Written by Sam Prager
Photographed by Marcus Menefee
Since being rebranded as 901 Wrestling in January of 2019, Chris Thompson and his roster of wrestlers have been on a mission to bring Memphis wrestling back to prominence.
Hundreds of fans flock to the Rec Room where the organization hosts matches every other Saturday. The first round typically starts at 8 p.m., but the bleachers are usually full by then. The crowd is adorned in merchandise from their favorite local wrestlers and roars when anyone steps into the ring.
You won’t see Thompson at 901 Wrestling events, or at least you wouldn’t know if you did. He is the man behind the curtain, the ‘Wizard of 901 Wrestling.’
“Memphis was the Mecca for professional wrestling – people around the world watched us,” says Thompson. “For as long as I can remember I watched Saturday morning wrestling with my grandfather every week.”
When Thompson’s grandfather passed away, he shifted gears.
“I wanted to become a professional wrestler, so I started lifting weights. That didn’t really work out – I ripped my shoulder all to pieces, life happened, three to five kids later,” says Thompson. “But, I had an opportunity to get trained, even though I was much older than you probably should be. I went through training and started working different shows in Tennessee and Mississippi. I didn’t quite get what they were doing, they didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Thompson got his start in the wrestling industry five-years ago at a company called UCPWS (Ultimate Championship Pro Wrestling Staff) in Holly Springs, Mississippi, but his goal was always to put together something in Memphis.
“It’s in the DNA of this city and there’s only a couple of things that are imbedded into Memphis: basketball, BBQ, music and wrestling. Those things are ingrained, whether the people know it or not,” says Thompson. “Wrestling is something that’s going to happen here regardless of who's doing it, but you have to try to do it with care. My mission is to bring this caliber of wrestling back to prominence in this city.”
UCPWS began putting on shows at the Rec Room in 2018 and after a few months they started to gain some traction. Within the first year, the organization became the first and only wrestling association to ever be featured on the front cover of the Commercial Appeal, according to Thompson.
The organization continued to grow in popularity and attendance, and in January of 2019 UCPWS changed their name to 901 Wrestling to better honor Memphis’ wrestling legacy.
“Once I saw that’s what people wanted, I knew it was time to get serious. I had been sitting on the 901 wrestling name since 2017, but we didn’t switch it until 2019 when I felt like it was time. We switched over to 901 Wrestling to pay homage to exactly what we were doing, which is Memphis wrestling. It’s also just way easier to say than ‘Ultimate Championship Pro Wrestling Staff,’” laughs Thompson.
But most of all, the wrestling is about the magic he explains. He says the energy he feels now and that the crowd feels, is the same that he felt as a child watching wrestling on Saturday mornings.
“People want something that they can go to and forget about the outside world for a couple of hours. They need magic...” he pauses. “ And wrestling is magic. People need wrestling. There’s very few forms of that type of magic out there anymore. You can kinda get it with movies. You can go to concerts and get it sometimes. But, to go somewhere and forget about the outside world for two hours and then want more once it’s done, there’s not a whole lot of that.”
901 Wrestling currently has a roster of about 20 wrestlers, consisting of a wide array of characters ranging from everymen to egomaniacs, little guys to monstrous men, heroes to villains, and princes to paupers. There is somebody for everybody at 901 Wrestling.
The King of Memphis
“I’m pretty much the most famous, most prominent athlete to ever come out of the city of Memphis. I have a better jump shot than Penny Hardaway, I move my hips better than Elvis, I cook better chicken than Gus, I am the King of Memphis."
Hunter Havoc is the biggest of the big-men at 901 Wrestling.
However, the “King of Memphis”’ confidence surely outweighs his massive frame. The former highschool athlete’s love for wrestling began when his father took him to the Pyramid for a WWF match. It was there a five-year-old Havoc would get a glimpse at wrestling’s famed supernatural champion, The Undertaker.
“They cut the lights out, and I was terrified,” says Havoc. “Like I started crying, my dad had to console me, but I was hooked.”
