FEST Wrestling is a showcase for the vibrant independent professional wrestling community that strives for inclusivity above all and a place where, sometimes, people get hit with chairs.

“Take everything you think you know about wrestling, and throw it out the window,” said Tony Weinbender, the founder of FEST.

Weinbender created the annual Gainesville music festival, FEST, in 2002 to celebrate the same type of talented underground musicians that he admired growing up. Through FEST’s massive success Weinbender has been able to highlight yet another one of his childhood loves: wrestling.

FEST Wrestling is a bimonthly competition for independent wrestlers from across the country to compete on a professional stage. This Friday and Saturday, FEST Wrestling returns with The Love Cup, a Valentine’s Day inspired tag-team smackdown.

Night One of The Love Cup will be 8 p.m. Friday at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Night Two will be 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday at Eight Seconds in downtown Gainesville. Eight Seconds is located at 201 W. University Ave. Tickets for Night Two are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Tickets can be found at festwrestling.limitedrun.com.

Unlike most wrestling competitions, FEST Wrestling is always coed. In other words, male and female wrestlers compete directly. Weinbender said he was surprised to find that this was not common practice and that talented female wrestlers are often barred from competing against their male counterparts.

For those concerned about the safety of coed wrestling, Weinbender said that the female wrestlers hold their own. The last two FEST Wrestling champions, Heidi Lovelace and Su Yung, are both women. Since competing at FEST Wrestling, Lovelace, or Dori Elizabeth Prange, has gone on to compete in the WWE under the moniker Ruby Riot.

According to Weinbender, FEST Wrestling only works when it’s based on a supportive community. In a sport where the heat of competition sometimes leads to derogatory insults and heckling, the FEST Wrestling community makes it clear that sexism, racism and homophobia have no place in the ring or the stands.

This approach has won FEST Wrestling fans who might have shied away from the sport beforehand. During each show people from all walks of life bust through the doors and are face-to-face with the ring and between 300 and 1,000 fans cheering on their favorites and booing the competition.

“It’s not just a bunch of rednecks drinking Mountain Dew,” Weinbender said. “It’s punk people drinking PBR.”

FEST Wrestling events are open to those 18 years old or older.

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