When rapper Open Mike Eagle told his friends and family that he was going to Louisville, Kentucky to get in the ring with a professional wrestler, they were more than a little concerned.
“It’s not like an MMA fight — we’re not gonna go in there and actually try to harm each other, necessarily,” said Open Mike Eagle about what it was like to fight Kentucky wrestler Shiloh Jonze. “But it’s a very dangerous thing — people have really, seriously hurt themselves wrestling. People have died in the wrestling ring — like a performed match, people died. Every serious injury you can think of has happened. And I wasn’t able to really, fully train, so I think everybody around me had a fair amount of very understandable concern about what it was I was about to do with my life.”
The rapper is no stranger to taking risks in his career. When he went independent by releasing his 2018 EP, What Happens When I Try To Relax, on his own record label, it was a gamble. But late last year, when he decided to get in the ring with a very real pro-wrestler, he wasn’t risking his streaming numbers — he was risking his well-being.
“It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life,” said Eagle of what it was like to fight Jonze. “A lot of my memory of it is a blur. I think the match total was like five minutes, but it felt like an hour to me”
Clapback, a six-part documentary that is available exclusively through his Patreon, documents Open Mike Eagle’s journey from rapper to wrestler, from the beef that started it all to the full-on match that took place just a month later. And like most battles, rap or otherwise, It all started on Twitter.
Here’s how it went down: last year, Jonze, a pro-wrestler with a rap-shtick, posted a video of him challenging a bunch of actual rappers to a rap battle (the list included Eminem, multiple members of Wu-tang, Snoop Dogg and of course, Open Mike Eagle).
But instead of just tweeting back at him, Eagle decided to fly all the way to Davis Arena in Louisville, Kentucky to confront Jonze in person. Then, in the middle of a wrestling event that Jonze was fighting in, Eagle walked out ringside, grabbed a mic, and started spitting: “You are not street/ you’ve not seen the shots spray/ you’re just a jock wearing John Cena cosplay,” rapped Eagle to the cheers of the arena. And the rest is regional wrestling history.
“It wasn’t necessarily me being angry,” said Eagle, who trained with former WWF wrestler and promoter Al Snow before the fight. “It was me seeing somebody trolling me and me trolling him back…his trolling seemed to be based on, ‘nobody’s actually going to respond to this.’ So I responded. His trolling was based on, ‘I’ll make this video calling him out but there’s no way he’s actually going to show up,’ but I showed up. For me, it was about how far can I take this.”
The answer to that is pretty damn far.
But in 2019, you have to go far to get your music heard, and no one knows that better than Open Mike Eagle. Along with others like Killer Mike, and Danny Brown, Eagle helped pioneer the post-Napster, jack-of-all-trades rap persona that we all expect from rappers today. Outside of his day job as a recording and touring rapper, he’s co-hosted multiple podcasts, including Conversation Parade, which is about the TV show Adventure Time (he even played a rapping gingerbread man on the actual cartoon). He’s got his hands in the comedy world too — he’s a mainstay at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, and he co-hosts a sketch/showcase show on Comedy Central called The New Negroes.
Now, you can add wrestler to that list, though only time will tell if he’ll get in the ring again. While Eagle had a great time — “it was really a high point of my life” — his reasons for wearing spandex and learning how to get out of a suplex were pragmatic, too. With dwindling record sales and a constantly evolving music industry, the truth is as painful as a piledriver: these days, a cold 16 bars or a great album just might not be enough for a rapper to survive.
“The money is different in music now,” said Eagle on the current state of the rap industry. “I think the more interesting acts out there are going to try to find ways to get involved in other things that are fun and entertaining that align with their personalities. It’s going to partly be what we have to do as rappers, or any kind of performers, to survive.”
But instead of wishing for the good old days of rap, where you could tour on an album for years and make a living, Eagle takes a glass half-full approach to life as a modern rapper: yes, it can be a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to try new creative projects and to express himself through different mediums.
“I do try to do the things that are most interesting to me, which typically tends to be, like, not necessarily what’s expected,” said Eagle. “Like, I’m not going to try to do a bungee jumping stunt…I’m not going to try to walk a tightrope somewhere. But if these interesting opportunities happen to coexist with my fields of interest, that is very exciting.”
When Eagle spoke to me about his crossover from hip-hop to wrestling, he didn’t speak like a marketing wizard or a businessman (though from the way internet went nuts about it, it’s clear that he knows how to pull at our heartstrings). He sounded more like a fanboy than anything else, speaking excitedly about his lifelong love of wrestling, Ric Flair, and The Rock. So at the end of the day, even if he’d lost the match to Shiloh Jonze (he didn’t BTW), I get the feeling he’d still be over the moon.
“I felt like it was a really high point in my life to even be involved in something like that, you know,” said Eagle about his wrestling debut. “Just really exhilarating for me, and I don’t know — it was super thrilling, man.”