Frank Cunniff, a graphic designer for Blue Dust in Homestead, grew up a fan of professional wrestling despite it being banned in his house.
“I love going to [independent wrestling] shows, the live shows are really what I think hooks people to wrestling”.
A Polish Hill resident, he attended Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) shows at the Lawrenceville Spirit Hall, and what won him over wasn’t just their wrestling, but their fan appreciation.
“They took time to meet with fans and talk about wrestling or take pictures, things that build a strong connection to their product,” said Cunniff. “I like to think anyway, that’s the way we handle business at Blue Dust.”
Blue Dust held two annual events outdoors under the Homestead Grays Bridge, Pumpkin Fest, and Oyster Fest, Frank had an idea of hosting professional wrestling instead of the usual music acts those events host instead.
When he pitched the idea to the KSWA, they didn’t hesitate to accept, Brawl Under the Bridge was born.
Since the first event in 2015, the event has evolved into the KSWA’s 2nd biggest event, behind FanFest held annually in December.
Battle Under The Bridge IV will return to the Gray’s Bridge on Saturday July 21st.
“Homestead is like Lawrenceville, there’s a lot of community involvement,” said “Trapper” Tom Leturgey, Ring Announcer for KSWA. “They love having us here and we want to come back every year”.
One of the KSWA’s biggest supporters in Homestead is Betty Esper. She’s attended every event in Homestead and has been big parts of their shows.
“Last year, she rode on the bike of one of our wrestlers”, said Leturgey. “She’s a great personality and friend to us, getting on a Harley at 84 years old and didn’t bat an eye”.
KSWA’s shows are unique in today’s independent wrestling circuit. They have an old-school feel, reminiscent of studio wrestling shows in the 70’s and 80’s.
“We have the blessing of a lot of old-school wrestlers around the area,” said Shawn Blanchard, a 20-year veteran of professional wrestling and one of the co-founders of KSWA.
Brawl Under the Bridge has been an event where the old-school wrestlers got their chance to both introduce and reintroduce themselves to fans living in Homestead. In 2016, Nikolai Volkoff, a former WWE Tag Team Champion returned for a tag match in the second annual event.
Last year’s event had Blanchard battle former WWE Tag Team Champion “Demolition Ax”, Bill Eadie in his last singles match. The two had been rivals for the decade prior in KSWA, as Blanchard tagged with Lou Martin against Eadie and Barry Darsow known as “Demolition Smash”.
Eadie and Darsow were a part of the legendary WWE tag team Demolition in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Blanchard was a part of Demolition’s last tag team match and considers it an honor to help Eadie, a native of Brownsville, finish his singles career where it started, in Pittsburgh.
“People ask me all the time who were my favorite wrestlers were, and they were Ric Flair, Harley Race, and Bill Eadie,” said Blanchard. “It was a special moment to have the respect of [Eadie and Darsow].
Eadie defeated Blanchard for the annual Brawl Under The Bridge Championship, which he vacated in August.
Brawl Under The Bridge IV will have WWE Hall of Famers The Rock n’ Roll Express, Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton will return to the KSWA after their first appearance at FanFest last December.
“For me to introduce them was really cool”, said Leturgey. “The place went berserk, and we expect it to happen again”.
Up and coming talent are also expected to make their Brawl Under The Bridge debuts.
Max Petrunya, 33, was just starting his journey when the first Brawl Under The Bridge happened. He attended the event and knew he had to be here.
“It was a goal of mine to work this event when I began my career”, said Petrunya, of Stanton Heights. “To do it three years in, working with the wonderful people of this organization, it’s a dream come true”.
Petrunya is an attorney at Robert Pierce and Associates and is an Adjunct Professor at Duquesne University. When he’s in the ring, he’s known as “The Gavel” David Lawless, Esq.
“My character is based on the perception of lawyers and the worst qualities of one,” said Petrunya. “It’s a natural heel character, I get a lot of heat with fans and I call them morons.”
He just missed out on Brawl Under The Bridge III last year wrestling a match against KSWA Heavyweight Champion Mitch Napier in June. He won a contract at KSWA’s Battle Bowl, with the opportunity to cash in on the championship at any time.
“The opportunities to meet people and interact outside work has been unbelievable,” said Petrunya. “As I trained the goal was to get one match, that turned into to two, three, and more”.
Another wrestler making his debut is Sam Adonis, a well-traveled wrestler from Monroeville. He has wrestled in places like Great Britain and Mexico with Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), where his gimmick as a supporter of President Trump, has given him buzz around the Indies.
“His reputation should bring in some fans that would overlook us”, said Leturgey. “With the five dollar tickets, you can’t beat that”.
Brawl Under The Bridge III brought 600 fans under the Homestead Grays Bridge, there have been expectations upward to 1000 for this year’s event.
Tickets are five dollars and local food trucks and brews on tap. The first bell is at 7 PM.
The Rock N Roll Express will take on the VIPs (Blanchard and Martin) and there will be a 9-Man Ladder Match for the vacant Brawl Under The Bridge Championship.
“When you come out to a KSWA event with your money, we will bust our ass to entertain you”, said Blanchard. “All it takes is one show, you’ll be back over and over again”.