On night one of Honor Rising 2017, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s joint event in Tokyo, Dalton Castle made his typically elaborate entrance: Fans, a cape, his boys. This time there was a small difference—rather than being flanked by his normal entourage, the Boys were instead played by New Japan stars Ryusuke Taguchi and company icon Hiroshi Tanahashi. The two men fanned their tag partner and disrobed him in the middle of the ring.
It was a funny, subversive moment, which puts it right in the 31-year-old Castle’s wheelhouse. And while pro wrestling has seen some version of this character in the past—think Goldust—rarely is it channeled in a positive way, instead of played to get heat from fans. That others were willing to take the plunge along with him shows just how different the industry has become.
“I feel like people aren’t afraid to try something new,” Castle says of his performance. “I think wrestling in general has transformed completely from a sweaty guy from the bar who has a big belly and bruised knuckles, to athletes who know how to entertain.”
Since joining Ring of Honor, Castle has been not only one of the company’s most popular wrestlers, but also its most original, cultivating a vibrant, flamboyant and fully-realized character that rivals any “Nature Boy” in wrestling history. And in an industry historically known for macho posturing, the “Party Peacock” adds a much-needed dose of fun to the mix.
Castle, who has a background in both amateur wrestling and theater, started wrestling in 2009, and thanks in part to that background says he took to it fairly quickly. It also didn’t hurt that wrestling was always within his sphere: Castle says he’s been around pro wrestling since he was about 15. His best friends growing up all wanted to be pro wrestlers, and in between training as an amateur wrestler, he would travel with them, watch them and generally pick their brains.
Through all of that, Castle picked up some intangibles through “osmosis,” he said, and when it came time for him to train, the process felt a little more natural. Which isn’t to say “Dalton Castle” the character came fully-formed on day one. Like anything, the journey toward finding his voice was a struggle.
“I mean, when did you first hear about me?” Castle says. “Wasn’t until the last couple of years, right? And I’ve been wrestling for over eight, almost nine years now. It’s difficult to find something that’s different, but also entertaining that’s going to catch on. I don’t know how I did it, but I got lucky. And hopefully it doesn’t get boring any time soon.”
Castle’s work is different, has definitely caught on, and is no danger of becoming boring. His mix of glam rock with a hint of sci-fi weirdness—Castle credits 1970s science fiction as another inspiration, in addition to rock frontmen like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie—seems uniquely suited to this era of wrestling Castle mentioned, which has drifted just a bit from the toxic masculinity of its past, and more and more into the world of performance art.
One of the more memorable parts of Castle’s gimmick, of course, is “the Boys,” an entourage of two masked men who escort Castle to and into the ring as human furniture, before covering him with peacock-feather fans and finally revealing him to the crowd in a grand gesture, with Castle unveiling his extended cape—more of a wingspan, really—and strutting around the ring.
The idea for the Boys started out as something completely different. Originally, a friend in Toronto booking a wrestling show asked him to perform an extravagant entrance, which included showgirls. When it was done, something didn’t feel quite right.
“He said, ‘how was it?’ And I said ‘good, but it needs to be more choreographed, and I think it needs to be boys,’” Castle says. “And I didn’t waste any time. When I got home, I immediately started putting together an outfit for the Boys to wear, and the next week I did it.”
Castle’s Boys have taken on a life of their own, working as central figures in recent feuds with Silas Young, Colt Cabana, and now, the Kingdom, who the three men will face Friday night at Ring of Honor’s 15th Anniversary show for the company’s World Six Man Tag Team Championship.
As the company celebrates its anniversary, it’s poised to have one of the better years in recent memory, with a slew of talent like Castle, Marty Scurll, and Lio Rush at the helm. Castle says the company’s progress over the last few years, including its increased production values, has inspired him to become a better performer.
Working with ROH has also granted him a level of freedom to grow as a character, with the company entrusting him to push the product forward the way he best knows how.
“They really kind of trust me to know the voice of this character, and what I would do,” Castle says. “There’s not a whole lot of dictating that they do, other than kind of a loose base of where the story’s going. But they don’t write my promos, they don’t tell me how to act in the ring, they don’t do anything. That’s all my decision, and they give me the freedom and the trust to do that.”
There’s plenty more Castle would love to accomplish—he’d love to wrestle on the moon, he says, perhaps jokingly, and also perhaps not—but mostly, his future plans revolve around remaining happy in the wrestling world. And while he’s glad the character has taken off, he’s not trying to change hearts and minds—he just wants to be himself.
“I wasn’t looking to ruffle feathers,” Castle says, pun firmly intended. “I wasn’t setting out to make a huge change. I wasn’t sick of the way wrestling was, and I needed a different flavor. I just wanted to do what I enjoyed, and I just got lucky that whatever the path I chose, the fans seemed to enjoy as well.”
Paul DeBenedetto is Paste’s assistant wrestling editor.