Dark carnival: Insane Clown Posse brings JCW wrestling to ToledoWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
Before almost anything else, their bond was through wrestling.
When young Joseph Bruce first began hanging out with Joseph Utsler in the 1980s in Metro Detroit, their first common passion wasn’t the bombastic, controversial hip-hop that would make them — or, rather, their face-painted alter egos the Insane Clown Posse — famous.
Before beginning their famous dark carnival, what united Bruce and Utsler was the classic mat wars of the 1980s. Before they painted their faces to take the stage as musicians, they wrestled each other in their backyards. Before they commanded the loyalty of thousands of “Juggalos” — the fervent fans who fill venues and attend ICP’s annual Gathering of the Juggalos every summer — the pair were enthralled by the battles of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and, especially, the Ultimate Warrior.
“Wrestling influenced our hip-hop,” said Bruce — now much better known as Violent J — in an interview with Toledo Free Press. “That’s why we wear the face paint. The Ultimate Warrior influenced us our entire life.”
Jim Hellwig — the late wrestler who legally changed his name to “Warrior” following his famous run in the then-WWF World Wrestling Federation now World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)— had a monumental influence on what ICP became, Violent J said. Not just in performance, but in real life.
“He said something in his [WWE] Hall of Fame speech. People wondered why he named himself ‘Warrior.’ Hellwig said, ‘If a big company can use the Ultimate Warrior image to sell T-shirts, and to put people in seats, and all that stuff, why can’t he use it in his personal life to achieve greatness?’
“And that sort of made sense to me, because that’s what me and my brother did,” Violent J said. “Whenever there was a feat that we had to do, when we didn’t feel like doing it, when we were tired and burnt out or whatever, my brother would always say to me, ‘Ultimate Warrior!’ You know what I mean? Like, you know, man up and get through it. … And we grew up doing that, we grew up using that term.”
Thumbtacks and barbed wire
Even as ICP marks nearly a quarter century of hip-hop mayhem, they have never left their passion for the grappling game behind. J and Utsler — now known as Shaggy 2 Dope — have sporadically run their own wrestling promotion, Juggalo Championship Wrestling (JCW), for the past 15 years. The latest JCW tour will make a stop in the Glass City on May 4 at Headliners.
“We’re into storyline wrestling, you know?” Violent J said, describing JCW’s approach to the sport. “It’s sort of old-school, back to the day when everyone had a character. When you had a Kamala, you had a bunch of guys who were hillbillies and you had a bunch of guys who were this and that. And that’s what our wrestling is like — it’s character-driven.
“It’s not so much like [what] today’s locker rooms look like, which is like a bunch of male underwear models. … It’s more or less old-school wrestling, [that] is what JCW is. And that’s pretty much — you can expect to see some blood, too, some brutalness, some thumbtacks, some barbed wire, things like that.”
ICP has never cared that much about what the “mainstream” thinks about them, whether that be mainstream music fans or hardcore WWE devotees. Their local collaborators, though, say ICP is good to work with.
“We’ve never had any problems with them. It’s always been great,” said Broc Curry, president and founder of Innovation Concerts, promoters of the May 4 event. “The last time we had ICP perform live was, I’m going to say, two years ago, probably three years ago now. And it was a great, sold-out show. And the crowd that came out were just happy that they were in town. We heard for weeks leading up to the event, ‘Can the clowns even perform in Toledo? They’re banned from Toledo!’ So that was interesting.
“But literally, as long as you can control the Faygo in the parking lot, they’re just excited that everybody can be there as a group.”
J and Shaggy will not perform — either as musicians or wrestlers — at the May 4 show. Their role, fittingly, will be as ringmasters, hosting the event, announcing the matches and introducing others from their label Psychopathic Records. But working on JCW always feels like a return to home for ICP. In fact, that’s usually where work on a new installment of their crazy wrestling roadshow begins — back in their home state of Michigan.
“When we’re going to be home, when we’re home for eight months in a row, that’s when we bring it back. And we start doing shows around Detroit, or we bring it out on tour, or we do it every two weeks — we run like a TV thing on the Internet, a little Internet show,” J said.
