Six years ago this month, pro wrestling fans and performers assembled to pay homage to one of the sport’s fallen: Trent Acid.
“You know, I’ve wrestled sick. I’ve wrestled a lot of different times where I was sick, and I’ve wrestled injured,” said Johnny Kashmere, Acid’s longtime tag team partner. “But wrestling when you’re crying, it’s different. When you’re that blown up with emotion, it’s just not possible. It really isn’t.”
Kashmere recalled the memorial card, Acid-Fest, as an emotionally charged night at The Arena (now 2300 Arena) in South Philadelphia. On July 10, 2010, some 700 fans flocked to the venue to pay their respects to a promising indie wrestler and Philadelphia native that had died three weeks prior.
Birth of the Backseat Boyz
Kashmere met Acid while honing his skills under the tutelage of standout ECW tag team The Pitbulls. The facility was owned by Combat Zone Wrestling, and co-opted by a now-defunct organization known as the Grande Wrestling Alliance.
“From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., the school would train, then from 7 o’clock ’til nine or ten at night, it was open ring, and just about anybody could train — especially if you worked GWA as a wrestler, because you didn’t have to pay a mat fee,” Kashmere said. “Trent would be there for that, and I would always stay after training to get as much time in the ring as I could. We started working in the ring, and we became friends”
The Pitbulls were on hand to provide the basics; bumping, chain wrestling, and stamina drills. However, Kashmere would learn just as much from his future tag team partner in their after-hours training sessions.
“His experience was ridiculous,” Kashmere said. “He had already been wrestling three or four years when I met him. He was wrestling events when he was like 14 years old, lying about his age.”
The friendship was mutually beneficial, as the 17-year-old Acid didn’t hold a driver’s license. “I used to pick him up from high school, so we could go right to training,” Kashmere said. “I would get done working in New Jersey, drive over the bridge to his high school, wait in line of cars with all the parents. He would hop in my car and we’d drive all the way from the Northeast to South Philly to train.”
Kashmere and Acid would train Monday through Thursday, leaving Friday and Saturday open for them to take bookings.
“If we didn’t have an event we were wrestling on, we would go to an event we weren’t booked on, hang out, and meet the promoter,” Kashmere said. “We’d usually get booked next time.”
This tactic soon paid off, as it forged a connection between the two wrestlers and Don Bucci, better known as Donnie B. Bucci, who would go on to found the short-lived Phoenix Championship Wrestling promotion, but was then acting as booker for NWA New Jersey under promoter Dennis Coralluzzo. He wanted to bring in Kashmere and Acid with a boy band gimmick, and sent word to them through one of his referees, who was also training under The Pitbulls.
“He said ‘Donnie thinks you and Trent would be perfect and he wants to meet you,'” Kashmere said. “So we went to an event when NWA New Jersey came near us. We talked to Donnie and he says, ‘Great, I’ll start yous next event.'”
The Backseat Boyz made their first official appearance as a tag team at an NWA New Jersey event in Egg Harbor Township—just ahead of the WCW debut of 3 Count in December 1999. The time was right for a wrestling act spoofing the late ’90s boy band craze, but even Kashmere and Acid couldn’t have predicted how far the Backseat Boyz gimmick would propel their nascent careers.
Big in Philly, Big in Japan
The Backseat Boyz had charisma and chemistry, and quickly made a name for themselves in New Jersey. However, while they were wrestling as a tag team for the NWA territory, they were still considered to be singles performers in CZW.
“I kind of had booking power—I was on the ‘booking committee’ anyway,” Kashmere said. “One of the first things I did was say, ‘I think me and Trent should be together here, since the fans in New Jersey are used to seeing us together. And, you know, we can still do singles matches, but it gives us the option. It makes us more versatile.'”
As more fans saw what the Backseat Boyz had to offer, their stock continued to rise among promoters in the greater Philadelphia area.
When Gabe Sapolsky co-founded Ring of Honor in 2002, the pair were among the first names he was looking to bring into the fold.
“We couldn’t because there were problems between us and CZW at the time, and they were loyal to CZW,” Sapolsky said. “But eventually, we were able to work something out to get them in.”
The team eventually debuted at the inaugural Glory By Honor event in October 2002, beating the team of Steve Corino and Homicide.
