Originally published on Fanbyte on February 23, 2022
Featured image by @2ndgunny
Hoodfoot likes to play chess.
It’s not the first thing you’ll ever find out about the independent wrestler currently based in Indianapolis. More likely, you’ll first hear about his time as the top champion in Paradigm Pro Wrestling, where he wrestled under UWFi rules. Or perhaps you’ve seen him on recent GCW events working deathmatches. You have to dig a little deeper into some interviews online to find that “Hoodfoot” Mo Atlas enjoys a good game of chess.
“I played a little bit when I was a kid but I didn’t really get into it until I was in college,” said Hoodfoot. “[The grouping area] had chess, they had TV, they had a pool table. Generally, the pool table was always in use. So I would sit down by the chessboard and just start playing.”
Hoodfoot was hesitant to share his go-to opening moves with me when I asked him. Outside of saying that he feels most comfortable playing with the black pieces (“I feel like it’s a homefield advantage”), he kept his go-to opening vague. He didn’t name any of the famous black book-based openings like the Sicilian or the Caro-Kann.
“I usually use a knight to open, and then from there I go knight to pawn and then so forth and so on,” said Hoodfoot.
It doesn’t surprise me that Hoodfoot enjoys chess so much. There’s plenty of similarities between a game of chess and the mental aspects of a pro wrestling match. One’s ability to improvise in the moment dictates the quality of performance. Only fitting then that one of the influences that Hoodfoot spoke so highly of was Stan Hansen.
“He’s one of those inspirations when we talk about like the organic nature of pro wrestling. I look at Stan Hansen and go, that’s more or less how it’s supposed to be. You know, I’ve never got a feeling from Stan Hansen where he’s like, ‘Hey, here’s my sequence.’”
In the 90s, as the All Japan main event style moved towards more structured, lengthy epics, Hansen remained a proponent of a more improvisational style of wrestling. That’s the kind of approach the Hoodfoot brings to his own work. For someone who’s known for working so many different styles of wrestling, it’s an approach that has suited him well.
“How about we just riff and get there and see what happens? Either there’s going to be a complete disaster or we’re going to have some real magical art,” said Hoodfoot. “I kind of look at wrestling in that way where we have to kind of be a little bit formless.”
At the same time, Atlas understands that that level of comfort and understanding in the ring doesn’t come easy to anybody. It requires years of experience on the one hand, but also constant study and immersion. That’s why he remains an avid student of the game, always scouring for new footage to consume and learn from. Just like a game of chess, theory and improvisation go hand-in-hand.
He spoke fondly of combing through old NOAH tour matches, discovering how Japanese wrestlers structured build up tags in tighter packages that eventually lead to the big, epic-length payoffs. He talked about discovering how important and valuable heel work is in Japan, despite preconceptions from the past that heel/face divides meant less in that style of wrestling. All of these, tools he’s filing away for when he has the chance to apply them himself.
It’s not just knowing the right moves, it’s knowing why they work.
Mo Atlas didn’t have the smoothest start in pro wrestling. He fell in love with the artform at the age of 12, and soon discovered the blossoming US independent scene around 2005-2006. Understandably, his parents weren’t jumping out of their seats to push him towards a career in pro wrestling though.
“I was like, ‘Once I graduate high school, I want to be a full-time wrestler.’ They’re like, ‘No, idiot. Go to school.’”
From there, Atlas entered the workforce, as most do. He began working in sales and found himself in Indianapolis where he began working at TruGreen. There, he met a colleague who was a professional wrestler who recommended that Atlas start formally training. Hoodfoot’s first ever trainer didn’t quite set him off on the right foot though.
“I come walking in, and I’m 100% realistic with myself. I’m not an impressive specimen. Not 6’5, I’m not chiseled out of marble, I can’t fucking do a 450. But I love fucking professional wrestling. And I have been doing amateur wrestling since high school so I have some sort of athletic background. But to him, he was like, ‘You know what, you’ll be a 40 miler, man.’ And that kind of put a chip on my shoulder.”
