Josh P.: Our hero today is Dom Vitalli, a professional wrestler, life coach and owner of a professional wrestling gym. In this episode, Dom reveals to us what goes into running a niche business like a pro wrestling gym, as well as how he grew it. Then he walks us through how he takes the life lessons he’s learned in the ring and beyond, and coaches other people to reach their goals too.
Without further Ado, Dom Vitalli. All right Dom, welcome to the Gym Heroes podcast. If you could, go ahead and introduce the audience to who you are and what your background is.
Dom V.: Thanks Josh for having me, I really appreciate being on the show. My name is Dom Vitalli, currently I’m the owner and operator of the Arizona pro wrestling training center, where we train the future WWE Superstars of tomorrow. And I also operate the roadmap coaching program, which is a personal professional development program that I’ve established as well.
Josh P.: Awesome. So what led you to decide to open a pro wrestling training center? I don’t know if I’ve ever, I didn’t know that they were centers around that could prepare you to go into professional wrestling?
Dom V.: Yes. I mean, everyone’s got to start somewhere, and I started this a long time ago actually. I started my wrestling training in December of 2000, pretty much fresh out of high school, 18 years old. It is something I always wanted to do, I grew up watching it on television, and it was just something that was always there. I told myself then, I’m going to make this happen one way or another.
So I did so, and I’ve been wrestling since then. Over the years, I would pop into different wrestling training facilities to get my own repetitions in and things like that, and then as I grew my knowledge base and my skill set, probably about 10, 11 years in or so, was when I started to kind of teach guys here and there or run classes things like that at other schools.
And over the course of time, I saw something missing as far as the training aspect went. As wrestling became more popular, and information became more accessible with the internet and things like that as the year has gone on, I just felt like the training aspect was really watered down, and it was missing some of the nuances that were present when I started training, which was, it was very tough.
Very physically demanding back in 2000 even before, they really didn’t let just anybody in. You kind of had to find your way in, and it wasn’t as simple as going on the internet and looking up wrestling schools, you really had to kind of go through some back doors and know someone who knew someone who knew someone to do it.
So over the course of time, just kind of pitched in other places giving my knowledge, and then a friend of mine was training under me and then he stopped training abruptly, and thought he was a really good guy and had a lot of potential, and I was really surprised that he kind of stepped away.
I asked him what was behind it, and he said really man, I really didn’t feel like I was getting what I needed unless you were there teaching the class. And that was always great to hear that, someone’s getting something out of what I’m providing, and he said you ever think about opening your own place? And honestly no, I had no intention of doing so, and I kind of blew it off and I was like ah, not really. And he’s like I really think you would be successful at it.
And it took some time for him to kind of convince me, but what turned into him convincing me actually turned it into a partnership. So him and I kind of sat down over the course of a few months and developed a game plan and a structure and a vision for our training center, and now, we’re business partners in that center. I mean, we’ve been open since March of 2019, and we’ve generated a lot of buzz and really established a great name for ourselves within the wrestling community.
Josh P.: Wow, that’s awesome. So you said that wrestling, the way it used to be, they didn’t really accept just anyone, you had to earn your way in. I remember looking at your website that you do seem to have like a screening process.
It’s like what kind of guys are you looking for? They have like a competitive wrestling background before they start pro wrestling? They just need to be very physically fit? Like what are the requirements?
Dom V.: So I’m looking for a particular type of athlete for our training center. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s other places out there that will pretty much let anybody in, and that’s their prerogative and that’s okay. But us specifically, we’re looking to train individuals that specifically want to make a living doing professional wrestling.
So like hobbyists and people that are like I just want to kind of dip my toe in it and kind of see if it’s something I’d like, we’re really not the place for them. We hold our students to a very high athletic standard, but also have a lot of commitments that they need to make in order to be enrolled in our center in the first place.
So ideally, we are looking for high level athletes, because I think they’re already acclimated to that process of really working diligently hard towards something, and dedicating a lot of time and their effort towards it.
But surprisingly, over the past three years, almost four now, some of our most successful students have actually been people that had little to no athletic background. They were just those people that really were true to themselves and said this is something that I want to do and I’m going to do no matter what.