Now Havoc’s not so scared.
“I could definitely take him now. For sure, I could take anybody. I’m the best, ever,” boasts Havoc.
But the big man’s journey into wrestling had its obstacles.
“I was an all-state, four-year in a row, 5A offensive lineman in high school, probably one of the best offensive linemen that ever played the game of football all throughout high school. Senior year, I fractured my ankle—just completely crushed it—so I ended up not playing division one college. I was supposed to go to Austin Peay on a full scholarship to play D1 football. After that, I got into MMA / jujitsu, I did that for a little while, trained a little bit. I had one amateur fight and completely ruptured my bicep. After that, I decided I was going to get into professional wrestling,” explains Havoc. “I always wanted to wrestle, I just never had the chance. But I went to a local show and they told me about this wrestling academy. So I went, paid my money, and pretty much went out all around the South. I became the biggest star in professional wrestling in the South, the greatest big man to ever live, the greatest big man to ever wrestle and the King of Memphis. I am a seven time world champion. I’ve won heavyweight championships in every state in the South.”
Though Havoc has not won any championships through 901 Wrestling, the heavyweight still attributes the organization’s success to himself.
“I’m pretty much the most famous, most prominent athlete to ever come out of the city of Memphis. I have a better jump shot than Penny Hardaway, I move my hips better than Elvis, I cook better chicken than Gus, I am the King of Memphis. And that’s where we’re at. Since joining 901 Wrestling’s roster, I’ve sold out the Rec Room countless times,” he brags. “They had a couple shows before I was with 901 wrestling, but there wasn’t many people here. When I came to 901 Wrestling, the numbers went through the roof.”
Along with his large stature and bigger-than-life personality, Havoc’s signature style also makes him stick out in the crowd, even among other wrestlers. Havoc is often seen sporting his signature all black ensemble, including body suit, denim vest and a bandanna to hold back his long bleached hair. However, the secret to his ensemble is his white boots.
“I’ll let you in on a secret, man—white makes you look fast,” he smiles.
Havoc explains wrestling is all or nothing, and not for the faint of heart.
“Wrestling means a lot to me, man. Wrestling means…wrestling’s kinda like a way of life. It kinda consumes your life. You wake up, you think about wrestling, you think about things you wanna do, stuff you should’ve done, ways you wanna do moves, new things you wanna try. It just kinda consumes you. You think about it all of the time,” he says. “It’s pretty much life.”
When asked about Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, who shares a similar title with Havoc’s “King of Memphis,” Havoc was unphased.
“Who?? I have no idea who you’re talking about,” the big man smirks.
"There’s no distracting me from my goal, and that’s to come out here and win a wrestling match and put on the best show that I can. Because at the heart of it, not only am I a competitor, I’m a showman. Guilty as charged."
At most 901 Wrestling events you can see the curly-haired Andy Mack bouncing from rope to rope. Though he’s much smaller in stature than many of his colleagues, the self-proclaimed “star of the show” holds the most titles in the organization’s history.
From a young age the Memphis native had a passion for the spotlight, so naturally, the athleticism and glamour of wrestling caught the future star’s eye.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is wrestle. I had a cousin who was a big fan and showed me my first match. I remember thinking, ‘Man I like this. This is cool.’ Growing up, I played a lot of sports: baseball, basketball, football. I even have a black belt.I got a lot of stuff going on for me. The only problem is I kinda have this thing where I really like the spotlight. I’m a little bit of an attention hog. Coaches and instructors don’t like that type, no matter how good you are at the sport,” explains Mack. “But I found a love for professional wrestling from an early age. Not only the athleticism and competition, but the pageantry of it all really just fit my personality. It seemed like a perfect fit. When I turned 19, I started asking around and eventually I bothered enough people to get trained. It was kinda like putting on a glove, everything just kinda fit.”
From early on in his career, Mack’s popularity soared as he became one of the organization’s most bankable wrestlers. However, humility, nor modesty are in the wrestler’s vocabulary.
