Content Warning: This article contains explicit discussion of sexual assault.

Four pro wrestlers and a wrestling fan have come forward with allegations of sexual assault, harassment and manipulative behavior against Rick Cataldo, co-founder of the LGBTQ-centric wrestling promotion, A Matter of Pride.

The accusations against Cataldo were first raised by pro wrestler Ryan Z in a public statement released via Twitter. According to Ryan, Cataldo approached him in a production room at a Capitol Wrestling event in Hoboken, N.J., on July 14, 2018, knelt in front of him and began running his fingers on his knee without consent. Cataldo allegedly continued despite Ryan’s objections, ultimately rubbing Ryan’s penis. “I flatly told him ‘Stop’ and ‘No’ multiple times along with other serious protests throughout the entire incident, but Mr. Cataldo ignored this,” wrote Ryan.

Cataldo is said to have eventually stopped after another wrestler noticed his actions, but Ryan’s attempt to exit the room allegedly drew another unwanted advance. According to Ryan, Cataldo followed him and began “intrusively explaining to me how he performs oral sex on men while making tongue gestures close to my face.”

Comedians Matt Maran and Christopher Crespo, who were in the room during the alleged incident, recall seeing Cataldo and Ryan’s interaction that night. “It seemed like a kind of a game of chicken. Rick had his hand on the inside of Ryan’s leg and kept moving it closer to his groin,” Maran told Outsports. “It seemed like a game I’d seen before where you ask ‘are you nervous?’ and then keep moving closer until someone caves. I’d been in sports locker rooms before and guys in general making jokes of that sort so I figured they were friends and were both in on it. It wasn’t until weeks later I heard that wasn’t the case,” Maran added.

“I was on my phone and heard a heated exchange between the two. That’s when I looked up and saw that Rick placed his hand on Ryan’s groin area,” Crespo recalled. “Wrestlers separated them and Ryan asked me if I saw what happened. I said ‘yes,’ and so did Matt Maran … It was going to get ugly.”

Wrestlers and fans showed support for Ryan after sharing his story, while others alleged Ryan’s accusations are the latest in a pattern of harassing, manipulative behavior from Cataldo. And one Twitter user posted a slew of screenshotted tweets purporting to be from Cataldo’s account over the past six years that the user described as racist, homophobic and transphobic.

Others within the wrestling industry have come forward with their own allegations against Cataldo following Ryan’s statement. Pro wrestler Conor Claxton spoke to Outsports about his own claims of sexual assault against Cataldo. Conor said he met Cataldo “in 2014 or 2015” and his unwanted advances began soon after. “Not long after I met Rick he would always try to grab my cock. Like every time I’d see him. Several times,” Claxton told Outsports. “Being a big guy, I would just physically stop him. I never really saw myself as a victim, therefore I never really saw Rick as a predator at that time.”

Claxton said he “considered Rick a friend at the time” but claimed Cataldo’s attempts to grope him grew more “aggressive” over time. “One time specifically, I was trying to get ready for my match or something and I wasn’t in the mood for his advances,” Claxton said. “I remembered grabbing his wrist on a dick grab attempt, then he tried with the other hand which I grabbed, and then I gave him a little knee to the stomach. Not hard enough to hurt him, just hard enough to let him know I wasn’t playing games.”

According to Claxton, it wasn’t until he saw Ryan’s statement that he began viewing Cataldo’s advances toward him as predatory. “I never saw Rick as a predator because I didn’t see myself as a victim. But when I heard what happened to Ryan and spoke to him myself it made a lot of sense. I saw how it affected him,” Claxton said. “Once there was a victim, I could clearly see what a predator he is.”

Pro wrestler Allie Kat also took to Twitter to criticize Cataldo, calling him a “predator” and “manipulative.” Allie later told Outsports that her only interaction with Cataldo came when he sent her a private message in the aftermath of a breakup, describing her ex as a “sociopath.” “He would periodically follow, unfollow and block me on his [Twitter] account and the A Matter of Pride account,” Allie said.

Cataldo’s private message to Allie Cat

Outsports spoke to another wrestler, who asked not to be named, claiming to have a similar story from early in their career.

“[Cataldo] was very sexually inappropriate with me. He was saying a lot of sexual things and he groped me. I told him to cut it out and he thought it was funny,” the wrestler told Outsports. “I didn’t realize at the time because I wasn’t intelligent enough, honestly, it was almost like he was grooming me. He would start being nice to me and then he came on to me very hard… He started rumors about me. He said that I had sex with him. He said that I was gay. He tried to blackball me from the promotion.”

The wrestler cited Ryan’s statement as the catalyst for finally speaking up about his experience. “I cried when that kid put that post up because that’s a post I’d wanted to put up for almost five years now. And I just couldn’t. It’s cool to see that all these people are coming out and talking about it and it’s also cool to know that I’m not the only one.” said the wrestler.

According to one fan, Cataldo’s alleged actions haven’t been limited to only those within his profession. A fan who asked to be identified by their first name only, Fabião, also relayed a story of sexual assault allegedly involving Cataldo at a Jersey Championship Wrestling event in 2014.

“I arrived early to the show, and I remember Rick was going around all of our seats in a crouching position and signing a pamphlet we received once we got inside the venue. Before he signed mine, he left his pen between my legs, and, when he was about to pick it up, he grabbed my crotch instead. I quickly lifted my legs up in shock, hoping it would scare him off, but, instead, he let out a really loud and ugly cackle. I made a face of disgust and told him to stop,” Fabião told Outsports.

According to Fabião, Cataldo’s aggressive behavior continued during his match that night when he sat in Fabião’s lap without consent. Fabião said he was forced to revisit the trauma in 2016 when Cataldo began sending him “suggestive DMs” out of the blue on Instagram. “I just ended up deleting my whole page,” said Fabião.

