WARNING STRONG LANGUAGE AND STRONG VIOLENCE AHEAD
How many of you have heard about the no-ring deathmatch scene? Well, prepare for a lesson in a blossoming wrestling scene from recent years as I sat down with the King of the No-Ring deathmatch, The Hipster Heartthrob, Casanova Valentine. In part one, we talk about the inception of the U.S no-ring deathmatch scene, wrestling as an art form, the importance of characters, and why RISE Underground is a modern-day ECW. Enjoy.
Let’s start by telling the readers a bit about you. Who is Casanova Valentine?
“Who is Casanova Valentine? Casanova Valentine is Tory Taranto, just scaled all the way up. I am kind of a rough, boozy guy from New York, but not to the extent of Casanova Valentine. So basically, Casanova is just an amplified, crazy version of me.”
So, do you find it quite easy to project in matches then?
“Yeah. I’ll tell you a little story. When I was first looking at wrestling schools, I went to Johnny Rodz’s wrestling school in Dumbo Brooklyn. He’s a WWE Hall of Famer, and he looked at me, and goes “Okay, you’re going to be Jebidiah, the Amish corn husker, and we’re gonna have you on a show next week.” I was like, “No, dude, I can’t do something I’m not passionate about.” There’s no way I could be a character. I’m an artist. I’m a creative guy. I can come up with my own stuff, my own gimmick, and my own shtick. I wouldn’t be happy if I had to be someone like a lumberjack or a country guy or a trucker. I had to be Hipster Heartthrob, Casanova Valentine. It was literally the only option because that’s who I am. So, it’s much easier to convey Casanova because it’s me. The real-life me is maybe a little less sleazy, but that’s about it.”
How did you find your way to the no ring deathmatch scene? You were originally quite the indie grappler…
“Well, you see, there was no no-ring deathmatch scene until I started it. There have been things that are similar in DDT and backyard wrestling. I’m not saying I’m the first person to ever wrestle outside of a ring. But I started doing deathmatches in bars with no ring in 2016 and built the scene. Since I’ve started doing them, there’s now Timebomb in North Dakota. That’s a no-ring promotion that also runs shows in Canada. There’s No Peace Underground in Orlando, and there’s one in LA. So now there are full-blown promotions with belts that exist now that never used to exist in America. Since then I’ve gone to the UK to do no-rings, and I just came back from Australia doing no-rings. Not to brag, but I’m the pioneer of it on this side of the world at least. I know they do similar mat-based stuff in Japan. But the concept here, booking it with bands and centering it around a party punk rock feel, that was all me.”
What does it feel like to be the pioneer?
“Exhausting. People either think it’s cool or think I’m an egotistical maniac for trying to defend that I started it. So I can’t say I did it without people attacking me and trying to show me examples of an FMW match from 1982 where one guy wrestled outside. But the thing is, in 2016, I started doing no ring shows. It wasn’t a thing in America, and since then I’ve done over 50 no ring matches. I did two no ring matches last WrestleMania. This year as part of the Collective, there were three no ring shows, and I wasn’t even booked on any of them. Now it’s a full-blown thing that has directly correlated with me making it a thing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me defending I made it a thing, but some people get uptight about it. It can be exhausting. The interesting thing is, it’s like Napster (music service), it’s always the first that gets killed off. Napster did it first. Now they don’t exist. It’s always the first, and I refuse to be the one who doesn’t exist. People try to cut me out of the conversation, I go fuck you. I’ve bled too much blood, put in too much sweat and tears to make this a thing, so fuck you.”
It must have gotten you noticed at some point, you’ve competed in Tournament of Death, and you’ve been in the main event scene of H2O…
“Most people in the know, know it’s from me. I do travel doing normal shows and no ring shows. I think the flak I get is mostly because I’m very protective of the terms I use to promote my shows. I do what I have to do to not let it out of my hands. To some people that rubs them the wrong way, I’m not sure why. I think it’s pretty reasonable.”