And we’ve been able to transform quite a few individuals from like I said you saw him on the street, you would never expect them to be a professional wrestler then and now they’ve turned into some of our star pupils.
Josh P.: Awesome. So how do you find these people to come train pro wrestling? Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen, I’ve seen local promotions for pro wrestling, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen like an actual training center?
Dom V.: Yes. It’s very common for a lot of the local promotions to actually have a training facility tied to it, not all of them do, but many actually do. So we utilize obviously, social media is a big way for us to generate interest.
So we have our own wrestling promotion, but we didn’t have it when we first started our training center actually, we actually didn’t even want one when we started our training facility, it was just like no, we’re just going to do training and that is it. But over the course of time, we realized there was another need for a different type of wrestling promotion as well that could actually help grow our athletes.
So a lot of it is word of mouth, the internet is our friend these days. So people can just pop into Google and say wrestling schools in Arizona, and thankfully, I think we’re the first one that pops up. But like years before, it wasn’t as easy. I try not to make it painfully obvious and easy to find us for a reason. I’m looking for those people that can problem solve, and can follow simple directions.
Because to me, anyone can kind of just waltz in and think they belong. But I do have a pretty, I would consider very easy screening process, but you’d be surprised how difficult that is for a lot of people. And if that piece alone is that difficult for someone, I really don’t think they would last too long in our center.
Josh P.: Gotcha. So how do your services work? And I think you mentioned that you really don’t have any hobbyists that train there. So do you have like one program that you bring people from A to B? Are there different programs? How does that work?
Dom V.: It’s a bit different for, depending on skill levels, so we do, most of our students are from the ground up, zero experience. They come in, and we teach them the basic fundamentals, all the way up and through until they’re actually wrestling regularly on the circuit.
We adjust that for folks that come aboard that maybe have previous wrestling experience, maybe have been wrestling for a few years and are looking for somewhere to train differently maybe. So obviously, we wouldn’t start them from the beginning, we just kind of slide them in with our more intermediate or advanced group.
And then we have our elite athletes, and those are folks that I actually trained like more on a one-on-one basis. Because all of our classes are group classes, obviously you need somebody to wrestle with and work with. We had some elite athletes over the past couple years, and these are folks that are already in just phenomenal physical shape have a following to them, and their time is limited as it is. So they can’t do maybe the same dedication to the group schedule that we have.
So they connect with me, and we train more on a one-on-one basis and I’ll pull in some of my more advanced guys to help out with their classes and things like that, just to make sure they’re getting the attention that they need as well.
Josh P.: So what all is involved in the training? Is it a lot of calisthenics? I know there’s definitely going to be like aspects of the showmanship and the wrestling technique, but what do all the other guys do?
Dom V.: Yes, so we cover everything, honestly. I think one of the things that gets overlooked by a lot of people from the outside, is they go, you just like learn the wrestling moves. And yes, that’s definitely a part of it. But conditioning, I think is the biggest thing that really gets overlooked, not only by people from the outside that don’t really know our business, but a lot of people inside as well.
Conditioning is so important because you’re in the ring sometimes for 15, 20 minutes, and you’re going at a very fast, intense pace and you have to have your stamina because when push comes to shove, you have someone else’s life in your hands, and that person is entrusting you with their life. So if you’re not conditioned to a point where it’s minute 18 of a 20 minute match, and you got nothing left in the tank, but the end of that match calls for you to pick me up over your head, I want to be assured that you have the stamina and the strength to do that, and do it to me in a safe way where I could go home to my family at night the same way I arrived that evening.
So conditioning is the biggest piece. Actually, anyone that’s brand new, that gets enrolled into our facility goes through a physical tryout. And the tryout’s nothing to do in the ring, there’s no suplexes and running the ropes and anything like that, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s more so very similar to like a high-level crossfit workout, we’re testing strength, endurance, flexibility, mobility, those type of things.
