Athleticism and storytelling are key components to a proper presentation of pro wrestling, but the intangible that draws more people to the flame is personality. It enhances all aspects of pro wrestling, but a wrestler’s personality more importantly stands on its own as a defining characteristic that makes them stand out in the audience’s collective mind.
It’s this factor that makes pro wrestling an environment where self-discovery easily flourishes. Case in point, Riptide Wrestling’s Pride of Brighton champion Cassius. The North London native’s star has risen considerably in the past few years, as his bubbly nature and unabashed embrace of his identity as a gay man fueled a growing international recognition.
But the rainbow tassels, pink shorts and sass-filled bouts serve a higher power than pulling in crowds. They are the end product of a journey that might not have happened if not for wrestling’s facilitation.
The man who would become the “Neon Explosion” found roots in wrestling in female WWE competitors like Mickie James, Trish Stratus and Kelly Kelly. But that starting point proved an obstacle when Cassius began wrestling training.
A fear of expressing his love of WWE’s women’s division to other trainees bled into an internalized idea that Cassius must reflect masculinity at every turn, including in the ring. That focus and self-micromanaging impeded him and nearly robbed him of the joy wrestling brought, but Cassius couldn’t keep his true self bottled up for long.
“Two weeks before a show, I got in the ring with one of the girls. ... And I grabbed her by the hair and pulled it. My trainer said, ‘Oh my god. That was so sassy. You should do that more often,’” Cassius said. “My body always moved in a feminine way because that’s what I was used to watching.”
That lapse in Cassius’ focused masculine presentation proved to be the catalyst for Cassius to embrace everything that has come to define him in and out of the ring. “My trainer said I should wear pink and bright colors. ... I was so scared of doing those things, but I always knew I loved the color pink. I avoided wearing [bright colors] because I knew people would say, ‘You’re gay,’” Cassius said. “If you would’ve shown a picture of me now to me seven years ago I would’ve said, ‘No way. I could never do that.’”
Now, with a number of championships adorning the waist those validating pink shorts envelope and increasingly diverse crowds showering him with love, it is hard to imagine Cassius as anyone else. “All the things people took the mick out of me for before, these are the things that people cheer for me for now,” he said.