Speaking of promoting, you were going to be running two no ring shows over Mania weekend. I was gutted about that, the MurderMania cards looked amazing. Kody Rice vs. Faye Jackson is a match I never knew I needed to see but now need to…
“The MurderMania shows, I established them last year when Mania was in New York, and the original main event was me vs. Effy. At that time, Effy had never done a deathmatch, so I always try to make a crazy match, and I think kody Rice vs. Faye Jackson was going to be one of the sleeper hits of all Mania weekend. I think that would have really killed it. Unfortunately, the MurderMania shows got cancelled. I was in Australia when I found out the venues pulled out on both of my shows. It was a devastating thing, y’ know? Being in Australia on a tour and the world kind of collapsed around me. There was also supposed to be me vs. Matthew Justice, which got cancelled, and then Serpentico vs. Tony Deppen would have been another sleeper hit.”
Do you think you have a knack for making matches?
“It’s an interesting boat. The reason it was so easy to start doing these no ring shows was that I used to be a promoter. Not a wrestling promoter, but a nightlife promoter, and I’m also a doorman or bouncer. So I do VIP bouncing at big clubs, and I used to, in my early 20s, book DJs and events. Plus, I’ve had 10 solo art shows. I’d curate and book the venue, so it’s always something I’ve done. Adding the wrestling was the next logical step. I always wanted to make an in-ring promotion. It was always a dream or at least a goal. It was definitely a goal to make my own wrestling event. What happened was I booked an art show, all based on pro wrestling, and I thought fuck it, I wrestle someone at the art show as a performance art piece. Then it just made itself. I never planned to be a no ring deathmatch wrestler. It just became its own thing, and I stayed ahead of it. Now here I am talking to you. If I hadn’t done the first one in 2016, you and I wouldn’t be speaking. But that’s making ideas, and that’s where I thrive.
In that environment of storytelling, character ideas, and so that’s why I think I’m so good at matchmaking. Because that’s where my strong suit is. I was one of the first guys to really start noticing Treehouse Lee on the indie scene on the East Coast. Like, “Oh my god, there’s this guy called Treehouse Lee. Sick.” I then got him on some of my shows. I love wrestling. Anytime I see someone with a unique or interesting character, I am drawn to that. There is a guy in LA, I want to use more, and his name is Richard Shhhnary. So, it’s a pun on the dictionary. He’s a tough librarian. He was doing the gimmick long before AEW was asking for librarians, and he gives you papercuts and hits you with books. It’s creative, and I like anything creative or interesting. That’s why I was drawn to Effy originally. That’s why I’m friends with MV Young. I love any kind of character or interesting guy.”
I can get behind that. I see you did a lot of work with Still Life with Apricots and Pears too…
“Yeah! I booked Apricots vs. Treehouse and the other match I was going to be really proud of was Apricots vs. Treehouse Lee vs. Effy in a triple threat. Even though I’m a deathmatch wrestler, and my subculture of wrestling is separate, I still like to make sure my whole card isn’t all deathmatch. I like to have something different, something new opens then the violent deathmatch. I like everything. I watched Smokey Mountain Wrestling, World of Sport, Lucha. I watch everything myself. I’m known for the deathmatch, people on the outside looking in would just see me and think, “Oh, he’s just a fat deathmatch guy who doesn’t know anything about wrestling,” but I’m actually Blackjack Mulligan, Ox Baker, Bruiser Brody, Fritz Von Erich, Baron von Raschke. I’m very into wrestling and old school wrestling and different types of wrestling. I watch everything.”
Funny you should mention Bruiser Brody, in a recent interview with Big FN Joe, when I asked him about you, he compared your still ongoing feud to Bruiser Brody vs. Abdullah the Butcher. What’s your opinion on that?
