Founder combines passion for wrestling, fighting cancer in latest show
Every window was broken. A solid foot of trash covered the floor. And there was a strange smell coming from the bathrooms. Yet, DJ Stewart stepped into the abandoned section of the Agnes Arts Center and knew it was going to be the perfect home for his business.
“When I thought about starting a wrestling company, it was never just going to be hosting a show once a month. It needed to have a training program and an entire community based around it. The shows needed to be an experience. It had to be special,” said Stewart, the owner of Journey Pro KC, a local wrestling and event company.
Abandoned for more than a decade and once the site of a police training facility, the space on Agnes Avenue and East 14th Street started out as a place for Stewart to keep his 18-foot wrestling ring, he said. But as Stewart spent time cleaning the space, its potential to be more became obvious, he continued.
One of the owners of the building, Matt Anthony, is also the founder and president of Head for the Cure — a nonprofit that builds awareness, raises funds and inspires hope for the brain tumor community; it is also a nonprofit with which Stewart closely associated since his own diagnosis of Stage 4 glioblastoma in 2019.
“Matt showed me the craziness that was back in this building, but I was like — ‘Sold!’” Stewart recalled. “Over the course of three months, we’ve been able to really clean the place up, put in those locker rooms and make it something epic.”
Click here to read more about DJ Stewart’s journey with Stage 4 glioblastoma.
Journey Pro wrestlers began training in the space in March and held back-to-back shows at the end of April to introduce fans to the new experience. Journey Pro went from hosting a maximum of 200 audience members at Blip Roasters, to selling 400 tickets for its April show.
“We would love to help revitalize this area of town,” Stewart said, referencing the low traffic on Kansas City’s East Side.
With the success of Journey Pro’s first show in the new space, Stewart has already booked a yo-yo and juggling competition; has had local artists film music videos there; and is gearing up for a wrestling school, he teased.
“It’s become this crazy thing that just started super organically with, ‘Let’s put a ring in here,’” he said.
Headlock for the Cure
Journey Pro’s next show — dubbed “Headlock for the Cure” 7 p.m. Friday, May 27 — pulls double-duty as a fundraiser for Head for the Cure.
“I still had 35 staples in my head and everything when I first met Matt,” Stewart recalled. “We really hit it off where we were just laughing and having a really rad conversation minutes into meeting each other. … I learned that Matt’s brother had been diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma, which is exactly what I have, and he said he saw a lot of his brother in me. Head for the Cure has been a constant support for me ever since.”
RELATED: Watch the award-winning short film, Rare Enough, that tells the story of how DJ Stewart fought for his life and won.
Having wanted to give back to Head for the Cure for quite some time, using Journey Pro to support the nonprofits’ efforts was a dream come true, Stewart said.
“I’m beyond stoked that I get to mix my beautiful, crazy circus that we’ve built — that I never thought would be so inclusive and amazing — with this organization that came to me during a really dark time,” he shared. “I never thought that I would be able to combine these two things that seem far away, but as much as it sucks, nobody is far away from cancer.”
With several of Journey Pro’s wrestlers having their own personal connections to cancer, the night is surely going to be one to remember, Stewart said.
For those who cannot attend the show in-person, it is set to be streamed on Twitch.
Click here to buy tickets to “Headlock for the Cure.”
Journey Pro’s first back-to-back show weekend in its new home was not as smooth sailing as Stewart had anticipated it to be. It was better, he said.
Falling ill right before the double header, Stewart spent his evenings watching the “All Good Things Flow Into the City” matches on Twitch and interacting with fans through the platform’s chatroom, he recalled.
“Night two rolls around. My wife is home with me, and we’re both sick as dogs. We’re watching as the last match of the night is about to begin; and in pro wrestling, the coveted prize is the belt,” Stewart said, noting that this was also the first show in which Journey Pro had its own championship and belt. Previously, they had been sharing a championship with another wrestling company.
“We’ve built this moment where the original bad guy of Journey Pro has now transitioned to the good guy you love to hate,” Stewart continued. “He’s going to come out first. His music starts, and it gets 20 seconds in — and the power in the building goes out.”
View this post on Instagram
The night of April 29, a severe storm knocked out power for several hours in some of Kansas City’s East Side neighborhoods.
Initially panicking about what to do in regard to the wrestling show, Stewart looked back down at his phone to see that the Twitch stream had come back. Except it was different, he said. It was being streamed from an audience member’s phone, and it was no longer dark because nearly 400 phone flashlights were lighting up the 30-minute wrestling match.
“No one hesitated. No one screamed,” Stewart said. “One of our amazing fans, Blake, was there with his wife and little girl. He told us that not once in this dark warehouse did he feel like anyone was in any remote danger, and he credited that to what we built. It’s a fucking honor to have these people’s trust and love the way we do. And I’ll never take that for granted.
“We’ve done shows outdoors on a baseball field; we’ve done them inside a coffee shop where it felt like 8,000 degrees; we’re asking them to take this leap of faith in this big, crazy warehouse,” Stewart continued. “And everybody just keeps killing it better than I could have imagined. I’m the luckiest dude, with the craziest life.”
Every single Journey Pro show since 2018 has ended with the same song: “Lights” by Journey.
So, the night of the power outage with no sound system to play the closing song, the fans began to sing, “When the lights go down in the city…”