OSKALOOSA — For over a decade, Central Empire Wrestling has been bringing their family-friendly, action-packed form of professional wrestling to the city of Oskaloosa.
This Saturday, Aug. 3, at the Nelson Pioneer Farm, promoter Austin Bayliss and his crew of entertainers return for a night of body slams and pile drivers to the place they consider home for an unprecedented 61st time.
“Oskaloosa is home base. We tour around and see dozens of new towns each year, but Oskaloosa is our New York City,” Bayliss said. “Many people have worked very hard to put Oskaloosa on the map in professional wrestling and I believe we picked the right town to call home many years ago.
Bayliss, a William Penn graduate, first brought Central Empire Wrestling to Oskaloosa in June of 2007. It was the company’s sixth show ever, having put on events in West Chester, Barnes City and Sigourney before it. The show that night featured hometown wrestler, Owen Donovan.
This first Oskaloosa show was the foundation of a strong relationship between the company, its fans and the city.
“That first show was at the un-airconditioned Mahaska County YMCA. It was brutally hot and we couldn’t have been happier. One person told two people and the crowds continued to grow,” Bayliss said. “We came to Oskaloosa in the summer of 2007 and had less than fifty people in attendance. Between June and January, we had grown our fan base to approximately three hundred per show.”
From 2007 to 2013, CEW continuously entertained the fans of Oskaloosa, at times putting on monthly shows before closing in November of 2013.
“Central Empire Wrestling closed after seven successful years of operations. Several things in my personal life were changing and I was very content with the mark I left on professional wrestling,” Bayliss said.
That time away didn’t last long. In 2016, Central Empire Wrestling was relaunched and the decision to hold their first show in Oskaloosa was an easy one for Bayliss.
“A little time away made the heart grow fonder and we were welcomed back to Oskaloosa in 2016. Oskaloosa has been very good to me, both personally and professionally,” Bayliss said. “All the events in Oskaloosa have been very successful and allowed us to rebuild credibility and the word to spread that we provide quality family friendly entertainment.”
In 2018, Central Empire Wrestling original and William Penn graduate Tony Eveland, known to CEW fans as “The Storm,” was honored by The Cauliflower Alley Club, winning their Active Men’s Wrestling Award.
The Cauliflower Alley Club is professional wrestling’s only non-profit organization that raises money to assist former full-time professional wrestlers in need. Since 2010, they have raised over $100,000 dollars to help former professional wrestlers.
Earlier this year, Central Empire Wrestling honored another Oskaloosa native when they inducted Evan Jordan into their Hall of Fame. The induction took place at the CEW Ten Year Anniversary show and was one of a handful of shows they have done across Iowa in 2019. But, no matter where they travel to, Austin Bayliss knows the biggest key to their success has been their relationship with the city of Oskaloosa.
“This year we’ve been invited into multiple new communities for fundraisers, fairs, celebrations and more. It’s been surreal to see where we’ve been and to know where we’re going,” Bayliss said. “Much of our success has been groomed in Oskaloosa and we couldn’t have grown into the touring brand that we have without Oskaloosa’s support.”