“So, me and Big FN Joe are both tall with beards. I guess I’d have to be Abdullah in this feud, since I’m the fatter one. I think, in my opinion, mine and Big Joe’s is one of the best ongoing feuds, not just in deathmatches, but on the indies because we’ve fought each other twice in the UK, once in Vegas, once at the Gathering of the Juggalos, and at TOD. So our feud has gone from Gathering of the Juggalos, TOD, a random night in Vegas on a Monday, a Halloween no ring deathmatch, and the finals of a tournament in the UK. I think the body of work is very interesting from where these matches are taking place to the face of indie wrestling. I’m glad that me and Big Joe have built this big feud. I’m pretty sure people will say the Nick Gage/Rickey Shane Page feud is the biggest, but I think there’s room to argue me and Big Joe, so I’m proud of the work we’ve put in. He’s kinda the Ying to my Yang because he wears all white, I wear all black. We’re about the same size, and we both have the same promo type where we both talk shit. We’re kinda like the same, but the opposite. He’s like the Ken to my Ryu. So I like our feud a lot, and I like Big Joe personally. It’s a pleasure to work with him and keep it going.”
Sticking with the UK theme, have you enjoyed working with RISE Underground in the UK?
“I will say this, I think RISE Underground is the most refreshingly creative promotion in the world, and I say that as someone who wrestles all over America, Canada, and the UK. They remind me of a current British ECW. What’s great about RISE is the promoter cares so much about storytelling. A lot of the indies in America are top guy vs. top guy, indie dream match before they both get signed. Oh, you better get Matt Riddle vs. PCO before they get signed. Whereas RISE has their own stars. They have Boris, they have Pork of York, they built their own guys, and they have their own interesting stories. It’s raunchy, and it’s silly, and the non-deathmatches are great with great storytelling and payoffs. Then the deathmatches are violent. It’s the only one that truly reminds me of ECW. I love that.
My biggest regret is that I wasn’t born in a time where I could be in ECW. RISE is the closest to that, and even though I’m an American I kinda consider myself a full-time RISE member. Even though I’ve only been over there twice because I feel so welcome there. The fans love me being there, and I feel welcomed there. If it were up to me, I’d do RISE 5,6,8 times a year. Honestly, I would fly over there that often. So I love RISE, I think they’re the answer to the ECW void that’s left in the world. A lot of people try to compare GCW to ECW just because of the violence and the fanbase, but they don’t have the storylines that Sabu, Taz, or Tommy Dreamer had. These year-long interesting feuds and silly characters. For me, they don’t fill that at all. That belongs to RISE 100% for the oddity of it, the weirdness of it, the long-term storytelling. Darwin vs. Big Joe took years for the blow-off to that double-cross. So yeah, I love RISE. I’d say they’re my favourite promotion going in the world.”
Were you looking forward to Games of Death?
“I really was. The night before Games of Death, I was supposed to wrestle Darwin in a street fight. I was excited about that match because I think Darwin is like there’s a couple of people who I would almost want to use the term genius. There’s Cracker Jack in Australia, who I think is a legit genius, and then Darwin is another one where I don’t think he gets the attention he deserves. He’s fucking phenomenal, and when he came back as this angelic, satanic character it was so brilliant. It’s almost too good for indie wrestling. I feel like indie wrestling fans are currently a bunch of goobers who watch anime and collect Funko Pops. It’s wasted on them. He’s a genius. He’s too good. I was very excited to wrestle Darwin and to maybe get some new eyes on him on the international level. I was also supposed to wrestle Iceman in a Taipei Deathmatch, holy shit, I’m a huge fan of Iceman. To have been able to wrestle him would’ve been insane. So there are two huge major matches I’ve missed out on that I’m hoping to get rebooked. We’re kinda in this weird boat where we’re all just waiting to see what happens since everything’s so uncertain. I’m just assuming I have no bookings until I hear otherwise.”
— Casanova Valentine🖤💀 (@CasanovaVal666) April 5, 2020
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2
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All images courtesy of Casanova Valentine Twitter, Nick Burch (via No Peace Underground), Carl Gac Photography, fuckyoubaker