Last Saturday’s “Barbed Wire Baptism” event kicked off 2024 in dramatic fashion for Tennessee-based pro wrestling promotion TWE Chattanooga.
The night’s main event featured a battle amongst barbed wire between long-time rivals Jaden Newman and Suge D that set a high bar for the rest of the Southeast to meet this year. But an even greater moment preceded the bloody war; one that proved the commitment of TWE Chattanooga to its mantra against hate.
The night’s semi-main event featured out non-binary pro wrestler Josh Locke against Big Dave in the finals of the TWE Gig City championship tournament. Locke would come out on top and become the inaugural holder of the title named after the city the promotion calls home.
The win denoted a major moment within the promotion as Locke became the first out non-binary champion in the company’s history and possibly in the long history of pro wrestling in the state of Tennessee. But one attendee’s multiple transphobic comments directed toward Locke nearly cast a cloud over the historic moment.
According to multiple people in the building during the event who spoke to Outsports, a male attendee began directing transphobic language toward Locke early in the match. “His one frame of reference was Caitlyn Jenner and I’m like bitch, we don’t even like her,” said Scottye Moore, a wrestling announcer and YouTuber who heard the comments firsthand. “For me, being a non-binary theater kid like Josh, my alarm bells just started going off.”
Pro wrestler Jamesen Shook, who wrestled in the night’s opener alongside out wrestlers Pha’Nesse and Sigrid, Daughter of Tyr, took notice of the man as well. When the attendee began making similar comments during a moment in the match when Locke, who wrestles as a heel, began drawing fans’ ire, Shook made his way over to that side of the building to assess the situation.
“He said something about Josh that I couldn’t make out, but people were getting uncomfortable,” Shook told Outsports. Shook confronted the attendee, telling him “Josh is twice the athlete you are and there’s a reason you’re watching them.”
When he retorted with “I’m twice the man [Locke] is,” Shook shut him down again. “I responded, ‘They’re non-binary, dumbass,’ and he was quiet for a little bit after that.”
Shook’s presence proved calming for Moore as well. “Being a non-binary person showing up to TWE for one of my first shows, I had this immediate wash of ‘Oh thank god, everything’s OK. This place is as good as they say’ come over me,” they said.
TWE Chattanooga has positioned itself as an inclusive, hate-free environment for pro wrestling training and events in the Southeast. The company holds a zero-tolerance stance for anyone exhibiting hateful speech or behavior within its walls, so much so that the message has been pinned to the top of its official Twitter account since 2020.
In the time since, the company has welcomed major LGBTQ wrestling names including EFFY, “Speedball” Mike Bailey and AC Mack into its ring, showcased mainstay LGBTQ stars of the region like Sean Campbell and Rico Gonzalez, and trained rising names such as Locke and Sigrid.
TWE Chattanooga even played host to the first singles match between two out trans women in Tennessee pro wrestling history last year when Sigrid fought Saraya Saber.
“We at TWE do everything we can to make everyone feel safe, no matter what,” Shook said.
According to Moore, the attendee was told to leave but remained in his seat. Shook told Outsports that TWE management was made aware of the situation around the time that he moved to the other side of the building, and he personally thought the situation was handled after his interactions with the attendee.
@Artist_Locke v. @DaveWeaver99 for the Gig City Championship! The now award winning, Josh Locke with the Helluva kick followed by the faux pas/curb stomp for the win. #TWEBaptism pic.twitter.com/sgQ5qIUhH7— Michael Alonso (@AlonsoMa6301) January 14, 2024
TWE management did not respond to a request for comment from Outsports but Shook stated that he gained permission from company officials to discuss the matter before speaking with Outsports.
The issue flared once again during Locke’s post-match celebration. Locke told Outsports that they hadn’t been aware of the hateful comments made during the match before returning to the locker room, but heard “a comment about how I looked like Caitlyn Jenner” about halfway through their planned acceptance speech.
“I cut like half of the speech I planned and at that point, I told them to hit my music and I was going to the back because I just didn’t want to be out there anymore,” Locke said.
At that moment, a slew of wrestlers and fans jumped into action to shut the attendee down and remove him from the building. “It was like The Avengers assembling behind me as Shook, Kevan Ryan, The Blairs, I’m sure I’m forgetting names, start telling this guy to get out,” Moore said. “And then the surrounding crowd starts to join into this groundswell of getting this dude out of there.”
“It made a lot of us very proud to see people standing up knowing the code at TWE and helped kick the fan out,” Shook added. “It’s also very telling that nobody that came with him defended him, spoke up or even left with him after he was removed.”
The comments definitely rattled Locke in the moment, but the love felt by seeing wrestlers and fans alike oppose the attendee quickly overwhelmed any negative feelings.
“It was obviously an emotional moment for me,” Locke said. “I’m about a year and a half into my career and I’m an inaugural champion. The transphobic comments came but it felt so good to see the quick action of everyone at the TWE Arena. I don’t get that every place I go but I know I always will at TWE.
“I eventually got outside. I was upset for about 30 seconds before it went away and I had people around me checking in and telling me the guy was kicked out,” Locke continued. “I love and appreciate everyone in the TWE locker room. I know they will always have my back. It means so much to me that they have supported me since I have been openly out.”
Locke noted how the fans switched from booing their heelish antics during the match to cheering and protecting them in the face of one person’s unwanted bigotry.
“I think that’s the first real instance of something like that happening at TWE since they made it very clear they don’t accept hate speech and it felt so good to know everyone in the building backs it up,” they added. “Me and everyone else at TWE want anyone who steps through the door to feel safe and welcome, and I think we proved that.”