Joey Munoz, the owner of Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy, didn’t attend wrestling school.
The nearly 25-year veteran of indie wrestling, having competed coast to coast from XPW to CZW to Wrestling Society X, broke into the business thanks to a video tape. His uncle Supreme (a future death match warrior) took Munoz to an indie show in 1994 featuring Al Snow vs. Sabu. Supreme struck up a conversation with some indie wrestlers in attendance, and they invited him to train at their gym.
Supreme brought Munoz and they were filmed messing around the ring. A year later, their friend sent the video to a promoter looking for participants in a battle royal. Thus, began the highly successful and widely influential career of Kid Kaos.
“In the old kayfabe days, I wouldn’t have been able to break into the business like that,” Munoz says. “It was right place, right time.”
Perhaps to avoid dangerous instances like that, Munoz has operated his own wrestling school in Bell Gardens, California for the past decade. There are nine classes per week taught by head trainer Robby Phoenix, Munoz and other indie veterans. You can either spend one grueling day learning the workout drills, fundamentals and character development, or you can enroll for a long-term education.
“I’m not wise or smart – I’ve just been around the block 25 times,” Munoz says. “I’m just telling you what worked for me and what didn’t work for me.”
Similar to how he fell into wrestling, Munoz also fell into the wrestling school business. His trainee Rico Dynamite and Dynamite’s roommate Johnny bought a ring and set it up in their backyard, holding an unofficial school with about a dozen students. Feeling they taught their students all they knew, but wanting to get them more training, Rico and Johnny approached Munoz for help.
What was supposed to be just one week has lasted ten years, expanding from the backyard to the Santino Bros. Dojo.
“People get frustrated by what they see in the landscape, and instead of just bitching and moaning about it, I had the intention to give back to wrestling and try to make Southern California a respected place where people are really great wrestlers,” Munoz says. “I didn’t like what I was seeing, so I thought I could train these guys and change the landscape. Now I’m not a big fan of the business aspect, doing payroll, taxes and crunching the numbers – I just want to wrestle. But you have to take the good with the bad.”
The Santino Bros. name derives from Munoz’ alliance with former partner Mongol Santino. Instead of being a thrown together team like Shawn Michaels and Diesel, Munoz wanted matching gear and a name like an established duo like the Road Warriors. Mongol loved the name so much that he made a logo and had it printed on T-shirts, business cards, banners, etc. However, the team didn’t last very long, so when Munoz started the school, he resurrected the dead brand.
“People forgot about the tag team, but the journey lives on,” Munoz says.
The academy’s success rate is evident by its graduates like MLW’s Brody King, Lucha Underground’s Famous B and SHIMMER’s ThunderKitty. SoCal Uncensored has awarded Santino Bros. students with five of its last six Rookie of the Year awards, including its 2017 honor to Jake Atlas.
Atlas will be competing at the academy’s first show of the year, No Rest For The Wicked, this Friday at the dojo. “Atlas has a cocky attitude, very arrogant,” Munoz says. “When you’re young and you know you’re good, you really express that.” He’ll be facing newcomer Vandagrif, who Munoz says is one of the best high flyers he’s ever seen.
As per tradition at Santino Bros., whenever a new student debuts, he or she has to to go through Phoenix. “You train with him, but wrestling him on a live show is a different story,” Munoz says. “He’s the epitome of an old-school wrestler, and he’s not afraid to tell you.” This Friday Phoenix will be teaching Lucas Riley a new lesson.
In tag team action, fellow trainers Los Luchas will take on the fresh pairing of Eli Everfly and Delilah Doom, collectively known as DoomFly.
In the main event, Douglas James defends the Submission Championship against Tyler Bateman. There are no strikes and rope breaks allowed – the only way to win is by submission. Munoz created the title in honor of his mentor Dynamite D, who passed away in 2007.
“He was a technical wrestler,” Munoz says. “When I was wrestling like a video game, this guy knew everything about psychology and wrestling. He taught me so much. So the title is a learning tool for the school. It forces the wrestlers, especially those today who want to do a lot of spots, to change their style.”
With James and Bateman both being submission specialists, Munoz predicts it will be one of the best matches in academy history.
No Rest for the Wicked takes place at the Santino Bros. Dojo in Bell Gardens, California on Feb. 2.
For tickets and more information, visit santinobros.net.