Tony Storm returns to Iowa before induction into prestigous wrestling group

Tony Storm will be returning to Oskaloosa to defend the Central Empire Wrestling Heavyweight belt that he recently won in January. He will be wrestling on April 7 at 7 P.M. at the Nelson Pioneer Farm. (Photo courtesy of Chris Manning).
 

This summer Tony Storm will be flown out to Las Vegas to join one of the most prestigious groups in professional wrestling. He will become part of the Cauliflower Alley Club, a nonprofit group that gives back to wrestlers in need. Alongside him will be two men that Storm grew up watching, Shawn Michaels and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.

Leading up to the event, Storm will be making an appearance in Oskaloosa to take part in a wrestling promotion. On April 7 he will be wrestling in a special ninth year anniversary show for Central Empire Wrestling. Just a couple months back, Storm came to Iowa and left with a heavyweight belt, which he will be looking to defend in April, at the Nelson Pioneer Farm.

The success of Storm dates back only to 2010, but that’s just part of his story. Storm grew up in Tampa, Florida and from the beginning he was introduced to professional wrestling. Every weekend he, his father and grandfather would sit around the TV and watch the local wrestlers on pay-per-view. At that point, it was more of a bonding activity, but as Storm grew older, so did his fascination.

Storm would go on to graduate high school in 2004 and was looking for somewhere he could play football at the college level. Four schools offered him a scholarship, one of them being William Penn University in Oskaloosa. He made the decision to come to Iowa partially due to the scholarship, but also for family reasons.

“I have some family in Cedar Rapids and my grandfather was on his final stages of cancer,” Storm said. “He’d never seen me play football before, and I was hoping he’d be able to watch me before he passed.”

Within a month of Storm signing his letter of intent, his grandfather wound up losing his battle with cancer. The following month Storm went to visit his grandmother to fill the missing void in their lives and do what he could to help. Storm went on to play for the Statesmen the next couple years in which the team won nine games.

In 2010 Storm and some buddies went to the local YMCA to see a wrestling show put on by Central Empire Wrestling. They found it enjoyable, especially for Storm due to his love of watching wrestling. One of Storm’s buddies then introduced him to the leader of the CEW, Austin Bayliss, who was also attending William Penn University.

Bayliss was more of a homegrown boy, a 2006 graduate from Keota High School. He knew he wanted to become a professional wrestler, and from the get go began to make a name for himself by doing shows in the Midwest. A year after graduation, Bayliss decided to open up his own wrestling academy, which was located in the Wellman area.

Storm and Bayliss quickly became pals after discovering their shared interest in wrestling. By then Bayliss had his Academy going for a couple years and had seen some talent go through his program. Bay
liss insisted that Storm had the build of a professional wrestler and kept making his pitch for Storm to join his Academy.

“Shortly after graduation I was offered a position to work in the Penn Activity Center,” Storm said. “Austin would stop by my office and keep giving me his pitch. I kept telling him no, and then one day I just decided to give it a shot.”

Storm started his training with Bayliss as his mentor in 2010. His first match was in Sigourney at the Expo for the Keokuk County Relay for Life in 2011. Empire Wrestling had been part of the Relay for Life the past five years, and their shows originally took place near the Keokuk County Courthouse grounds. They would shut down the streets and set up the ring, until it was moved to the Expo Center. 2011 was the final year that CEW would be part of the Relay for Life. Not only was Storm involved, so was Zach Allen, an exWWE one-legged wrestler.

“He lost his leg at a young age from cancer but still pursued and got into WWE,” Bayliss said. “It was a neat thing to see him speak to my students. I could tell that Tony was a believer in what he was saying, and it pushed him to want to climb the ladder even more.”

Storm kept training with Bayliss and his fellow peers until he graduated from the Academy in 2011. From there the two went their separate ways but remained in contact with another. Bayliss found a color TV job in Des Moines, working at Prairie Meadows to broadcast horse racing worldwide. He also got married to his wife, and the two events ultimately ended the CEW’s run with Relay for Life.

Meanwhile, Storm had moved back to Florida, hoping to find a way to use his degrees in physical education and business management.

“When I left Iowa, I thought that I would be done with wrestling,” Storm said. “I took it serious but didn’t really think of it as a career I’d pursue.”

A few months later, Storm ran into Steve Keirn, one of the wrestling greats. Keirn was a member of a gym that Storm was managing, and soon the two became good friends. Storm would accompany Keirn to some wrestling promotional shows, but Storm didn’t think anything more would come of it.

“One of my colleagues let it slip one day that I was a wrestler myself,” Storm said. “Keirn asked me why I hadn’t told him before that and made it known he wanted to help me out. I told him I would really appreciate that, but I didn’t want it to seem like I was using your influence to get my foot in the door.”

Keirn went on to introduce Storm to some wrestlers he knew in the Tampa area, and from there the promotions kept snowballing into more promotions and more shows. Months passed, and the number of wrestlers Storm knew and worked with continued to grow. That led to an opportunity of a lifetime for Storm, to wrestle in a building that all the legends had wrestled in, by taking part in a charity event.

Storm found a chance to take a vacation with his family before the event, taking a 10-day break in Idaho. Two days before he was supposed to fly home, Storm got very sick. He found himself being sent to the emergency room in Idaho at 2 a.m. the day before the event.