But most of all, what I’m looking for in a tryout is someone’s heart, what do they have inside. We push them really hard, and if they’re the type of persons they’re just going to give up on themselves through an exercise or a workout, again, probably not going to last too long with us.
So there’s that aspect, and we do teach the physical components, the basic fundamentals of wrestling. Your rolls, your bumps, you’re running the ropes, your maneuvers. We teach the psychology of wrestling, that’s the what we do, when we do it and how we do it and why. We do a lot of character development stuff as well. We work with our athletes from the ground up to develop a persona, a character.
How they’re going to present themselves, everything from what they wear in the ring to the music they come out to, and how to market themselves, how to get themselves work out there and different promotions, how to get their name out there. And one of the aspects I think is one of the most important as well along with conditioning is you have to be able to sell yourself as a wrestler.
Some of the greatest wrestlers of all time have been technically just phenomenal, but they have the personality of a stick in the mud. So no one really was paying to see them. So we want to make sure our guys have that component and know how to talk, so we call it wrestling as a promo. Basically hyping up yourself, hyping a match up.
So we teach that as well, and that’s difficult for a lot of people, because a lot of people coming into wrestling, I think wrestling fans in general are very introverted to be quite honest with you, and them coming in, and kind of putting them on the spot and saying okay, get in front of the class, let’s see what you can do. We’ve seen people go up in front of a class of maybe ten people and just completely freeze, not a single word can come out of their mouth.
And we really try to break it down even to the bare bones and I’d say okay, just say your name, and that was difficult for some folks. And to see them go from there to now they don’t shut up, it’s quite the journey, and it’s super awesome to see.
Josh P.: Yes, that’s really cool. I don’t know too much about what goes on behind the scenes with pro wrestling. So I know that the wrestlers will cooperate with one another to put on the show, and try and do exciting things without killing each other.
What are some of those basic fundamentals that you mentioned? And what’s the purpose behind them? Because I’m interested to know how the show progresses, because if I’m not mistaken, it’s not entirely scripted, right?
Dom V.: Correct, yes. Again, I think it depends on a lot of different things, and I try to teach my guys a lot of the way I was taught, which was now 22 years into the wrestling business, I wrestle very minimally these days.
But even before this training center was open, I could show up to a building late depending on traffic or flights or whatever, and arrive at the building and change they say hey, you’re out there in five minutes, and I could go out into the ring with some my opponent that I haven’t even spoken a word to up into that point and I can have a match for 20, 30 minutes if needed no problem.
And to me, that’s the art of professional wrestling. To me, it’s not very artistic, it sounds kind of funny, but to like paint by numbers. A lot of inexperienced guys, a lot of newer guys really try to really hammer down and I don’t want to say script in a literal sense, but they have a game plan. A, B, C, D, E, F, G and they stick to that no matter what, and I try to get my guys and girls out of that line of thinking.
Because I always tell them, you can go out there and do A, B and C but what happens when you get to D and the crowd does not care about anything you’re doing. You’re going to go on to E and F and G? So what I try to teach, one of the fundamentals really besides the physical fundamentals of your roles and your bumps and body control and stuff like that, is to listen to the crowd.
In wrestling, we have the luxury of being the puppet masters, and I say the crowd is our puppets. We’re the ones that manipulate them, and I don’t say that in a malicious manner, but we’re the ones that manipulate the crowd to react the way that we want them to. That’s when you know you’re on to something and you’re a pro and you’re a real pro. Not where you’re letting the crowd dictate what you do or don’t do.
And I think a lot of guys kind of get caught up in that, and some guys are afraid of the silence when you’re in the ring. Sometimes, the silence is your friend, it’s just very uncomfortable, you got to learn how to stick through it. But it takes experience, it takes time, it takes repetition.
Some people say, or most people actually that have been doing this a long time, say you really don’t start to truly understand what wrestling is until you’re like seventh or eighth year in, and that was the case for me for sure. I’m 20 plus years in now, and I’m still learning things every single night in class. Whether it’s from my students or other instructors.
Josh P.: So pro wrestling is about working the crowd, it sounds like? Really trying to give them a show that they are responsive to?
