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Meet ‘Reverend’ Ricky Noren, MN’s Only Wrestler/Comic/Chef

Want to see an (almost) dead body this weekend?

Courtesy Reverend Ricky Noren|

Smashing some glass on a frog.

“Reverend” Ricky Noren might bludgeon you. But regular old Ricky would rather feed you and make you laugh. 

As one of the most violent deathmatch wrestlers in the U.S., Noren spends the majority of his weekends playing the role of a sleazy evangelist who offers to heal wrestling fans while shilling bottles of holy water, all while having his flesh carved up by glass, barbed wire, and thumbtacks. But on Monday morning, you’ll find him stoveside at Union Hmong Kitchen whipping up rice bowls and pork belly. 

“I’ve always looked for ways to express my creativity and just sort of find a purpose,” Noren says. “Whether that’s through doing comedy or wrestling or cooking or anything else, I just want to find like-minded people to hang out with and make things.” 

Before he was cracking light tubes over skulls, Noren was cracking jokes in Big Lake, where and his buddies would do sketch videos and put them on YouTube. After graduating college, Noren moved to Minneapolis and became an open mic regular. 

“I was just fucking around but eventually it became my main social circle,” he says. “From, like, 2011 through 2014 I was mostly doing standup and improv and hanging around that crowd.”

Struggles with substance issues and mental health would eventually lead Noren back to Big Lake, where he would attempt to settle into a more “normal” life. It wouldn’t last. 

“I worked at a car dealership for a while and did pretty well, but eventually I just didn’t want to do it anymore,” he says. “So, I quit and went back to square one.” 

Ricky’s younger brother Matt has always been supportive of his creative projects, but he also notes that these endeavors can get in the way of caring for himself—mentally, physically, and financially. 

“He struggles with his mental health because he follows his passions so hard that he doesn’t have those basic needs to fall back on and feel comfortable,” Matt says. “He’s had a few times where he hit rock bottom and I’m like, ‘You need to find some structure. You need more balance.’”

Noren attempted to find that balance through food. After starting out at Big Lake’s finest Chipotle (and subsequently getting fired), Noren realized he liked cooking. So he headed back to the Twin Cities, where he bounced around to various restaurants, enjoying the hands-on aspects of his work. 

While broadening his culinary education by day, Noren continued to pop up at open mics and dabble in improv at night. Then he found yet another outlet.

“I grew up wanting to be a pro wrestler, but I had no idea how you did that,” Noren says. “In 2017, I learned about The Academy of Professional Wrestling. So, I decided to save up some money and give it a shot.” 

Hanging with some friends.Courtesy Reverend Ricky Noren

The physical aspects of training were tough, but Noren knew right away that getting in the ring was the way he could best scratch that creative itch that he had been trying to reach for years. 

“I committed to it because I really wanted to perform,” he says. “I had all of these ideas I needed to get out.” 

Unlike a lot of aspiring wrestlers, who are interested in learning all the cool moves you see on TV, Noren says he was most drawn to finding the right character to portray. His coaches confirmed that character building is the best way to separate yourself in the wrestling industry. 

After initially assuming an artist character, one who spoke about working in galleries while smashing paintings over his opponents’ heads, Noren decided to reach into his real-life past. That meant mining his ultra-religious upbringing, and finding inspiration for a revenge arch in defense of his evangelical mom.

“My mom hit a rough spot when every one of those churches started openly supporting Trump, so she stopped going and felt really alienated,” Noren says. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to take it to these motherfuckers.’” 

Enter the Reverend.

“The church sort of pushed him away,” Matt says. “When I heard he was doing this character that’s kind of a fanatic, I knew it was the character he was meant to portray.” 

While bringing his over-the-top character to life has been an important piece to his wrestling puzzle, the first rule of deathmatches is that you’ve gotta bleed, bro. Noren isn’t afraid to bleed buckets in order to satisfy the lunatics who paid good money to see the wrestling equivalent to a live horror movie. At one of his first shows, he completely sliced and diced his arm with an electric weed whacker (he wanted to use a gas powered one, but the promoter was worried he might accidentally put the literal death in deathmatch). At another event the show was stopped early when he pounded a gusset plate into someone’s arm, causing blood to spurt everywhere. Then there's the time he crashed through a car windshield, ripping a cavernous hole in his elbow.

“Deathmatch is a very brutal art, and Ricky is the rare case of somebody who is willing to go through unreal amounts of pain and agony,” explains Eric Morrison, owner of Timebomb Pro Wrestling. “But he also has an entire character fleshed out.”

Though he was able to project some of his ideas for the character in the ring, Noren still craved the ability to give the Reverend more depth. That would lead to him creating an improv-style comedy show.

“I knew I wanted to do a comedy-hybrid and bring wrestlers into it,” he says. “The first one was at the Phoenix Theater, and it was kind of like a talk show with wrestlers. I had some great collaborators, and we just sort of went crazy with our improv skills.” 

Last year, Noren continued the series with a “revival” at Minneapolis’s Terminal Bar, and he plans to host additional improv-style shows in 2024. Both improv and deathmatch are rooted in similar “yes-and” teamwork between trusted partners, making the combo a sneaky natural fit. 

Courtesy Reverend Ricky Noren

Noren has found the time to take his culinary pursuits to the next level as well, becoming a chef at Union Hmong Kitchen where he's worked for the last two years.

“I just jumped in with Yia [Vang, owner of Union Hmong Kitchen] and started learning more about Hmong food and how to cook it,” he says. “I didn’t go to school or anything like that. My education came from the different chefs I’ve had the opportunity to work with.” 

As for how these worlds are all able to coexist, Noren says the people in the different corners of his life have all been supportive of him, even if they don’t want to peek into every part of it.

“My coworkers came to my last show and saw me all covered in blood and they were down with it,” Noren says, beaming with pride. “But there was another time that my mom ordered one of my shows on Fite TV and watched me do a deathmatch where I went through four panes of glass. I didn’t know she watched it until the next day when I got a text that just said, ‘That was hard to watch.’ I don’t want her or anyone else to see that stuff if they don’t want to see it.” 

Regardless of where he goes next, the only thing that is for certain about Noren is that he’s going to find a way to bring his ideas to life—even if it comes at his own expense. 

“With him, his hierarchy of needs is upside down,” Matt says of his wrestler/comic/chef brother. “He chases after self-fulfillment and to scratch that creative itch more than his basic needs. He has a kind of bravery that I don’t think a lot of people have.” 

Timebomb Pro Wrestling: Cause for Alarm
Featuring: Reverend Ricky Noren in a Casket Deathmatch! Plus Badger Briggs, Arik Cannon, Jordan, and more.
When: Saturday, April 13; doors 7 p.m., bell 8 p.m.
Where: Glass House, 145 Holden St. N., Minneapolis.
Tickets: $25 (21+); find more info here.

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