s awesome.
Man: He killed it at the Impact show. I was there.
Gage: So good, man. He’s still going with a new hip, tearing it up. Love Sabu, man. Sabu’s the best. That’s a f*cking veteran right there. Awesome.
Man: Hope to see you at the 5150 show, the Homicide show.
Gage: I’m gonna be there.
Man: Oh, you’re going to be there!
Gage: Absolutely. F*ckin’ Homicide show. There’s no way I’d miss it.
The man’s rideshare arrives. He says goodbye to Gage and leaves.
Gage: What else you got? You got any more?
Yeah, I think I do have some more… You worked with Jon Moxley in the past. He’s back now… Did you see any of the stuff today? What do you think about his return, or his leaving WWE?
Whatever he wants to do, as long as he’s happy… Yeah, it’s cool. It’s pretty dope.
Do you think he might show up in GCW?
I don’t know. We’ll find out, right? I have no clue. That’d be cool if he did, right?
Yeah, I think everybody wants him to show up there.
Why wouldn’t he want to come here?
Gage talks to a few more fans and takes a picture with one. Jimmy Lloyd, another GCW wrestler who was on the Suburban Fight show, walks up. Gage encouragingly mentions the chants Lloyd received from the audience during his match that night. Lloyd walks away to talk to someone else.
Oh, I have one more question.
Alright, let’s see what it is.
Yesterday at Starrcast I saw you were wearing like a W*ING shirt.
Yeah, the Mr. Pogo shirt.
Yeah, and [previously] I saw you wearing, I think, a Basara shirt, the DDT thing?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So I’m wondering, do people give you a lot of shirts, or –
Yeah, people I work with give them to me. A lot of wrestling shirts, usually another person gives me a shirt, and I wear it for support. That’s it. I’m a fan of Pogo. The f*ckin’ drill, remember that? When he took a drill to the dude’s head?… He’s a legend.
What wrestling do you watch currently, if you watching wrestling currently? I don’t know if you watch it.
I don’t watch it.
You don’t watch any wrestling currently?
No, not right now, no. At this moment I don’t. But I like Japanese wrestling stuff. That’s cool. Hell yeah. But I don’t watch any of that shit. Two months ago, I was probably watching it though.
Why did you stop watching it?
I don’t know. I get tired of wrestling.
Another man standing outside the venue chimes in, saying that he’d guess it’s “draining” to keep up with wrestling “if you’re in it.”
I don’t watch any of my matches…
What were you watching two months ago? What type of stuff?
Stone Cold Steve Austin stuff.
You’re kind of like the Stone Cold Steve Austin of the indies.
Gage scoffs and shakes his head.
A little bit! Somebody could say that!
That dude is a good-ass worker. Better than I am. But I’ll take that f*cking crowd freaking out like that all day. Man. They make me want to keep doing this when they freak out like that, you know what I mean?