Josh Woods was standing in the middle of the Ring of Honor ring in Baltimore, Maryland celebrating his victory over John Skyler in the 2017 ROH Top Prospect Tournament finals when an unannounced – and seemingly unprovoked – David Starr ran in from the back and laid Woods out. It left Woods stunned and had wrestling fans wondering if Starr, who bills himself as the “hottest free agent independent wrestler”, had signed a contract with ROH.
This wasn’t the first time Starr surprised another wrestler. He first did it some 19 years ago – as a seven year old – at a wrestling practice back in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His victim then had a much different reaction.
“Pro wrestling was hot, every kid knew pro wrestling and I gave a kid a power bomb on the mats,” said Starr. “He started crying, and so I started crying. Then the coach was like, ‘Oh, it’s okay, just don’t ever do that again’.”
This wasn’t about sending a message or announcing his arrival to the other kids It was more about seven year old boys being seven year old boys and having a bit of fun.
Starr was at that wrestling practice after watching WrestleMania 12 with his step-dad a few months earlier. That card famously featured the Iron Man match between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Starr was left in awe and, like a lot of kids that tuned in that day, suddenly wanted to be some version of Bret or Shawn.
That meant learning how to wrestle. So Starr asked with his parents to sign him up for wrestling classes at the local community center. It didn’t take much prodding and soon Starr was on his way to learn how to wrestle, but it wasn’t quite what he expected.
“I thought when I signed up at my youth wrestling program, which was the Jenkintown Youth Activities Club, I thought that was pro wrestling. I didn’t know that amateur wrestling was a thing,” said Starr. “When I walked into the wrestling room, and there was no ropes inside, I was confused.”
After getting over the confusion, Starr continued to wrestle through high school and was good enough to get the chance to wrestle at the collegiate level. He attended two schools, Elizabethtown College and West Chester University, and was a national qualifier at 157 lbs. The sport meant so much to him that he has the USA Wrestling logo tattooed on his right thigh. He had first drawn out the tattoo during his sophomore year of high school and repeatedly asked his parents for permission and they denied the request each time.
“I was 18, it was right after I graduated high school, when I got it. My mom got it for me as a present,” said Starr. “When I graduated she was like, ‘Here’s my gift’.”
As his collegiate wrestling eligibility was winding down though, Starr wasn’t quite sure what was next for him. He was studying math in college but had no real plans to pursue that much further. That’s when CM Punk got involved.
“I was in school and my whole life had become (amateur) wrestling. I was like, ‘Well, what the hell am I going to do? I guess I’ll just get a job and coach somewhere. I guess I could do that’,” said Starr. “But then I saw the CM Punk pipe bomb promo and that re-inspired me and it made me fall in love with pro wrestling again, like all over (again).”
Starr had remained a casual fan of pro wrestling throughout his youth and college years, watching it when he could and loosely following the storylines. He tuned in one Monday night and found himself transfixed watching as Punk laid waste to WWE backstage politics and the wresting business.
“When the Punk promo happened, I was all in again,” said Starr. “That was June 27, 2011.”
Punk famously went on to win the title and eventually leave WWE. The angle turned the kid who was once inspired by Bret and Shawn into a die hard wrestling fan again. Starr knew that he had to give pro wrestling a shot and began emailing as many local wrestling schools as he could find.
Back Breakers Training Center, Combat Zone Wrestling, Chikara, ROH, and Wild Samoan Training Center all got emails from the newly inspired collegiate grappler. It took a few days, but most of the schools eventually replied. The first school that replied to his email was Wild Samoan, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Starr did some further research on some of the students that had gone there and signed up soon after.
“I saw the Wild Samoans thing and then the lineage of everybody that’s been there and all that stuff and it’s, you’ve gotta go,” said Starr. The Samoans work was intense, but Starr was doing it while also still training and competing at the collegiate level. It made for some long days.
“When I started training I was doing two-a-days for wrestling. I was at school, during winter break, I was waking up in the mornings, lifting, having a practice, getting another practice in, going to Allentown – which is an hour and a half away – training, coming back and doing the same thing over again,” said Starr, who also had to find time to include school work.
Some pro wrestling students spend months learning the basics and never get anywhere near working a match in front of an audience. After just 10 or 11 training sessions, Starr was told to get ready to work a show. He had no ring gear and maybe more importantly, didn’t have a ring name or gimmick ready to go, so he relied on his college buddies.
“My roommates and teammates all jokingly called me ‘David Star’ because I was the only Jewish guy at practice,” said Starr. “I didn’t know what name to pick and I though … ‘well…’.”
Starr became the fastest graduate of the Wild Samoan training center. He quickly picked up the basics of running the ropes, taking a bump or two and incorporating some of his amateur wrestling background into a very rudimentary move set. At the time, Starr was young enough and prideful enough to think he was ready to make his pro debut.
“Looking back then? Yes. Now? Absolutely not, no way. I couldn’t work yet,” said Starr of his early indoctrination into life as a professional wrestler which included short, heavily scripted matches and not a lot of room to freestyle or improvise. “In that regard, no, I wasn’t ready and I was nervous as hell. But the moment I walked through the curtain, I felt good. I was like, ‘Okay, this is great’.”
Even if he had felt he wasn’t quite ready to walk through that curtain, Starr admits he couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that.
“That’s definitely not my style. If someone throws an opportunity at me, I’m not going to say, ‘Well, I’m not ready for it’. I’m going to make myself ready for it. That’s what you have to do, because you never know,” said Starr. “What if I did turn that down, who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t have had a match for six months. Maybe I would have gotten bitter. Maybe I would have gotten stuck in certain ways. Maybe I wouldn’t have started wrestling other places right away, meeting other people, and getting these different opportunities, you know?”
