WNC 17-year old wrestler is living the dream

Devon James executing an arm-lock in the ring. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

17 year old Devon James (right) is living his dream of being a professional wrestling promoter. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

When it comes to business, people claim “it’s a man’s world”, but for 17-year-old Devon James, he’s out to prove that there’s a place in business for everyone, including a teen.

James is a junior at Smoky Mountain High School and is doing the unthinkable. He’s starting his own business, and not just any business. James is diving head first into the physically demanding and psychologically grueling mat-slamming world of professional wrestling, and he’s doing it well.

James is sole owner of Last Rites Wrestling, a wrestling promotion that started in 2012 and has made its home in Sylva, NC. He not only runs the promotion, he is also living out his dream of being a professional wrestler.

“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do,” says James. “It’s living your dream. It’s building something, and it’s giving back to the community. Wrestling usually gets a bad rap, and I just want to change people’s perception of what wrestling is.”

Devon James was born in Asheville, NC on November 7, 1996 to parents Tim James and Crystal Lee Wallace. He didn’t spend much time living with his dad, in fact, his dad and he didn’t really connect until wrestling brought them together when James was 7 years old.

James speaks on the phone with father Bobby Holiday, who is also his mentor, trainer, and friend. Photo by Randy Conn

James speaks on the phone with father Bobby Holiday, who is also his mentor, trainer, and friend. Photo by Randy Conn.

“I always thought wrestling was stupid, at first,” James shares. “I mean, I just thought it was a bunch of guys in tights fake fighting each other, you know, pretty much what most people who don’t understand it think at first. But one day, I went to my dad’s, and he let my older brother and I wrestle each other.”

James’ father did not go about letting his two sons wrestle each other like you would imagine a parent would. Instead, James’ father would separate them to each side of the room before the match, stating that each corner was each brother’s respective “locker room.” After that, he would dress them in bath robes and played music for them out of a boom box and would announce their entrance by using stage names before the siblings squared off.

“I think I was Bobby Holiday, Jr. and my brother was Big Poppa,” James explains. “At first I wasn’t really into it but then it started to be fun and the more we wrestled the more I started to enjoy it. We stayed up all night talking about wrestling and even woke up at 8 a.m. the next morning talking about wrestling and thinking up all these crazy things we could do.”

James’ father wrestled in the ‘80s as “‘Sweet’ Bobby Holiday” and traveled the roads with wrestling legends, most notably, television star and future wrestling Hall of Famer Sean “Syxx/X-Pac” Waltman.

“He was really building some notoriety on the roads,” James spoke of his father. “He really hit it off with Waltman, chemistry wise, and the two paired up on the roads and wrestled the dark matches together.”

[“Dark Matches” are matches that are not televised and are used to get the crowd hyped and excited before the TV cameras start rolling.]

Devon James is accompanied by his father as they make their way to the HVW ring for a memorial event for a fallen wrestler. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

Devon James is accompanied by his father as they make their way from the ring at a benefit show. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

“Promoters told my dad that of the two, it was him (Holiday) that they were going to pick to move up to television. Not too long after that my dad got the news that my older brother Tristan was on his way and he made the choice to stay at home and be a father.”

James father would then retire from wrestling a bit jaded and perturbed, seeing so many of the people he worked with go on and do great things while he stayed behind to do what he had to do.

“He didn’t really have much to do with wrestling for a while,” James says. “He just kinda held back and did the family thing. It wasn’t until years later  – I pleaded with him to attend a wrestling event at High Velocity Wrestling in Asheville – that he started to feel the pull back into the business.”

James and his father went to the event and James, Sr. began reconnecting with old friends and peers and worked up the courage to ask the owner if he could wrestle some matches on his show. The promoter, who wrestles as “Viper”, knew that Holiday was well trained, and allowed James’ father to work the shows. James, Sr. would then partner with another wrestler on the HVW roster, Billy Ketchersid, and in 2009 the two would start their own wrestling promotion based out of Waynesville, NC titled Full Momentum Wrestling with their first show “Ignition” on Oct. 18.

That’s when James really started getting hands on with wrestling. Before every show he would climb in the ring and let the professionals teach him the tips and tricks of the trade.

James poses with father during LRW's widely successful 350+ crowd charity show. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

James with father during LRW’s widely successful 350+ crowd charity show. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

“My dad was my main trainer,” James explains. “I was only twelve, but I was a trainee. I would get in there with other trainees and just learn as much as I could from the teachers. When I wasn’t training I was basically a runner for the wrestlers. I would deliver a message to their family for them or get them some water or do whatever odd job they needed done while they were stuck in the locker room before the show. And those shows were getting packed with fans. We were really taking off.”

James’ father would enjoy success with FMW, but it was short lived when not even a year later he found himself slighted for his efforts yet again.

“He was finally starting to enjoy wrestling again,” says James. “He was finally starting to let his guard down and accept wrestling back into his life and then, overnight, he was ousted from the company he helped start. He fell back into a lull and didn’t have anything to do with wrestling for years.”