“They had to use three bags of saline to counter the dehydration I was feeling, and two shots of morphine to reduce the pain,” Storm said. “I was finally released at 3, and then boarded my plane at 5 a.m.”

Storm landed in Tampa mere hours before the show was about to go on. He told his family that he wouldn’t be wrestling but was still going to attend the event.

“I lied,” Storm said. “As a man I had made a commitment, and as a wrestler there was no way I could pass up this opportunity.”

What made the night so special was the fact that they would be honoring some of the legendary wrestlers who had put on shows back in the day in the old armory. Those guys would be getting a wall of fame put up in the refurbished armory, which now serves as a Jewish Community Center.

Storm walked in with the hospital bracelet still on his wrist, and a promoter stopped him to ask if he was alright, let alone if he could still work that night.

“I told him if I can stand, I can work,” Storm said.

He was tasked with putting on a 10-12 minute match with a local firefighter named Joe Buck. Not only had Buck brought in a following, despite having little wrestling experience, he had also helped raise a good amount of money for charity that night. For that reason, Storm was asked to pose as the “bad guy” in the match.

“I started to heckle him and some of the wrestling greats who were in the front row,” Storm said. “I told them they couldn’t touch me back in their prime, and that I was the future of the sport.”

One of those men in the front row was Ryan Flair, who got up in the face of Storm, and got in one shot to take him down. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but the crowd loved it. Jerry Brisco was another one of the men who were taking in the show up close. Brisco told Flair that he’d been monitoring the progress that Storm had made and noted he’d been getting better and better.

Flair then mentioned how Storm had been in the hospital only hours prior to the event that night, which shocked Brisco, who serves as the president of the Cauliflower Alley Club. Flair told Brisco to nominate Storm into the CAC, and Brisco proceeded to nominate him that night. After the executive board went through the nomination and did a background check, they decided he would be a good fit.

“I got a phone call asking if I’d receive the nomination. I was in shock,” Storm said. “I thought it was a joke, and then Jerry explained it to me.”

Storm decided to accept, knowing how big this would be for his future and helping him to his goal. Not everyone was as thrilled as Storm however.

“I did get some backlash from some of the older wrestlers. They believed I hadn’t put in enough time yet to get this recognition” Storm said. “On the one hand they’d get mad and say I don’t deserve it. On the other hand, if I turned it down and they found out, they’d think I’d be disrespecting the opportunity.”

It was a humbling lesson for Storm, as he learned that “people want to see you be successful, but not more successful than them.”

Before Storm finds himself flown out to Vegas to receive the great honor, he will find himself coming back to where it all began for him. In early April he will be returning to Iowa for the third time in just over a half year. Each time he’s come back has brought out his large fanbase, many already in possession of his merchandise, while others want to get a photo or shake his hand.

“He’s been improving at such a rapid pace it’s difficult to determine if we’ll get him for much longer,” Bayliss said. “It’s not too often that a professional wrestler comes from Iowa. It makes me happy to know I had a hand in the beginning, and he’s been able to experience the success that he has.”

Back in January, Storm was able to capture the CEW Heavyweight belt. This next time around, when he visits in April, he will look to defend that title.

“To be able to come back to where it all started means the world to me,” Storm said. “To win the CEW Heavyweight Championship this January, by far the biggest accomplishment for me. That’s where it all started, and it’s come full circle. Any of those shows I can do with CEW have a deeper meaning to me.”

Up until then, Storm continues to be booked nearly every weekend, touring across the country. He’ll get a brief break from the ring when he takes to the stage in Vegas this May. To add to the fanfare, Storm will be inducted alongside guys like Shawn Michaels and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.

“It’s going to take a lot to hold back the tears,” Storm said. “To think I will be standing on stage next to them, I’m dumbfounded just thinking about it. I’m 100 percent going to be in shock and awe.”

As big as the award is, Storm has his sights set even higher, with the ultimate goal making WWE or a similar affiliate.

“It makes you appreciate all the hard work I’ve put in, and now it makes me want to put in even more work to show that I belong,” Storm said. “I believe this type of recognition will open doors that previously didn’t know I existed. I’ve just barely scratched the surface.”

Through the tumultuous years one thing has been constant for Storm regardless of the outcome of his shows. His family has always been there to support him and do anything they can to help. His parents often travel to support him, and his wife help by selling merchandise and taping his matches. Even his kids get to tag along from time to time to see their dad up close and personal in the ring.

“If anything, it’s brought my family closer,” Storm said. “We all have this common goal now to get me to the next level. I’m going to work 10 times harder than I ever had, with my goal to be signed by the WWE in the next five years. Until they tell me to my face ‘no you’re not what we’re looking for’, every day I’m going to get up and strive toward earning that opportunity.”

It’s been hard to believe some of the things that Storm has been able to accomplish in such a short time of professional wrestling, having only started training eight years ago. The journey is far from over however, and Storm will soon be a name among legends who’ve entertained the world in years past.

“If someone told me when I began my training that by the time 2018 rolls around I’d be getting inducted into one of the most prestigious groups in wrestling, I would’ve laughed hysterically,” Storm said. “If I never achieve anything higher than what I’m at, I’ll have lived a full life. Never in my 32 years of life, have I had this many people pushing me towards my dream. Knowing there’s so many who see so much in me, I have to strive for higher.”