When Ethan White (a.k.a. Bryant Gehring) laces up his boots, that’s when the night starts to get real. For several minutes, the entire universe boils down to putting a lace through tiny holes, pulling it tight, but not too tight.
He stands up, shakes out his hair. Practices a grimace or two.
Outside the dressing room, boisterous fans gather in anticipation of the long-awaited rematch between White and his rival, Manny Mars. Mars has a history of slapping White around and playing nasty tricks on him. Once, he hit White in the face with a chair when the ref wasn’t looking.
It’s a storyline that many in the audience know inside-out—one that most of them understand is as made up as Donald Duck. In “real” life, White and Mars are probably friends. They train at the same gym—Gold Rush Pro Wrestling in Pacifica. Maybe they even carpool there in the evenings after finishing the workday at their jobs in San Francisco.
But real-life identities are not the reason a crowd is assembled here.
A wrestler with an IT underbelly
At that job in San Francisco, White goes by the name Bryant Gehring. There, he’s built a more conventional identity as an IT program manager for Komodo Health, a startup developing an advanced healthcare data intelligence platform.
Gehring doesn’t share his wrestling passion with his co-workers much. Occasionally he invites people to a show, but “there’s not a whole lot of crossover,” he says.
They thought it was too violent, it would be a bad influence on me.
Talking to Gehring, you get the feeling he doesn’t particularly care what anyone thinks. “When I was growing up, my parents banned pro wrestling from my household,” he says. “They thought it was too violent, it would be a bad influence on me and my younger brother.”
That made him all the crazier for it. “When I was about 13, they decided to loosen the reins, and I was about that age where I got it. I understood wrestling for what it is and I just dove all in.”
Getting the crowd on his side
For Gehring, wrestling is about emotional release. Getting in touch with raw, primal emotions. It’s also about drawing a crowd in. Creating a visceral reaction.
WWE-style wrestling is not as much about athletics as it is about showmanship. “The fact that I know it’s a performance really called to me,” says Gehring. “You start to look at the cleverness of the bad guy, and how he’s able to raise the emotional investment of the audience. Good wrestling pulls you in, makes you a part of that world, makes you believe.”
Good wrestling pulls you in, makes you a part of that world, makes you believe.
Ethan White “raises the emotional investment” of his audience with practiced mannerisms designed to whip fans into a frenzy. Eye contact is key. “Once you get some people cheering for you, everyone who’s on the fence, they’ll start to fall in line with what the rest of the crowd is starting to do,” he says. “A few of them I know I can really rile up just by making eye contact for half a second.”
Where personality can take you
At Komodo, Gehring keeps IT operations and deployments on track, making sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, when things are due, and what the priorities are. He credits the same “force of personality” that he uses to stir up a wrestling audience with his ability to engage work colleagues and partners. “You need to be able to draw people in and get them to listen to what you’re saying,” he says. “That makes you more effective, regardless of what you’re trying to achieve.”
You need to be able to draw people in and get them to listen to what you’re saying. That makes you more effective, regardless of what you’re trying to achieve.
It’s a skill Gehring has been practicing since the early days of his career. “I got into IT as a total accident,” he says. By chance, he was given the number of an Apple recruiter, who interviewed him immediately, even though Gehring had no IT background. “I missed every single question, knew nothing about IT, nothing about Macintoshes,” he says. “I think my moxie and admission of ignorance and the personality I showed spoke to this phone recruiter.”
Next thing he knew, he was a phone representative for Apple. “They moved me into training people,” he says. “From there, I spring-boarded to a job at Google and then jumped to the startups.”
Zen and the art of fluid identity
Gehring doesn’t regard wrestling as a fantasy life apart from his real one. “Real life’s just whatever’s in front of me at that given time,” he says. “Whether I’m at work, in the wrestling ring, at the gym, or cooking food, that’s real life. It’s all experiences that are going to help guide and shape who I become.”
Identity is something that’s shifting, and if you get stuck in your one identity, then you don’t develop and grow as a person.
For him, identity isn’t about drawing lines around Bryant Gehring or Ethan White. “Identity’s fluid,” he says. “Identity is something that’s shifting, and if you get stuck in your one identity, then you don’t develop and grow as a person. [Identity is] the things you hold true, and that can be fluid. That can be changing.”