All Holds Barred: The IWF—The World's First No-Contact Wrestling League

Founded by four bored artists separated by quarantine, the Isolation Wrestling Federation—the world’s first no-contact wrestling league—is thriving in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. But what the hell is a no-contact wrestling league? Cell Vision correspondent Bridget Bakie spoke to IWF co-founders Jimi Riddle and Casey Hopkins to find out what it’s all about and explore the project’s relationship to the wrestling world at large.

by Bridget Bakie

We are eight weeks into quarantine, and most of the sports and live entertainment world has ground to a halt. From the NBA to Major League Baseball, almost all professional leagues and tournaments have been suspended indefinitely while social distancing rules remain in effect. But one small corner of the sports world is thriving in the midst of this crisis. The Isolation Wrestling Federation is going full blast, gaining new fans every day. The promos are getting wilder and the competition is building. Welcome to the IWF, the world’s first non-contact wrestling division, where the competitors battling are your favorite artists, musicians and bartenders from around the world.

We’ve heard from a lot of people, including our creators, that this is helping them and they need something like this as an outlet right now. We agree and want to do this to the best of our abilities. -IWF co-founder Jimi Riddle

The IWF is an Instagram-based fake wrestling competition created by The Advertisers guitarist Casey Hopkins, Riddles singer and guitarist Jimi Riddle, and their friends Gerard MacNeill and Matthew Gardiner. Wrestlers call each other out in homemade WWE-style promo videos and the audience votes on the winner of each “fight.” Anyone can join, you just design your own wrestling persona and post a promo video on your personal Instagram (tagging @isolationwrestlingfederation), which the IWF account then reposts.

The competitors are mostly artists of one type or another, and the competition gives them a chance to flex their creative muscles in quarantine while embracing their inner 6-year-old watching larger-than-life figures pretend to beat the shit out of each other in “the squared circle.”

When asked why she chose to join the IWF, Smashjesus (aka Ashjesus frontwoman Emily Ashenden) said, “Well, even though I knew since I was a kid I wanted to be a hero, I was misunderstood. I seemed to smash everything I touched and there was no real place for me. I was self-isolating before it was required, watching over the city I wanted to protect. IWF offered me a way to smash from a safe distance. Yes, I have beef. Harold Hopkins won against me on a count out technicality and he holds the Women’s belt. I’m going to smash it out of his Clapton-riff-riddled hands.”

This competition has given me something to be excited about during quarantine, and clearly it has for many others, too. The IWF Instagram account was created just over a month ago and has been gaining followers in the hundreds everyday. Even Mike Ryan Ruiz, the executive producer of ESPN’s The Dan Lebatard Show tweeted about the league, stating that he is a fan of IWF wrestler Giovanni Lasagna.

"I think the wrestling community could take some notes from the silly fucks doing IWF because they are thinking outside the box, cutting amazing character driven promos and building an interesting universe.” -IWF (and real life) wrestler Casanova Valentine

IWF wrestler and real life pro-wrestler Casanova Valentine (who is also the artist known as MC Death Bear) says, “I think the IWF is great because I can’t wrestle right now and it’s giving me an opportunity to be creative and stupid. I think the wrestling community could take some notes from the silly fucks doing IWF because they are thinking outside the box, cutting amazing character driven promos and building an interesting universe.”

April was an extremely difficult month for the “real” wrestling world. Many fans were disappointed with 2020 Wrestlemania, the WWE’s largest yearly event, which premiered April 4 and 5-. Generally broadcast live, the show was pre-recorded in late March without an audience due to growing coronavirus concerns. The next week, just a few days after the state of Florida controversially declared the WWE an essential business, WWE announced the company would be laying off a number of its employees, including wrestlers, producers, and content creators.

It’s impossible to continue wrestling culture the same way during this pandemic because of the requirement for large audience viewings and limitations on participant contact, and a similar situation exists in the arts scene right now. But members of these communities are in need of creative outlets more than ever. I think seeing artists create and bring life to a platform that can connect both the music and wrestling communities, and seeing these two communities bond and support each other is fantastic.