Dom V.: Yes. We’re showmen, when push comes to shove, that’s what we are. We are showmen, we’re like an athletic soap opera, we’re like the young and the restless, but a lot more exciting, and a lot more physical. I also liken it to, we’re like real life live action superheroes, but we only get one take, we don’t get the luxury of saying cut, let’s try it again.
We’re out there in front of the people who are front rows maybe six, seven feet away from what we’re doing and we don’t get a chance to call cut and get another take, we got to do it right the first time.
Josh P.: No takes and no CGI.
Dom V.: Yes, exactly.
Josh P.: And no stunt doubles.
Dom V.: Although, a lot of wrestlers do moonlight and stunt doubles, so it makes sense.
Josh P.: That does make sense, yes. Some of the stuff I’ve seen on TV is like, I don’t even, with the equipment, I don’t know how they do that. I would be really afraid. Like just the heights that they fall from onto these like full folding tables and stuff, it’s like there’s no way they didn’t get hurt, there’s no way.
Dom V.: Yes, it’s true. And it looks so much different watching it than it is doing it, I think a lot of people misconstrue it. Because I don’t think you really, people that haven’t done it, can’t really get a true feel for the physicality of it. I always tell people, everyone always likes with, not everyone, but a lot of people like to throw around the F word which is fake. Oh, wrestling’s fake and this that.
And I always tell people you can’t fake gravity, falling hurts, it hurts a lot, and not to mention the realness of everything outside the ring as well. The toll it takes on your body, your family, your personal life and stuff like that.
Like I hear all the time like oh, what do they use? Like rubber chairs and rubber tables? I’m like no, that’s real stuff, what are you talking about? And oh, you’re just falling on a trampoline? I’m like that is not a trampoline, believe me, because if it was, I wouldn’t have bad back, bad knees, bad neck.
Josh P.: Yes, exactly. That’s funny. So switching gears now to your coaching, why did you decide to go into one-on-one coaching from having a wrestling school?
Dom V.: It was by accident, honestly, it really was. So we opened the wrestling school, and again, we had these standards and I was the head trainer at the time, and I really held my students to a very high athletic standard. And one of the goals that we had when we opened the school was, and we had this in our mission statement, was to not only create great wrestlers, but create great people as well.
So we wanted to our guys and girls to learn skills not only in the ring, but the skills they learn while they’re with us, they can apply it actually out into the real world and their real lives. So as time went on, I realized, not that I realized, but having conversations with our students, I realized this was helping them on a much higher level than just professional wrestling.
So I started having students come to me with personal issues, how to work through those, and that was always the, they knew that from day one. If you have any problems, I’m here to support you, I’m here to help you in any way that I can. And guys would just kind of ask me for how to be better in a variety of different, how do I become more confident, how do I get through this issue that I’m having in my relationship.
And I just started kind of coaching guys on accident, really. And then, I realized that personal development is an actual thing. And I was like wait a minute, this is what I’m doing right now. So I kind of wanted to branch out, and give the opportunity, or hopefully, earn the opportunity to work with other people that really maybe don’t have any desire to be a pro wrestler or anything even remotely related to it.
Because I do know a lot of people that need that help that have no ambition to get in the ring. And I do work with people that have no desire to, and they work a regular job and have a family and things like that, and I can help them. So it’s kind of like, it’s made me kind of be able to spread out what I do to a wider audience, and be able to help anybody, not just someone in the pro wrestling world.
Josh P.: Excellent, yes. I was going to ask you if this was just for people in the pro wrestling world, or if it was for everyone, but that answers my question. So on your website, you talk about your personal development roadmap, can you walk us through that? How does that work?
Dom V.: Sure. So the basis of it is, I can give you pointers and hips and kind of move you towards certain things to do to make yourself better or create the best version of yourself. I can draw that map out for you. Obviously, when I get to work with you and get to know you, and figure out what it is that you’re looking to do, where you’re looking to improve, where you come from, all those different factors, but I cannot drive the car for you.
