On April 24, 2016, Brandon Watts broke his neck during a 10-man tag team match at a Beyond Wrestling event in Somerville, Massachusetts.
In the moment, everyone feared that Watts would never wrestle again. In retrospect, it was his partner Randy Summers whose career was over.
Ryan Reilly has portrayed Randy Summers for five years now, a boy band character inspired by listening to One Direction on the way home from the gym. Everyone at the New York Wrestling Connection (NYWC) training academy confused his first name for Randy, so he just went with it. “Randy Summers is more of a porn star name looking back on it,” Reilly laughs.
Watts entered the academy a week before Reilly in the summer of 2012. Recent high school graduates, the aspiring wrestlers became close friends, and then tag team partners known as Milk Chocolate. They honed their craft for four years, touring the indie circuit and developing a loyal following. They became so successful that 60%-70% of Reilly’s income came from wrestling every weekend and selling merchandise, something most indie wrestlers only dream of.
In the blink of an eye, the spoils were taken away. “It was probably the scariest night of my life,” Reilly says.
Watts had performed a move onto somebody else, and it just went wrong. Somehow, he finished the match before collapsing and shaking on the arena floor. Sensing something went off-script, the fans hollered at Reilly to check on his partner. He helped Watts up and walked him to the back where the EMTs suggested they go to the hospital. Sitting in the waiting room with his trunks and boots still on, Reilly knew his life had just changed.
“I was shocked,” he says. “I didn’t know what to say or do. It didn’t feel right to me wrestling without him.”
While Watts recovered, Reilly stopped competing everywhere besides NYWC. Milk Chocolate’s momentum had come to a screeching halt, affecting Reilly’s life outside the ring as well. He had to take more shifts at his day job at LA Fitness, something he had worked so hard to avoid. In addition, his girlfriend and he broke up.
“Everything in my life started falling apart,” Reilly says. “For a period there, I was really upset all the time.”
When he was growing up, he had three passions in life: football, music and wrestling. Switching between running back and outside linebacker, Reilly played football throughout high school, realizing in the summer before senior year that he didn’t have enough talent to continue playing into college. Off the field, he played guitar, but wasn’t very good at singing. But during that same summer, he came home one night and found his brothers watching Chris Jericho’s DVD. Although he had watched TNA on Spike TV and was hooked by AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, it wasn’t until Jericho discussed how he broke into the industry that Reilly considered pro wrestling a possibility.
“I was like, I think I can do this,” he recalls. “I always knew I wanted to be an entertainer rather than have a normal job.”
Learning of NYWC through Zack Ryder’s Youtube show, the Long Island native set out to learn the ropes from Tony Nese, Alex Reynolds and Francis Kipland Stevens. Football had prepared him for the brutal training regimen, as well as the competitive mentality. But nothing had prepared him for Watts’ injury, and the resulting feeling of being lost in life.
He turned to his old love: music. Listening to Twenty One Pilots, 1975 and My Chemical Romance, he was able to relate to their lyrics. “I always played music and wrote songs, but I never really understood the true meaning of music and what it could really do,” Reilly says. “I wanted to help people the way I was helped.”
Similar to Chris Jericho, Reilly has embarked on a dual career of wrestling and singing. He put out his first EP earlier this year titled No One Will Hear This, boasting an alternative pop sound. In October, he released his second EP, EVOL, which has a more indie pop sound. Available on all streaming platforms, his second EP was also posted on his website for people to listen for free. “I just want to get my music in front of people,” Reilly says. “I’m not worried about the money right now.”
His stage name is Robin & Robin, symbolizing his refusal to be a sidekick in life. “I was very conflicted about choosing music because I felt everyone is expecting me to pursue wrestling or get a regular job,” he says. “There are two paths you can take in life: you can either do what you want to do and pursue whatever crazy goal you have, or you follow what society and people expect you to do. When you choose that path, you’re not only becoming a sidekick to society, but you’re becoming a sidekick to yourself as well.”
Taking control of his destiny meant telling his partner that wrestling was no longer his number-one priority. The timing was terrible as Watts had recuperated and trained for a comeback, his sights set on picking up where Milk Chocolate left off. But after seeing Reilly’s daily Snapchat stories of working on new songs, Watts knew his partner had found a new calling.
“It really broke my heart to tell him,” Reilly says. “I had tons of anxiety and panic attacks. He was cool with it, though, it’s like he already knew. You have to have a really strong passion for wrestling to be successful at it because it’s a very time consuming and difficult thing to do.”
Two weeks ago, Milk Chocolate was scheduled for a reunion of sorts at NYWC, but Watts’ understanding demeanor took a nasty turn. He grabbed the mic and bashed Reilly as well as NYWC, vowing to never return to his home promotion.
“I guess the anger and resentment had been building, I don’t even know,” Reilly says. “I would prefer not to fight someone I consider my best friend.”
Whether the match ever happens remains to be seen, but Reilly is committed to making his music career as successful as Milk Chocolate ever was. He’ll be opening for Team Roland this Friday at Revolution Bar & Music Hall in Amityville, NY.
“It’s super exciting because they have this huge social media following and it’s my first time opening for a big act,” Reilly says. “It’s an exciting opportunity to show people my live performance.”
For tickets and more information on the concert this Friday, visit revolutionliny.com
For more information on Robin & Robin, visit robinrobinmusic.com/music
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