“I love a big boot—that’s just a big kick to the face, you can never go wrong,” chuckles Max Pelham. “Head butts, and even just a good punch—it sounds boring, but if you can throw a good punch it’s everything.”
Pelham—AKA Axl Keegan and later Mickey Keegan—knows it’s quite the juxtaposition: a WWE-affiliated wrestler who, for the last three years, has worked at Life Alive, the funky Central Square go-to for vegan and vegetarian sandwiches and smoothies.
It’s not like he wears his singlet behind the counter, of course. But he’s a lifelong wrestling fan, and he was just 17 back in 2003 when he and a friend signed up for a two-day bootcamp at a wrestling school in North Andover.
“Literally, I went once, and I was hooked,” Pelham says.
He wrestled throughout high school and college and beyond, competing in local independent circuits he describes as being a lot like the WWE, just without the billions of dollars. Meets are organized by local folks who put together their own cards, and they take place once or twice a month in different towns around the area.
The way Pelham moved through the ranks isn’t unlike any other sport—it’s a lot of watching matches and reviewing tape, working out, honing your craft, and eventually moving up. It’s just that at the same time, you’re learning how to wrestle in front of a crowd and entertain and audience while building up your character and finding your voice in the wrestling world.
If you always thought Live Alive staffers were more artichoke than chokehold, more crane pose than crane kick, you’re definitely not the only one.
“There’s always a pretext to what people assume people who work at Life Alive look like and eat, and what their personal life is like, and I always think that’s funny,” Pelham says. “It’s just good, clean food. It’s good for you, it’s organic, everything is whole grain, it’s fresh … The quality of the ingredients is really much more important than the quantity—or more specifically, the meat content.”
Unfortunately, Pelham doesn’t wrestle anymore; he sustained a neck injury during a match that’s kept him on the sidelines. It doesn’t trouble him much during the day to day—he can sling those Shakti Smoothies, no problem—but he’s just a bit too beat up to continue stepping into the ring without risking serious injury.
But he loves the fun and excitement of the sport to this day. (When this reporter mentions her favorite wrestler is still Randy Savage, he laughs that he was just wearing his Macho Man shirt a few days ago.) He took on a creative production assistant role with the WWE for a while, and a few friends—many of whom are still involved with the league—have asked if he’s interested in getting involved again.
“Wrestling is always seen as this sort of C- or D-level entertainment, but it’s amazing how many people have a real, deep, guttural connection to it, whether it was something they watched when they were younger or something they watch every now and again and don’t tell anybody about,” he says. “It’s a really large community. It really does touch a lot of people.”
You can watch Pelham’s full 2013 WWE NXT debut against Bo Dallas below.