Outside the wrestling ring, Kelsey Raegan keeps the blood and violence to a minimum.
No headlocks. No body slams. No kicks to the face.
“In real life,” Raegan says, “I’m really, really sweet.”
Then she steps into the ring with a crown of fake snakes on her head and an evil smile on her lips. That’s where everything changes.
In the ring, she calls herself the Man Made Monstress.
And she’s there to bring the pain.
“Immediately, when I go through those curtains, I change,” the Cocoa Beach wrestler says. “I’m larger than life and I just turn into another person. …
“It is me. Everyone has a darker side to them, you know. And that is where I can let it loose and maybe take a little bit of my angers and frustrations out.”
Fans of Fort Myers’ REAL Pro Wrestling know all about Raegan’s dark side. She’s the wrestling promotion’s current women’s champion and one of many larger-than-life personalities who battle it out at events throughout Southwest Florida.
It’s all about the characters, the theatrics and just plain having fun, says REAL Pro owner and wrestler Zachary Blount, who performs as the horror-themed Zack Monstar (aka “The Human Horror Show”).
“We’re here for a good time, man,” Blount says. “We’re not here for a long time. Most matches only get 15 minutes. So you have 15 minutes to go out there and have a blast.”
REAL Pro has been doing just that for six years in Fort Myers. It celebrates its anniversary Saturday with a special show at Crowne Plaza hotel at Bell Tower Shops. Then they’ll be back the following weekend for the SW-FloridaCon pop-culture convention.
REAL Pro shows can be packed with as many as 300-400 fans in the audience, and Crowne Plaza banquet manager Billy Yetter is often watching the colorful fights, too. He loves the storylines, the characters — good guys (“babyfaces”) versus bad guys (“heels”) — and the over-the-top tag teams, rumbles and other fights.
“It’s real similar to what you would see on TV,” he says. “They put on a show. It’s a good time.”
Most people think “wrestling” and they think “WWE.” But independent wrestling is a whole different animal, Blount says.
The wrestlers are scrappier and their characters are crazier. The fights can get more down and dirty, including occasional “hardcore” shows where wrestlers actually make each other bleed onstage.
And most importantly, the wrestlers are completely independent. They come up with their own characters and storylines and get to experiment onstage.
“It’s creative freedom,” says rising wrestling star Budd Heavy, who will perform at both Crowne Plaza shows. “You get to see them (the wrestlers) more as who they are. Because when you go to the WWE, you’re what they want you to be. And that’s understandable. It’s their business.”
There’s also more passion in the ring, Heavy says.
“You really get to see a lot of hungry wrestlers,” he says. “Nobody’s complacent on the indies. Everybody’s trying to earn it.
“So that’s the really cool thing about it. You see a different breed of wrestlers on the independents. A lot of younger kids. A lot of crazier people (laughs), for lack of a better term. A lot more characters. It’s really different.”
Most of those wrestlers, of course, want to make a name for themselves and eventually move up to the WWE or other major wrestling companies. That’s why Florida is packed with independent wrestling promotions like REAL Pro and wrestlers who travel from city to city. They’re all hoping for their shot at stardom in a state that’s home to both Jacksonville’s All Elite Wrestling and Orlando’s WWE Performance Center training facility.
Blount wants to give independent wrestlers a platform for doing what they love, being themselves and perhaps launching their career with the majors. But it’s a competitive business, and he says he never promises anybody that they’ll make it big.
It just doesn’t work that way.
“All I can do is provide a platform for you to be able to practice, hone your skills, get a tape out there and maybe — just maybe — that tape will fall into the right hands and it’ll come across the right eyes,” he says. “And it can lead to cooler stuff, you know.”
Blount has been wrestling for 14 years, starting with independent Fort Myers company New Era Wrestling. When New Era folded in 2015, he and some friends decided to strike out on their own and form REAL Pro Wrestling (REAL is an acronym for “Real Entertainment At Last”).
“I was so invested in wrestling at that point in time,” Blount says. “I said, ‘I’m not willing to let this go.’”
It wasn’t an easy start, he admits. They had to rent the ring. They had to find a venue. And they needed to build a roster of wrestlers — some of whom drive for two or three hours from across Florida.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Blount says. “None. I had no idea.”
Things have changes a lot since then. They have their own ring now. They perform at lots of venues, including Crowne Plaza, the Collier County Fair and the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center. And their shows often stream on national wrestling website FITE.
“I never would’ve thought, six years ago, that we were gonna end up on FITE TV,” Blount says. “But now we’re on FITE TV. And we have wrestlers who are on TV on AEW (All Elite Wrestling) and stuff like that who are like, ‘Hey man, I would love to come work for you.’ It’s insane to me.”
Wrestlers like Raegan and Heavy say they’re grateful for REAL Pro and other independent wrestling companies. They let them be themselves in the ring and do what they love.
Raegan — a former gymnast and competitive cheerleader— has known since childhood that she wanted to be an entertainer. Wrestling seemed like a natural progression.
“It’s really similar to dance and gymnastics in general,” she says. “Because the match is basically a dance. It’s all scripted.
“You’re basically going through a violent dance with your partner. That is what it is: It’s murder gymnastics.”
Heavy — who also wrestles with New York-based Major League Wrestling — loves that he can do pretty much whatever he wants with REAL Pro. He calls his character an “angry monster.” But not all wrestling promotions let him be as mean and nasty as he wants to be.
“At REAL Pro, they really let me lean into the meaner side,” says the Riverview, Florida, resident. “He’s just a party animal, man. He likes to drink beer a lot and likes to fight and drop people on their heads (laughs).”
There aren’t any big-name wrestlers at REAL Pro, Blount says. And that’s just the way he likes it.
Those WWE stars have already had their moment in the spotlight.
“That’s not why we do this,” he says. “They had their time. They had their time to shine. We just wanted to create our own little misfit island.”
It’s an island full of crazy characters and oversized personalities — a special place where everyone loves what they do and gives 100 percent in the ring.
That’s been the secret to REAL Pro’s success, right from the start, Blount says.
“We wanted you to believe in us the way that we believed in ourselves,” he says. “And that was like the driving force for the past six years.
“We have something to prove, and to this day we still have something to prove. We’re hungry.”
Attendance varies at REAL Pro shows. Sometimes there are only 150 people or so, Blount says. Sometimes they are 300 or more.
But Blount makes this promise to wrestling fans: Crowd size doesn’t matter. Not with REAL Pro.
And no matter what, you can count on this one thing: You’re gonna have a blast.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s 50 people or 50,000 people,” Blount says. “You’re gonna get the exact same energy and show from us. Because you’re there for an experience.
“You’re there to have fun. So we’re gonna make sure you have fun.”
Connect with this reporter: Email [email protected] or connect on social media at Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter) and @crunnells1 (Instagram).
If you go
What: REAL Pro Wrestling’s sixth anniversary show
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21. Bell time is 7 p.m.
Where: Crowne Plaza at Bell Tower Shops, 13051 Bell Tower Drive, south Fort Myers
Tickets: $15-$20 at the door ($5 for kids 10 and younger)
COVID precautions: Temperature checks at the door. Masks are strongly encouraged and will be available at the door. Other CDC guidelines will be followed.
More shows: REAL Pro also performs Sunday, Aug. 29 at SW-FloridaCon pop-culture convention and Saturday, Sept. 18, for a suicide-prevention fundraiser called Stand Up and Fight. Both shows are at Crowne Plaza.