There was an opportunity cost, though. Starr has seen his life change drastically over the last five years. While most of his hometown friends have transitioned from college to 9-5 jobs, Starr finds himself in a car or an airport nearly every Friday morning, making his way to his next show.
“This just goes along with any wrestler, probably, or anyone who really, really dedicates themselves to this sport. I lost most of my friends, as far as people outside of wrestling. You know, after the third or fourth weekend in a row, where they call you, ‘Hey, can you hang out?’ They just stop calling,” said Starr. “I’ve had falling outs with mentors from before I started wrestling, because of wrestling. I’ve lost a couple relationships because of it. I’ve lost friends because of it. You know, it’s a sacrifice you have to do.”
Having now worked for ROH, TNA and what might seem like every indie wrestling promotion across the United States, Starr feels like the “hottest free agent independent wrestler” thing is less of a gimmick, and more a reflection of just how much he’s working.
“I’m living the dream. You know, I did know this is what I wanted to do since I was five years old, and there’s so many guys that go from show, to show, to show, to show, to show, and you see so many different faces, and you see guys that are just in the same area all the time. And they’re just working themselves to try and get to another level, and I feel that I’ve been fortunate enough for wrestling to be really nice to me,“ said Starr.
In 2017 alone Starr has worked New York, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Iliinois, Canada, England, Germany and a seven-match WrestleMania week in Orlando. That’s allowed David Starr the wrestler the opportunity to put himself in front of so many new audiences, but it’s also allowed David Starr the person the chance to see parts of the world others might not be lucky enough to.
“I’m one of the guys who’s long traveling, so I get time to see stuff, it seems like. So I think that’s probably the best part. I don’t know how many guys get to do that. You know, you get to go away for weeks at a time. You get almost to press reset, and recharge yourself somewhere else,” said Starr. “Basically, my vacations are paid for me. So that’s really cool. But there are other guys who do the same thing. I’m just very fortunate to be one of them.”
Being a hot free agent in independent wrestling often means booking lots of dates and things are really no different for Starr. In late April he had a stretch that included six shows in five days and 11 shows over 11 days. He worked shows in Providence, Atlanta, Chicago and New York during that stretch. Working that much is great for the bank account, but Starr admits that everything that goes into making all of those shows has an impact on him.
“I’m able to work the amount of dates that I’m able to work. I’m able to pay my bills, and I don’t think that’s something a lot of people can say. So I feel good about that, but I am exhausted,” admitted Starr. “It’s tiring sitting up in the car all night, or having to wake up early for flights, or whatever. Having to deal with all that. Yeah, it’s tiring. It’s real tiring. And then you have to keep up with everything on social media because that’s like our big thing now.”
Maintaining a schedule like that one Starr has had in 2017 is probably not all that sustainable and he doesn’t anticipate it being like that year-round. Traveling from city to city means having to be creative with getting in gym time and also being smart about what he eats.
“You know what’s right and what’s wrong, especially if you’ve ever had a real nutrition plan. I had a macro-nutrition plan, where basically I had to take all my food, I had to look at all the stats of it, weigh it out, and do all that. And then through that, you learn what’s in your food and what’s good, what’s bad,” said Starr. “After a show, and it’s like 12 o’clock, and then you’re on the road you’re going to the next place, or you’re going to your hotel and you want to get food. Usually the only places that are open are fast food. You just try to keep it as clean as possible. Maybe you get the grilled chicken that’s there and no mayo, or something like that.”
A little over a year ago, Starr was on an airplane again, but instead of heading to another U.S. city, he was on his way to Germany to work for Westside Xtreme Wrestling. He spent six weeks wrestling for them and then returned stateside. In late summer he headed back to Germany, this time for a longer stay that culminated in him winning and defending the wXw Shotgun Title. Starr points to that run as a tipping point for his recent success.
“I think that after the second European tour, was when things felt different. It was a long stay. The second one I did was two and a half months. During those two and a half months, I won the wXw Tag Team League, I won the Shotgun Title twice,” said Starr. “When I came back home from that one, it seemed like people were treating me different then they were before. Even my peers. I started getting more emails and messages, like, ‘Hey, do you have this date available? Do you have this date?””
The proof is in Starr’s matches from late 2016. He brought the wXw Shotgun Title back to the United States and defended it against some of the more prominent names on the indie scene including Michael Elgin, Chip Day, Jonathan Gresham, Keith Lee, Lio Rush and Sami Callihan. He eventually returned to Germany and dropped the belt, but he’s been working almost non-stop since.
There isn’t a contract with Ring of Honor, but Starr does have matches with the company coming up, including with Woods. Even as he has to balance more and more high profile opportunities, Starr isn’t concerned with hiring a manager or an agent to help him navigate the contractual stuff.
“I don’t feel I’m there, where I need it yet. I’m not so overwhelmed with everything else that I need something to take that part away,” said Starr. “I actually enjoy that part. That’s part of the business that I like. I like talking to people. I like that salesmanship aspect of it. “
Like every title in pro wrestling, Starr knows that he won’t get to hold on to the title of “hottest free agent independent wrestler” for long – at least he hopes not. Working all the dates he has over the last few months has helped him pay some bills, but it’s also shown him and the wrestling world that he’s on his way up. The key now for Starr is to not get too far ahead of himself.
“It’s definitely a time where you have to keep yourself patient. You know, you think you’re ready for something right now, right now, right now. I think I’m ready for anything right now and I feel pretty good about my work, and I feel pretty good about my progression and everything. I feel good about that,” said Starr. “I just have to remind myself to stay patient, though, and you can’t worry about anything. You can’t worry about anything like that; who’s booking you, who’s not booking you. I want to be here, I want to be here. You know, take it as it comes and just focus on you. ‘Cause if you worry about everything else, you’ll drive yourself crazy.”