“They chant my name before my music ever hits. There’s a little pressure being the star, but I like pressure. There’s a moment before you hit the curtain where you get a little bit jumpy, but for me, as soon as I hit the curtain, it’s game time. There’s no distracting me from my goal, and that’s to come out here and win a wrestling match and put on the best show that I can. Because at the heart of it, not only am I a competitor, I’m a showman. Guilty as charged. It’s cost me before, but what are you going to do? I’ve got this personality, why not use it? I’m the star of the show, so I got stars on my clothes. This is what it’s all about man. It’s all about Andy,” boasts Mack.
Andy’s accolades include being the first 901 Champion, first two-time 901 Champion, The only Triple Crown Winner, and Rookie of the year in 2017. He is the most decorated champion in 901 Wrestling. Outside of the ring Andy enjoys his stardom as any young wrestler would.
“I like to hit the bar, man. I like to hit the bar. I like to hang out with beautiful women. I like to hit the scene. I like to be out on the town. I like to dress nice. That’s one of my big things, I’m into my dressing, I like my clothes, like my shoes you know. I just try to live it up all I can, man. I’m enjoying life, I’m young. I’m going to be young while I’m young. That’s kinda the idea,” says Mack.”
“Memphis is the Mecca for wrestling. There’s a lot of people around trying to pretend to do wrestling. 901 Wrestling is the only wrestling that matters in this city, and it’s proven by the crowds we have every single time.”
Jusin “Big Swole” Cole was one of the most popular wrestlers on the 901 Wrestling roster before he was wrongfully suspended from the organization. However, his wrestling journey started on a couch three decades ago.
“I remember us getting a pay-per-view at the house and watching Wrestlemania V around 1989. It was just... larger than life. All the characters, how big everything seemed. They weren’t people to me, they were just... larger than life. You never see anybody like that around,” says Cole.
Eventually, Cole’s job would lead him to Kansas City, where a chance meeting would finally bring him into the world of professional wrestling.
“I was a SWAT officer working in Kansas City for ten years. I was working-out there and met a guy that ran a wrestling school in St. Josephs, Missouri. Every day I was off, I was putting up rings and training. I worked every weekend, so I didn’t get to work any of the shows. I was just so committed to it, I was there every day putting up the rings, cleaning out the rings, helping the guys get ready for matches,” says Cole.
Eventually, Cole’s dream was realized when he began wrestling himself. Upon moving back to Memphis he joined 901 Wrestling’s roster and won a 901 Championship. However, his dream came crashing down when 901 Wrestling manager Tommy Jax sabotaged the champion.
“I was running through everybody. I had beaten Tommy Jax’s head man, Chris Ward, several times with ease, but as we were beginning a match, from what I was told, Tommy Jax put something in my shaker cup. When I drank it, I got dizzy and fell backwards. Chris Ward fell on top of me and pinned me while I was knocked out. I was rushed out in an ambulance. Andy Mack helped me. When I came back to the next show for my rematch, I found out I had been suspended. Tommy Jax said that I had banned substances in my drink, but he had to have put something in there.”
During his suspension, a mysterious masked wrestler by the name of Stars & Stripes appeared and defeated many of Cole’s previous enemies.
“He’s a pretty badass guy. Pretty swole. He drinks Budweiser regularly,” Cole laughs.
However, thanks to detective work from his friend Andy Mack, it seems Cole’s reputation will hopefully be cleared.
Throughout his suspension, Cole has been training and plotting his revenge.
“I’m lifting weights, drinking protein shakes, training. That’s it,” says Cole.
Even through his ups and downs, Cole says 901 Wrestling is the only Memphis wrestling that matters.
“Memphis is the Mecca for wrestling. There’s a lot of people around trying to pretend to do wrestling. 901 Wrestling is the only wrestling that matters in this city, and it’s proven by the crowds we have every single time,” says Cole.
The Emperor of Asia
“Well, it seems that I come off as a narcissistic egomaniac, but I don’t see me that way. I’m more of a hero to these people, whether they like it or not. As the saying goes, ‘The hero that we need but don’t deserve.’”