Hoodfoot left that trainer.
Soon after, he fell under the tutelage of Randi West and her husband Joseph Schwartz. Those two are the ones who Atlas credits with helping him along the path to making professional wrestling his livelihood.
“They’re like my mom and dad basically,” said Atlas.
It was while on the road with West and Schwartz to an indie show run by Dan Severn that Hoodfoot decided that the 9 to 5 lifestyle simply wasn’t for him. He began taking demotions, working his way down the corporate ladder to being a call center representative, until his schedule as an independent wrestler could work around his day job, instead of vice versa.
“It got to a point where I could go out and travel out to Oakland to wrestle for Hoodslam. Dark Sheik’s Hoodslam. I was like, you know what, I’m taking this chance. If you all fire me, you fire me. I don’t care. I’m not passing up this chance to wrestle for Hoodslam. So I did that and I haven’t looked back.”
It’s not the easiest choice in the world, giving up a steady, stable job to purse a passion as volatile as professional wrestling. But for Hoodfoot, with that chip on his shoulder, it was the only real option.
“From that point on…I made a commitment to myself that if the job does not work with my schedule, it’s no longer conducive to helping me wrestle, then I can’t have it.”
Hoodfoot began really making waves in the industry as a part of Paradigm Pro Wrestling. There, he became the PPW Heavy Hitters Champion twice, once by defeating Dominic Garrini in November 2020, then again by defeating Bobby Beverly in May 2021. During that run, he wrestled several matches under UWFi rules, a match type that PPW utilizes as one of its signature attractions.
“At first, I was a little nervous. Because high school was some years ago for me, but I still have some muscle memory from [amateur] wrestling,” said Hoodfoot. “I started watching a lot of the UWFi, and I started seeing a lot of the Super Vader stuff. I went, fuck, okay, I know what I’m doing. Between him and Gary Albright, I was like, okay, I know what I’m doing.”
Although he could hold his own on the mat, Hoodfoot’s approach to the UWFi ruleset focused heavily on stiff shots and big suplexes compressed into tight matches that rarely went past the 10-minute mark. In this style, he wrestled the likes of Dominic Garrini, O’Shay Edwards, Matt Makowski, and even retired Erick Stevens.
“It goes back to that, hey I can just go out there and riff and we’ll figure it out. And we’re not going to go out and plan everything. And I think that’s how UWFi should be. There shouldn’t be any talking. It should be like, hey, we go out there, we dance. And we figure it out from there.”
For Hoodfoot, being forced to adapt to such a specific ruleset, revealed more about professional wrestling than he expected. Working under UWFi rules reminded him that wrestling’s one of the most versatile artforms in the world, offering various styles and niches for a wide variety of workers. It provided him freedom from the expectations of an industry that put a certain type of wrestler on a pedestal.
“The current trend in wrestling right now has gone to more of a straight line, point A to point B to point C style, a la your quicker guys, your Ospreay and what not,” said Atlas. “There’s still room for catch-as-catch-can in wrestling. There’s still room for shooters to exist. That’s what I think that UWFi opened up. It showed me that hey, I don’t necessarily have to mold myself after these guys.”
In the last few months, the latest evolution of “Hoodfoot” Mo Atlas has involved shattered glass, barbed wire, and so, so much blood. Deathmatch wrestling had always been in Hoodfoot’s vision of pro wrestling, a natural urge given that his trainers are well-versed in the genre. However, it was the influence from those same trainers that kept Hoodfoot from diving into deathmatch wrestling headfirst.
“I remember bringing it up to [Randi West]. Had to be about within my first year, she goes, ‘No, just wait. Wait until you get things down first then go do it.’ And I’m forever grateful for that information because I think if I would have jumped into it, it would have been detrimental for me.”