James’ father fell into a depression after losing his friend and his business and the two didn’t talk for years.

“They (Ketchersid and James, Sr.) had been friends since high school,” James explains. “He was hurting badly about it. He ended up getting a job at some graveyard shift and would come home and just sleep all day. We hardly saw each other and when we did it was usually just a “hey” in passing. Two years went by and then he bought a wrestling ring off the internet.  He said he wanted to start this new promotion called “Ring of Rage”, but he did nothing with it and it just kinda sat down in our garage.”

James had finally had enough of his wrestling stalemate and decided to take his future into his own hands. After some phone calls to the runners of the Jackson County Special Olympics, he had a backer and a venue was set for a benefit show for the Special Olympics organization at the Bridge Park Pavilion on May 18, 2013 outside on Main Street in Sylva. James couldn’t have been more excited.

Poster for Last Rites Wrestling Ring of Rage. This was the latest LRW show. Photo by Randy Conn.

Ring of Rage finally happened in 2014. Photo by Randy Conn.

“I spent like four months promoting that thing,” James says. “At first, no one believed in me. Even my dad, who I know believed in me, still worried that no one would give a chance to a 16 year old kid. When it finally came time to do the show, it poured rain and I had to cancel the show. I was devastated. That’s when my dad came up to me and apologized for not helping me. He said to reschedule the show, and when we do, we’ll blow the (expletive) roof off.”

James’ first professional match was supposed to be at the cancelled show at the Bridge Park Pavilion.

After the show was postponed, James knew he still needed to get in the ring to work on his skill. James’ father made a phone call to local wrestling promoter Jay Eagle, tag team partner of worldwide wrestling legend Chief Wahoo McDaniel and also promoter of the longest running house show in America, American Pro Wrestling.

“I asked Dad how he felt about me going down to South Carolina to have my first match,” James tells. “He told me that as long as I had my first match against him, we had a deal. He was pretty skeptical of the locker room.”

James’ father did not trust any other wrestler but himself with the safety of his 16 year old son, so they teamed up together and James and his father headed to 380 Whitney Road in Spartanburg, SC to get in the ring for the first time in four years. When James showed up to his first day of work, he met the hazing process first hand.

“The guys yelled things at me like “f*cking newbie over here!” and “stupid rookie!” and other pretty crude stuff like that,” says James. “That kind of thing doesn’t bother me, though, because I think that for every guy that downs me about my age, there’s a guy out there that supports me because of my age. Dad told me not to worry about it and just worry about our match.”

James’ father was booked to win over James.

“He was pretty upset about it,” says James. “Even though it’s scripted and everything it still hurt him to have to beat his own son. But that was what they called and we just had to go do it.”

Jay Eagle promotes the longest running house show in America. Photo courtesy of Jay Eagle.

Jay Eagle promotes the longest running house show in America. Photo courtesy of Jay Eagle.

Devon was upset that his match was not as good as he had hoped. But the mark of a true artist is to never be satisfied with his work. His father supported him and even promoter Jay Eagle stopped in to James’ locker room after the show to offer some words of encouragement.

“He came by and said “Brother that was your first match ever?”” James tells of Jay Eagle. “That was awesome! All you need now is more matches under your belt.”

Jay Eagle risked everything on James. In the state of South Carolina, there is such a thing as a wrestler’s license. Allowing a performer to work unlicensed is a $5,000 fine. Not only was James unlicensed, but he was not even 18.

“I appreciated him [Eagle] telling me that after the show,” James confesses. “Because if I knew that beforehand I don’t know if I could have even done the match. I would have been too nervous. He said he would take care of the license next time, but that next time, he didn’t care who asked me, to everyone else, I was 18 [laughs].”

Now that James had some experience, he was still determined to put on his first event. When he returned to Sylva, he didn’t let the heartbreak of his first cancelled show get the better of him.

“I randomly just picked up the phone and called the Sylva National Guard Armory,” says James. “Expecting them to say no, I had no enthusiasm in my voice at all. I told them I was wondering if they were interested in doing a benefit wrestling show for the Jackson County Special Olympics. They said yes and I was a little shocked that they answered so quickly. They told me they understood it was for a good cause. I got off the phone with them and immediately got the ball rolling.”

James reached out to local wrestler Ty Davis, who wrestles as “S.T.D.” which stands for “The Standard” Ty Davis and booked him for the game. Later that day he got some really good news.

Rick Savage is host of Savage Family Diggers on Spike TV. Photo courtesy of staugustine.com

Ric Savage is host of Savage Family Diggers on Spike TV. Photo courtesy of staugustine.com

“Ty was friends with a guy named Ric Savage,” James explains. “Ric was a former wrestler for World Championship Wrestling on TNT back in the ‘90’s and he is also the host of ‘Savage Family Diggers’ on Spike TV. Ty told me that Ric, being from the Sylva area, was interested in helping the show out by appearing and by also doing some promotion for it on the radio. I got to talk to Ric over the phone and I told him that there was no payoff because it was a benefit show and he said no problem. He just wanted to be a part of it and help a good cause. And he promoted the hell out of that thing too. He went to conventions, sold tickets, printed fliers, hung ‘em up, I can never thank Ric enough for everything he did for that show.”

