The life of a professional wrestler is rough. It takes its toll on the body and the mind. For Oakdale High School alum Matt Vandagriff the travel, the bumps, and the sacrifice has been well worth it. The 2017 OHS grad has been living his dream for over a year and has been getting recognized by big names and companies in the sports entertainment industry.
Vandagriff began training at the Los Angeles-based Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy in August of 2017. Since then he has become one of the most popular independent wrestlers on the circuit. His efforts, high flying, charismatic wrestling style has gone over well with the fans and he was recognized by SoCalUncensored.com as a nominee in the 2018 Southern California Pro-Wrestling Year End Awards, tapped as a nominee for the 2018 Southern California Rookie of the Year.
He finished as runner-up for the award, it was announced on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Vandagriff took second to Dom Kubrick, a fellow student at Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy.
“I’m happy for Dom but at the same time I am bummed about it. It was something that I wanted and felt like I could have won. I’m glad that someone from Santino Bros. won though,” said Vandagriff. “They (all of the other nominees) are cool guys and any one of us deserved it to be honest.”
This was the sixth consecutive year that a student from the academy has won this award. Vandagriff received eight first place votes in the awards competition.
Vandagriff found out about his runner-up stats while on the road in San Antonio, Texas. While he was in the Lone Star state, Vandagriff attended a seminar featuring professional wrestling legend Billy Gunn.
Gunn held the seminar for young wrestlers who are just starting out, who wanted to improve and to help them with promos.
“He was very genuine and helpful. He was real and very inspiring,” Vandagriff explained. “I learned a lot from him, he was a super cool dude.”
The best advice Vandagriff left with, he said, was “Not to create a glass ceiling and continue to improve each day.”
During his brief stop in Texas, Vandagriff wrestled twice in two days; competing both in Austin and San Antonio.
To qualify for the Rookie of the Year Award, you had to be an active wrestler from August 2017 to August 2018.
“I just missed the cut in 2017 (August 2016 to August 2017 season) but qualified this year, and thought it was a cool honor,” Vandagriff said.
During his time in the ring, he has wrestled on many shows in southern California, Mexico, Texas and Las Vegas. It was in Las Vegas this past fall where he became the Level Up Champion for Versus Pro Wrestling. Vandagriff entered their 20 man battle royal as entry number one, he lasted over an hour in the over the top rope battle royal and was the last man standing.
He also has stepped toe-to-toe with some of the biggest names in independent wrestling during his young career including Royce Isaacs, Darby Allen, Danny Limelight, Sledge and more. He has also been on the same card as Tessa Blanchard and Heather Monroe.
“Last year we wrestled in Tijuana, Mexico for The Clash. Royce Isaac and I teamed up and we were booed because, in Mexico the fans boo any non-traditional luchadores. I have never been booed like that before but it was fun, and different. I can’t wait to go back,” he said.
Vandagriff balances a regular job where he works Monday through Thursday and travels for shows on the weekends.
“Traveling is a major part of the wrestling job, it was something that I knew about when I signed up for it and my bosses at work understand that, and I am grateful for that too,” Vandagriff added.
With a big 2018 in his rearview mirror, only time will tell what 2019 and beyond have in store for the young wrestler. His goal for this year is to get his passport and compete on an international scale. He also wants to continue wrestling in the states and even compete in a local promotion where his friends and family from Oakdale can see him in action.