West helped impart on Hoodfoot that the fundamentals of pro wrestling take precedence over any attempts to jump into any specific style. At the core of so much of this, is the importance of body language and selling to tell a compelling emotional story in the ring. To sharpen these tools, Hoodfoot drew not only on his professional wrestling experience but also from his life experiences growing up all the way to his time in the corporate world.
“I have a very different background than a lot of people. You know, I grew up Southside Chicago, I grew up fighting a lot. But then I also started working in sales and working in business, I learned how to communicate non-verbally and learned how to actually persuade customers. So I use all these tools, with the tools that I learned from Randi, inside deathmatch wrestling. And you learn that oh, man, this is a legitimate art form of professional wrestling.”
Hoodfoot’s foray in deathmatches began when he was presented with the opportunity to wrestle Josh Crane in July 2021. PPW offered to host the encounter as a deathmatch, but first Hoodfoot needed the blessing from his trainer.
“So I went over to talk to Randi about it. And I started as like, ‘Hey, do you think I’m ready?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, more than ready. Go ahead and do it.’ And I’ve been off to the races from there.”
From there, Hoodfoot found himself in an even more challenging setting, no-ring deathmatches. To date, he’s done no-ring matches against the likes of Tank, Krule, Casanova Valentine, and Bryan Keith.
“It’s a lot of story,” said Hoodfoot, on his no-ring matches. “It’s a lot of going back to basics, in a sense.”
“It’s one of those things where you go, alright, let’s go out there and figure out what’s going to happen. Also, it’s the most you could feel like a rock star, you know? You got a crowd around you. You feel like, I’m in a mosh pit again. I’m like, alright, let’s go. Let’s get it and the energy is off the charts.”
His run of deathmatches in 2021 helped elevate him in the independent wrestling scene, granting him further confidence in his abilities.
“I’m coming into my own. For a long time, I kind of viewed myself in that young boy stage where it’s kind of like, okay, I’m getting my bearings. But now—I don’t necessarily like putting myself over ever, I find it weird to be like I’m becoming really good—but I’m getting to a point now where I understand who I am and what I will and will not tolerate in the ring.”
It’s with this confidence that Hoodfoot entered 2022 with some of his most high-profile bookings to date.
In the world of deathmatch wrestling, there’s no bigger name today than Alex Colon. As the threepeat winner of the Tournament of Survival and the current holder of the GCW Ultraviolent Championship, Colon stands firmly at the top of the deathmatch world in 2022. It is against Alex Colon that Hoodfoot made his Game Changer Wrestling debut on January 14th.
“It was nerve-wracking to be on a stage and to show and prove that I could be there. Because in wrestling, there’s a lot of can I play on this level? It’s kind of like when you’re playing professional sports. In your rookie year, there’s a lot of questions like can he graduate from college to the pros? And that match with Colon was definitely my rookie game of can he actually play in the big leagues? “
The match itself saw Colon take Hoodfoot into deeper waters than ever before, applying his frenzied brutality to the challenger. Colon went for Hoodfoot’s leg with light tubes, carved up his face, and even poured cans full of salt all over Hoodfoot’s weeping wounds. Atlas gave as good as he got though, complimenting all his hardcore work with his signature stiff shots and Saito suplexes, one even through a pane of glass.
“It didn’t hit me how big it was until after the match. Once I had that moment in the ring, I just went holy shit, I did this. I was like, fuck yeah. I just need more now.”
He would get more, as GCW brought him back just two weeks later for their historic The Wrld on GCW event at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Hoodfoot was a participant in the Pabst Blue Ribbon Battle Royal that kicked off the event before the main card. Regardless of his spot on the card though, the match represented an important milestone for Atlas.
“Being there in person, I had a Field of Dreams moment when I walked in. The building was still empty, they were getting the ring set up and everything, and the lighting rigs, and I just kind of stood and looked up. And I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m in this building. Holy shit.’”
