Josh Royal always wanted to be a professional wrestler.
He yearned to embrace the spectacle and pageantry of the weekly televised events produced by the likes of World Wrestling Entertainment, but getting into the multibillion-dollar corporation isn’t easy.
Add in the obligations that come with co-owning Atlas Nutrition, a healthy smoothie and energy tea store in Claremore, and living out his childhood fantasy seemed next to impossible.
Royal then came across a promotional advertisement for a wrestling event in the Claremore Expo Center that suddenly changed the trajectory of his path to the ring.
It wasn’t a direct pipeline to the WWE or New Japan Pro Wrestling, another giant in the market, but it had perhaps more of a tenderhearted value than both those properties.
It was for a cause. Wrestling For A Cause, to be exact.
Also known as WFC, this organization has put on many fundraising events for Oklahoma families affected by childhood cancer after humble beginnings in 2011.
According to its Facebook page, WFC is a state-recognized nonprofit organization in the process of gaining a similar standing at the federal level.
Haskell Patton, a co-owner of Atlas Nutrition, said it provided their company the perfect opportunity to get involved in community activities.
“Josh had the idea to start sponsoring the shows locally to get our name out here for Atlas Nutrition, and also to help the cause,” Patton said. “It is a nonprofit organization, so all the proceeds from our shows — ticket sales, merchandise and concessions — goes to the kids’ families.”
WFC owner Tim Johnson welcomed Atlas Nutrition to the local wrestling scene in more ways than one.
Not only did Johnson provide Atlas Nutrition a boost in exposure, but he also offered Royal and Patton a spot on the WFC roster.
After about a year of training, Royal found himself in a professional wrestling ring for the first time, beginning a rewarding career in helping others through scripted entertainment.
That process began five years ago, and Royal has now been an in-ring talent for WFC for four years, wrestling in one or two shows per month under the name Alex “The Showcase” Royal.
Patton’s ring name is Reed.
“It’s a really great cause, but it’s also cool to get a foot in the door to be a professional wrestler,” Royal said. “Being a business owner and being a part of the community itself is cool, but being able to go out and live a childhood dream is cool as well.”
Although Royal is a designated heel — a wrestler who portrays a villain or a “bad guy” — his impact is unquestionable.
During his stint with the company, WFC has raised nearly $100,000 for kids and families in need.
And though its main focus caters to families dealing with childhood cancer, WFC doesn’t turn away those who might be troubled by other issues.
“If there’s a family that comes to us that is having trouble coming up with funeral expenses, has a family member in the hospital or just had someone pass away — really all walks of life that need help — we try to work with them,” Royal said.
Regardless of the situation, the main objective of WFC is to produce unforgettable shows for the affected parties.
According to Royal, if the wrestlers can take a kid’s mind off his or her troubles for the three hours they have his or her attention, they know they’re doing something right.
It is all about creating an environment and experience that takes the children away from the negative stigma of cancer, allowing them to be worry-free fans in the process.
“For that time, they’re just a fan, they’re just yelling at the bad guy and cheering the good guy,” Royal said. “It’s good vs. evil, the standard story.”
To put on such a production, WFC must exhaust all its resources.
It is not just a wrestling ring set up in the middle of a gym. It is a full-on production.
A great deal of work and care goes into constructing WFC’s set pieces.
Much like what one would expect from a WWE show, WFC sets include an entrance ramp, a video monitor, smoke machines and strobe lights.
All of this is a necessity to bringing the ongoing storylines to life for the audience.
“When they go there, they’re going to a ballet of violence,” Royal said. “You get a full-on experience with WFC, and that’s what matters.
“All the good stuff that you get at a wrestling show, you get it close and personal.”
In addition to the pageantry, the kids get to experience the ring from the wrestlers’ point of view.
During intermission, they get to meet and take pictures with the wrestlers while also taking a peak at the merchandise table.
Of course, being a heel means Royal must miss out on the opportunity to connect with the children on a personal level, but that is a sacrifice he is willing to make.
Royal is often on the losing end of matches to satisfy the crowd, but there comes a sense of accomplishment when seeing the kids’ excitement of the result.
“At the end of the day, it’s professional wrestling,” Royal said. “No one wants to boo a bad guy and then the bad guy shows up afterward and screws their mind up, being like, ‘Hey, how are you?’ Kids don’t get that.”
However, finding a venue to put on these aesthetically pleasing shows isn’t always easy.
WFC has had to host shows in Locust Grove for kids from Claremore because it couldn’t find an available local location.
Although that is only about a 40-minute drive, Zach Royal, co-owner of Atlas Nutrition and brother to Josh Royal, said garnering support for the live event is much more difficult.
“If you can get into the community where the kid is from, you get a lot more support,” Zach Royal said. “The more people in the door, the more money there is raised for the kids.”
WFC hosted its Freedom Rings Rumble: Fight For Jericho show at the Mobra Gymnasium in Claremore on Saturday, July 13.
The event was a fundraiser for Jericho Roberts, a 3-year-old who was diagnosed with leukemia in January.
Between 100 and 200 of Roberts’ supporters attended, but there were setbacks.
“There was no A/C in the building,” Josh Royal said. “It was hot as all get out, but the family was strong and stayed in there sweating bullets.”
With the temperature eclipsing 90 degrees, the conditions weren’t exactly ideal.
WFC used to hold its events in the Claremore Community Center, but it was left short on options after the venue decided to stop hosting professional wrestling events earlier this year.
WFC is now looking for a steady place in Claremore to run consistent events.
Luckily, paying the rental fees for venues isn’t an issue thanks to Atlas Nutrition.
Venue rentals vary in price, but the health store’s contributions allow WFC to give more funds to families rather than losing a chunk to fees.
“If someone like Atlas Nutrition steps in and sponsors the venue, that’s just $300 more for the family,” Josh Royal said. “That’s the benefit of being a sponsor and getting involved.”
To continue its productivity, though, WFC needs local venues in this area to open their doors.
A majority of the company’s shows in 2017 and 2018 were held in Claremore, and a great number has taken place here in 2019 as well.
In fact, WFC returns to the Claremore area on Saturday, Aug. 17, for Summer Sizzler: Fight For Chester Round 2 at the Verdigris High School Gym.
“When the community center told us they wanted to get away from professional wrestling, I don’t think they understood the impact this was bringing to the community,” Josh Royal said. “The kids were really needing the help. Going to the gym is great, but that’s not always guaranteed. They could have basketball or volleyball games, and we’d have to kick bricks on that one.”
If you are interested in hosting a WFC event, contact Zach Royal of Atlas Nutrition at 918-892-8589 or 918-948-2396.
“We want to find a home here in Claremore,” Josh Royal said. “That’s what we’re actively searching for.”