So metaphorically speaking. And I think a lot of people kind of, if they’re not really familiar with what coaching is, sometimes think well, my coach is going to do it for me or kind of figure it all out for me. It’s not the case, it’s a lot of the work if not all of it you have to do yourself. So what the process is, I meet with, and I do it in a variety of different ways, I do one-on-one, I do group coaching, things like that.
But usually, I’d like to just kind of get a sense of what it is that person’s missing, what it is that they’re looking to either add to their life, what they’re looking to improve, the areas that they’re struggling in. But I also like to get a sense of what they feel they do well at. What are the things that they feel like they don’t need help with, what are the things that they feel like they’re an expert at.
So really, there’s a big kind of like pre-screening process, especially with the one-on-one aspect. I really try to get as much information from them on paper first, and then I’ll usually have like either a sit down with them if they’re local or a Zoom something over the computer, to kind of answer some of those questions I may have had from the written document, and then we kind of set a course from there.
And it’s individualized, because everyone doesn’t struggle with discipline, everyone doesn’t struggle with time management. It matters what that person really needs to work on, and we kind of come up with a game plan and go kind of week to week from there.
Generally speaking, I like to work with someone at a minimum of three months, I feel like that’s my wheelhouse to really be, to be able to have enough time to kind of set someone off in the right direction and I leave it to them at that point if they want to continue on or not. But over the course of those three months, we’re meeting weekly whether it’s virtually or in person, and I’ll have them do different assignments over the course of the week before we meet again.
Just think that they should be working on actively, and I’ll have them chart their progress, we’ll kind of go over it and kind of make adjustments as needed. We’ll highlight that road map to their end destination, and hopefully by the end of that three months, they’re either there or very close to it.
Josh P.: Excellent. So if for example a guy wanted to work on his confidence, what would be an example of some homework that you would give him, to help him with that?
Dom V.: Yes. So one of my common ones is, a lot of people come up and say I’m afraid to talk in front of people, or I really don’t feel like I have anything to offer, or I’m afraid of what people think of me.
And my immediate response to that is well, you need to face that head on. I ask what story are you telling yourself in your head? Because you may think you look stupid, but I assure you no one else is thinking that, you’re just telling yourself that story in your head.
So something simple that I assign to people like that, and not even people that are necessarily struggling with that. But I’ll tell them especially if they use social media, I’ll make them post videos of themselves. And for some of them, that’s completely foreign to them. They’ve never done it before, they’ve done it minimally, it makes their skin crawl.
They hate to hear their own voice or see themselves on video, but that’s a requirement, and I’ll make them do it. Usually, I’ll give them something to talk about if they’re having a struggle, figuring that piece out. But a hundred percent of the time, as that time goes on, they get way more comfortable doing it and that’s kind of like our baseline.
That’s a really good way to kind of kick off that self-confidence, and then we start honing in from there whether it’s face-to-face confidence with people, whether it’s being in front of a large group in person, those type of things and then we work on it from there.
Josh P.: Excellent, that’s really good. I came up doing Taekwondo and martial arts, and when I was really young, I did a leadership program where they put me as a kid in front of class and they let us kids like take turns like leading class and teaching. And then as I got older and the longer I was in the program, I had more responsibilities for teaching up to the point of like teaching like an entire class.
And of course, at the time, I was exceptionally nervous, but it was really good for me, because it helped me learn to speak in a way that’s engaging. It helped me to compose myself in front of people, and I think in an indirect way, it helped me believe in myself that even if I don’t know everything, that I usually have something I can contribute to a conversation.
A lot of that stuff is not actually your knowledge base, it’s really just your, the story, like you said, the story that you tell yourself in your head. You’re telling yourself a story of something that’s not really true, like oh, I don’t have anything to contribute to this conversation, people aren’t going to like me or they’re going to see me a certain way if I say something.
Something that I’ve learned is that sometimes you can just say something unpopular, but as long as you own it with a smile on your face, it doesn’t make a difference, nobody dislikes you more. Like it’s just whatever, people laugh and you move on.
