By Tom Gallagher
Niagara Gazette — Matt Johnson’s homecoming isn’t going to be an ordinary one.
When he returns to the Cataract City, the 2009 Niagara Falls High School graduate won’t be Matt Johnson. He’ll be “Maverick” Matt Milan – and he’ll be a professional wrestler.
Johnson will wrestle as a member of Squared Circle Wrestling (2CW) this weekend when the promotion visits Cruisers Hockey & Bar located at 9799 Porter Rd. Though he has wrestled in Buffalo, this marks the first time he’ll wrestle professionally in Niagara Falls.
“This is always something that I’ve wanted to do – wrestle in an amazing promotion like 2CW in front of my hometown,” Johnson said. “It’s literally right across the street from where I grew up so it’s perfect.”
Johnson grew up a fan of professional wrestling. He was a standout wrestler at Niagara Falls High School and was a two-time captain for the Wolverines. He earned All-State honors in 2009 and set the since-broken record for pins in a season.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, Johnson is scheduled to wrestle against former 2CW champion Slyck Wagner Brown on Saturday. The two have never competed, which is intriguing for Johnson.
“That’s the fun part of pro wrestling – being able to work out something great with a guy you’ve never wrestled before,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge because this guy has been all over the place and is a former champion so it’s a good chance for me to show what I can do.”
Johnson isn’t the only wrestler with Western New York ties performing on the card Saturday. Former WWE and TNA wrestler Spike Dudley was born in Williamsville and is slated to compete against MASADA.
“He’s a tremendous up-and-coming talent,” Dudley said of his opponent. “He’s a big dude with a lot of heart. He’s just a hard-nosed independent wrestler. Young guys are always full of juice and vinegar – it puts me back to where I was 15 years ago when I was first breaking in.”
Dudley, 42, broke into mainstream professional wrestling in 1996. As a seasoned veteran of major promotions, he’s often a role model of sorts for younger talent.
“I still get a kick out of guys when they come up to me and shake my hand and say, ‘It’s an honor to meet you,’” he said. “It’s inspiring. A neat part about wrestling is the respect that gets passed down from generation to generation.”
Just as Johnson is going to on Saturday, Dudley has wrestled in front of his friends and family before. He offered some words of wisdom for Johnson.
“When you get that loud hometown pop, you ride it. You use it,” Dudley said. “I’m sure (Johnson) will have that nervous energy. But with that, you get a lot of positive energy and adrenaline and you put on your best.
“If the crowd is excited, he has to be excited times ten.”
Listening to other wrestling personalities that he’s met on the road has been a central force behind Johnson’s development as a professional. He takes what wrestlers like Dudley say to heart.
“Spike is an awesome human being,” Johnson said. “He’s so, so motivational. Some of these guys come in and can care less about the younger guys but guys like Spike Dudley are just awesome to be around. They’re very motivational people.”
In the same ilk as Dudley, Johnson mentioned former WWE stars Demolition (the infamous tag team of Ax and Smash), Rhyno and John Morrison as being particular helpful to be around in 2CW circles.
While he continues to progress as a professional wrestler and meets people like Dudley who help him along the way, Johnson hopes the Major Decision, his suplex-to-cutter signature maneuver, won’t be his last “finishing move” in 2CW.
“I want to be 2CW champion someday,” he said. “Everything I do is to earn my way to the top of 2CW.”
The eight-match show begins at 6 p.m. Saturday. General admission tickets can be purchased at Cruisers in advance or at the door for $10. Front row seats are priced at $26.