There’s also been an epidemic for years among creatives where they just generally take themselves too seriously. If ultimately we can continue to grow this inherently ridiculous thing and use it as a ray of light and relief—even if temporarily—that’s what we are going to put all of our energy towards. -IWF co-founder Casey Hopkins

Asked what social media projects such as the IWF can do for the wrestling world during these times and in general, Marcus Dowling, former partner and co-founder of Catalyst Wrestling (and Cell Vision writer) says, “Any way that wrestling can positively grab the eyes and minds of potential fans is ideal. Does that include people in Brooklyn cutting promos on Instagram for matches they will never have in real life? Of course. We're quarantined! Anything goes. What's good is great!”

We spoke to IWF co-founders Jimi Riddle (Dick Powers aka the Jim Reaper) and Casey Hopkins (“Double H” Harold Hopkins) about their growing wrestling federation.

CELL VISION: How did this project start? What was the inspiration?

JIMI RIDDLE: I was doing some workout parody videos on Instagram already and started watching Macho Man Randy Savage promos. I messaged my friend about the idea of doing wrestling promos and calling people out online as a joke, but then me and my friends (including fellow co-founders, THE BLONDE BOMBER and CHARLES HANDSOME) started doing it for real. Then I created the Instagram page to host the videos to further the joke, but now it’s taken on a life of its own since.

CASEY HOPKINS: I got involved by random chance. I got tagged in this meme by a friend where you had to post something embarrassing and get your friends to post something embarrassing. Jimi actually did it and posted a picture of him giving birth to his friend...but not before I deleted my post, leaving him hung out to dry and filled with rage. Because of my transgression, he called me out in a wrestling promo battle which was a bad decision on his part because, frankly, I destroyed him. Jimi didn’t stand a chance. The rest is history.

JIMI RIDDLE: That’s not true! I have proof I won!

CASEY HOPKINS: It was rigged.

CELL VISION: How has the audience reaction been?

JIMI RIDDLE: The reaction has been kind of insane and entirely unexpected. We consistently have new people trying to get involved and it seems to be making people happy. It’s humbling.

CASEY HOPKINS: We’re taking over the world of professional wrestling.

JIMI RIDDLE: No contact.

CASEY HOPKINS: Yeah, I don’t actually know how to wrestle.

JIMI RIDDLE: Realistically, we just want to promo battle that coward Chris Jericho.

CASEY HOPKINS: That’s the end goal of all this.

"Ultimately, we’re all extremely distant right now but we are all in this together. And that’s what this is about, community." -IWF co-founder Jimi Riddle

CELL VISION: Are you both fans of wrestling? If so, what is it that you like about it?

JIMI RIDDLE: I’m a huge fan of pro wrestling. I love the characters and insane storylines—always have. I don’t like when it feels like a complete reality TV show though, but I’ve always been a fan.

CASEY HOPKINS: I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone to ask me this question. Thank you. No, I am not and have NEVER been an obsessive fan of professional wrestling, especially in high school. I do NOT think that pro wrestling is a brilliant, misunderstood mixture of sport and folk American art gone global, with all of the camp, political theater and perception vs. reality that now governs our world. I absolutely can’t fucking stand professional wrestling.

JIMI RIDDLE: Have you heard Kanye’s gospel album? Great stuff. I don’t like sports.

CELL VISION: What are your future plans for the IWF?

JIMI RIDDLE: Truthfully, and seriously, as we continue to grow this community worldwide, we are trying to link this to a charitable effort in order to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. We’ve heard from a lot of people, including our creators, that this is helping them and they need something like this as an outlet right now. We agree and want to do this to the best of our abilities.

CASEY HOPKINS: It’s really been amazing to see the passion that’s gone into this and how much people contribute. We want to get as many people involved in this as possible. So many creative people were just kneecapped by this virus and its effect culturally. There’s also been an epidemic for years among creatives where they just generally take themselves too seriously. If ultimately we can continue to grow this inherently ridiculous thing and use it as a ray of light and relief—even if temporarily—that’s what we are going to put all of our energy towards.

JIMI RIDDLE: Ultimately, we’re all extremely distant right now but we are all in this together. And that’s what this is about, community.

Follow the exploits of your favorite IWF wrestlers on their Instagram account

Isolation Wrestling Federation Instagram