Chris Dickinson isn’t here to compromise who he is in order to find success in professional wrestling. And it’s that passion that has made him one of the biggest names in the indie scene.
Chris Dickinson loves wrestling.
He said so nearly a dozen times when we talked with him in August, and it’s clear when you see the gleam in his eyes in his matches or when he cuts a promo. Loving professional wrestling is what makes Dickinson, Dickinson; it’s why and how he became part of the business and what drives what he does — and doesn’t — do at this point in his career. It’s why he is, and remains, the “Dirty Daddy” (or “Filthy Father,” if you prefer).
The Staten Island native does not mince words in ring when given the microphone and he didn’t when we spent 45 minutes chatting. Dickinson knows who he is, and essentially always has in a pro wrestling sense, though there were also the swerves that made him have to reevaluate where his career could, and should, head.
A high level of passion, a strong sense of self and character and having enough knowledge to know your own worth are hallmarks of a successful independent wrestler, and Dickinson is a prime example of all of it.
Dickinson fell in love with pro wrestling at a young age and realized quickly that it was his calling. “I can’t even tell you when I started watching it, I guess I grew up and it was already there. I wanted to be a pro wrestler as long as I can remember,” Dickinson said of his childhood, and childhood-era wrestlers were where that love began.
It evolved, though, as he explains: “I really loved Hulk Hogan, I really loved Ultimate Warrior, I really loved that era of the WWF, you know, Rick Rude and the Macho Man, and uh Roddy Piper … then I found ECW when I was in like the fourth grade, and I fell in love with Rob Van Dam and Sabu. I started getting to a point where I was like, okay you know, this is what I really want to do with my life, I definitely, absolutely want to do this. So that was a big turning point for me for realizing I really wanted to be a wrestler, was ECW.”
The love for ECW also combined with tape trading, which was how wrestling fans could get access to different promotions around the world by copying or compiling, and then selling or trading, videos of matches to other fans in the pre-YouTube days.
That led Dickinson into All Japan Pro Wrestling, which marks one of the other biggest influences on Dickinson’s career and in-ring style. “I started with the buying the tapes, the Japanese tape trading, and getting into All Japan Pro Wrestling was a big, a big part of developing what I wanted to do as a wrestler, how I wanted to wrestle, my style.”
Another? “The big guys [were] a big part of my influences, like the Road Warriors, the British Bulldogs, that kinda aesthetic and image of what pro wrestling was kind of made me get more into the body building side of it, [I] wanted to get bigger and train and kind of carry on that whole era of wrestling into what I was doing.”
So, a large, violent monster he wanted to be. And thus a large, violent monster he became as a pro wrestler.
But first, training. Dickinson went from backyard wrestling — where so many have gotten their start — to the Jersey All Pro Wrestling school when he was 15 years old. “I started training like in 2002, the end of 2001 and the summer of 2002 I started going consistently for a few years, and I trained mostly at the Jersey All Pro Wrestling school. And then it shut down, they lost their building.”
It was time to get nomadic; “I started moving around because they lost all their buildings, and they would have these wrestling schools in these other buildings for these other small little indie companies in Jersey.” Dickinson started working shows for these smaller promotions when he was 15 and 16 years old, followed by traveling to and training with CHIKARA, based out of the Philadelphia area. It was also when he first realized how to turn himself into who he wanted to be, someone who he essentially is in the ring to this day.
“Like, I go back and watch the backyard wrestling stuff that we were doing and I’m essentially almost exactly the same, I even almost wrestle exactly the same, it’s just a 16 year old version of it, 15 year old version of it. It’s pretty wild seeing how I kind of followed through and evolved into what … I would say, no matter what happens, I was successful because I was so passionate about wrestling and in particular about what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. I had such a clear idea of it when I was that age.”
Dickinson spent a few years with Jersey All Pro Wrestling despite being “really green and young,” paying dues in ways that would not go over well today (“you’d get the s–t kicked out of you”) and mostly served as “the guy who went out and took the finish, the heel who cut the promo and took everybody’s finish and everybody popped him.”
But that “created like a monster in me, to wanna to just literally just f—ing crush all these people … I started going to the gym, I started getting bigger than everybody else.” After a few years, Corvis Fear, a friend whom Dickinson also trained with at Jersey All Pro, told him about something called Beyond Wrestling that Drew Cordeiro was doing in Ohio.
