TAMPA — Professional wrestlers have a nickname for Michael Dockins.
The “Gimmick Attorney.”
A “gimmick” is a term for a wrestler’s in-ring persona and anything that defines their character. Dockins’ legal specialties include trademarking those gimmicks.
“It’s a niche area of the law,” Dockins said. “But wrestling is a huge industry.”
Dockins is based out of the Shumaker law firm’s office in Toledo, Ohio, where he resides. But, because the Tampa Bay area is where many professional wrestlers live, Dockins has split time in the Tampa office since taking on the specialty in late 2018.
“You go where the work is,” Dockins said. And while he is not the only attorney who represents wrestlers in trademark matters, Dockins said he is “most definitely the most prolific.”
He has filed nearly 150 trademarks on behalf of wrestlers, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website. Those include the names for WWE’s Ashley Flair (real name Ashley Fliehr) and All Elite Wrestling’s Chris Jericho (real name Chris Irvine) of the Tampa area. Other wrestlers can’t use those character names.
“God forbid that someone who also wrestled as Chris Jericho isn’t trained and he hurts someone,” Dockins said. “It is going to make news. That could damage the real Chris Jericho’s name if people think it was him.”
A wrestler sometimes gains fame in one promotion but then joins another and changes their character name, Dockins said. A trademark will stop others from claiming the former name and building off the fame. The wrestler who popularized that name can later return to it.
Aerial Hull’s “Big Swole” wrestling persona is on the rise, earning national fame since signing with All Elite Wrestling, which has the show Dynamite on TNT.
Not long after joining the promotion last summer, the Tampa area resident learned that wrestlers in lesser-known promotions were also going by Big Swole, or a variation of the name.
“I decided to protect what is mine,” Hull said. “You never know who’s out there looking to grab something from you.”
So, she turned to Dockins on the advice of the promotion’s executive vice president and wrestler Cody Runnels, who also used the attorney to trademark his Cody Rhodes wrestling name and his late father Virgil Runnels’ Dusty Rhodes wrestling name.
Dockins has also trademarked wrestling event names like Bunkhouse Stampede, wrestling-related podcasts like Something to Wrestle and wrestling catchphrases like Fliehr’s “The Queen of Wrestling.”
He even trademarks face paint and anything costume-related that fans associate with a specific wrestler.
“The purpose is to stop confusion or to stop someone from profiting off your hard work,” Dockins said.
If a wrestler is known for a certain mask that they designed, he explained, another wrestler should not be allowed to gain popularity by donning something similar.
A wrestling fan since childhood, the 41-year-old Dockins said he tired of hearing stories about wrestlers in intellectual property and trademark disputes with their former promotions. The wrestler would build the character name, he said, but the promotion would own the trademark. That meant the performer could not profit from the name after leaving the promotion, but the company still could.
Until recently, Dockins said, primarily only the biggest stars who transcend professional wrestling considered trademarks, mostly because they had Hollywood agents and managers who knew better.
“These professional wrestlers are street smart and business savvy,” he said. “But you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Hull said she didn’t trademark Big Swole earlier because “I felt like there wasn’t any kind of danger as far as someone stealing my name.”
The firm agreed to let Dockins add wrestling gimmicks to their specialties, but finding clients was “not easy,” he said, because professional wrestling is a tight-knit group, wary of outsiders. So, he had to build trust.
Dockins started with small promotions in Ohio.
“I’d go to the shows, introduce myself to the promoters and get my name out there,” he said.
Dockins said he made his big play in early 2019 when he reached out via Twitter direct message to Conrad Thompson, who produces and co-hosts the popular wrestling podcasts Something to Wrestle, 83 Weeks, Grilling JR and What Happened When.
“I told him I noticed he hadn’t protected the name Starrcast,” which is a wrestling convention he promotes, Dockins said.
Thompson hired Dockins and suggested other wrestlers do so, Dockins said, growing his clientele through word of mouth.
Hull said she now advises other wrestlers to trademark their gimmicks.
“We all need to protect our craft,” she said. “Even when I leave wrestling for good, I still want to carry on the Big Swole name. It is now part of me, and I want to use it as part of any future project or endeavor.”