“They were very popular, the biggest act in Philadelphia,” Sapolsky said. “And their wrestling skill was off the charts. They were a very innovative tag team, and they fit into exactly what we were trying to do with Ring of Honor at the time, and Trent had superstar written all over him.”
The Backseat Boyz were beloved in Philadelphia, but it wasn’t just regional promotions that were showing interest in the duo; the pair made an appearance as the ‘Backseat Dudleyz’ on an episode of WWE’s Sunday Night Heat in April 2001. Acid had an enormous desire to showcase his work on a national platform, but those plans didn’t necessarily revolve around North America.
“Early on, if you had asked Trent, ‘What is the one thing you want to do in your career?’ — obviously any wrestler alive is going to say go to WWE/F, go to the big leagues — he would have probably said Japan first,” Kashmere said. “He always talked about how he wanted to go to Japan. It was a big deal to him.”
Acid wrestled extensively for Big Japan Pro Wrestling throughout 2000 and 2001, facing off with the likes of Tomoaki Honma, Abdullah Kobayashia, and Jun Kasai. Both of the Backseat Boyz traveled to Japan, and both men held the BJW Junior Heavyweight Championship for a spell, but the experience had a bigger impact on Acid than it did on Kashmere.
“I never was a fan of Japanese wrestling,” Kashmere said. “I never followed it, so when I had a chance to go to Japan I was just like, ‘Okay, great, I’ll go.’ For him, it was like a life-changing experience.
“When he came back from Japan the first time — because he did a lot more tours than I did, spending a total of four months, six months there altogether — he was a different person,” he continued. “He was much more confident in himself. It was almost as if he had proved to himself that he was capable of being one of the greats.”
Based on his newfound self-confidence and his undeniable ability, Acid should have been one of the top prospects in the world of wrestling at the 21st century got underway. Unfortunately, the industry as a whole was about to enter an unprecedented period of upheaval and change.
The Glass Ceiling
In 2004, Kashmere founded the Philadelphia-based promotion Pro Wrestling Unplugged and he booked Acid on a multitude of shows under its banner.
“People used to love wrestling Trent,” Kashmere said. “I used to say it was selfish. It was selfish for other wrestlers to want to wrestle Trent, because they knew that Trent would make them look better than anyone else.
“He was, for all intents and purposes, the Shawn Michaels of the indies back then, he really was,” Kashmere added. “The promoter could go to him for a good match against anyone.”
Just as Vince McMahon could rely on Michaels to deliver a standout match against just about any opponent, Acid was an asset to pro wrestling promoters around the world. In the early 2000s, he was massively in demand in North America and further afield, because he could reliably work well with anyone from the local hero to a graying legend from the ’80s.
“He was the man in the northeast,” Sapolsky said. “Trent wrestled for everybody and was one of the top stars in every single independent promotion.”
He points to a bout pitting Acid against Homicide at Wrestlerave ’03 as a particular highlight of his ROH stint, as well as the Backseat Boyz frequent appearances in tag team scramble matches.
“He could have a good match against a 400-pounder. He could have a good match in a tag team. He could have a good match wrestling cruiserweight style. He could do hardcore when he needed to — he took thumbtack bumps and barbed wire bumps,” Kashmere said. “He gigged when he needed to, and did blood matches. He’s literally done every kind of match there is, and made it phenomenal.”
Today, there’s a perceptible path for the top prospects of the independent scene to take if they want to wrestle for the biggest promotions around. That wasn’t the case back in the mid-2000s, and independent bookings were far more scarce. Wrestling in Japan had given Acid a great deal of personal gratification, but now he needed to find mainstream success in North America to continue the upward trajectory of his career — and the stars simply didn’t align.
However, they nearly did.
The first time Sapolsky crossed paths with Acid, he was doing so under the instruction of his mentor, Paul Heyman. Heyman was interested in signing Acid during the dying days of Extreme Championship Wrestling, but the promotion folded before a deal materialized.
“If ECW hadn’t have gone out of business, he would have been in ECW,” Sapolsky said. “And then he would have had that stage — it was just a matter of getting the right stage. At the time, WCW had just gone out of business and WWF wasn’t hiring those types of wrestlers yet. Right now they are, but back then, they just wanted giants and they weren’t looking for independent stars.
