Jason McMackin and Chad Dundas Credit: Max Savage Levenson / MTFP

While the Missoula Fairgrounds regularly offers thrill-seekers a taste of rodeo at the annual county fair, the sprawling site will soon welcome a radically less traditional variety of exuberant chaos. 

On Saturday, Sept. 9, the fairgrounds will host “No Art, No Cowboys, No Rules,” a one-night exhibition of top-tier independent pro wrestling. Over the course of three hours, the trash-talking Filthy Tom Lawlor will take on the fierce yet cheerily disposed Fred Rosser. Three women — Kidd Bandit, Liiza Hall and Trish Adora — will duke it out en masse. Japanese wrestler Shun Skywalker — who boasts some extremely creepy masks —  will take on the similarly ghoulishly attired Sonico. And much more. 

Though the event has national backing — Portland, Oregon-based promoter Prestige Wrestling booked the show — much of the momentum and hype surrounding the spectacle comes courtesy of two long-time Missoulians. 

Chad Dundas and Jason McMackin met as creative writing MFA students at the University of Montana in the mid-2000s. And though neither is a wrestler — McMackin is the co-owner of two restaurants, Burns St. Bistro and Brasserie Porte Rouge; Dundas is an author and co-host of the mixed-martial-arts podcast “Co-Main Event” — they’ve both carried a passion for the sport since childhood.

Dundas and McMackin produced their first wrestling event in 2018 at Missoula’s Westside Theater. The pandemic stymied their efforts to pull off a larger event the following year, and “No Art, No Cowboys, No Rules” — which they expect to be one of the largest independent pro wrestling events in Montana history — marks their long-belated return. (Fun fact: The event’s name refers to a 1983 cassette release by Deranged Diction, a Missoula hardcore band featuring then-future Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament.) 

Like their inaugural foray into wrestling events, “No Art, No Cowboys, No Rules” features independent wrestlers, versus those signed to larger organizations like WWE. Dundas and McMackin argue that independent promoters embrace a more diverse range of wrestlers — not just big, shaved dudes — and style of performance.

MTFP caught up with Dundas and McMackin ahead of the event to dig into the art of pro wrestling, whether wrestlers actually have beefs with each other, and why they consider “No Art” part of a larger movement to #KeepMissoula.

MTFP: What inspired you guys to take this on?

Chad Dundas: When I was a kid, a famous professional wrestler named Big Van Vader came to Missoula and did an event at the Loyola Activity Center. I was a huge wrestling fan at the time, and I did not go. And now that I’m an adult, I regret that I didn’t go see Big Van Vader wrestle when I could. And for the rest of my life, I feel like you can count on one hand the number of high-level wrestling events that feature talent in their prime that have come to Missoula. It’s the desert of professional wrestling. So for me, it’s cool to provide the opportunity for people to go see it. I don’t want them to make the same mistake that I made.

Jason McMackin: One thing wrestlers love doing is wrestling somewhere they’ve never wrestled before. Very few wrestlers who are alive have wrestled in Montana. So the selling point for a lot of them was, “Hell yeah. I’ll go wrestle there, because then I can say, when we’re at the airport or in a car with other wrestlers, ‘Oh, I wrestled in 49 states.’” This is one that’s on wrestlers’ lists.

Dundas: Montana is so remote that Prestige would never be able to come here without some local help. At the same time, we couldn’t put on a wrestling event in Montana by ourselves.

MTFP: What makes a good wrestler?

Dundas: There are a lot of different skills. You have to be a high-level athlete, but you also have to have the personality to pull it off. You could argue more than 50% of the game is your character, and how you present yourself and the work that you do either on the microphone or in [promo videos] and your ability to interact with fans. 

To be one of these independent wrestlers, you have to have some business savvy. You have to probably be your own bookkeeper.

McMackin: They’re all telling a story. The best matches that we remember from our childhood, at the end of the day, a good story was told with a satisfying ending.

In the course of the fight and the buildup and everything around it, these independent wrestlers come to town and get an audience that is half people who don’t know anything about them. The audience has seconds to decide whether a wrestler is a good guy or a bad guy, whether you’re gonna root for him or not. They have to do this night after night, in hotel convention centers, bars, parking lots. 

Dundas: Imagine putting on a play where every night, you show up in a new town, the cast is different. You have to figure out the plot, block it out, and then perform it in front of a live audience. And then the next night you’re somewhere else with a different cast and you have to do it all over again.

McMackin: And then sell some t-shirts afterwards. Because that’s how they really make money. We might pay someone 300 bucks to come here and wrestle. That dude or gal is hoping to sell a bunch of t-shirts and merch to make 500 more dollars. That’s another revenue stream for them. 

MTFP: It seems like wrestling matches almost always contain some element of grudge or feud between the performers. Do you think there’s any genuine animosity in the ring?

Dundas: Sure. Any collection of humans who see each other a lot, there’s gonna be different feelings. Especially when you are talking primarily about 20- to 35-year-old men…

McMackin: …that live on the internet. 

They can hurt each other not on purpose or on purpose in the ring. And then that stuff carries over into real life. And there are plenty of tales of payback in the ring.

Dundas: But it’s also like figure skating or ballet. That person that you’re in the ring with for that time is your partner. They’re not really your opponent.

Maybe the most necessary trait to have is to be able to perform those acts without hurting your opponent. The people who have the best reputations are people who can pull off those matches while inflicting the least pain to their opponents while making it look like they’re inflicting a great deal of pain.

MTFP: Who’s the audience for this event?

Dundas: Check any preconceived notions that you have about professional wrestling at the door. If you like theater, if you like to go watch live music, if you like any kind of weird new and different live performance, I can all but guarantee that you will find this entertaining.

McMackin: There’s a different energy at a wrestling event when you’re there watching it than when [it’s on] TV and the cameras tell you what to watch. You hear the sound, you hear the breathing, you hear the foot stomps and the energy of the crowd of hardcore wrestling fans. If you’re a lapsed fan or not a fan at all, just watching the hardcore fans is good enough. You will be chanting by the end like a soccer match.

I think wrestling is one of the most American things: jazz, pro wrestling and American football.

MTFP: Jason, you described the event on Facebook as “an attempt to #keepMissoula.” What did you mean by that?

McMackin: We’re all familiar with the boring “Keep Missoula Weird” or “Keep Missoula Beard.” Then I saw, years ago, someone did a “Keep Missoula” bumper sticker, and because I have a couple of English degrees, I was like, “Hmm, that’s tasty, because it can mean two things: You can keep Missoula, [as in] you can keep that liberal shithole. Or the way I use it is that I’m not saying things aren’t gonna change, but let’s proactively try to keep the things we like, which is weird. Puppet shows in someone’s backyard, a typewriter on a corner that people come by and write their dumb little poems. I make fun of it, but I love it.

It doesn’t all have to be First Friday art. It should be house shows. It should be independent of the larger arts or activities. Something I think about, especially when people complain, it’s like, what have you done? What are you doing? Did you go to a local show or do you just go to shows at the Kettlehouse [Amphitheater]? I’m just using that as an example.

Dundas: Some people are gonna do First Friday, some people are gonna do River City Roots Festival…

McMackin: We’re gonna do pro wrestling.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Max Savage Levenson writes "The Sit-Down" column for Montana Free Press. Max is additionally the founder of Big Sky Chat House, a weekly long-form interview newsletter featuring movers and shakers across Montana. His writing on music and cannabis policy has appeared in outlets including Pitchfork, NPR's All Songs Considered, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Reason.