This WFAA Original first aired on Sept. 26, 2018. It re-aired on Oct. 12, 2020. CWF returns to the mat with live shows this weekend. You can find more info here.
For those who wrestle with their faith, wrestle with the problems that plague them, or wrestle with the difficulties of daily life, a group of men in a nondescript building behind a church in Fate, Texas, believe they have the answer for you - actual professional wrestling.
On Monday nights at Generations Church on the north I-30 frontage road in Rockwall County, Rob Vaughn can be found with a group of friends, in a professional wrestling ring, body-slamming, side-walk slamming, and pile-driving each other into the canvas. It's intense exercise, it's good-natured fun, and it's also done with a specific purpose. Because wrestling practice is followed by a men's Bible study.
"Are you becoming the man God created you to be," Vaughn asked the dozen men who joined him for a post-wrestling discussion, each of them seated along the ropes inside the same wrestling ring.
"It is a band of brothers," Vaughn said afterwards. "It's not just a bunch of guys that get together and wrestle on Monday nights."
And it has been Vaughn's band of brothers for 18 years. That's how long he's been running the Christian Wrestling Federation. "People always tell us you're the best kept secret we don't know about. And I'm ready to not hear that anymore."
And to witness that best kept secret becoming not so secret anymore, all you have to do is return on a Saturday night and see the CWF in its full glory. The wrestling ring is surrounded by 100 wrestling fans, the wrestlers bearing names like Electric Kelly Hayden, Sebastion Envi, Johnny Lawless, The Saint, and Vaughn's alter-ego "Jesus Freak" take the stage for multiple rounds of intense, yet rehearsed, professional wrestling matches.
Like any other professional wrestling event, the fans cheer their wrestling heroes, boo their wrestling villains, and enjoy two hours of high-flying entertainment. And that's when you discover all the crashes, all the comedy, comes with a message. "Who did Jesus hang out with? He didn't hang out with all the cool people. He hung out with the woman at the well, the taxpayers. He hung out with those types of people," Vaughn said. "So surely you could make a ministry out of wrestling."
They've done more than 900 shows like this across the U.S. and around the world. But now they're capturing it all on camera for an even larger audience. Next month the CWF debuts on the NOW Network, a Christian channel seen around the U.S.
"Because some people are put off by church, maybe intimidated by church. They think maybe they're too far gone," said B.J. Lewis who performs as Sebastion Envi. "This is just a different way to get people in the door. Because everybody likes wrestling. I mean everybody!"
"And I definitively remember pausing and saying, 'You mean this works as an active ministry,'" Jonny Harris aka Johnny Lawless remembers asking Vaughn. "He said, 'Oh yeah, that's why we do it.'"
"Something more of a fellowship family other than just being someone else in the crowd," added Kelly Goffney Jr. aka Electric Kelly Hayden. "Just to praise the Lord. I mean that's what we're here for. That's what we're all about."
At the end of each night of wrestling, Vaughn sheds his Jesus Freak persona and offers a five-minute inspirational message. The same audience members, who moments before were cheering and booing and heckling and laughing, then solemnly bow their heads in prayer.
"Man that's the greatest tag team partner you can find right there us Jesus," Vaughn said during his message from center ring.
"So that when Jesus Freak comes up to share the gospel, they're like, 'Man, I like this guy, I've been watching him all night long, and I want to listen to what he has to say here at the end of the night,'" Vaughn said.
So beginning October 3, the men of the CWF will get national exposure as they wrestle with each other to reach those wrestling with their faith. A subtle message with a not-so-subtle suplex or two to keep their congregation praying for more.
Click here for more information on the Christian Wrestling Federation and where you can find the upcoming broadcasts.