Wrestling is always a passion project for ICP. In their primary/main realm, two platinum records, over 6 million albums sold and thousands of devotees, J makes it clear that JCW must always come second to their musical career, and their devotion to hip-hop helps contribute to the unique structure of their wrestling product.
“We’re unlike any other company in the sense that we go away for a while, and then when we do come back, we start all over again. Like, all the storylines are different and everything. But it’s the same maybe six or seven key characters and then new characters every time we come back.
“It would be different if we had nationwide TV, but we don’t. Music is our No. 1, you know what I mean?”
Road to the Gathering
Despite their commitment to music, Violent J is more than just an enthusiastic amateur in the wrestling game. He actually toured with independent companies for a while in the early 1990s before Insane Clown Posse was born. After achieving international fame with Shaggy 2 Dope — and making appearances on numerous national wrestling shows — the pair decided to put their own footprint on the business they loved.
The early days of the promotion were marked by the group’s cheerful vulgarity. The initial name was “Juggalo Champions*** Wrestling.” J and Shaggy would headline shows as a tag team, do their own ironic commentary and book former national talents and make fun of them. Nowadays, the shows are more structured, with storylines building to a big event — the eighth annual Bloodymania event taking place July 23-26 Gathering of the Juggalos in Thornville, Ohio.
“It’s the night for all of our JCW stars to really shine, because we either put them in big matches, or they wrestle big stars from the outside. And so it’s cool, you know? Bloodymania is a really good time. And a lot of our stars don’t get to be on Bloodymania, because we fill Bloodymania up with a lot of stars, a lot of big names come in for Bloodymania, and that means a lot of our guys don’t get to make the card.”
Every show on this tour is built on the idea of talents “earning” a spot on Bloodymania, including the Headliners stop. Toledo has always had a strong connection to the ICP movement — the city was actually home to the second Gathering of the Juggalos in 2001, though the event had to be cut short when hundreds of fans rushed the stage during ICP’s performance.
“Since ICP started, they were playing shows here in Toledo — playing at the Main Event back in the day, and then the Asylum when that came,” Curry said. “And as the group built a following, Toledo was kind of ground zero for the whole Juggalo and Psychopathic movement.”
“We did a JCW show in Toledo a few years ago, and to be totally honest with you, the crowd wasn’t that hot. It wasn’t a very good draw. So we’ll have to see what’s going to happen,” Violent J said. “When it’s just JCW and not ICP performing a concert, it’s different. It’s just wrestling.
“In the early days, JCW used to do really good — a lot of people used to come out because they didn’t know what to expect, you know? But now people know that if it’s JCW, if it’s booked as JCW, it’s just going to be JCW. So the only people that come out are the fans of JCW. So we’ll have to see. Because we go to other cities, it’s really hot. We’ll have to see what happens.”
“The guys just really love wrestling. This is like a labor of love for them,” Curry said. “It costs them a lot of money to bring the show to town. And when we were originally talking about it, I was saying, you know, I was trying to discuss ticket prices. And I was saying, ‘Eh, maybe we should go a little higher.’ And they were very adamant in keeping the ticket at $12 advance, $15 for the [day of the] show — just super-cheap, considering all the expense that goes into it for those guys.”
Whether JCW sells out Headliners or not, it’s clear that Violent J has no intention of giving up on his devotion to the mat game any time soon. You can sense the joy of the little kid who grew up on wrestling in every word as he speaks of his little promotion that could. And no matter how much success he has found in the hip-hop game, it’s plain that JCW scratches an itch that music simply can’t.
“It just is my home plate, man. It’s my home, it’s my safety — my safety blanket, you know what I’m saying? Like, it’s been there my whole life, it’s been there since I was a little, little kid,” J said. “It’s what me and Shaggy always loved, and what everyone here always loved. My brother, Billy, all the people who run Psychopathic Records — we all love wrestling.
“It’s the only thing that we really, really still love that never changes. It’s like, we come home and just gravitate back toward it, you know what I mean? It’s always in your blood, too. You can say, ‘Oh, today’s wresting ain’t nothing like the old days.’ Well, that may not be, but it’s still awesome, man.”
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