Chandler Hopkins: Pro Wrestling’s Fastest Rising Star
Despite making his debut just over two years ago, “The Young Gun” Chandler Hopkins has quickly made his presence felt on the independent wrestling scene. Squaring up against independent standout “Dirty” Andy Dalton just a few months into his career, Hopkins was able to propel himself into larger and more prominent matches in no time.
The first two years of his career have seen matchups against standouts like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, the Steiner Brothers, the Latin American Exchange (LAX) and Chavo Guerrero to go along with two title wins and a tag team match in Ring of Honor (RoH) against fan favorite Rhett Titus.
Hopkins’ first two years have been a whirlwind, but his introduction to the wrestling business was no different than many wrestlers that have gotten their own start.
“The thing that drew me to wrestling was my step-dad, whenever I was younger my mom was not into the violence and stuff that was on TV. I was allowed to play sports, but I was kind of sheltered when it came to TV. When my step-dad came along my mom would work night shifts at the hospital and when she would go to work he would ask if I wanted to watch wrestling with him,” Hopkins said.
He continued, “I started watching around 2000 or 2001 and that was right in the Attitude Era so you have Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels, The Rock and Triple H and I took hold of Shawn Michaels and The Rock. Those are two of the guys I still look to as some of my favorites.”
Though he was a fan at a young age, Hopkins took a non-traditional route to actually getting in the ring himself. Working a successful job as a car salesman in Oklahoma City, the then-26-year old Hopkins was approached by a friend with an interesting opportunity.
“I went to one of a local show and one of my buddies saw that and asked if I knew what the Imperial Wrestling Revolution was and I told him I had no clue. He gave me some info about it so I went online and found them. I looked on the website to see what it was with no intention to start training, but I saw some of the talent that had been there and that was there presently and I saw at the end of their roster page it said, ‘Interested in training to become a wrestler? Message us now’ and it had an email address, so I sent the email over to it to see what would happen.”
Much to Hopkins’ surprise, he received a response quickly.
“Literally five minutes after I sent over my email with my description and pictures I got an email back saying that they’d love to have me and asked when I could start. I wasn’t out looking for it, it kind of just fell into my lap and ever since my first day in a ring in February of 2016 I have never looked back.”
The work was grueling, with Hopkins commuting three hours every weekend for six months for training, but he knew that it was all worth it once he was able to go out and live his dream.
“After I stepped in the ring for the first time I knew I really wanted it. Once you step through those ropes something clicks, especially if you’re planning on putting everything into it. I told myself on day one that I wasn’t going to hold anything back and the second I start to do anything with this, I’m going to give everything 100%.”
His commitment never wavered, but the same cannot be said for some friends and family around him when they first heard about Hopkins’ venture into professional wrestling.
“The first person I told was my mom and she’s always supported me in everything that I’ve done, but she did ask me why. When I told her I was going to do this path of professional wrestling she just said that if this is what you want to do than do it, but if you’re going to do it make sure you give it everything you’ve got so that at the end of it you know that it was either meant to be or not meant to be. That’s what I’ve done, my brother was kind of iffy on it, my dad was cool about it because he kind of brought me into it, but some of my friends were like, ‘Yeah right, dude, you’re not going to do that.”
Seven months after stepping into the ring for training, Hopkins made his debut. He was used to interacting one-on-one with people due to his background in sales, but the experience of interacting with a full audience was a new one for Hopkins. After a while however, Hopkins started to settle in and find his groove.
“It wasn’t within my first couple of matches that I really started to feel comfortable. I had always had the confidence, but I was trying to find myself in the ring in front of a live crowd. In training it’s easy, you have your friends and other wrestlers there and you’re used to it, but in a live crowd there’s 50 to thousands of people sitting there and judging your every move. It took me my first 10–15 matches to really get comfortable and after that it was another 20–30 where I was really able to start playing with the crowd and forgetting that I was in there to wrestle.”
“I think just getting started, you get to a point where you forget that everything you do has to have a purpose. You get in there and just do whatever and you don’t think about why you’re doing it, and that’s something I took to heart very early. I take the critiques, especially from some of the guys that have been with WWE or TNA or ROH, I’ve had the chance to wrestle a lot of those guys now and Chavo [Guerrero] always comes back to me and tells me everything must have purpose and if it doesn’t, it makes no sense and you lose the crowd. I think of why I’m doing what I’m doing. It took awhile to get there, but after the first 50 or so matches it became natural.”
While he expected to be thrown onto the card every now and then, he’s made such an impact that promoters haven’t been able to keep him out of the lineup. Through just over two years, Hopkins has managed to amass hundreds of matches.
“Ever since my debut it’s been a roller coaster ride of fun, ups and downs of course along the way, but I’ve been successful to this point. It’s gone a lot faster than I thought it would; I didn’t think in just my short time that I would be getting to do the stuff that I’ve been able to do or wrestle as often as I have. I figured it would be one or two times per month if that, but I have people tell me all the time that most people that have been in the business the time that I have will have 30 or 40 matches under their belt but I have over 200. It has been a roller coaster ride of emotion until this point and I can’t wait to see where it goes.”
