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Thank You, Sugar


Over the past few years, I’ve been doing a real retrospective look with my life. The world of professional wrestling, in particular, has been part of a major thought process lately.

I will not lie when I say I’ve had a massive struggle with rediscovering my love for the wrestling industry. I am far from bitter about it. In fact, I miss it terribly. My main issue is that ever since Project: Diverge in 2018, I’m having a hard time trying to connect. I’m not sure if it’s the action on television, the massive rise of social media in the game, or the toxic nature of the behind-the-scenes aspect, but I cannot get back into the absolute passion of what I loved about it as a kid.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling, but I feel alone trying to understand what the disconnect is.

Recently, I’ve started going back to my time in independent wrestling and looking back at, what I considered to be, the fun times I had during it. It’s not even in a Bruce Springsteen “Glory Days” perspective, but more along the appreciation of it, and what I have now that I lacked heavily back then.

The last line in particular is way more obvious now than it ever has been before: CONFIDENCE. I completely lacked that trait in my life, and it has never been more evident then when I think about my initial run in Beyond Wrestling.

The talent was there, the passion as well, but the lack of belief, paranoia that the world was out to get me, and the overall lack of strong, positive frame I had led into an incredible miserable time period. I never truly understood the talent that I had, especially in 2012.

I started going through old videos, trying to see the fire or passion that I had and have lacked in over the past few years. I then came across one video on the Beyond YouTube channel called ALL KILLER #1, which was a straight shot of wrestling that had no promo work and just hard hitting fun wrestling matches.

On this video, it opened with a tag team match that had myself managing JT Dunn and Mark Shurman against the team of Aaron Epic and Sugar Dunkerton, the Kings of the Armory. At the end of the match, Sugar pulled me onto the apron and sidestepped as “the Sure Thing” bumped me into the concrete wall of the New England Pro Wrestling Academy.

For some, that just looked like a silly bump. But for me, that was a boost of confidence. And I have to give Sugar all the credit for that.

I first knew of Sugar Dunkerton during 2009-2010, when I watched CHIKARA Pro. I was, and in many cases, still am, a fan of the creative that Mike Quackenbush and the athletes of CHIKARA brought to the independent circuit. Up until the company shut down in 2013, I felt that the company clicked on all cylinders with storytelling and talent. One of my favorite teams during that time period was the Throwbacks.

The Throwbacks were composed of, originally, two old school athletes from different sports: Dasher Hatfield, the “Old Timey King of Swing”, a masked baseball player, and Sugar, a basketball player reminiscent of a Harlem Globetrotter.

I became an instant fan of both inside of their tag team, but Sugar stood out to me. His in-ring style and charisma was very unorthodox, and his look was second to none. In fact, Sugar reminded me a lot of Ben Wallace, a defensive bruiser from the Detroit Pistons. With that aesthetic, Sugar was the total old-school package.

I first met Sugar at Beyond Wrestling “About Time” on July 23, 2011 in Danbury, CT. From the first handshake, he was a genuine good dude. Looking around the locker room, Sugar embodied what that roster represented back in the early days: all working together to take Beyond to the next level, both in veterans and rookies alike.

You instantly saw that perspective from his match after intermission. The Throwbacks teamed up to face Darius Carter and TJ Marconi, the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Sugar, as well as Dasher, knew exactly how to get the crowd back into the event after a hot first half. They had a fun matchup, including doing a fun spot involving the “We’re Brothers” song from the Wayans Brothers TV show. Although the Throwbacks picked up the duke, everyone was made to look strong at the end of it, and that was the power of Sugar: getting everyone involved, and making everyone look like a star.

I didn’t see Sugar again until February 2012 during another Beyond live show/studio taping weekend in Massachusetts. This weekend, I was able to talk to Sugar for a while in the locker room. By then, he, Pinkie Sanchez, and Aaron Epic were a part of a unit called the Kings of the Armory. The KOA represented what Beyond was at that time: a trio of cult favorites, wrestling their hearts out in front of a small, yet passionate, Beyond fan base.

Throughout the weekend, I would ask Sugar questions about promo work and managerial things outside of the ring. What to do. What not to do. How much to interact with the fans and not take away from the match. There were so many questions I asked, and to Sugar’s credit, he answered every single one, with respect and humility. He could’ve dismissed me easily and ignored me, but he didn’t.

The major moment for me came after the final taping on Sunday. Drew wanted LSG, JT Dunn, Shurman, Stan Stylez, and myself to cut a ninety-second promo, promoting the AIW show in March, where the Professional Revolution would face off with the KOA in a six-man tag Beyond showcase. In front of the entire locker room, I went for it. I was incredibly nervous. Like, internally terrified and lacking confidence yet again. However, before the camera hit record, Sugar said to all of us, “You got this.”

In one take, we got it done. All the points came across, our characters were shown, and we hit exactly 90 seconds. The boys enjoyed it, and none more than Sugar. “That was a hell of a promo”.

If I didn’t get that boost of confidence from Sugar, I don’t think it would have come off as well as it did. It actually helped tremendously for myself in front of a camera forever forward.

In July, we came back up to do the live show “Swamp Sessions”. Drew gave me the golden opportunity to commentate the entire show, even as a heel. It was a challenge for myself, and I seized it. After two matches, Sugar came over and did a couple matches with me. I don’t think I had more fun than going back and forth with Sugar, and I think he felt the same way at the time. Again, another boost of confidence.

Finally, that match where I bumped against the wall in the New England Pro Wrestling Academy. Sugar, similar to his match with Darius and TJ at “About Time”, wanted me to get involved. He came up with a few spots for me to interject, and although it was in front of the boys, who were die-hard fans of the product, it got the desired reaction. The bump into the wall was the icing of the cake. Sugar made everyone look as strong as possible and got everyone involved. That is a testament to his wrestling acumen.

I didn’t see Sugar after that, as I left Beyond in October 2012. But the lessons I took from my time sharing the same locker room with him helped me exponentially, even to this day. I learned to pace myself in front of a live crowd with a microphone. I knew how to get my stuff in without taking away from the performers doing the hard work in between the ropes. Most of all, I learned to show confidence and how to have fun with what you’re doing in the business.

A few months ago, while dipping my toes back into mainstream wrestling, I saw Sugar transform into Pineapple Pete in AEW and wrestle Chris Jericho on TNT. I witnessed him having fun and making the most of his opportunity. I smiled and thought to myself, “He earned this.”

I highly doubt Sugar Dunkerton would ever remember any of this, but at the time, especially in a real dark period for me personally, the respect he showed me by giving me advice and confidence meant a hell of a lot. In the midst of trying to find that passion again for wrestling, remembering that time period and writing about it might have kickstarted something inside of me to not give up on rediscovering my true love of wrestling.

Simply, I just want to say, “Thank you, Sugar.” It meant more than you know.

Jon Harder


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