According to American founder Don Roid, Poles don't understand wrestling because they take fighting too seriously.
Photos by Attila Husejnow
Daniel Austin, a.k.a. Don Roid, is an American wrestler and expat living in Poland. In 2009, he decided to start up a wrestling organization reminiscent of the ones he grew up watching as a kid in Pennsylvania—complete with Spandex suits, flimsy story lines, and ridiculous names. At the beginning, Do or Die Wrestling was a lonely federation. The hordes of teenagers Austin had hoped would flock to his training classes never came, and were it not for his persistence and love of the sport, Poland's first wrestling federation might have been down for the count before it ever began. But after years of struggling, the organization is now in its fifth year and has amassed a roster of wrestlers and attracted fans (with varying levels of devotion) across Poland.
A couple of weeks ago, Do or Die Wrestling held an event in Warsaw at a community center in the middle of the city. Although the actual wrestling didn't have the pizzazz of its American counterpart (hiring models to strut around the ring, buying a smoke machine, and setting off fireworks is hard on a DoDW budget), Roid and his fellow wrestlers did a great job of beating the shit out of one another. After the show, I caught up with the man himself for a chat.
Hi, Don. So how did this whole thing come about? What's your story?
Don Roid: My name is Daniel Austin, but in the ring I’m Don Roid. I was born in Pennsylvania in 1981 and have loved wrestling for as long as I can remember. My mom worked at a local radio station, so whenever the WWF [World Wrestling Federation] came to our town, she was given a couple of free tickets and took me to see the fights. I saw Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and André the Giant in action. It was then that I decided I wanted to be just like them—a wrestler. As a teenager I wrestled with friends in my backyard, and once I turned 19 I traveled to New Jersey for my first professional training session.
Who was your trainer?
A wrestler called the Executioner. He was already quite old when he took me in—probably around 60—so I trained with his son. I had my first fight the following year. I’ll never forget it.
It was January 2001 when the Executioner decided I was ready. He booked me a fight that took place at some gym in a New Jersey high school, a six-hour drive away from where I lived. I didn't have a driver's license back then, so a friend drove me there. Quite a lot of people showed up, around 700 or 800. I knew that Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake and the Bushwackers duo, a couple of contemporary WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] stars, were going to fight at that show.
I met Butch from the Bushwackers in the changing room, but his partner was missing. When I asked about where he was, Butch told me: “He’s in the women’s changing room, 'cause he’s gay.” A few moments later I also learned that there was a midget fight scheduled for that evening.
That’s a beautiful beginning. How was the fight?
Tragic. First they forgot about me, and when I finally stepped in the ring, my slot only lasted for three or four minutes. I lost by pinfall—my opponent held me in a Boston Crab. Later, on our drive back, my friend fell asleep behind the wheel and drove into a ditch. Thankfully nothing bad happened to us.
Joe Legend vs. Don Roid
I see that it didn’t scare you off.
That’s right. I kept on fighting for the next four years, mostly in America, but I also went to Germany a couple of times. I started seeing a Polish girl during those trips. She lived in Rzeszów, and she’s now my wife.
That's how you decided to move to Poland and found your own federation?
I moved here in 2005 to be with my wife, but that didn’t stop me from walking into the ring. I started performing around Europe—mainly in France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. It took me four years to create Do or Die Wrestling, the first Polish federation, and at the same time the first wrestling school in Eastern Europe.
It’s quite an American form of entertainment. How did the Poles take it?
I'm not sure Polish people understand what pro wrestling is. Their history is full of wars; they were always engaged in a battle with someone—so the very idea of fighting, even for sport, is a very serious deal to them. In general, as a nation, they are very serious. Americans can chill out a bit. We understand that this is just entertainment. It’s still a sport, as everything that happens in the ring hurts quite a lot, but it’s strictly for the enjoyment of the audience.
Joe Legend vs. Don Roid
A masochistic kind of fun?
In a way, yes. The pain is real—our bodies hit a wooden floor, not a trampoline. But we also work hard to make sure that no one gets seriously hurt. This is what sets us apart from MMA. Our fights have to be spectacular, whereas in MMA, wrestlers fight standing up for the first few minutes. Then they turn to ground-fighting and just spent the remaining time crawling on the floor of the octagon.
Yeah, but your fights are staged.
Not entirely. Sure, we do plan a lot before the fight, and that’s no secret. Thirty years ago, people actually did wonder whether what we were doing in the ring was real or not, but these times are long gone.
What do you remember from the first days of DoDW?
I thought that people would go crazy about it, considering there had never been anything like it in Poland before. I thought that teenagers would want to sign up for training and then join the federation. I was wrong. But I still managed to create a Polish wrestling team that not only performs here but also fights abroad.
Can you give me some of their names?
Kamil Aleksander, Klarys, Luksus, the Beautiful Bachelor—and there’s also Bianka, the first Polish female wrestler. There are lots more.
What kind of people come to your events?
It differs. In Warsaw it’s mainly college students, in Rzeszów it’s families, and in Wrocław it's pretty mixed—I’m never quite sure who’s going to come.
Do you remember any particular fights or anecdotes?
Yes, during one of the fights I got hit on the head with a chair and started bleeding profusely. I fell out of the ring, and there was a little boy sitting in the first row. He was sure that my cut was fake—he told his friends “It’s just ketchup!” and stuck his finger in my wound and put it in his mouth.
Yeah, he literally turned green.