*Editor’s note: Brandon Tanguma is a journalism student in SF State’s Journalism 575 Community Media this spring. Taught by professor Jon Funabiki, the class is a collaboration with El Tecolote.
Starboy Charlie is becoming one of the most talked about indie wrestlers in the Bay Area, and he’s only 17.
Charlie Hilder fell in love with wrestling in third grade when he was introduced to WWE, the world’s largest wrestling promotion. Like countless other kids he mimicked the moves he saw on television and told his mother he wanted to become a pro wrestler.
“I was just constantly complaining to my mom that I wanted to become a wrestler,” Hilder said.
Blanca Gutierrez is Hilder’s mother, and she runs the Babyface Boxing gym in Pacifica. She saw the passion he had for wrestling and started to take her son to local wrestling shows. When Hilder was 9 he met WWE’s top star John Cena in San Jose, and that moment fueled his desire to become a pro wrestler.
“He showed John Cena a picture of him jumping off the ropes at my gym, and John Cena pulled me aside to talk about safety and then he told Charlie, ‘I’ll see you in WWE one day,” Gutierrez recalled.
The Bay Area has a rich and storied history with pro wrestling, dating back to the 1930’s. The Cow Palace is one of the most iconic wrestling venues in the country, hosting shows for Big Time Wrestling from 1960-1979. Today, WWE comes to the Bay Area at least twice a year, running television and sometimes pay-per-view events. The indie scene in the Bay Area has started to gain notoriety, with many stars in promotions across the world getting their start in the Bay Area.
After constant pleading, and some destroyed couches, Gutierrez called Sparky Ballard, a local promoter and referee who runs Gold Rush Wrestling and has a wrestling school in Pacifica called the Gold Mine. She realizes that very few parents would make the call, but she believes in letting her kids follow their dreams.
“He knew it from a young age, and I wasn’t going to stop him,” Gutierrez said. “I was going to let him reach his goals, if that is what he wanted, as long as he got good grades, I was going to support it.”
Ballard was skeptical at first to take in an 11-year-old, but after getting convinced by Gutierrez, he realized that for an athlete to take full advantage of their physical abilities, they need to train and gain knowledge before they reach their physical prime.
“By the time Charlie is 21, he’ll have 10 years of experience in professional wrestling, which is pretty unheard-of,” Ballard explained. “A lot of people get in when they are in their twenties or thirties and by the time they’re 10 years in, they have to quit because their body is on the outs, because wrestling is a young man’s sport.”
The four-foot eleven-inch, 80-pound, 11-year-old was ecstatic to get in the ring on his first day of wrestling training and learn all the moves, but he had to learn the basics first.
“I really had no idea what it was going to be like doing wrestling training,” Hilder said. “I showed up to my first day with a bunch of wrestling gear, but I didn’t use it because we had to learn how to put the ring together first.”
At 12 years old Hilder had his first match, teaming with Dalton Frost in a cowboy themed tag team. Hilder was not a fan of the cowboy gimmick, but it was a spot on the card, and he was grateful for it. The Starboy Charlie name started when he was wrestling in front of a handful of people at an Oakland flea market. Hilder was asked what he should be called, and he didn’t have an answer. The promoter looked at his star themed tights and thought of the name Avenger Kid Charlie, but Hilder did not like that name. Soon after the Starboy Charlie name was conceived and Hilder has been going by that name ever since.
Rik Luxury, a 21-year veteran, has known Hilder since he joined the Gold Mine and says they have wrestled about 10 times across the Bay Area. Luxury was criticized by other wrestlers for taking moves from a child, but Luxury explains that wrestling is an art, and Hilder has the talent to tell a believable and entertaining story.
“There have been naysayers, but I believe Charlie invites the smoke and he will extinguish it,” Luxury said. “If you sit down and watch this kid perform in front of you, you’ll have open mouths, and at the same time he’ll be closing your mouth.”
Hilder seems diminutive compared to his fellow wrestlers who can seem larger than life. Standing at five-foot six inches and weighing 125 pounds, Hilder is able to use his undersized frame to fly gracefully through the air and use his amateur wrestling background to tie his opponents in knots.
Being young and undersized did lead to Hilder injuring his shoulder when he was 13. He landed wrong while taking a move during training which resulted in his arm being in a sling for about a month. Hilder says he has only had one concussion that he knows about, but it is possible that he had sustained more. Hilder is currently dealing with a minor shoulder injury that he suffered while wrestling for Terra Nova High School in Pacifica. Hilder was booked to return to the wrestling ring, but the due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of Starboy Charlie is put on hold.
Hilder does not want to go to college, but he understands it is something his parents want him to do. If it was up to him, he would solely focus on his pro wrestling career, but his mother wants him to go to college and understand the business side of pro wrestling.
“When he turns 18, I’m going to send in all of his stuff to get into the WWE training camp, he’s going to do whatever it takes to get him where he wants to be, but I want him to go to college,” Gutierrez said. “[Wrestling] is not just a lifestyle, it’s a business, so he needs to go to college, so he knows how to run his business.”
Hilder has lofty goals for himself, by the end of 2020 he wants to wrestle for one of the hottest indie promotions in the United States, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) in Los Angeles, but his ultimate goal is to make it to WWE and fulfill John Cena’s prophecy.
“I want to be main eventing Wrestlemania and all this cool stuff, become WWE champion, and become a legend overall in professional wrestling,” Hilder said. “It’s a really far fetched goal, but that is what I’m shooting for.”