The Champion’s Cup Tag Team Tournament wasn’t over when the referee raised the winning wrestlers’ arms after the last bout of the night. For the wrestlers, the most important part of the tournament was about to begin.
Mike Watt of Lubbock, a wrestler known as “Shiloh,” shared a brief gospel message as he stood in the middle of the ring after the final bout Friday night at Rockwall Christian Academy in Rowlett.
“Just give me two minutes,” he said to the audience of about 150 men, women and children who had just watched the first four bouts of a two-night wrestling tournament produced by the Christian Wrestling Federation based in Rockwall.
After the message and a prayer, CWF founder Rob Vaughn joined Shiloh in the ring.
Vaughn, whose ring name is “Jesus Freak,” told the audience that it’s easy to invite people to watch a wrestling show. Some people may not go to church, he said, but they find that it’s easier to go out and watch wrestling.
“People think they’re coming to a wrestling show, then church breaks out,” he said.
After Vaughn’s comments, a dozen or so wrestlers who had just competed came out and circled the ring. They talked to the fans, prayed with them, signed autographs and posed for pictures.
Many of the wrestlers also provided a voice of Christian encouragement to adults and kids alike. When signing autographs, some of them also wrote their favorite scripture.
Phillip Barron of Royse City, a member of the CWF team for about 10 years, said wrestling is what gets people in the door.
He provided a humorous description of what happens at a CWF event.
“It’s a lot like church,” he said, “but instead of hymns and preaching, we beat each other up, then we tell them about Jesus.”
The numbers illustrate the ministry’s impact – more than 500 shows in 33 states and Mexico, Egypt and Nigeria, and more than 25,000 people who have made decisions regarding their commitment to the Christian faith.
In 1999, Vaughn spent about eight months on the independent professional wrestling circuit. The atmosphere that came with that life wasn’t for him and he finally questioned, “Why am I doing this?”
A friend mentioned the possibility that he blend his Christian life with his passion for wrestling.
That’s exactly what Vaughn did and the CWF group was up and wrestling in 2000.
Barron, known as “Phil ‘The Real Deal’ Bishop” in the ring, had a similar desire – and idea – to mix his passion for wrestling with his Christian faith.
In 2003, he heard Vaughn interviewed on TV. Vaughn described how he organized the Christian Wrestling Federation.
“He stole my idea,” Barron said he thought.
Two nights later, Vaughn showed up as a customer in the Mesquite restaurant where Barron was employed. They met and Barron became involved in the CWF, but not as a wrestler right away.
Later, however, Vaughn asked Barron if he wanted to learn how to wrestle. He jumped at the chance, enrolled in wrestling school and became a card-carrying certified professional wrestler. Yes, he said, some states require professional wrestlers to be certified.
The 39-year-old Barron has been involved in children’s ministry most of his adult life and now is a mortgage underwriter for Bank of America in Irving. He’s also pursuing a college degree in criminal justice.
Barron said he gets a funny response from people when he tells them he’s a professional wrestler.
“The first thing that happens is their eyes really bug out,” he said. “Then, when I tell them I’m a professional Christian wrestler, they usually ask, ‘How do you do that?’”
With him and all the other CWF wrestlers, they’re Christians first.
“We are Christians who happen to be wrestlers,” he said.
Vaughn, Barron and Watt are known for their wrestling feats. But last year, they got some national attention as Bible scholars.
The three wrestlers competed in the American Bible Challenge, a Game Show Network program hosted by Jeff Foxworthy. En route to the semifinals, they defeated the Rockin’ Rabbis team. They were defeated, however, by a team of nuns, the Sisters of Mary.
Vaughn and Barron agreed that the CWF ministry gained some credibility with their appearance – and success – on the show.
“I was shocked by the number of people around the country who saw us on that show,” Vaughn said.
CWF got bookings for wrestling shows, but the biggest response came from people who viewed the three wrestlers as pastors.
“I can’t tell you the number of people who contacted us, people who needed someone to listen to them and pray with them,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn also hears from men who want to wrestle on the CWF team. But they don’t qualify just because they know some wrestling moves.
“I want to know where they are spiritually,” Vaughn said. “They will train with us for a while, get their feet wet, learn how to speak before a crowd and share their testimony.”
The CWF meets weekly for training and Bible study.
Vaughn, 44, played college football and earned a bachelor’s degree in education and kinesiology from East Texas State University in 1993. He received a master’s degree in education from Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
He has 20 years coaching experience, mostly as a strength and conditioning coach. He has coached on multiple levels, including junior high, high school and the Arena Football League. Vaughan is a former athletic director at Rockwall Christian Academy and currently is director of operations for Athletes 4 Christ, a new college prep sports program.
Vaughn and Barron said they frequently have to answer questions about whether the winners are predetermined. Vaughn’s answer to that question could be, “Yes and No.”
“It’s cool that we train together and we have Bible study together,” Vaughn said. “Before an event, we know how it’s supposed to go, but things happen. The plan could change during the bout.”
And is the punching, kicking and throwing fake?
Barron was quoted in a newspaper story last year that even though the action is choreographed, the moves are real.
“You can’t fake lifting a 200-pound man and throwing him down on the mat,” he was quoted as saying.
Barron added that you can’t fake the concussion and broken bones he has sustained while wrestling.
Information about the CWF and the next scheduled show can be found at christianwrestling.com.