At the time, Beyond Wrestling was an idea that Cordeiro and his friends had to combine forces among a number of local, backyard wrestling promotions and do supershows of sorts that they would record and release on YouTube for free.
Dickinson agreed — “[A]t this point in time, I’m like super passionate about wanting to get my name out there, super passionate about trying really hard. I mean, at this point, literally, me and my friend Tyson Jaka, my tag partner from EVOLVE, we’re like killing each other smashing each other over the heads with chairs power bombing each other off the ring through tables onto the floor, having like half-hour long matches and trying our best, our absolute best, at like children’s birthday parties,” he explains, so he was ready to go anywhere — and his first match with Beyond was the first match of the weekend’s events, against Eric Alvarado.
He remembers the match, and the weekend, fondly. “All the other wrestlers that are watching are like oh my God … I guess we’re all going to really step it up here, we’re going to try really hard. And that was it … Everybody started going in on their matches, and going the extra mile, and trying really hard. We all just kept trying to pop each other. It was like a competition to see who could one-up each other. I wrestled three matches that weekend, and I just tried my absolute best in every one of them and I had good opponents to work with, and that was it,” said Dickinson.
He credits that weekend for everything that came next in his career. It’s what got him booked in Gabe Sapolsky’s promotion, EVOLVE, on the East Coast and in AIW in Cleveland. Beyond also started blowing up, thanks to Cordeiro’s savvy promotion and use of YouTube. Dickinson saw and continues to see the value in Cordeiro’s vision.
“Beyond Wrestling has been the catalyst for so many people’s careers taking off, so. It’s really, a lot of credit goes to [Cordeiro],” Dickinson said, adding later that, “Beyond Wrestling has a huge reach, a lot longer reach than most. And so you have a lot of younger guys who want to make names for themselves coming up in wrestling who want to work with Beyond Wrestling, you know? Beyond Wrestling is synonymous with building young talent, and creating new breakout stars who go out to become the next big thing on the indies.”
Dickinson’s time in EVOLVE, however, was not what he had hoped or expected it would be. Dickinson admired Sapolsky’s work for some time — he was the one to turn Ring of Honor into one of the most respected and revolutionary independent promotions of the 2000s, building up talent like Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, CM Punk, Nigel McGuinness, Roderick Strong, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and many others.
“I loved Ring of Honor; I loved old Ring of Honor. So, I obviously, even almost to a fault, was passionate about working with Gabe Sapolsky, originally, because he was the guy who was responsible for creating a lot of the guys that were in the original Ring of Honor,” Dickinson said.
“I wanted to be a part of that in some way. I respected his opinions. I respected his advice. And I mean I’m not going to say that he didn’t give me a lot of good advice, or I didn’t learn anything working with the guy, but overall I don’t think he had my best interest in mind. I think I was just a bit player in his world.”
Though Dickinson and Jaka were EVOLVE Tag Team Champions, EVOLVE’s talent agreement with WWE, which started in 2015, meant limiting the type and style of wrestler that Sapolsky would invest in. Needless to say, Dickinson’s style and persona aren’t quite in line with what WWE or NXT looks for, and he likes it that way. But Sapolsky’s shifting priorities led to clashes with Sapolsky and a sharp decline in morale for Dickinson.
And while things started out well, “working for EVOLVE didn’t exactly transcend to more bookings or didn’t really transcend to more buzz. It didn’t seem like a lot of people really watched EVOLVE or followed it, as much as they followed everything else that was going on. For example, we signed to EVOLVE around the same time that Mike and Angel, Santana and Ortiz, signed to TNA/IMPACT Wrestling and it’s just like, look at the upward trajectory of their careers as opposed to me and my tag partner,” said Dickinson. The FloSlam debacle only made things more tense.
“In EVOLVE, [Sapolsky] had this clear idea of who the guys were that he was going to push, and if you just weren’t one of those guys, you were screwed,” Dickinson explained. By Dickinson’s final year with EVOLVE, he was disappointed and discouraged:
“I felt like I’d become like a shell of my former self. I tried to make it work as best as I could with the EVOLVE stuff, but at the same time I felt like I was just settling, I wasn’t being myself. I felt like “Dirty Daddy” Chris Dickenson kinda had died, and I felt devalued. I felt like Gabe Sapolsky did not value me for what I have to offer, and he didn’t care, he didn’t want to explore what I could offer as a singles performer, or as a top act.”