Dom V.: Yes. I think everybody has the ability to do it. It takes some time to get it out of people. I don’t think everyone has the desire to do it like for the long haul, and that’s okay. But I think that’s a common, maybe fear in some folks is like well, maybe I don’t have anything good to say or why would anybody care what I have to say, and I’m like you’ll never know unless you speak up, unless you say something.
I’ve had guys at the wrestling school who were afraid to speak up, who were just kind of in their own shell and afraid of stepping on toes. Not against the trainers or anything like that, but just amongst their own classmates or being looked at in a certain light by their classmates. I always tell people like others perception of you has nothing to do with what you can provide to yourself in this class, and now one of my guys who was afraid to speak up in the first place is now one of my leaders.
He’s one of my captains, and he helps lead my beginner’s classes because my time has spread as thin as it is. So I leave that up to him, and now he’s in a leadership role, he’s more vocal, he’s becoming more confident. So it’s just a snowball effect. It’s just a matter of getting off the horse in the first place and just dipping your toe in right away, and sometimes maybe just doing a cannonball, right? As much as you can.
And not being afraid to fail. We’re all going to fail, we’re all going to mess up, we’re all going to look stupid at some point. But it’s not the end of the world, it’s not going to cost you anything for the most part. You wake up tomorrow, shake it off and get back in the game.
Josh P.: Right, yes. People have short memories about things, or they end up remembering it different than the way you felt it was, right? It’s like oh, that was so embarrassing. And all the other people thought that it was just funny, which is silly, and then it wasn’t really. They weren’t embarrassed for you or thinking wow, what a dork or whatever.
Dom V.: No, we always tend to magnify things to be way worse than they actually are.
Josh P.: Yes, absolutely. And I know that thing can be far-reaching. Because there was a time after I did that leadership program, I didn’t teach for oh man, probably almost 10 years, and then I got a job like actually teaching like for money, teaching martial arts and I walked right back into it.
And there’s a little quick adjustment period, but I was immediately thrown into not just teaching class, but like oh, we’re going to go to this event, you need to like do like a 20 minute segment in front of 250 people. We’re going to go to this church and do this anti-bullying thing and there’s going to be 70 people there. I was like, what are you going to do, say no?
Dom V.: That same thing actually happened to me today, and I speak in front of large groups all the time, and I run classes all the time, and it’s something that I’m very familiar with. And I was asked today if I could do a 45 minute presentation on motivation and discipline for a local business here that I’m very close with.
I was trying to talk myself out of it. Like oh well, again, they had that initial spark in your brain, no matter how, I think how developed you are in your skill, there’s always a little self-doubt there, no matter what. But I had to catch myself, and say I got this, I’ve done this a million times. Just because it’s a new audience, one that’s not familiar with me, that shouldn’t hinder me from wanting to do it.
If anything, that should make me even more apt to do it, because I want these people to hear what I have to say. Most importantly, because hopefully, my message will help, that’s why I was seeked out for it in the first place, and quickly got over there and told him I would do it. But it’s funny how you can work on something and develop a skill over a period of time, and that doubt will creep in every now and then.
Not every time, but it’ll creep in there and you just got to remember where you’ve come from, remember what you’ve accomplished, keep in mind how far you’ve come. Like for me, I couldn’t even imagine doing what I’m doing now 20 years ago or so, it would be unheard of if I told myself that 20 years ago would I be doing now, and today, it’s just kind of par for the course.
Josh P.: Yes, absolutely. So where can people find you if they want to reach out and ask you some more questions?
Dom V.: Best way, you could go to my website, DomVitalli.com. I’m also pretty active on Instagram @DomVitalli. If you want to get a sense of, maybe what it’s like to hear me in your ear, I have my own podcast, it’s called the knucklehead podcast, we have new episodes every week.
Usually just the topics, some personal development points, depending on what the topic is each week, it varies. And every occasional interviews here and there of people I find inspiring, or kind of the same mindset as myself.
Josh P.: Nice, that’s a fun podcast name, I like that.
Dom V.: Thank you.
Josh P.: All right, man. Well, thank you for coming on, and I hope we can actually do this again sometime.
Dom V.: Absolutely. Josh, it’ll be my pleasure, and again, thank you for having me.