WICKER PARK — Out of a small one-bedroom condo in a converted vintage apartment, the voice of a professional wrestler reaches tens of thousands through a weekly podcast.
Colt Cabana (real name, Scott Colton), who has called Wicker Park home since 2006, has leveraged the DIY spirit of the Internet to build a name for himself and strengthen an online community of fans, six years after being fired from the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) league.
He has performed in over 20 countries on five of the planet's seven continents and spends over half of the year traveling.
Coming off of a nine-hour flight from Wales on Tuesday, the 34-year-old grappler/comedian/ entrepreneur, now in his 16th year as a professional wrestler, retreated to his studio to record the opening segment for his "Art of Wrestling" podcast.
"It's a life podcast, an entryway into the hearts, souls, minds of wrestlers," he booms into a noise-canceling box while sitting at a desk inches from his unmade bed.
Cabana's Thursday podcast spotlights Michael Tarver, a former WWE wrestler, who, about two-thirds of the way through the interview, speaks openly about drinking two bottles of Nyquil and popping dozens of muscle relaxers.
Averaging about 100,000 weekly listeners, Cabana's free podcast has become a platform for wrestlers to tell their life stories, raw and unfiltered.
A Thanksgiving Day podcast with CM Punk — real name, Philip Books — another former WWE wrestler, Wicker Park resident, and friend of Cabana's who recently signed a multi-fight deal with UFC, got nearly 3 million listens.
This weekend, Cabana is in San Jose, Calif. for WrestleCon, an independently-run event that piggy backs on Wrestlemania, the industry's biggest show run by behemoth WWE.
At WrestleCon, the 6-foot-tall, 230-pound Cabana will compete in just one match, a 5-on-5 bout. He says he's mainly there to connect with fans and to interview other wrestlers.
"Wrestling fans pick their team and they're very loyal. They like me as this underdog who was done wrong by the evil empire WWE. Even though I was done wrong they still wanna support me and see me do good," Cabana said.
In addition to two live WrestleCon podcasts, Cabana will host a midnight comedy show on Saturday with Chicago ex-pat Marty DeRosa, a comedian with his own podcast, Wrestling with Depression.
The son of a traveling apparel salesman, Cabana also sells merchandise, a big part of his indie business empire profiled in Rolling Stone last month.
Cabana has joined forces with Bucktown's One Hour Tees, to create Pro Wrestling Tees, a line that gives independent wrestlers the chance to make more profit from sales of their merchandise as well as create custom shirts in a pinch.
The extra money from the T-shirt sales has helped Cabana, who, even when he was at the height of his professional career with WWE (briefly wrestling under the name Scotty Goldman), only brought in a $750 weekly salary.
Colton said he's making more money working for himself than he was while part of the WWE. The league fired him after less than two years in 2009.
Cabana, who earned $8,000 his first year in the independent circuit in 2004, said knew he reached success when he could "buy egg whites already separated." He also knew he made it when his parents stopped worrying about their youngest son. (Colton's older brother Greg, 38, is a director for "Family Guy.")
Reached by phone, Cabana's mother, Marcia Colton, a retired CPS elementary school teacher, said, "You never expect your son to go out and be a professional wrestler. I wasn't exactly thrilled at first. I wanted him to be a PE Teacher; he is very good with children."
Safety in the ring was also a concern.
"I was concerned that he could get hurt. It didn't seem that a nice Jewish boy would go into wrestling," she said.
Still, she said, "We are very proud of him."
"He's quite an entrepreneur and he doesn't wrestle as much and struggle so much anymore. I have come to the realization that this is his career and I just go with it. He is just going to do it as long as he wants to until his body tells him to stop. You just have to let it go and have your children do what they want to do. Let it go, that's the famous phrase," she said.
Colton, who is of Eastern European Jewish descent, grew up in Deerfield, where he was introduced to wrestling by going to matches at the Allstate Arena with his brother and his dad.
When he is not traveling or training, Cabana cycles around the city. Though he does not drink alcohol, when friends want to go out, Emporium Arcade, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave. is a standby.
"I miss Silver Cloud. The grilled cheese and tomato soup was very comforting," he said, referring to the abrupt shuttering of a neighborhood bar and grill at 1700 N. Damen Ave.
Cabana said he has no plans to move from Wicker Park. "I'm too lazy to leave and I like where I am," he said.
"When I first moved here I was a struggling artist in a very untraditional way. The independent spirit is still here, but with the brand names stores coming in and more baby strollers, you can see a changing element," he said.
One thing he wishes he could change is the local "L" stop at 1558 N. Damen, which underwent a $13 million renovation but does not have an elevator for folks in wheelchairs, or for the occasional professional wrestler laden with bags and headed on yet another trip.
"If they could add an elevator, that would make my life even better," Cabana said.
Colton at the Damen "L" station:
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