In the shadow of wrestling’s biggest spectacle, pro wrestlers defined their legacies in shows throughout Philadelphia

Pro wrestlers showcased their “Labor of Love” at Philly shows this past week, including Ring Of Honor’s homecoming.

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Cheeseburger emerged as the inaugural Labor of Love Citywide Champion at WrestleJawn on April 3, 2024. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

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As the WWE took over Philadelphia this weekend for WrestleMania XL, the city was infected with thousands of passionate wrestling fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite professional wrestlers in the squared circle.

While the WWE may be the biggest game in town, other major and independent professional wrestling companies flocked to the City of Brotherly Love to connect with the thousands of fans who made their trek to the pro wrestling Mecca.

Independent showcases took place virtually all week long. During a rainstorm in Germantown on Wednesday, more than 300 people stood shoulder to shoulder under a tent for “WrestleJawn,” giving fans an intimate setting to witness some of their favorite wrestlers from over the years, including former WWE superstar Paul London.

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During his time with the WWE, London performed in arenas and held multiple titles. But he said he prefers the more intimate shows as they allow him to connect directly with the audience.

“Pro wrestling is the ultimate Rosetta Stone,” London said. “There are endless amounts of people that you’re going to meet, and they can come from any country. You probably don’t know their language, but you know wrestling and that’s the language you commonly speak. To me, it really unifies people.”

Brandel Littlejohn, better known as Cheeseburger, starred in the main event and became the first-ever Labor of Love Citywide Champion. He’s now competing on the independent circuits, but just two years ago he was with Ring of Honor, the company that catapulted him into the industry, before being cut.

“Losing your dream job is never fun, and honestly, I fell into a really bad period in my life where I didn’t know what my worth was in professional wrestling,” Cheeseburger said.

With the fans chanting his name and celebrating with his students from the Worldwide Wrestling Dojo, he thanked everyone for staying by his side.

“They helped me out of a dark place and continue my love of professional wrestling,” Cheeseburger said. “This really means the world to me.”

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A prodigy emerges

On Friday, Ring of Honor held Supercard of Honor stacked with title matches, international wrestling stars and legacy-defining moments — a homecoming of sorts, as ROH started in 2002 at the Murphy Recreation Center in South Philly.

Despite not even being born when the company first started, 19-year-old Billie Starkz said her only option was to walk out of the arena with the belt as the first-ever ROH Women’s World Television Champion.

“When I signed up to be a pro wrestler, I didn’t sign up to be the best women’s pro wrestler or the best youngest wrestler — I signed up to be the best wrestler in the world,” Starkz said.

After her title win, Starkz let the world know she’s only getting started.

“I am a monster,” Starkz said. “I love chaos and I don’t ever want to stop wrestling… I want to wrestle until the day I die.”

Industry veteran lands on top

Delaware native Mark Briscoe tore up the wrestling world for decades with his brother, Jay, who passed away after a car accident in 2023.

“The tragedy that happened, it’s like you don’t want to go on,” Briscoe said. “You don’t want to get out of bed.”

Eleven years to the day after Jay won the ROH World Championship, Mark was able to pay tribute to his brother by defeating Eddie Kingston for the title.

“Nights like tonight, this is what gives me comfort,” Briscoe said during the post-show scrum. “This is what helps me move on… Until we meet again, I’m just trying to do him proud, man.”

And with gold around his waist, Briscoe plans to honor his brother by not slowing down.

“Rock and roll, baby,” Briscoe said. “That’s the plan, rock and roll. It ain’t no stopping… shoot, I’m still a young man. Don’t let the gray hairs fool you.

To cap off the week of wrestling in Philadelphia, WWE will host a sold-out Monday Night Raw at the Wells Fargo Center.

More than 50,000 people from outside of the Philadelphia metro area were expected this weekend, according to PHL Sports Executive Director Larry Needle.

Combined, over 90,000 tickets were sold for this year’s WWE events when they first went on sale last August, setting a new WrestleMania record for first-day ticket sales — surpassing the previous record of $21.5 million dollars.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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