Written by Caroline Colvin
When Jaden Newman was seven years old, he discovered a DVD at a flea market that would eventually ignite his passion for professional wrestling. The 1997 match between Rey Misterio and Eddie Guerrero revealed to Newman that his love for wrestling was more than a fandom; it was something he wanted to do forever.
His grandfather, who was with him when he discovered the flea market DVD, was determined that Newman would follow his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. “I wasn’t into sports, but I loved pro wrestling,” Newman said.
Newman’s training started when he was 14 years old, and it was brutal. “I would leave training and I was crying because I just didn’t get it, but that’s what I thought it took to become a professional wrestler. And I was wrong.”
Eventually, Newman’s grandfather opened TWE Chattanooga, which generated frustration from many veteran wrestlers in the community. These harsh feelings toward Newman only fueled his passion. He continued improving himself and his skills to show his peers that he had earned his spot.
And a few years later, Newman would win the Scenic City Invitational tournament, an annual independent wrestling event organized by Scott Hensley, Matt Griffin, and several others.
Newman is now a decorated wrestler and the owner of Total Wrestling Entertainment Chattanooga (TWE), a local independent professional wrestling organization.
Dylan Hales works alongside Newman seeking talent and booking shows. “He’s my right-hand man,” Newman said about Hales.
Hales said he grew up as a wrestling fan. “There’s never been a point in my entire life that I can think of where I didn’t watch wrestling consistently,” Hales said.
The intrigue of professional wrestling is largely due to the escapism aspect, according to Hales. “People are living vicariously through what they see in a way that feels safe, even though what they’re seeing is inherently unsafe by the rules that govern the rest of the world.”
He’s right; explaining the feeling of watching a pro wrestling match can be difficult. There is the good versus evil trope, and sometimes evil wins. The same goes for real life. What makes pro wrestling different is the unity of the fans. Even if evil wins, there is solace in the fans’ ability to openly and immediately express how they feel about that.
“They’re getting lost in the moment because of a zany cast of characters that professional wrestling can be,” Newman said. “They don’t even realize it but it’s an escape from everything that they’re going through in reality…I know it’s an escape for us as performers.”
Even on their darkest days, this community supports one another through it all. Sean Patrick O’Brien, a well-known referee in the community, suddenly passed away on March 17, 2023.
At the TWE match the following day, Hales honored the referee, who had been in Chattanooga just weeks prior, with a ten-bell salute.
Hales’ debut working in the wrestling world started through connections he made at the second annual Scenic City Invitational in 2016. According to Hales, his full time job in independent wrestling is partially due to the changing independent wrestling scene.
“If I didn’t have an obsessive personality and it hadn’t been sort of a right place right time thing, would I be doing this as a full-time job now? There’s no way,” Hales said.
Working together at TWE, Newman and Hales have used their past experiences to cultivate an accepting and encouraging environment where they host shows and train new wrestlers.
“We’re a family here,” Newman said about TWE. “I didn’t have that starting out.”
While Newman does the majority of training for wrestlers at TWE, Hales works with him to ensure that their students have all of the skills they need to be successful, which even includes managing their social media presence.
TWE gives their students a chance to show off their skills and hard work at their Crash Course events, which are open to anyone. Additionally, TWE hosts large matches on Saturday nights periodically. And this summer, the Scenic City Invitational will return.
After the day is done and the ring is empty, the fellowship between every person at TWE remains.
“We’ve built such a reputation here for the relationships that we built with our students,” Newman said. “They can come to us for literally for anything, doesn’t even matter if it’s wrestling related or not…that’s the most important thing to me is to have that structure for them to know they’re okay.”
TWE’s tribute to the late Sean O’Brien was testament to the tightly bonded family that Dylan Hales and Jaden Newman have built at TWE Chattanooga. The love for wrestling that Newman and Hales share goes well beyond the ring.
“Any time we leave the building, we both do this, we always tell the students we love them because we really do. That sort of community relationship and that sort of, like, actually caring and trying to teach them things that matter in wrestling and life is what you should be doing if you’re involved in this,” Hales said.
The Tales of Papa Hales
Written by Noah Keur
“No matter where I go, even in New York City, if people see me, they’re going to call me Papa Hales.”
Mike Hales, better known as Papa Hales to those within the indie wrestling realm, has followed professional wrestling for 60 years, and has been a day-one supporter of Chattanooga’s Total Wrestling Entertainment. What started as a nickname from his son has transformed into a unique persona loved by thousands of people.
