The last big Minnesota wrestling event of the year is coming up this Sunday – at a location you may not expect.
St. Paul’s Temple of Aaron Synagogue will host preeminent local promotion F1rst Wrestling’s Holiday Havoc. Unlike its (sometimes brutal) adults-only WrestlePalooza shows at First Avenue, or its various shows at breweries and the Uptown VFW in Minneapolis, its show across the river is an all ages, family-friendly affair (and one that requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.)
It caps off a landmark year for F1rst with an evening as innovative as the wrestling itself, and will continue its tradition of attracting top indy wrestling stars including a main event featuring rising AEW star and homegrown F1rst talent Dante Martin, who is teaming with Alex Zayne (WWE, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Impact Wrestling and Game Changer Wrestling) to face a team of former WWE mainstays Tony Nese and Minnesota legend Ariya Davari.
So, you may be asking yourself: "How did professional wrestling become such a beloved regular event at a synagogue?” The answer, like many great modern innovations in wrestling, can be traced back to trend-setting trail-blazer Colt Cabana, a Chicago icon who put Rabbi Jeremy Fine, then part of Temple of Aaron, in touch with local wrestler/promoter and don of F1rst Wrestling, Arik Cannon.
“We were looking for something to be a 'show' at the end of our block party for adults,” Rabbi Fine said. “Colt and I were thinking of doing a show at the Synagogue and [he] said the best promoter in town was Arik so I gave him a call ... and we just ran from there.”
Fine described there being three different reactions to the introduction of wrestling to Temple of Aaron when the discussions for the inaugural show, June 2019's Mitzvah Mayhem, began. “The first were like ‘this is an awesome out-of-the-box idea, let’s try it.’ There was a handful of people who were like ‘Rabbi Fine has come up with some pretty crazy ideas, let’s give it a shot. And there were a handful of people who said ‘this doesn’t belong in a synagogue.’” Thankfully, Fine says people overall are a lot more understanding now.
While Rabbi Fine moved to Chicago earlier this year, where he launched his own promotion called 2econd Wrestling (a titular homage to F1rst) he’s still very proud of the legacy these wrestling events have had.
"Religion in today’s world is a very complicated thing, and there’s a lot of efforts in the world around interfaith work. Unfortunately, a lot of that interfaith work, with some great interfaith programs, is the same type of work with the same people who show up to those meetings. So, first and foremost, what I’m most proud of is that [the F1rst Wrestling events] broke down a barrier for so many people who’ve never met Jews before, never been in a Synagogue and never met a Rabbi. To break down that mystique of ‘you vs me,’ is really important.”
Cannon is also very proud of these shows. "Diversity. Inclusion. Representation. These things matter!,” Cannon tells us. "Our events at the Temple Of Aaron Synagogue, may be some of the most diverse lineups that we've presented."
The lineups at Temple of Aaron have included some all time greats, including former WWE championship holders Scott Steiner and Victoria, as well as Rhyno, Chris Masters and current WWE NXT Women’s Tag Team Champion Gigi Dolan, and AEW and indy standouts like Lee Moriarty, Darius Martin, Thunder Frog, Darin Corbin, Starboy Charlie, JDX and “The Frontman” Jah-C.
The events at the Temple of Aaron also gives F1rst Wrestling the chance to broaden its appeal in the Twin Cities.
"These events are family friendly. All Ages are welcome. So we are performing in front of a lot more kids at these events.” Cannon said. The Temple of Aaron was the venue for the return of F1rst following the onset of the pandemic, and the COVID-19 protocols will remain in place for Sunday's show.
"In wrestling, part of our job as performers is protecting each other. Yes, we want to win our matches," Cannon says. "But we still want everyone going home safe to their families. Doubly so, during a pandemic. Every performer, crew member, photographer... everyone is happy to show their proof of vaccination, and/or provide a negative COVID-19 test before every event.
"Our events at ToA in late 2020 and early 2021 made it even easier to keep everyone safe, as the event space provided us with enough room to host a crowd, while still keeping them at a safe distance. It also allowed us to implement some PPE early on, keeping the performers and fans separated, but still able to interact with each other."
"We have an amazingly loyal and supportive fanbase. We all know it's a bit of a pain in the butt to show your proof of vaccination or to schedule and get a test taken, but for now, it's just part of the deal and our fans are happily playing ball.”
F1rst Wrestling’s Holiday Havoc is this Sunday, December 19.
Doors 5pm - Show 6pm - Temple Of Aaron Synagogue in St. Paul, MN.
All ages are welcome. Limited tickets remain. Proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entry are required.