Open Mike Eagle walks into a wrestling ring in front of a Hard Rock Cafe and a bar with a mechanical bull. This is Louisville, Kentucky. He is cold and confident with a black cut off tank, baggy, black shorts around his waist, and a swipe of gold and black paint under his eye. He is here to fight Shiloh Jonze, a four-time Ohio Valley Wrestling Tag Team Champion, two-time Ohio Valley Wrestling Television Champion, and terrible rapper who recently told a confused audience that he was “iller than sickness” and “flyer than birds.”
Jonze’s entry into the ring is met with some cheers, but not as many as you would expect for the climax of one of OVW’s strangest and most public storylines. He yells about Open Mike Eagle as the enemy, a man trespassing on his turf, rather than a player in a show that Jonze himself directed. He is primed for the performance, playing to the crowd. He’s arrogant and cocky. He is that guy you hated in high school who ended up knocking up his girlfriend.
Where Eagle’s music is wit and poetry and commentary, Jonze’s has always seemed to be intentionally bad. Just last week he called out Eagle via a grocery-inspired rap from the condiment aisle of what is clearly a Kroger. “Price check on wackness down in aisle three,” he rapped. “We got a fire sale on haters, I’m talking OME.
Tonight, Eagle seems a little out of place among this a series of over-the-top reveals. Jonze, for one, came out in an actual cape and crown. There was a wrestler on stage before him who had Welcome to Plungetown emblazoned across his ass. Eagle has none of those gimmicks. He has the focused energy of a battle rapper.
“Shiloh, I think I know why you’re rapping now,” Eagle says into the mic. “I searched your wrestling highlights—zero matches found.” Each time he calls Jonze out, the crowd cheers louder, abandoning their uncertainty about the newcomer in favor of their hatred for Jonze. “I’m taking that crown and that mic from you boss,” Eagle raps. “‘Cause ‘Rap King’ is another OVW title you lost.”
All the tension that came from the crowd has disappeared now. They’ve realized that Eagle is here to humiliate Jonze, the ultimate douche. In one verse, the crowd is on his side.
History’s most prominent feud between a sub-WWE wrestler and a critically acclaimed indie rapper began three weeks ago, when Jonze tweeted out an open challenge to a number of rappers, including Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Method Man, and Eagle. All but one of those rappers ignored him.
“If this guy had never tagged me in his tweet, I never would have known who he was,” Eagle told Noisey late last week, before he’d considered flying down for a bout with Jonze. “And if I hadn’t responded to that tweet, I don’t know that any of this would be happening. He’s certainly a real person under that gimmick somewhere. But I don’t know where a normal, functioning human being begins and ends with that guy, or if he’s really this wigger-type person.”
Eagle has been a die-hard wrestling fan since childhood. He has his own wrestling podcast, Tights and Fights, which has run well over 100 episodes since it got started 18 months ago. Eagle’s interest and readiness to dive into wrestling, coupled with Jonze’s agitating persona, ultimately set this all up. “I can’t tell how much of it is this guy genuinely believing that these awful, awful rap lines are good, and how much of it is him trolling,” Eagle said last week. “I really can’t tell. It’s either how effective he is at playing his character, or he’s genuinely a terrible person.”
A Twitter back-and-forth produced some very brash statements from Jonze, and things escalated quickly from there. Eagle reached out to Al Snow—Former WWE Superstar and current CEO of Gladiator Sports Network, OVW’s parent company—to see what could be done. Snow came up with the idea to let the two work it out in the ring. (Side note: Al Snow filmed an action movie in Louisville five years ago called Overtime, starring Snow himself as a hitman suddenly caught in a zombie apocalypse. The movie ends at a child’s birthday party. It is Al Snow’s greatest achievement.)
After accepting the fight, Eagle flew all the way to Louisville to heckle Jonze at one of his matches. He was rushed out by a crowd of OVW wrestlers. Soon after, Jonze dropped in on Eagle at LA’s Adult Swim Festival, interrupting his set. Jonze was escorted out by security. While it looked on Twitter like a beef spinning out of control—and Eagle, not sure what to make of things, sort of thought it was—these public disturbances worked in hyping up a fight OVW’s pretigious 1000th show.
In the shadow of Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse, a few hundred attendees—mostly white, working class folks of all ages—cheer on the matches leading up to Eagle vs. Jonze. The smell of chicken tenders and pulled pork is pervasive. I hear a wrestler unironically call someone “brother.” It’s humid from a harsh summer storm, and the scene is confusing as ticket-holders struggle to find seats while the spectacle captures the attention of passersby— visiting business people and tourists—who stop to gawk from the sidewalk and wonder what they’ve stumbled upon.
The venue, Fourth Street Live!, is well known in Louisville as a spot for business lunches and bachelorette parties. It’s essentially a city block encased in glass and barricaded so that tourists and convention-goers can wander the thoroughfare between electrified bars and upscale-American dining options. Most locals stay away. Occasionally, the open-air space plays host to concerts, the world’s giant disco ball, college basketball exhibitions and, now, professional wrestling matches.
The fight is one of the last of the night, and it seems to have upstaged the heavyweight championship bout, the headline event. Eagle enters the ring alone to confront Jonze and his crew, but is soon joined by two former WWE wrestlers, for whom the crowd goes crazy. Flanked by Mick Foley and Ken Anderson, Eagle takes on Jonze. Sitting ringside, it’s a little stressful. By the time the fighting starts, I’m desperate to see Jonze lose, but Eagle—who pretty much had to learn his all his moves for this fight in one day—is not great out there. He spends a lot of time on the ground and in holds, seemingly worn out. Jonze pins him into a corner and rips Eagle’s shirt down the middle, tearing it off of him. On more than one occasion, he just lies on the ground and, for most of the fight, it looks like he’ll lose. At one point, they build the drama by having a member of Jonze’s posse come into the ring to gang up on Eagle. Anderson jumps in to aid Eagle and it’s all a little confusing from the sideline. But Eagle picks up momentum. He gets in a real punch and then there is one sudden, loud crash as he takes down Shiloh Jonze.
The crowd cheers. Eagle emerges the victor.
Backstage, in an empty food court, he is still a bundle energy. A half-hour after the fight, he’s sweaty and sore, but excited to talk about the fight and his love of wrestling: “I feel like it went good, but I’m also full of adrenaline. I feel like my body’s going to fall apart. As soon as this energy wave dissipates, I’ll melt into the floor.”
Would he fight again? Absolutely not, he tells me, unless someone offered a big payout (he wasn’t paid to fight Jonze). Tonight was a reckless move, he says. “I feel crazy. I’m a maniac. That’s really the reason [I did this]—I’m a maniac. I didn’t do this for money. I did it because I’m crazy.”
“I came in as the underdog,” Eagle says. “I don’t [wrestle], and Shiloh is a clown. And an asshole. And a dick. And all the dirty words you can think of. So, you want the crowd to hate him and like me. And it sounded like they did.”
Open Mike Eagle’s What Happens When I Try to Relax is out soon.
Michelle Eigenheer is a Louisville-based journalist. You can follow her on Twitter.