Hales has spent his life traveling the country enjoying professional wrestling. But between Minneapolis, Albuquerque and all his other ventures, nothing has drawn him in quite like TWE.
“I’ve been to WrestleMania and all the other big shows,” Hales said. “But I like these small independent shows, like TWE, more because that’s when you get a real feel for it. It’s not the same when you can watch it on TV.”
For Hales, TWE isn’t just some show that holds a 12-dollar admission at the door; it’s a big family. Him, the wrestlers, the other fans, the ones behind the scenes—they all bond over this unique passion, and it brings them together in a way that, to them, nothing else can.
“I think that people are always searching for some sense of community where they can be accepted for whoever they are,” Hales said. “I don’t care what your politics are, what your religion is, or what your race is. In TWE, you’re accepted into the community as a part of the story.”
It’s this sense of belonging that has kept Hales, along with so many others, so intrigued by TWE. Between the laughs, the smiles, the hugs and of course, the entertainment, there’s a reason to keep coming back to this blacked-out room on Dayton Boulevard. It’s their escape from reality.
“For me, it’s a release,” he said. “I take all of the negative I have, and I release—which for me, is a good thing.”
And to the fans, there’s no better show to release this energy to. They don’t care about the scripted stigma that follows professional wrestling. For them, that’s just part of the show.
“It’s all unfolding before you,” Hales said. “There’s also that physical element involved. Even though it’s not designed to be dangerous, there’s also some danger. So, there’s the element of risk. There’s the athleticism. There’s the storytelling. To me, it’s the ultimate performance art.”
Despite Hales’ direct connection with the staff of TWE, he has always insisted on receiving no special treatment. He pays his due at the door, follows the same rules as every other fan, and never knows what will happen next in the show. He says there would be no difference in his fandom if his son had no association with the program.
Wrestling is so much more than mere entertainment or family support for Mike Hales. It’s an outlet he has repeatedly returned to for so many reasons.
“There are so many positive things within wrestling,” Hales said. “Wrestling has literally saved my life. I’ve been so depressed at times, and I’ve been so low at times. It’s been the only thing I’ve held onto.”
He’s been able to find comfort in chaos through wrestling for six decades now, and according to him, that will continue as long as he stands.
Meet the Storytellers
Madison (Maddie) Van Horn is a Senior Communication major and is currently working as the Head Editor of Rising Rock Media and Editor in Chief at the University Echo. Maddie is a writer, editor, storyteller, leader, and a voice for those who need it most. Throughout her time at UTC, she has captured pockets of Chattanooga’s community, from rowing and dance to addiction and women’s rights. This summer, she will begin her master’s in Interactive Design Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Maddie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for any collaboration inquiries.
Caroline Colvin is a writer and the Assistant Features Editor for UTC’s student newspaper. She is a junior with a double major in communications and Spanish and hopes to use her Spanish major to expand whose stories she can tell. After all, her passion is finding and sharing the stories of the communities around her to promote compassion and humanity, even when it proves difficult. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Cassandra Castillo is a junior Communication and Humanities major with a minor in Spanish at UT Chattanooga. As a multimedia journalist, she hopes to give a voice to the voiceless through visual and written storytelling around the world. Cassandra works as a videographer for Rising Rock Media, video editor for Mocs News and feature writer for the University Echo. For questions or collaboration with Cassandra, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maddie Charnes is a writer studying Communication as a junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. With a passion for storytelling through her writing and photography, she aims to shed light on important social issues on both a large and local scale. Outside of storytelling, she works as a Research Assistant in the Psychology department, where she is currently working on an Advocacy and Activism project. Maddie hopes to combine her storytelling and research skills to properly gather information and share it in an eye-catching way. To connect, email her at email@example.com
William Chen is a Communication major at UTC studying to pursue a career in media while incorporating his creative skills. Chen has pursued a variety of avenues in both journalistic storytelling and entertainment-based student media. He hopes to utilize his personable character and unique background to help uplift and share marginalized, under-represented stories. For inquiries or to collaborate, contact William Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Noah Keur is a Junior Communications major, with a minor in Education, at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Noah is a writer, specializing in all things sports, with experience through publications such as The Chattanoogan and UTC’s student run newspaper, The Echo. He excels in finding stories that tend to go unnoticed by the naked eye, and he thoroughly enjoys expanding on these findings, bringing things to light that otherwise never would. He hopes to exist somewhere within the athletic media world following his graduation. For any questions or collaboration, Noah can be reached at email@example.com.