Tim Donst started at the CHIKARA Wrestle Factory at age 16, had his first match three years later and held the prestigious Young Lions Cup last year. A former collegiate wrestler and one of CHIKARA's top rising stars, Donst will be a big factor when CHIKARA hits the Midwest this weekend for three shows starting Friday in Chicago.
On that show, Donst teams with fellow BDK members Ares and Tursas to face hometown favorites Da Soul Touchaz in the main event.
Having been involved with the promotion in some way for seven years now, Donst is attached. The 23-year old from Stroudsburg, Pa., has continually upped his game each year and now is a major factor and player inside the ropes. Still, the man who proclaims he'd be an "attention whore" if not for professional wrestling remains humble and looks for every opportunity to advance the company.
That's why, to this day, he still remembers one thing a fan told him a few years back.
"Someone once told me they got into CHIKARA because of a match I had with Mike Quackenbush, probably close to three years ago now," Donst told SLAM! Wrestling earlier this week.
"I love CHIKARA passionately. I came in when I was 16, I was super impressionable and I've grown up with a band of professional wrestlers as my mentors and friends. Just knowing somehow I contributed to the fan base, that one fan got into our product because of a match I had, is like the biggest compliment in the world to me."
Since Donst began his CHIKARA career in 2007, not only has he grown, so has the company, which has expanded into the Midwest and will hold shows this weekend in Chicago and the Detroit and Cleveland areas.
The distinctly CHIKARA-ish version of Tim Donst.
"I think we were running in Reading [Pa.] with maybe 18 people coming to the shows," Donst said. "Now to see us in the ECW Arena with 600-700 people and going to Chicago and Cleveland and seeing the evolution of the past six, seven years I've been involved in the company has been amazing."
The man who founded CHIKARA, "Lightning" Mike Quackenbush, also had a big hand in training Donst at the CHIKARA Wrestle Factory along with Chris Hero. There, Quackenbush first saw the talent that everyone sees today. He said what set Donst above many of his peers there was his amateur wrestling background, noting he's quite accomplished. Since then, Quackenbush said Donst has "grown into his shoes."
Those sentiments were echoed by Donst's BDK stablemate Claudio Castagnoli, who saw something in Donst on his way up.
"He was a hard worker with an uncanny determination," Castagnoli said. "His sheer will makes him succeed."
Said Quackenbush: "He's more well-rounded than ever. He's always working to improve his all-around game."
Donst really raised his game in 2010. In January, he became the Young Lions Cup champion by defeating Player Dos, something that he said completely boosted his confidence.
From there, he would defend the Cup four times, including one defense in what he called one of his "favorite matches" against Frightmare in Taylor, Mich., where he beat Frightmare up and carried him out into the crowd, only to have the crowd drag him back to the ring. But always a heel, Donst sneakily choked Frightmare out with a necktie to set up a match the following day with one of his heroes, Bryan Danielson.
Danielson was fresh off being fired by WWE for choking ring announce Justin Roberts with a tie. He made his return to independent wrestling with CHIKARA and Donst got the call to face him the second night in. Because Danielson was added to the shows about a week in advance, things barely set in for Donst when he stepped into the ring with him in Cleveland.
"When I wrestled him, it was out of this world," Donst said. "I always tell people the closest thing you can relate it to is if you got to sing karaoke with your favorite artist. That's essentially what it was like. It didn't even sink in until afterwards. It was like, 'Holy s---, I just wrestled Bryan Danielson.'"
Things have been interesting for Donst in 2011, as well, and not just in the ring. As an independent wrestler, Donst is also employed on the side. He said he works a few days a week as a trainer at a gym and does a lot of odd jobs. One of those odd jobs involved going to work with CHIKARA ring announcer Gavin Loudspeaker for Puma for their "Puma Battle Royale," a running competition where 13 runners start in a 5K and the last-place runner is eliminated each lap until there is only one.
"They looked to CHIKARA and CHIKARA sent myself and Gavin Loudspeaker to cut promos on all these track runners for Puma," Donst said. "So there's a lot of odd jobs like that that come about through wrestling."
Going forward, Donst is hoping to expand his reach and work around the world -- he wants to head to Mexico and Europe after working a tour in Japan last year -- but above all else, he wants to stay in the place he loves: CHIKARA.
"It would have to take a really awesome opportunity in order for me to take my foot out of the CHIKARA ring," Donst said. "I think CHIKARA's innovative, I love the guys, I've been associated with it for so long that if there ever came an opportunity where they said I couldn't wrestle for CHIKARA, I can't imagine too many deals that would come about that would entice me away from CHIKARA."
And for as happy as he is to be in CHIKARA, CHIKARA is just as happy to have him.
"The sky is the limit for a guy like him," Quackenbush said. "He has enormous potential."