The rise of EFFY, a gay pro wrestler who overcame the odds — and slurs — to craft a lucrative personal brand

Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY, standing in front of a large lighted sign with his name on it.
Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY.

  • Taylor Gibson is a professional wrestler who goes by EFFY, or the “Weapon of Sass Destruction.”
  • GIbson is known for his marketing and events, like EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch, and having “Daddy” written across his butt in hot pink.
  • Gibson hasn’t signed with a major organization. He said that lets him control his character, who’s anything but typical.

EFFY is not your traditional professional wrestler. 

Not many in the scripted sport hold a public-relations degree and eight years of experience operating a shipping logistics company, nor have many come close to matching the charismatic, 229-pound, gay wrestler’s digital-media savviness and its ensuing revenue. In 2020, despite the pandemic shutting down most live events, he reports earning a six-figure income off just his brand. 

EFFY — who’s sometimes called the “Weapon of Sass Destruction,” but whose real name is Taylor Gibson— finds himself among a new class of popular independent professional wrestlers: deliberately unsigned. Rather than ink a deal with leader World Wrestling Entertainment and its $4.3 billion market cap, or newcomer All Elite Wrestling and its $175 million TV deal signed with WarnerMedia in 2020, Gibson wants to control his destiny. 

Who is EFFY?

Success in wrestling often boils down to connecting with the crowd. It requires charisma, entertaining in-ring prowess, and, today, the ability to keep fans hooked when the show isn’t on. 

Gibson has found success doing just that. His online presence is filled with well-produced charismatic vignettes and posts that any social-media user could create at home, but none of it would matter without the ability to captivate in the ring. 

The job begins well before the opening bell. Entering to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” decked in a spiked pink or purple leather jacket, the fishnet-clad wrestler regularly gets large crowds of straight men to chant what’s written in hot pink across his butt: Daddy. 

Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY, siting on a set of stairs with a championship belt.
Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY.

Once in the ring, Gibson has received praise for matches with men, women, and nonbinary performers, as well as wrestling in traditional technical matches and extreme “deathmatches.” For his efforts, Pro Wrestling Insider ranked him 95th on its list of the top 500 wrestlers for 2021

“I’ve always been a person who wants to poke people a little, but not in a bad way,” he told Insider, saying the efforts help provoke perception-expanding private conversations at shows. 

Once, Gibson recalled a promoter saying he brought gay people to shows. 

“No,” he said. “I bring in people who are learning how much fun it is to hang out with gay people.”

Becoming EFFY

Gibson’s wrestling story began in 2012. Fresh out of college, he worked various jobs, including handling merchandise for touring bands like Hootie and the Blowfish. He also continued working on moving trucks, a position he had had since 16. Gibson enjoyed the physical labor as well as the connection made with customers while handling their valuables. In 2012, he took over a Two Men And A Truck franchise in Florida, managing a fleet of 13 trucks and 40 employees. 

Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY, in a pink cowboy outfit.
Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY.

As his career grew, his struggles with his identity reached a breaking point. In 2013, he took a large dose of LSD, resulting in a five-day trip. During the experience, he recalled battling himself over career goals and dreams. 

Afterward, with a changed perspective, he felt compelled to pursue wrestling. But more importantly, he came out about his sexuality.

“This sounds crazy, but it was my motivation,” he said. 

The business of EFFY

After the revelation, Gibson added a year of two-hour drives and wrestling training to his work routine. He then began getting onto shows, relying on his PR degree to help boost the image of someone without a deep wrestling background. 

Once on shows, he didn’t adhere to the old rules. He spoke up, something rookies are told not to do. Gibson said it rubbed some veterans the wrong way at first, but the energy translated into EFFY’s in-ring persona. 

“It was a therapeutic way for me to get through who I was as a person,” he said. 

The first few months were full of what wrestling continues to struggle with: prejudice, including slurs from some fans and disrespect from old-era thinking pros. While the culture is improving, Gibson isn’t the ony person who’s experienced that: In late September 2021, a transgender fan was said to have been attacked in the bathroom during popular California-based promotion Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s show. 

Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY, holding a championship belt.
Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY.

Despite ongoing struggles across the industry, Gibson saw a change around his third or fourth month of work. 

“People who would have screamed slurs at me were buying shirts,” Gibson said. “Dads who would have never wanted to talk to me, their kids only wanted EFFY stuff.”

In time, his social media presence grew, with recent tallies at 26,000 followers on Twitter, 17,500 on Instagram, and 7,600 on Twitch, a popular and sometimes lucrative streaming platform for its creators. Part of Gibson’s Twitch appeal is the fan connection created through conversations, live watch-alongs, and glimpses into his personal life, often featuring boyfriend AJ and dog Cranberry. 

The following also led to the creation of more inclusive wrestling endeavors, including EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch, a series of shows featuring LGBTQIA+ performers and allies. He launched the Wrestling is Gay merchandise line, with part of the proceeds benefitting Atlanta-area LGBTQ+ support organization Lost-n-Found Youth.

The success continues to roll in. An hour after concluding our interview on September 24, 2021, Gibson defeated Matt Cardona to win the Internet Championship in Queens, New York. He dropped the title back to Cardona a few weeks later at their rematch in Atlantic City, New Jersey. 

Merchandising and the fan connection

Merchandising is a crucial component for Gibson’s brand. He’s expanded beyond shirts and photos, and is active on Cameo and other revenue-making streams. 

Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY, in a pink cowboy outfit.
Independent wrestler Taylor Gibson, who goes by EFFY.

The most standout of all may be the limited-edition Effy Award: a line of bronze busts featuring the wrestler in his spiked leather jacket. No qualifications other than having the available funds were required to “win” an award. The cheeky bit of unique wrestling merch also offered a certificate of authenticity, for an additional price. The statues were a hit, selling out soon after their release. Fans recorded acceptance speeches, touting the wins they’d given themselves, and took photos of their awards. Gibson streamed the results on Twitch. 

The campaign reflected his merchandising vision that thinks beyond revenue generation. He implores all brands, wrestling or otherwise, to consider how the product communicates with buyers and the excitement it produces.  

Over the years, the connection formed and the resulting revenue showed Gibson that he could live off of his brand without signing with a major player. As one of the first to do so, Gibson urges others to follow suit by showing them how they can make money on their own — even when away from the ring. He believes that effort will further help propel and sustain the independent wrestling boom of the past five or so years.  

With fan support and media distribution shifting, Gibson feels he can continue to make a positive impact on his own.

“I’m independent,” he said. “I don’t need permission from my boss. I don’t need permission from the company.”

Read the original article on Business Insider