One of modern day Ring of Honor’s biggest criticisms is the way they’re no longer harvesting the top indie talent from across the scene: instead signing up rawer and less renowned talent. While I personally both like and see a lot of potential in guys like Adam Page and Donovan Dijak, they weren’t guys who could be brought in and from their debut immediately be a featured player. Guys like Page and Dijak don’t offer a lot of exciting matchups in the upper portions of the card that could have been achieved if say a Trevor Lee had been added in recent months. The one exception to that rule in recent memory has been Dalton Castle.
Prior to this Ring of Honor run, Castle was best known for his work in CHIKARA and its associate “Wrestling is …” promotions under his “Smooth Sailing” Ashley Remington persona, where he still works to this day; although slightly less frequently since his breakout in Ring of Honor. While the Ashley Remington character is quite different from the Dalton Castle that he is best known for now, he equally excelled in that portrayal, earning plaudits from many as one of this latest era of CHIKARA best prospects.
The Party Peacock burst onto the scene in Ring of Honor in January of this year making his full debut in the 2015 incarnation of the Top Prospect Tournament after previously participating in a couple of dark matches and an appearance on their infrequently run Future of Honor shows. From the booking it seemed that management didn’t have much in the way of plans for him after a first round exit, and that he would disappear from the Ring of Honor sphere just as quickly as he’d entered it. However that was not to be the case, as over the course of a 4:51 loss to Ashley Sixx, and more importantly his entrance for said match, he got himself over to a degree where he simply could not be ignored.
This year’s Top Prospect Tournament seemed set up to try to feature and get over Will Ferrara and the eventual winner Donovan Dijak, yet the biggest star to emerge was none other than Castle. Not even a year has passed and Castle is easily the most featured man from the eight participants, with the only person who is remotely close being Dijak, who has usurped J Diesel’s role as the primary muscle for the House of Truth.
Castle has had high profile TV matches with opponents such as current dual champion Jay Lethal and New Japan legend Jushin Liger, a featured feud including two PPV matches with Silas Young, an iPPV match with one of the companies top stars in Adam Cole and most was most recently a part of the main event at the Las Vegas show. For Ring of Honor fans who have become used to the slow rises of new talent like Adam Page who took three years to get to a similar spot it really has felt like a meteoric rise.
How has Dalton Castle been able to climb the ranks so rapidly? Well, while I would argue that his in ring work has played an integral part to his ascension up the card, what has really set him apart has been his entrance and, even more so, his character. That character has been at the centre of several discussions that seem to somewhat polarise people. The Ring of Honor reviewer for this very site Aaron Bentley isn’t particularly a fan, feeling that no real motivation has been established as for somebody like Castle to be a wrestler and that while “he commits 100%” he still hasn’t “given me any reason to care about him as a character”, while others have said his character is extremely one dimensional and caricatured. While I can see where those viewpoints are coming from, for me personally Dalton’s gimmick is one of my favourites, not only in Ring of Honor, but in all of wrestling today. It should be noted that this isn’t an “Aaron is WRONG!” column; it’s simply me offering an opposing viewpoint for why, at least to me, Dalton Castle works.
For those less familiar, Dalton Castle portrays a character that when trying to describe in a single word, would probably simply be the word “fabulous”.
Known as the Party Peacock, he comes to the ring in a bedazzled overalls type get-up to a song which is essentially a knockoff instrumental version of Queen’s ‘I Want It All’ song (which fits him perfectly, it should be noted) and his entrance climaxes with him opening his arms wide out behind him revealing his peacock-esque plumage. To add to all this grandeur, he is joined by two fellow wrestlers, usually the Tate Twins, who he affectionately refers to as “his Boys”. The two of them are always scantily clad in toga-esque garments and masquerade masks and each carrying a pair of feathered fans. Their duties include fanning, hiding Dalton behind fans, revealing Dalton from behind said fans, making human ring steps, unclothing Castle from his entrance gear and creating a seat from their own bodies. Throw in Dalton’s extremely effeminate/camp stances and handshakes and it’s hardly surprising that the general consensus is that the character being portrayed is a gay or bisexual one.
In wrestling the LGBT community has historically been badly portrayed, so for many when they see such a character alarm bells are already ringing in expectation of how badly it’ll be handed, if the precedent is anything to go by. You can obviously look back to the 80s and 90s and see LGBT characters being hated simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Sadly, you don’t even have to look back that far, with well documented characters like Billy & Chuck and Vito in the WWE being handled horribly and Orlando Jordan in TNA probably being the worst of the lot, taking place only four years ago.