Things quickly came to an end. “I suggested that maybe the booking was the reason why this wasn’t working, whatever. And [Sapolsky] absolutely exploded on me, and that was it, it was over. I knew we weren’t going to be working together much longer,” Dickinson explained. “Our contracts were up and he offered for me to stay and put guys over on the mid card on the shows or whatever, and I’m like mid card? I was like, ‘Absolutely not, I’m good, thank you.’ And from there, I just realized I was like, I cannot work for anybody that does not value what I know I offer and what I’m capable of.”
That realization led to a renewed focus. Dickinson had worked with Beyond throughout his tenure at EVOLVE, and that continued after he left EVOLVE. He also got more involved with Game Changer Wrestling, which has been a major source of innovation in the independent wrestling scene and also a source of inspiration for Dickinson.
“So much of it has to do with GCW, Game Changer Wrestling is a big part of that … I initially started the re-launch of what GCW originally was. It originally was a Jersey indie company called JCW. And this guy Danny, he restarted it and used me, Team Pazuzu, Joey Janela, a couple other guys from the local Jersey area … eventually he partnered up with this guy Bret Lauderdale, and they started GCW. And then I left for a while, and I wasn’t involved. And they blew up. And I knew that I needed to be consistently working for GCW around the time I left EVOLVE, because I knew that working for them was going to be the place where I could be myself. I could do whatever I want, I could say whatever I want, I could be presented in a way that I wanted in a company that I thought looked cool.”
GCW has helped Dickinson find his passion for pro wrestling again after feeling discourage by his time at EVOLVE, and it’s going to serve as one of his home bases in the coming year: “A big part of my next 12 months for sure is to continue to grow and evolve with GCW … that’s a company where I could work for them and preserve who I am as a character, preserve who I am as a brand. They really back up everything that I’m doing, it’s just a perfect fit working with them.”
Beyond, as well, remains a home for Dickinson, or as he says, “my baby.” His goal is to help the promotion grow because “I have to continue to help building the companies that support me now … We’ve built this thing up since day one. And I feel a lot more comfortable being there for the company that’s like my home, than trying to sell myself to some company that’s going to offer me some big contract.”
That’s the main thing that Dickinson has learned over his years in the business and had cemented by his experience in EVOLVE: Being true to himself. While he “obviously would entertain” being approached by a larger company offering an exclusive contract, he is also aware that “big companies are a little intimidated by me, I’m a little too abrasive, I’m a little too straightforward”
“Integrity is huge,” Dickinson continues. “I felt like when I was wrestling with EVOLVE, I was absolutely sacrificing my integrity. If I was going to try to get a job with WWE, I was going to have to completely sacrifice my integrity.” And so, while the “Dirty Daddy” may not be headlining on the USA Network on Monday nights, he’s also not unfulfilled.
In fact, it’s quite contrary. He’s having arguably the best run of his career, picking up wins in 2019 over the likes of Kris Statlander, Daisuke Sekimoto, Homicide, Fred Yehi, Tom Lawlor and Eddie Kingston. On September 14, he will headline GCW Presents: Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport 2, facing Barnett on a show that mixes pro wrestling with shoot-style fighting and martial arts, essentially something made for someone of Dickinson’s temperament and background (he’s been doing martial arts most of his life as well).
He connects with crowds — something which he puts a conscious effort to do, rather than to “[put] myself in a capsule and forgets that there’s people watching me.” And it doesn’t matter the size of the crowd, either: “Whether it’s like 100 people, or 200 people, or 600 people, or a thousand people, those people come to these shows and they’re passionate about what’s going on. And I have to take care of that. I have to … that’s, that’s my clientele, those are my people.”
And his people are rapidly growing in number, thanks to IWTV and FITE, leading to Dickinson quickly being known as one of the biggest names in indie wrestling and one of its best ambassadors. With a renewed passion for pro wrestling and no desire to compromise himself or it, that should continue for as long as Dickinson wants it. And he wants it.
“I knock on wood every day and I’m thankful. I’m like ‘oh God, thank God, God please just let it keep going.'”