“So it was just a matter of those circumstances going around,” Sapolsky continued. “If ECW had have stayed in business, he would have been there — and who knows how big of a star he would have become there.”
Acid did get the occasional opportunity to wrestle for the big players in North America. In 2002, the Backseat Boyz took part in an Elimination Tag Team match on an early TNA pay-per-view that aired while the company was still affiliated with the NWA. In 2006, Acid teamed with Johnny Bravado in a match with Rosey and Jamal taped at a WWE event for an episode of Heat.
Unfortunately, these opportunities didn’t turn out to be the big break that his friends and colleagues believed to be just around the corner. There was no WWE Performance Center to help him perfect his act for the big leagues. Meanwhile, independent promotions hadn’t yet managed to harness the Internet as a means of national and international broadcasting.
Acid had all the charisma and talent that he needed to become a top-tier pro wrestler the world over, he just didn’t have the infrastructure to take him to the upper echelons of the industry. Despite his early success and an enduring appeal locally, he would become trapped in the role of big fish in a comparably small pond — and that simply wasn’t enough.
Twice as Bright, Half as Long
“This kid, Trent Acid,” gripes veteran promoter Johnny Falco in an early scene from Card Subject to Change, a documentary on independent wrestling that was released in 2011. “What the hell is going on with this kid’s life?”
Documentarian Tim Disbrow met Acid in 2006, and would chart his career over the four years that followed.
“We hoped to follow his last foray in the indies before he got the call up,” Disbrow said.
The finished film told a very different story.
“When we first started following Trent, there was no obvious signs of any personal issues,” Disbrow said. “As time went on, his personal demons started to become a lot clearer.”
In 2008, the team behind Card Subject to Change lost contact with Acid. When he re-emerged in 2009, Disbrow discovered that this break in communication had come as a result of a heroin overdose.
In the film, Acid talks about his efforts to keep his usage of hard drugs under wraps, even though most of his colleagues were well aware that he smoked marijuana. However, his overdose made it impossible to continue the charade.
“They knew I wasn’t healthy anymore, they could tell something was wrong,” Acid admits in an interview conducted by Disbrow. “I still wouldn’t admit it.”
Acid knew that his drug use would dissuade promoters from booking him, so he kept it under wraps as much as possible. However, as he sank deeper into addiction, he compelled Disbrow to provide a warts-and-all portrayal in his documentary.
“Trent was adamant that he wanted the film to be 100 percent real and truthful,” the filmmaker said. “One thing I wish everyone knew was that Trent saw the movie — the exact same cut that’s out — before his passing. When the lights came up in the theater, he ran to me and gave me a big hug. He thanked me for keeping my word and presenting everything exactly how it happened.”
But Acid’s destruction was still ongoing.
“I think that the demons that be in pro wrestling have gotten a hold of him, and hopefully for Trent’s sake, the demons let go,” Falco says in the documentary. “If not, he’ll become another statistic.”
The promoter’s suspicions were correct, but it’s perhaps unfair to say that the industry Acid found himself was the root of his addiction.
“When I was a teenager, the only thing I knew was drugs,” Acid concedes in Card Subject to Change.
He goes on to describe how he started selling narcotics at an early age, and used drugs to combat the toll that the pro wrestling lifestyle takes on a person.
“In the business I’m in, drugs is kind of like a requirement, almost,” Acid admits to filmmaker Disbrow.
Acid was born in 1980, when the heroin trade was beginning to take hold of South Philadelphia. But ironically, his escape from the city streets would catapult him into an industry already swamped with narcotics. Of course, there’s more to the story than a bad environment.
“If Trent would have surrounded himself with different people, and made different choices, he was as good as it got,” DJ Hyde, the current owner and operator of CZW, said. “He would have been one of those guys you’re talking about in NXT. He would have been one of those guys in WWE, and he probably would have been a millionaire, because Trent had it. He had the abilities to do it. I just don’t know if mentally he could handle it.
“Our industry is not for everybody. It’s a very unique, special place, that’s only for a few people,” Hyde added. “There’s a very small percentage of the population that can do what we do and live the lifestyle we live. It’s not very easy on people. If Trent would have just made a few different choices, and gone down a different path — and maybe listened to some of those people who tried to help him — I think Trent would have been one of the biggest stars you’ve seen in our industry.”
