Wrestle Me This
Mat tactics have come to the Berkshires—and everyone’s invited
Foxx Vinyer is one of the stars of Truly Independent Wrestling (TWI).
Photos by Scott Barrow
Pittsfield native Lance Madewell’s first memory is of Hulk Hogan fighting the Ultimate Warrior in WrestleMania VI. He shared a passion for wrestling with his father and grandfather, following it on television and attending live matches together. As an adult, Madewell entered the ring himself and has taken that passion to its logical conclusion by co-founding the first independent professional wrestling league in the Berkshires.
Madewell, who performs under his real name, formed Truly Independent Wrestling (TIW) with partner Scott Fellows, who wrestles under the name CJ Scott, a year and a half ago. Fellows shares similar memories of watching wrestling with his parents, and also a similar vision of independent wrestling. He and Madewell held their first show at Pilgrim Memorial Church in Pittsfield to a crowd of 100 people in December 2016. Six months later, their audience had nearly tripled.
TIW moved into a space in the Berkshire Mall, which allowed Madewell and Fellows to expand their audience at wrestling matches. The move also allowed them to add an educational component where they teach all aspects of wrestling, from setting up a ring to refereeing to wrestling moves.
TIW has developed a following, with such stars as Marty “The Moth” Martinez and Ricky Reyes, and former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formerly the World Wrestling Federation) tag-team champions The Spirit Squad to appear in shows. They’ve also built their own roster from around the Northeast, with performers like masked man Rickity Rocket, Jamar Justice, and Truly Independent Wrestling Champion Tyler Vincent providing all-ages entertainment.
“We pride ourselves on being family friendly,” says Madewell. “Wrestling’s gone back to how it was in the ’80s, and we want to stay with that. You’re not going to see extreme violence.”
They also pride themselves on being story-driven. Fellows and general manager Paul LaPorte devise the plots that run from show to show, which has proven popular with TIW’s regular audiences. One of the earliest plots saw Madewell and Fellows as rivals.
“I chose to do this for our first major storyline because I knew that as a hometown boy, Lance was going to go over very well with an audience, and that I could play the perfect foil,” says Fellows.
That “feud” lasted from the first TIW event, featuring a Battle Royal, which saw Madewell win over Fellows, and, after many head-to-head confrontations, ended at an event months later with a match dubbed Street Fight.
“We beat each other with weapons and jumped off ladders, and the finish was him putting me through a table from the middle rope and pinning me,” Fellows says. “Yay, good guy wins, bad guy defeated, all is right with the world.”
North Adams native Justin Day, who wrestles under the name Justin Kase, is currently in a “feud” with Madewell. Day has developed his wrestling personality for years as part of his training.
“All wrestling personas are generally an extension of the persons portraying them,” Kase says. “I’m an underdog with a little bit of an attitude and backbone, boisterous and defiant but sometimes let my emotions get the better of me.”
One of the most popular wrestlers in the TIW lineup is Kennedi Copeland, the only woman on the roster. She remembers staying up late watching wrestling as a four year old. She ignored taunts from her classmates that wrestling is fake and started wrestling by her senior year of high school. Now she’s wrestling guys.
“I mix it up with male wrestlers more often than I do female wrestlers, the reason being there are simply not as many females as there are males,” Copeland says. “It is without doubt a male-dominated industry; however, I am not going to let that stop me from competing.”
Madewell takes great pride that the TIW is ahead in the area of inter-gender wrestling and wants that inclusively to be part of a wider, positive atmosphere. Copeland embodies these goals.
“The majority of the boys accept me and are willing to work with me; some not so much,” Copeland says. “I’ve heard everything from ‘I don’t want to wrestle her because I don’t want to hurt her’ to being called a joke due to my stature or lack thereof. Truthfully, it can be frustrating.”
Wrestling wasn’t an obvious choice for her—Copeland says she was never much of an athlete and suffered from stage fright. One of the initial appeals of wrestling was the sense of community, which overrode any other issues.
“What drew me to wrestling was the characters and the stories they were telling,” says Copeland. “Everyone had their own, and each and every one of them did it in their own way. It brought about a sense of belonging, and that is what I yearned for.”
Plenty of wannabes agree. “All of our students right now are training to be wrestlers,” says Madewell. “They love wrestling, and they want to get into it. They want to perform in front of a crowd.”
Here are a few upcoming TIW events: “May Meltdown” on May 19 and “End of the Road” on June 16. Also watch on YouTube.
(Photo: "Savage" Damon Ravage)