Although Savage tried to explain to James that although he had done promotional work before, he’s also seen turnouts of about only twenty people or so, and that he shouldn’t get his hopes up and be disappointed if it doesn’t work out the way he planned.

James’ first show at the Sylva National Guard Armory saw a turnout of over 350 people.

“I just remember going over my match in the back, and one of my crew comes to me and says we need more chairs,” James says. “I remember thinking, ‘more chairs?’ I ordered two hundred out there before the show? I got someone to find a hundred more chairs and they came back and said they still needed a few more. I couldn’t believe it.”

That show rose over $600 dollars to benefit the Jackson County Special Olympics.

“I didn’t realize how big the show was until I got on Facebook the next day and saw tons of notifications,” James says. “Guys like Ric Savage, Scotty Black, Jay Joyce, Tommy Williams, Earl Grimmett, all saying how great the show was and how they were so impressed with over 350 people. There were people I didn’t even know going on the Carolina Independent Wrestling page and telling everyone about this young kid who put on this great show and how they wished they could have been there. Promoters caught wind of the show’s success and began reaching out to me and trying to get me to come work for them.”

Jay Joyce is the Executive Vice President of NWA Charlotte. Photo courtesy of Charlotte.ehclients.com

Jay Joyce is the Executive Vice President of NWA Charlotte. Photo courtesy of Charlotte.ehclients.com

Jay Joyce is the Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President of NWA Charlotte.

“Devon is a shining example of the blurred lines between sports and entertainment that is commercial wrestling,” says Joyce. “Risk taker? Yes. Athletic? Yes. Story teller? Yes. Entrepreneur? Definitely. I worked with Devon at High Velocity Wrestling and saw the fire and determination that he has for wrestling. In 10 years, I can see Devon operating a regional promotion spanning from the hallowed grounds of Crockett Promotions in Charlotte to the HVW tradition that Viper built. Devon is the real thing. Devon is determined, respectful, and energetic to keep this sport relative in the life of wrestling fans today.”

Tom Paluscsak wrestles as Earl Grimmett.

“I really didn’t know this kid very well,” Paluscsak says. “I met his dad years ago in my wrestling career. I’ve worked on a few shows with him and worked his first show in Sylva. Devon is a very determined kid. He promoted that show extremely well and had a hot crowd to boot. Right now it looks like his promotion is starting off well and as long as he keeps his head right and listens to the right people, he should do fine. This business is not easy and there are a lot of two faced people in it. He needs advice and support from the ones that have the right experience. I hope the kid does well and continues to grow.”

“Devon is a very humble and respectful young man,” says professional wrestler Tommy Williams. “He knows he is young and has a lot to still learn in performing, booking, and promoting, but he has a lot of passion and respect for the business and also for guys that have come before him, which is very important because respect is a huge deal in professional wrestling. If he keeps a good head on his shoulders and keeps working hard to learn and he also doesn’t surround himself with the wrong people, I don’t see why he couldn’t take LRW to a whole ‘nother lever and be very successful.”

Devon James with father "Old School" Bobby Holiday. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

Devon James with father “Old School” Bobby Holiday. Photo courtesy of Devon James.

“Devon is my hero,” says James’ father, Tim James a.k.a. Bobby Holiday. “He pulled me out of the lowest point of my life. He’s a genuine person. He would rather be your friend than anything. My first time around in wrestling I had somewhat success, but this second time around, being with him, seeing it through his eyes, it’s truly like living the dream. Back then, if you didn’t stand at least 6 feet tall and weigh 250 pounds, people said you had no business in the locker room. Now this business has changed enough, thanks to guys like Rey Mysterio, guys like Eddie Guerrero, guys like The Hardy Boyz, guys like Shawn Michaels, guys who weren’t the biggest in size but possed the biggest amount of heart and the biggest amount of determination to succeed amidst all the adversity, thanks to guys like that changing the game the wrestling fans and the wrestling business as a whole now acknowledges passion and drive above looks and appearance. Passion can now get you there. Devon has got more passion than anyone I’ve ever seen. Now is the time that this kid can make it.”

“I just want people to see wrestling differently,” James concludes. “I want people to know that wrestling isn’t about ego and politics. I want people to see that wrestling is about teamwork, vision, and most important, it’s about community and giving back to that community. My community has always supported me and gave me everything they had. It’s about time someone finally gave them something back. They deserve it.”

Devon James now wrestles professionally as “Kid Holiday”, as homage to his father and mentor.

Last Rites Wrestling runs tri-monthly as of this year. You can like LRW on Facebook to stay updated on future events and promotions. Their next event is scheduled for June 28. Tickets are available for 20% off with canned good for donation to the Jackson County Community Table.