On June 18, 2010, Rose Verdi, Acid’s mother, entered her son’s home in South Philadelphia and found him dead from a heroin overdose.
He was 29 years old.
“How do you honor Trent Acid?” Kashmere said. “You don’t show up at a funeral and pray, no. Trent would want it to be a wrestling match, a wrestling event. He would want it to be fun, he would want us enjoying ourselves, he would want us happy. He would want us wrestling, which is what he loved.”
It took Johnny a day to process the bad news he had heard about his best friend. Once the initial shock faded, he set about organizing a fitting memorial.
“I felt that he had given so much to the fans of Philly and the fans of the United States, why not do an event,” Kashmere said. “Everyone works for free, and all the money goes towards his funeral.”
Acid-Fest raised several thousand dollars to help cover funeral costs. However, the event wasn’t just about the money; this was a chance for fans and friends alike to pay their respects to a man who was popular wherever he went.
People loved Acid because he was the life of the party, a highlight of any after-show trip to the bar or house party. Nevertheless, it wasn’t just his magnetic personality that won him friends wherever he happened to be wrestling; it was his amazing capabilities in the ring.
“He had endeared himself to so many wrestlers,” Kashmere said. “When they thought to themselves, ‘What was the best match I’ve ever had on the indies?’ most people who ever wrestled Trent would say it was against him.”
As word of Acid’s death spread through the industry, countless individuals made contact and asked to appear on Acid-Fest.
“We had all these wrestlers coming to us saying, ‘Hey, I wrestled Trent this day, in this place, we tore the house down and I really want to come wrestle this event,'” Kashmere said. “Well. who am I to say no? Sure, come on. What the hell.”
The sheer amount of wrestlers looking to perform for free was enough to warrant a massive Battle Royal to open the show.
“It was his close-knit circle,” Hyde, who had helped facilitate Acid-Fest via his relationship with the venue, said. “It was who his real friends were in his real life, who he grew up with or came up in the industry with. From Johnny Kashmere, to Missy Sampson, to veterans like Adam Flash.”
The card was littered with wrestlers who were there at crucial moments in Acid’s career.
Bison Bravado worked the Battle Royal, having served as his tag team partner on his single WWE match, taped for Sunday Hight Heat. Homicide appeared in a tag match, having battled Acid across ROH, CZW, and various other promotions. In the main event, Kashmere was accompanied to the ring by Donnie B, the man behind the Backseat Boyz gimmick that catapulted Acid to his prominent position on the independent circuit.
“I sort of stayed in the back, in my little room,” Kashmere said. “I wasn’t in the main locker room with everyone. You know, I was crying a lot. I was crying in the ring. I didn’t even get to wrestle a match hardly. The match ended up being a brawl through the crowd, and then we got in the ring, Yakuza Kick, and that’s it.”
Acid-Fest was a wild, emotional evening of wrestling for everyone in attendance. Hundreds of fans and hundreds of pro wrestlers paid their respects to a wrestler who never made it as far as he deserved to.
On the night, Acid was inducted into The Arena’s Hardcore Hall of Fame, alongside names like The Sandman, Sabu, and John Zandig.
Despite many predictions otherwise, Acid never reached the top of the pro wrestling industry. That said, he did etch his name in the history of pro wrestling in Philadelphia. Speak the words “Trent Acid” in Philly — or certain parts of Japan — and you’ll see that he’s gone, but not forgotten.
“To wrestling people, The Arena is a big deal,” Hyde, who was part of a contingent that posthumously inducted Acid, said. “It’s one of the most famous wrestling venues in the world because of ECW, and because of all the great wrestling that’s been through there. To a lot of people, it meant a lot. It was just emotional, you’re reliving the memory of your buddy.”
Towards the end of Card Subject to Change, Acid says, “I’ve been wanting to wrestle since I was four years old, and I got a live a dream, and I got to do things I would never ever get a chance to do without wrestling…This business doesn’t owe me a damn thing. I’m not bitter towards wrestling.”
“I’ll be around for as long as I want to be, and I know that.”
Feature video edited by Jon Solitude a.k.a. Jonathan Robinson