“The Emperor of Asia,” Ken Dang is one of the most polarizing figures on 901 Wrestling’s roster. Currently Dang holds the 1819 Championship, which was dedicated to Memphis’ bicentennial, and he’s not planning on losing it any time soon, or at least not for the next thousand years he says.
Dang’s journey starts far away from Memphis in the distant land of Vietnam, where the future “Emperor” was born. As a child, Dang’s family moved to Memphis, and by chance, the young Dang caught a glimpse of wrestling through a neighbor’s window
“I was from Vietnam, but my family moved to Memphis. My first memory of wrestling was watching a family who was watching wrestling as I watched from outside, because we didn’t have a TV at home at that time. One day, I saw a neighbor that was watching TV as their window was open, and I saw a couple of matches. I would hide and watch until they just shooed me away,” Dang chuckles.
Confusingly, Dang recounts his family’s royal lineage and his inheritance of the “Emperor” title.
“You see, not too long ago—as I say ‘before emperor,’ before I became the emperor—I started off with my family. Soon enough my family gained fortune, and as my father stepped down from being the emperor, now he’s just known as the ‘father of the emperor.’ Then pretty soon I just gained who I am—the 'emperor,’” explains Dang. “Wrestling means everything: pride, honor, tradition.”
Dang’s character is often regarded as one of the organization’s main villains, however, the emperor doesn’t see it that way.
“Well, it seems that I come off as a narcissistic egomaniac, but I don’t see me that way. I’m more of a hero to these people, whether they like it or not,” Dang grins. “As the saying goes, ‘The hero that we need but don’t deserve.’”
Dang’s primary goal is to continue being the 1819 Champion “throughout a thousand years and nothing more.” However, he does have some plans for the city of Memphis.
“I want to bring Memphis back to tradition, but evolving it at the same time. Like bringing the passion back but also bringing in a whole new level and era of wrestling,” says Dang. “It’s simple as this – I am the ‘One’ of 901, the Emperor of Asia and the greatest 1819 Champion ever. There’s nothing more to be said.”
“I am the greatest manager to hit the MidSouth in the past 20 years. I’m known from coast to coast like butter and toast. Imitated by the rest because I am the best. The best around because I brought Memphis wrestling back to this town. I am Mr. 901, the voice, Tommy Jax.”
Tommy Jax is the manager of 901 Wrestling and the arch rival to many of the organization’s most popular wrestlers.
As wrestler Andy Mack puts it, “He’s a liar and a cheater. He could tell me he was lying and I still wouldn’t believe him!”
But according to Jax, there would be no 901 wrestling without him.
“I am the greatest manager to hit the MidSouth in the past 20 years. I’m known from coast to coast like butter and toast. Imitated by the rest because I am the best. The best around because I brought Memphis wrestling back to this town. I am Mr. 901, the voice, Tommy Jax,” he boasts.
Jax’s day-to-day life revolves around wrestling, though it's rare for him to partake in matches.
When asked about what he does for his clients, he laughs, “What does a manager not do for a wrestler? I mean anything from looking at their matches, making sure it’s the right matchup, handling their books. Anything that they need, I’m taking care of it.”
Despite being a self-proclaimed ‘nice guy,’ Jax has his enemies. Wrestlers Andy Mack, Justin Cole and Hunter Havoc have been gunning for Jax for several years now, for reasons unbeknownst to Jax.
“I’m what’s considered a really straight up guy, and never had an issue with mismanagement or money or anything,” he shrugs.
He explains his introduction into wrestling as purely business, he saw an opportunity and took it.
“I took one look at the landscape of wrestling around here, and realized that there really weren’t any good managers. You’ve got some managers, but most of them are just a fifth ring-post. They do nothing for their clients,” explains Jax. “Me, on the other hand, I’m the best manager that’s come through this territory since Jimmy Hart. I saw an opportunity. I jumped on it. Now here I am, the greatest manager around.”