According to Fabião, he chose not to press charges against Cataldo because he “was scared of what he’d do in return” and “didn’t have money to start anything legal against him.”

If Ryan’s account is accurate, it provides a window into how people within pro wrestling could be coerced into silence by those in power. According to Ryan, one of the promoters of the event, Capitol Wrestling co-founder Marcus Dowling, reached out to him, pleading with him to “withhold any public statement or legal action” regarding his interaction with Cataldo.

“I was told in no uncertain terms, ‘You release a statement, it legit gets 10000x worse,’” said Ryan. According to messages between Ryan and the promoter that Ryan posted to Twitter, Dowling tried to convince Ryan to sign a non-disclosure agreement out of fear that taking the incident public “kills the whole business.”

Unedited screenshots of communications between Ryan Z and Marcus Dowling.

A recording of a three-way phone call between Ryan, Cataldo and Dowling that occurred days after the July 2018 incident obtained by Outsports supports Ryan’s claims that Dowling attempted to handle the situation out of public view. Cataldo can be heard on the tape admitting that he touched Ryan’s penis and apologizing while downplaying the severity of his actions, categorizing Ryan’s concerns as “some Rose McGown Me Too bullshit” and claiming that Ryan touched him inappropriately as well.

When asked about the conversations, Dowling, who is no longer associated with Capitol Wrestling as of February 2020, said he was trying to gather facts instead of letting the situation play out in the court of public opinion.

“It was a sensitive situation that, in my estimation, needed to be handled with a conversation involving all parties, first. Public opinion is best when not an opinion at all, but rather a discussion had with facts being presented,” Dowling told Outsports. “Social media can be honest, but social media can also be cruel. Not wanting to see either Ryan or Rick be judged first by anything other than a legal standard was necessary.”

According to Dowling, he urged Ryan to keep the situation “in-house” at the time as a means of protection. “At the time, Ryan was a younger performer potentially standing up as (what was, at that time) one lone public voice against Rick, who at the time was the most vocal and generally beloved/respected openly gay performer of his generation,” Dowling said. “Making an allegation like his, at that time, without what would appear to be any legs to stand upon, save his own, would have been difficult. My only desire was to create a situation wherein if he were to say something that he’d have a stable, robust, fact-based platform supporting him.”

According to Dowling, his response was also informed by the impact the situation could have on his inclusive vision for Capitol Wrestling and wrestling as a whole. “A vital piece of Capitol’s business and marketing plan — plus front-facing presentation — was to normalize traditionally straight, cis-gendered male fan bases to accepting and supporting members of the LGBTQ community as not just ‘gay wrestlers,’ but ‘star talent,’” Dowling said. “Once the situation between Rick and Ryan occurred, I realized that this would be very detrimental to not just Capitol, but potentially to pro wrestling as an industry. It’s the kind of issue that could cast a shadow of guilt that talent would need to overcome without setting foot in a ring.”

“Rick Cataldo walks unencumbered by the burden of what he did to me and continues to enter locker rooms and perform. I am still carrying the pain, shame and confusion stemming from the assault daily,” said Ryan. “I have not been able to engage with wrestling the way that I used to. I am fearful of the locker room setting and what might occur should I choose to pursue wrestling again.”

Some worry that accusations against Cataldo could undermine much of the positive advancement made by LGBTQ pro wrestlers and promoters.

“It just sucks because now he’s pushed a bad taste in straight wrestlers mouths and they think that, ‘maybe all gay wrestlers are trying to have sex with me or they’re all trying to be perverted.’ That’s bullshit,” the unnamed wrestler told Outsports. “He’s putting a sour taste in everyone’s mouth about what it is to be a part of that community and a part of the wrestling community when the wrestling community should just be safe and fun.”

Ryan addressed those concerns in his statement as well, saying, “This is not an issue of sexuality or gender; this is an issue of boundaries and consent. Rick Cataldo’s actions are a betrayal of the community he represents.”

Ryan claimed in his Twitter post that he did file a criminal complaint against Cataldo shortly after the alleged incident. Ryan goes on to assert that Cataldo retaliated with his own complaint against Ryan, but Outsports has not been able to verify these claimed filings within New Jersey court records or the Hoboken police department.

Cataldo issued a statement via Twitter, denying Ryan’s accusations and reiterating his claims that Ryan groped him. Cataldo also claimed that Ryan sent him “perverted DMs” ahead of the July 2018 event and that the July 2018 incident was “a setup to get me to leave the wrestling industry.” Cataldo further dismissed Ryan’s claims as the product of an undefined past trauma.

Ryan denied having any “knowledge of any plot to push Rick out of the wrestling industry” to Outsports and refuted Cataldo’s claims of sexual assault and a past trauma in Ryan’s life informing his view of their interaction.

“The match on July 14th, 2018 is the only match Rick Cataldo and myself have ever performed in together … After Rick groped me on July 14th, a spot for the match was worked out where Rick would force my face to the middle of his chest to escape an arm lock. I do not recall even practicing the maneuver, though it was discussed and executed live as it was suggested,” Ryan told Outsports. “Aside from Rick’s assault of me and some contact in the performance of the match, no such explicit physical contact ever took place.”

“I can’t know what Rick Cataldo means when claiming that a past trauma in my own life is relevant to this issue. I would be interested to know what he thinks that is,” Ryan said. Ryan also denied sending Cataldo “perverted DMs,” stating that he would “invite screenshots of those alleged interactions.”

“I have looked back on all my social media communications to try and find any contact with Rick prior to July 14th. Unsurprisingly to me, my search came up empty,” Ryan said.

Cataldo declined to comment further on the allegations after Outsports repeatedly reached out to Cataldo and his representatives.