For decades, watching professional wrestling events together has been a beloved pastime for some families. At Greenville’s Austin Idol’s Universal Wrestling College, fans have a unique opportunity to learn wrestling as both an art form and a business.
Owner and coach Idol has connections with professional wrestling spanning back to 1972, after enduring a year of intense training.
“I started in ’72 after being tortured for a year in Tampa, Florida, because wrestling was different then,” said Idol. “I would go to the building where the weekly TV tapings took place three days per week and absolutely suffered a grueling three-hour workout with some very serious and documented amateur wrestling champions, who basically tortured me to the point of wanting to quit, but I kept on coming back for one solid year. I’m talking about a two-time NCAA Division I Collegiate National Heavyweight champion, an Olympic bronze Greco Roman champion, a huge Japanese amateur champion and there were more.”
“I was a brand before there were brands in wrestling.” – Austin Idol, wrestler
What attracted Idol to wrestling? “Money and not wanting to make a career out of what I was doing in Tampa in the hot, sweltering heat as a construction worker,” he said.
While he was still in training, Idol learned about a promoter wanting a wrestler to go to Australia to earn $1,000 a week with all expenses included. He kept lobbying until they let him in.
“They taught me my pain threshold,” Idol said. “[I] learned not to give up and quit, no matter what.”
He went on to wrestle in Tennessee, Charlotte, Australia, and New York City with wrestling promoter Vincent J. McMahon and his son, Vince McMahon, who would go on to be the CEO and chairman of the WWE. In 1975, Idol was in a plane crash, which killed fellow wrestler Bobby Shane.
Following his crash, he returned to Tampa. Idol was 300 pounds, so he decided it was time to lose weight. He lost 100 pounds in a year by working off two pounds a week.
“I liked what I saw in the mirror,” said Idol. “[I] did my hair, changed my whole thing, changed my name from Iron Mike McCord to Austin Idol. Universal Heartthrob Austin Idol. Women’s pet, men’s regret.”
After his name change, Idol returned to wrestling in 1978 and went on to establish his brand as Idolmania.
“Idolmania, that’s where Hulk Hogan got ‘mania’ from,” Idol said. “He got it from me. Idolmania, Hulkamania. I was a brand before there were brands in wrestling.”
When Idol retired from wrestling, he returned to Florida and became a private real estate investor for 15 years. He decided to leave after a few devastating hurricanes.
“I was moving to New Orleans with several condos under contract as a buyer when Katrina hit,” said Idol. “This was enough to facilitate a move to higher ground; due diligence said, ‘Greenville.’”
As a Greenville resident since 2007, Idol decided this was a prime location to open a wrestling college so he found space in the Merovan Center in Greenville and opened Universal Wrestling College in early 2020.
“The mid-Atlantic has been a historic wrestling area,” Idol said. “It has been for decades and decades and decades. It is steeped in history. Greenville is a great city, county, location. All the major cities are close by. It made sense. I [also] don’t have any competition.”
Idol’s college is targeted to men and women at least 18 years of age with an interest in the wrestling industry, such as wrestling, managing, refereeing, commentating or announcing. Students learn moves including holds and body slams, injury prevention and promotional techniques. In addition, Idol gives participants character names, such as The Rat or Pretty Boy, and guides them in character development.
“I’ve been in the wrestling business forever,” said Idol. “If anyone knows the wrestling business, it’s me. I’ve been all around the world — done it all. Anybody who signs up to train here will have an in-depth education that they will likely not get anywhere else in the country. The reasons are because I know this business upside down, sideways, [and I] can do it in my sleep.”
Idol’s first 10-week course completed on Aug. 8. His graduates, who are continuing into the master’s program, are five men in their 20s from diverse backgrounds, including a former high school state wrestling champion and an installer for Spectrum.