BROOKSVILLE — Back in 2005, Full Impact Pro wrestling first took to the ring in Hernando County with the hope of introducing local wrestling fans to the all-too-rare spectacle of watching the sport live.
Much has happened since then, said FIP promoter Salem "Sal" Hamaoui. Several of the independent series stars have moved to larger professional organizations. Acts such as C.M. Punk, Colt Cabana Spanky and Samoa Joe, all of whom started their careers with FIP, have become regulars on the World Wrestling Entertainment and Total Nonstop Action circuits.
However, as Hamaoui likes to say, "We always have others."
Prominent FIP stars such as Tyler Black, Roderick Strong, Davey Richards and Nigel McGuiness will be on hand for Sunday's second annual Eddie Graham Memorial Battle of the Belts tournament, this year at the Hernando County National Guard Armory. The event promises to fill the arena with what Hamaoui considers to be the next generation of pro wrestling standouts.
"It's our first show of the new year, and there's a lot of good buzz going around about it," Hamaoui said. "It's good to be back in Brooksville."
Hamaoui, who lives in Pinellas County, launched FIP in August 2003 with the hope of bringing clean, inexpensive, professional wrestling to far-flung areas in Florida where other promoters rarely venture.
In the 5 1/2 years since, FIP has managed to amass a loyal following that faithfully turns out whenever the troupe is in town. Shows in Citrus, Sumter and Pasco counties typically draw in excess of 400 fans.
Despite FIP's success in surrounding areas, Hamaoui said the Hernando fan base has been slow to develop. A match at the Hernando County Fairgrounds in the fall of 2006 drew only about 120 paying fans.
"It was a little disappointing," Hamaoui said. "I really thought we could get the fans out. But a lot of people said they had trouble finding the venue. So we decided to concentrate on where we were strongest, and try Brooksville at another time."
Hamaoui says that although the weak economy has been a challenge to his business, he is hesitant to raise ticket prices for fear of chasing off potential customers. Much of FIP's income comes from the sale of DVDs, T-shirts and other souvenirs.
"To our fans, it's all about the wrestling," Hamaoui said. "It's old-school, the way it was 20 or 30 years ago, with good story plots of the bad guy versus the good guy."
One wrestler on Sunday night's card who is sure to draw attention is Dylan Keith Summers, a.k.a. the "Necro Butcher," an FIP regular and death match specialist who has been attracting buzz for his prominent role in the Oscar-nominated film The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke.
Hamaoui said that Summers' unorthodox appearance and style have earned him a strong following on the independent wrestling circuit, which no doubt captured the imagination of the film's producers.
"He was so right for that role," Hamaoui said. "He's got a great future in this business."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.