You can even look for examples from the company in question Ring of Honor, who kicked off its first show with a horrible angle where gay wrestlers were booed because they were gay and then got beaten up by Da Hit Squad for a face pop. Even now in WWE, babyface wrestlers often resort to an insult/comedy insinuating the heel they’re feuding with might be gay, because that should totally be an insult in this day and age. I think almost all of us can agree that Western wrestling in general has a track record of handling things badly in this regard.
Now I think it’s interesting to note that the character of Dalton Castle has never said or done anything to confirm that he’s gay/bi. I’m somebody who watches a ton of Ring of Honor, and at no point has he done anything definitive. I have no idea on the orientation of the portrayer of the character either, not that I feel it particularly matters. Obviously the character is extremely camp, but while that’s often used as an indicator of being gay; and without crunching the numbers I have to imagine there’s a correlation at the very least; just because a man is camp doesn’t mean he’s gay (or because he’s not camp doesn’t mean he’s not gay for that matter). I’m sure we all know at least one very camp man who is straight. That said, as SmackDown and New Japan reviewer at Voices of Wrestling Ru Gunn commented when we were discussing the man in question, I doubt many of us know a straight man so camp that he has a literal throne of men (if one of us does know such a man, can you please introduce him to us, because he sounds amazing). Although I don’t know any gay men with thrones of men either, so who knows? All in all though, I think it’s safe to presume that the Dalton Castle character is gay until shown otherwise.
So why does Dalton Castle work where so many other gay characters have been handled so horribly? I personally feel it’s all in the detail of the presentation. Firstly, Dalton’s primary character trait isn’t that he’s gay, to the degree that in the previous paragraph I just talked about the idea that there’s no real evidence he is gay. Could you imagine a wrestler being built from the fact that he’s straight? That’d be ridiculous, but for so many gay characters in wrestling they are built from the ground up with the elevator pitch being “Well he’s gay”. That tends to lead to them being characterised by groping their opponents in the ring and the like, and thankfully Castle has managed to avoid such activities. Instead, his primary character attributes are that he’s fabulous, flashy and eccentric. Sure, his character is probably gay, but it doesn’t define him, the same way that him having hazel eyes doesn’t define him.
Another thing that I think really helps him click is the style he wrestles in the ring. Often any gay character in wrestling is automatically pigeonholed into a comedy role, and while there are certainly comedic aspects to him once the bell rings he’s very much a wrestler to be taken seriously. He’s throwing guys around in Daisuke Sekimoto-esque suplexes and is just generally presented as a great wrestler. Sure he’ll throw in a peacock call every now and again and an odd stance here or there during a break in the action, but that’s just him being true to his eccentric character. If he wrestled like a Santino Marella I would probably take issue with it, but he’s not. He’s presented as a guy who can go toe to toe and often outwrestle any opponent. One of the things I’ve loved about his feud with Silas Young is that you have this old fashioned ‘Last Real Man’ guy telling Dalton that he’s not a real man and yet getting outwrestled by him at every turn. He’s a great wrestler who just happens to be gay, and that’s great and in many ways a step forward.
That kind of links in with some of his criticism that I touched on earlier: where is his motivation? Why is a guy like this wrestling? Well, why can’t a camp man also be incredibly tough and just really good at wrestling? The commentary has been good in this regard too. While there has been the odd “Don’t judge a book by its cover” remark, by and large they’ve not treated his matches more comically than they would another wrestler.
The presentation of Castle has been somewhat refreshing too. While in the past wrestlers who are portraying a gay character have gotten booed simply because they’re gay, Castle came in as a good guy and has been completely and utterly embraced by the fans as such. I won’t lie I was somewhat pensive about how he would be received when their tours took them further South. However, I’ve been overjoyed to see that he’s been one of their most over faces on every single ROH show he’s been on, as he should be he’s just a fun character, but the absence of any backlash from crowds has been great to see.
Now is the character of Dalton Castle perfect? No, he could definitely do with adding some depth and intricacies to what I think is a great base for a character. Hopefully that’ll come over the time; it’s sometimes easy to forget how new he is to the company what with how integral he feels to ROH already. But for a company that started its first show with the Christopher Street Connection I think it’s definitely a step forward. I for one am in full support of Dalton Castle’s quest to add a little colour to the sometimes bland of Ring of Honor.