Throughout the course of those matches, Hopkins has continually tried to incorporate the feedback that he’s received into his arsenal. Like many young wrestlers, Hopkins was initially working too fast and since that point he’s tried to work at a more manageable pace — — a move which has already paid dividends.
“When I first started I would get told that I was going too fast and I never knew what that meant. I always thought maybe it was my movements and my speed, but that isn’t necessarily true. It’s going too fast to your next movement, it’s not letting the crowd realize what’s going on or letting it sink in and that’s the biggest thing that I had a problem with when I first started. People would tell me, ‘You’re moving too fast, you’re moving too fast, slow down’ and I took that as me just going through my routine was too fast but that wasn’t the case. I’ve really worked on that and now instead of getting told I’m too fast, I get a lot of, ‘Wow, you’re really smooth’ and it was because of those critiques and the people that took time out of their day to give me advice.”
Chief among those offering helpful advice is former WWE Superstar and legendary grappler Chavo Guerrero, a man Hopkins credits with helping shape his style. On a show in December of 2017, Guerrero specifically asked to work with Hopkins.
“My favorite match of all so far was a one-on-one match with Chavo Guerrero. I was so nervous going into it but at the end of the day knowing going into it that he asked to wrestle me and it wasn’t just the match that was booked for me — it was something he told the promoter — and then going out and having the match we did with a standing ovation afterwards and then him putting me over to the crowd was such a huge honor and such a huge compliment. It was different getting in the ring with someone that had been there and done that on the biggest stage and working with talent like that is one reason why I’ve been able to grow.”
Both before and after the match, Hopkins developed an open line of communication with Guerrero that has been extremely beneficial for his career.
“Chavo and I had talked a lot before our match. He was coming to WCR for awhile before that and he was a mainstay that was really helping with the company. We had gotten close for a few months, but to hear that he had asked for me after the match I had told him thank you. He was a guy that I had watched on TV and after the match he gave me some great critiques and he’s been one of the guys that told me I needed to slow down, but he’s also one of the guys that has told me I listen so well and that’s not something you can teach in this business. You can teach moves and things all day long, but listening is a big thing we do in that ring every time we get in there.
Shortly after the high praise from Chavo, Hopkins worked a match with Fuego del Sol and Montego Seeka and was approached by Hall of Fame wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. “I’m a big fan of DDP and he’s always been a role model of mine. He came to the show and I had a triple threat match with Fuego del Sol and Montego Seeka and we tore the house down and DDP noticed it and he said it was one of the best indy matches he had seen in a long time. He gave me his number afterwards and we stayed in frequent contact and he’s become a mentor for me.”
Wrestling under the moniker “The Young Gun” and hailing from Oklahoma, Hopkins’ style is a bit different than you may expect. Rather than the brawling, rough style of guys like Stan Hansen or John Bradshaw Layfield, Hopkins has brought a new ‘cowboy’ style to the independent scene.
“My cowboy style is much different than any cowboy style you’ve ever seen. Most cowboy styles is really rough and tough brutes. I’ve really taken where I came from and what I grew up on and added one of my favorite movies, The Young Guns, into it and added the moniker ‘The Modern Day Billy the Kid.’ I’m very flashy much like Billy the Kid and I’m confident and sometimes cocky like him and I know when I get in the ring I know what I can do and what I will do.”
He added, “Everybody knows The Young Guns and everyone knows Billy the Kid and I feel like if I can take my high-flying flashiness with the cowboy look and get it out there so people can see a different kind of cowboy they see with the brute force and size that just drinks beer and beats everybody up, I feel they can get where I’m coming from and it can be a success.”
He’s accomplished more than most have to this point in their careers, but Hopkins is keeping his focus on the future.
“My goals have always been to have fun with it no matter how far it goes. I have goals to wrestle at ROH, I have goals to wrestle at Impact, I want to be an extra on WWE but the big goal at the end is going to WWE. I don’t want to just go straight there, I want to make my rounds and see the different environments so wrestling for ROH, wrestling for Impact or going to New Japan or NOAH, those are goals of mine. I would like to go to the UK or Canada, it’s just getting to those opportunities.”
He continued, “In almost two years of wrestling, it’s grown a lot faster than I ever thought it would but looking two more years into the future I wouldn’t say it’s far fetched at all for me to be with ROH or Impact. I have some goals for doing that and how to accomplish that but it starts with right now and tomorrow when I wake up. It comes down to being the best me I can be and going out and showing that even at 29-years old that I can keep up and that I won’t let anyone overlook me. I’m out there to show this is not just a hobby for me, this not just a weekend gig that I want to do for the rest of my life, this is a career that I’m looking to make happen for myself. I’m not going to toot my horn too much though; I’m still growing, I know that, but those are goals that I have and I don’t plan on stopping until I reach them.”
Working primarily throughout the South so far, 2019 is likely to be the year that ‘The Young Gun’ Chandler Hopkins makes the jump into national prominence.