Long before Dean Ambrose was battering his opponent with weapons inside a steel cage on the main event of a WWE pay-per-view, he was doing much the same in Combat Zone Wrestling.
In fact, many of pro wrestling's biggest stars cut their teeth -- and their flesh -- in the Philadelphia-based promotion with a penchant for violence. Ambrose and fellow WWE performers Luke Harper and Cesaro all came through CZW since it was founded in 1999. But there's one place CZW has never been through -- New York.
That changes on Saturday night when CZW makes it New York debut at the NYWC Sportatorium at 435-13 Brook Avenue in Deer Park. Tickets for "Cerebral" are $20 and available on CZW's web site.
"This is a huge show for us," said CZW owner and veteran wrestler DJ Hyde, who will take on Drew Gulak on the show. "When people walk out of there, they need to be saying, 'Yo, that was crazy.' I want them talking about how that show was different than anything they've ever seen."
A key to getting that reaction likely will be the night's main event -- a "no-rope barbed wire match" between CZW champ Sozio and Biff Busick. The match promises to deliver on CZW's reputation for the hardest of hardcore wrestling.
For 15 years, CZW has promoted some of the most extreme matches in wrestling, featuring the liberal use of glass light tubes, tables, thumbtacks and even fire. Mainstream America got a taste of CZW's brand of gore in the Oscar-nominated 208 film "The Wrestler," which featured Mickey Rourke getting staples driven into his back by CZW legend The Necro Butcher.
Hyde said CZW has in recent years stepped back a little from the blood-and-guts style that put the company on the map, and is now more of the "Baskin Robins of professional wrestling," providing different matches to suit every fan's taste. But, Hyde says, CZW isn't abandoning its calling card, altogether.
"That's something we do, and we do it better than anybody else," said Hyde, who has competed in CZW's most notoriously violent match, the Cage of Death. "[There are] people who call it barbaric or crazy. This is an art form. It's no different than jazz or painting."
Despite some of the horrifying visuals that have come out of CZW's wildest matches, Hyde ensures the company takes steps to protect its performers, including having two emergency medical technicians on staff and doctors at every event.
"There are ways to do things that I don't want to expose to the public. But it's just like when you see guys taking bumps -- they're trained. There are ways not to get hurt," Hyde said. "There's still a huge market for this."
At its foundation, Hyde said, CZW is about telling compelling stories through wrestling matches -- much like its most celebrated graduate, Ambrose, continues to do in WWE. Hyde said he knew Ambrose, who previously wrestled as John Moxley, was "the complete package" right after meeting him years ago. Within days of his CZW debut, Hyde made the call to make him the company's heavyweight champion.
"John was creative. He could do hardcore. He could talk . . . And he stood out," Hyde said. "The way you see him acting on WWE TV -- crazy, stupid, insane -- that's just how he is. He's been that way forever."