GCW would book Hoodfoot yet again, this time against one of the most important names to American deathmatch wrestling. Hoodfoot’s next opponent would be “The Bulldozer” Matt Tremont, one-half of the GCW World Tag Team Champions.
It was a couple weeks out from the match when I got to speak to Hoodfoot about the chance to wrestle Tremont.
“A lot of Tremont goes into my thought process of wrestling. I’ve told people before that some of my main influences in wrestling have been Kobashi, Samoa Joe, Kingston, and Tremont. And if you watch me, it’s evident that those are my influences so this match is huge for me.”
“Tremont, he sells so much. He works inside that Kobashi [mindset of] not being afraid to sell. And it’s like he’s never out of the fight. It is a lesson that I’m learning. All these guys that I watch, they all kind of have the same mindset of selling of like, I am in trouble but I am not out of the fight.”
There’s more to the Tremont match than just Hoodfoot taking on an icon of deathmatch wrestling, and one of his greatest influences. For Hoodfoot, it’s a test to see just how high the ceiling on his career might be. More than most, Mo Atlas is keenly aware of the fact that time only ever moves forward.
“There’s no secret, I’m 32 going on 33 this year. Everyone knows in wrestling, years prior, being 33 was like a death sentence, like oh you’re already old. And I keep that knowledge with me. Currently in wrestling, the bar for what is old technically in wrestling has gone up a lot higher. But I still have that knowledge of like, man. Like Nick Wayne, 16 years old, dude’s fucking phenomenal. I look at him and go, shit, I got to hurry up and get my shit in.”
Mo Atlas can feel time working against him even as the independent scene continues to populate with popular young workers like Nick Wayne and Billie Starkz, two wrestlers who share the card with him on the night he’s set to face Tremont.
On February 19th, Hoodfoot vs. Matt Tremont main evented GCW Believe Me at the Carousel Room in Atlantic City. It was a bloody affair, as one might expect. Light tubes, chairs, and barbed wire covered boards were the order of the day, compounded with Tremont’s signature punches and Hoodfoot’s solid elbow strikes. In the end though, a Saito suplex onto a ring covered in broken shards of glass got Hoodfoot the victory.
After the match, Tremont took the mic to share some words with the crowd. “A lot of people come in this genre and think they can do what the best have done. The Alex Colons, myself, and those that came before us. But now you can add Hood-fucking-foot to that fucking list.”
There’s no telling what the future holds for “Hoodfoot” Mo Atlas. While he listed some goals he’d like to achieve—working on the west coast more, having a tour of Japan, working more with his friend Chase Holliday as a tag team—he’s careful not to set anything down in stone. More than anything else, he just wants to make pro wrestling his full time living by the end of the year.
But those are only the goals he sets for himself. With projects like Naptown All Pro Wrestling, an Indianapolis-based independent promotion, he hopes to give back to the communities around him. Naptown All Pro, in fact, has been described by owner and co-founder J. Rose as “a service and a staple to Indianapolis, a city that we love and a city that’s hurting.”
“Indianapolis is like an adapted home to me, it’s given me so much. Wrestling-wise and just personal-wise,” said Hoodfoot. “I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for Indy. Putting this city on the map has been important to me.”
“But also, growing up on the south side of Chicago, you know, I have seen a lot of violence before I was even 12, I saw a lot of violence. One of those things is that if we can just show kids that there’s a different route, you know? You might not be good at rapping, you might not be good at basketball, you might be good at science, math, whatever. You might want to be a wrestler and if you have people that look like you who are doing this, it gives you the confidence to go do it.”
Who’s to say where Hoodfoot goes from here? His career’s barely out of its opening stages. Much like a game of chess, he’s entering the midgame now where possibilities seem to be endless and it’s only careful moves and shrewd improvisation that can get him ahead.
At the very least though, Hoodfoot seems to be someone who knows not just what moves to make, but also why to make them.