DEFY Wrestling takes place at the MASC Studios Fri., May 4, from 7 to 11 PM. $20-$35.
Flip Gordon has been practicing to be a professional wrestling star his entire life. Back when he was Travis Lopes, growing up in Kalispell, he taught himself how to do flips on a trampoline so he could be like the high flyers that so intrigued him. He participated in amateur wrestling, starting at kindergarten age with Little Guy Wrestling and continuing through all four years he spent at Flathead High School.
“He would do daring things to get attention,” says his mother, Janis Orndorff. At the age of 7, he fell off an apartment building trying to leap from balcony to balcony on the second floor.
And then there was the most important skill for any aspiring professional wrestler: developing swagger.
“I remember when he was younger, he would give everyone his autograph for Christmas presents, and of course people were like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’” Orndorff says. “Now they probably wish they had those.”
Montanans will have a chance to seek a Gordon autograph on Friday when DEFY Wrestling’s spring tour stops at the MASC Studios, thanks to the unlikely convergence of three phenomena: Gordon’s rapid rise, the resurgence of independent professional wrestling shows and the desire of a group of Missoula wrestling fans to bring a high-caliber match to town.
“I’ve lived in Missoula for almost my entire life and I can count on one hand the number of high-level professional wrestling shows that have gone on in this town,” says Chad Dundas, who, along with Ben Fowlkes, hosts the Co-Main Event MMA podcast. Dundas, who has written about fighting sports for a couple of decades, knew it would be a challenge to get wrestling out to Montana, given the distance and expense involved. Dundas and Fowlkes joined forces with several other wrestling fans (including Indy columnist Dan Brooks) to create Treasure State Wrestling to get Missoula in on the renaissance happening in independent wrestling.
In Seattle, DEFY had been putting on impressive productions for a couple of years, and their location made them far likelier candidates for a Montana show than the outfits based in Southern California or on the East Coast. Plus, one of their founders, Matt Farmer, had family from the Bozeman area and was interested in bringing DEFY to Montana.
“They were kind of a perfect fit for us. They’re close and they do a really, really good job with their product and on top of that, they’re nice guys, so it was kind of a no-brainer,” Dundas says. The fact that they were also working with Gordon was an exciting coincidence for everyone all around, but Gordon especially is happy to have a match in Montana where his family will be able to come and see him wrestle in person.
Gordon went to North Idaho College, and is just now wrapping up a six-year stint in the Army National Guard. A few years ago, he moved from the northwest to Massachusetts (he currently lives in Boston) to pursue his dream. Of course, success in professional wrestling requires as much personal branding as athleticism, and Gordon has used social media adeptly to position himself as something of an absurdist bro.
Take “Milk First,” his insistence that one should pour milk into a bowl before cereal. “I like milk first because I don’t like soggy cereal,” Gordon says. “So if you put the milk first — which is exactly how you start the second bowl of cereal, by the way, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not. So I don’t know why people are getting mad because I'm starting my first bowl the same way I start my second bowl. Milk first.”
His other controversial position is more directly trollish. “If they said that the earth was flat, I would not be shocked,” Gordon says. “If I can see a non-digitized photo, for example a Polaroid camera picture, from space, of the earth being round, I’ll believe it.” This has led, he says, to spectators booing him and chanting “The Earth is round!” There’s some speculation that stance is a calculated pose to get an audience reaction, Dundas says.
At 5-foot-10 and 187 lbs, Gordon’s agility is exceptional. In college, he got into gymnastics, and continued with one of his high school athletic sidelines: mascot work. Orndorff says that in high school, Gordon loved football, but thought himself too small for the team. The principal encouraged him to be the mascot, and it turned out that Gordon’s flair for entertaining made him an exceptional Crush Can (the orange Flathead Braves mascot that probably doesn’t violate any trademarks). “When I watch him in his wrestling videos, I can totally see that he is using those skills to get the crowd into the whole event,” Orndorff says.
The match on Friday will be the first time Gordon faces popular former UFC fighter Matt Riddle in the ring. “Considering how athletic and highly regarded those two guys are, that’s a match you could see at Wrestlemania five years from now,” Dundas says. “So the fact it’s going down in Missoula should be a treat to professional wrestling fans.”
Gordon is excited to face Riddle in Missoula for the first time as well. He says he’s had one previous appearance in Missoula, for an MMA match that he lost. “I’m hoping this time I can win because I’m much better at professional wrestling than I ever was at MMA,” he says. “The only problem is, I’m going against a guy who was really good in MMA.”
After the DEFY tour, Gordon will do four dates in the Midwest with Ring of Honor Wrestling, then he’ll head to Japan for the prestigious New Japan Pro-Wrestling Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Gordon says his progress in the independent wrestling world has been beyond his wildest dreams. “This is my only job,” he says. “I get paid to travel the world. I’ve been to eight different countries, I’ve been to 30-plus states. I’m living the dream. I’ve gotten to do things that I never even imagined. So I’m very thankful and I’ve been very blessed.”