When Timothy Hackman, dean of University Libraries, learned that a professional wrestling show was scheduled for ODU’s campus, he couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“This is the coming together of my personal and professional interests,” he recalled thinking. “I can’t ignore this.”
The result is two events that will highlight the history and culture of pro wrestling in Hampton Roads.
At 7 p.m. June 2, the ODU Libraries and Virginia Championship Wrestling (VCW) will conduct “Beyond the Mat, Behind the Curtain: A Pro Wrestling Panel and Q&A” at the University Theatre. Hackman will serve as moderator for the discussion. Panelists will include ODU associate professors Myles McNutt (whose Ph.D. is in communication arts) and Marc Ouelette (who discussed pro wrestling on an episode of “With Good Reason” in 2021 and in a 2016 scholarly article) along with VCW wrestler "Mr. Xcellence" Brandon Scott, Director of Operations Jerry Stephanitsis (an ODU alumnus) and Talent Coordinator Jonathan Elliott. This event is free and open to the public.
On June 3, the VCW will stage two shows at the ODU Volleyball Center – Matinee Mayhem at 2 p.m. and Primetime Pandemonium at 7 p.m. The evening card will feature a title match pitting Scott against Virginia heavyweight champion Boar. Tickets, which are $25 per session, can be purchased at this link.
Joshua Knibb, facilities manager for the Goode Theatre, and his student theater staff will provide production assistance for the shows.
Hackman’s interest in pro wrestling dates to his youth.
“When Hulkamania was running wild in the late ’80s, I was at that perfect age – right around 10 or 11 – to have it really grab me,” he said. “It was like a real-life cartoon. The characters were bigger than life. All my friends were into it. We would play wrestling in the backyard.”
Hackman drifted away from wrestling but would come back to it periodically over the years. However, meeting fellow librarian and wrestling fan Rich Sigwald at a conference in 2015 eventually took their fandom to another level.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, when they “had a lot of time to fill, like everybody else,” they decided to watch all 37 WrestleManias (the annual event often called “the Super Bowl of pro wrestling”) in order and blog about them, Hackman said. After about a year, they tapped out on the blog – “writing a blog is a lot of work and nobody wants to read that much,” Hackman said – and decided to tag-team on a WrestleMania podcast.
“We talk about the history and the performers and how wrestling reflects what’s going on in the culture at any one moment,” Hackman said. “It’s an art form and an entertainment form that’s very much tied into the zeitgeist. If there’s something going on in the news, it’s going to show up on a wrestling show.”
So it was only natural that he would contact VCW about creating a companion event for the wrestling matches. Over spring break, he met with Stephanitsis (’06 B.S. communication).
“We settled on the panel as a way to tie in the history of wrestling in this area, because there is a lot of it, as well as the business aspects,” Hackman said. “What’s involved in running an indie promotion like this, everything from talent management to venues and merchandise and all the rest of it. Also for me, being an English major and a wrestling fan, I’m always interested in the cultural elements. So we envisioned a panel that would bring together those different perspectives.”
Stephanitsis, who in his day job is a vice president at Bank of America, said his wife, Rebecca, “has been suggesting I look into an event at the University for years.” She is also an ODU alum and the VCW’s director of merchandising/internship coordinator.
Some might find a university an unusual setting for a wrestling show and discussion. But Hackman believes the events could “show the value of the University” to people who might not otherwise come to campus –and demonstrate that pro wrestling is a legitimate topic for scholars.
“One of the things I think we’ve come to know and appreciate is that popular culture in all of its forms is a valid subject for academic study,” he said. “People didn’t take movies seriously for the first decades of their invention. People didn’t take television seriously. People didn’t take novels seriously. We study great novels, we study TV and we study film. To me, wrestling’s really no different. It has aspects of performance, it has history, it has a culture of its own.”