By Griffin Schmoyer
Long Island has long been a hotbed for professional wrestling. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Famer Mick Foley, of East Setauket, Maxwell Jacob Friedman, of Plainview, and Matt Cardona (formerly known as Zack Ryder from his time in WWE), of Merrick, and many more call Long Island home.
It is also the home of 21-year-old Merrick native and superstar-in-waiting Jaden Valo, who has been making a name for himself across the Island and beyond, even appearing for All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
A fan of professional wrestling from a young age, Valo sees pro wrestling as a lifelong endeavor. He began backyard wrestling at 14 years old with his friends, trying to imitate his on-screen heroes.
“I kind of figured out I wanted to do it when I started doing backyard wrestling,” Valo said.
Not long after those backyard shows, Valo started to get serious. He began training in 2016 at New York Wrestling Connection (NYWC) in Deer Park, among the most prestigious schools in the area. NYWC has produced names like Trent Baretta, John Silver, Alex Reynolds and Cardona.
When he first met Valo, NYWC trainer and wrestler Michael Mistretta, 23, didn’t see much in the Merrick native. “Honestly, he just looked like some stupid kid, I’m not gonna lie,” he said. “I think he had like orange or blue hair. He was, like, fat. I didn’t think anything of him at the time, but he quickly proved to everyone that he was very talented.”
“It was very physical,” Valo said of his training. “…Just putting your body through the wringer three times a week was kind of challenging.”
Fellow NYWC student and friend of Valo (now turned rival) Salvatore Savelli, 19, echoed that sentiment. “A lot of people have the misunderstanding that ‘it’s fake’ or that ‘it doesn’t hurt. No, it’s real,” he said. “Those bumps, man, they hurt, they do. It’s your body compacting in a way it’s not supposed to, so that’s the real deal.”
He and Valo should know: The duo went viral for taking a move onto a ladder at NYWC’s Psycho Circus show in February.
“More often than not,” he said, “it’s two, if not three shows a weekend, so I could have anywhere from four shows a month to five, six or seven…I’m going to Jersey, I’m going to Massachusetts, I’ve been to Connecticut, I went to Atlantic City for AEW, went out to Ohio for a gut check with IMPACT!”
Valo must balance a more stable job as a lifeguard with chasing his dreams three nights a week in training. Some, like Savelli, have to juggle multiple jobs.
“I’ll work from six in the morning until two or three in the afternoon so that I can get out in time to get myself to training on those days,” Valo said. “During the weekends, if I have to take off, I take off.”
Valo’s big break came in 2021, when he was spotted by AEW commentator and iconic professional wrestler Taz who came to NYWC. “One day, Taz and Hook [Taz’s son, who is also a wrestler for AEW] came down to NYWC… and I was lucky enough to be able to stick around and work with them for a little bit. Luckily, they liked me, and they were able to hook me up and get me some behind-the-scenes.”
Valo has since competed multiple times on AEW’s pre-recorded YouTube shows “Dark” and “Dark Elevation” as himself, performing as enhancement talent in “squash” matches, for which local talents like Valo are brought in and are swiftly defeated by well-established wrestlers to make them look strong.
His first match came against former Olympic boxer and medalist Anthony Agogo, and he has since competed against Jay Lethal, Sonny Kiss, Scorpio Sky (current AEW TNT champion as of this writing) and Ethan Page. Valo appeared for AEW five times from December 2021 through this April across many parts of the East Coast.
“[Taz and Hook] got me the opportunity, and I’m extremely grateful for it,” he said. “It’s great to be back there in front of so many people that have such great minds for the business.”
Valo can also be seen as an extra on the main shows “Dynamite” and “Rampage,” getting tossed around by Hook and the incredibly popular Wardlow.
“I was happy for him,” Mistretta said. “Obviously a lot of guys are getting that work with ‘Dark’ right now, or AEW in some capacity. It’s almost oversaturated in a way…Nevertheless, whether something comes of it or not, at least you’re in that atmosphere, and if nothing else, it’s a learning experience.”
Throughout his journey, Valo has been thankful to have a reliable support system around him, especially his partner Chloe Matland, 21. The two met during Valo’s backyard wrestling times, not only sparking love between the two later on, but also reigniting a love for wrestling that Matland had fallen out of as she got older.
“He always used to ask me to come to the backyard shows, and I would always have something else,” Matland said. “For his last show, it was pouring rain, and I was like, ‘Mom, I really have to go to his show,’ and she’s like, ‘It’s not happening. It’s in the pouring rain.’ And I showed up, and he took a sick bump on some thumbtacks.”
Now, Matland helps him out with merchandise at shows and travels with him on the road when possible.
“No matter where I go or what I have to do, whether it’s with wrestling or work or whatever, she’s always there,” Valo said. “It’s great to have someone by your side all the time, just a nice support system to have.”
And what’s next for Jaden Valo?
“Anything at all, man. I’m going everywhere and I’m doing whatever I can, just trying to work with as many people and get as many eyes on me right now as possible.”