A Life on Canvas

Written by: Mike Shaw

The Void meets some TNA Impact superstars to discuss the stories behind their tattoos.

Pictures by Mat Ricardo

Wrestler Shannon Moore shows his tattoos

Shannon Moore

There’s usually a story behind a tattoo.

Most people will tell you that they had a particular piece done to remind them of a holiday, a loved-one, a pet, a life-changing moment.

In the wrestling business though, an industry where heavily-inked people are more common than not, tattooing has an importance not found anywhere else.

Simply put, without the ink, these guys may not remember half their lives.

TNA Impact Wrestling is a company full of men and women whose jobs take them all over world, sometimes hitting five or six different countries in one week.

Each stop involves pain, intense physicality, sweat, blood, concussions… the tattoos picked up on their travels are sometimes the only markers that remind the performers of what they’ve done and where they’ve been. Their hectic lifestyle doesn’t afford them the luxury of being able to kick back and soak in their surroundings.

Despite hearing similar from the irritating student who got a dolphin on her shoulder during a gap year in Thailand, for these guys, their tattoos really do tell the stories of their lives.

But not always. Sometimes, they just get inked because it looks awesome, as these photos attest.

Some of TNA’s superstars were decent enough to spare us a bit of time during one of their biggest ever live shows. So here we are, deep in the bowels of an enormous arena, alone in a room with the largest human being we have ever seen in real life.

Matt Morgan is 7′ 3”, weighs 328lb, has wrestled professionally for almost 10 years and used to be an American Gladiator. He also has a monster of a backpiece.

Wrestler Matt Morgan is a tattoo fan

Matt Morgan

“It IS a monster!” he says. “Its face is piercing through my skin. It’s not your run-of-the-mill perfectly-outlined tattoo. It was originally done in Louisville, Kentucky, but just the outline was done, not the bulk of it. The bulk of it was done at (fellow wrestler) Shannon Moore’s tattoo shop Gas Chamber Ink, out in Carolina.

“They took an outline of what the guy in Kentucky did, and Shane Watkins – the professional that Shannon employs – took those outlines and he totally contorted and changed it into something more definitive. Shane is probably one of the best tattoo artists in the entire world. He totally brought it out, I thought it was bad-ass and loved it.”

Unlike the fantastical creatures you’ll find tattooed on other people, Matt Morgan’s monster has a meaning.

“If you watch me wrestle, that is the face I have; the intensity in the eyes, the way my eyebrows go, the way my nose crinkles, and in a lot of still shots, you’ll see me making that face. It’s a representation of me in the ring.”

Just getting a simple pat on the back can be seriously uncomfortable if you’ve just had some work done on it, so how the hell does a wrestler rest a fresh piece?

“It’s hard,” says Morgan. “When I got my backpiece done by Shannon Moore in Carolina, we were doing live events there for TNA and I had to get into the ring the next day, so I wore a t-shirt. It worked out that I was in the ring with Jeff Hardy that night though, who is obviously heavily tattooed himself, so he understood when I took him to one side and said ‘please stay away from my back’. Which he did, thankfully. So I wore a shirt and had that little cellophane wrapper over it as well, but it was still pretty painful at times because we can’t really avoid landing on our backs. That hurt worse than getting the tattoo itself, apart from the bits that were done close to my spine.”

Matt Morgan is huge

Like most people, Morgan has plans for more, but being in the wrestling business presents unique problems. Spending a lot of your professional life half-naked means that a lot of people want to claim ownership of your body.

“Because there’s action-figures based on us and we’ve got video games, t-shirts, and other things with our likeness on them, we’ve got to give the office a heads up before we make any big changes to our bodies,” explains Matt. “They’ll need to make a new action figure with a new tattoo, things like that and you have to keep that in mind.

“And me, cos I’m so big, anything I do to my body isn’t going to be small, it’s going to be big and stick out like a sore thumb. Someone like (female wrestler) Angelina Love, she can get a tattoo on her ribs or forearm and no-one’s gonna notice cos it’s so small, but for me to put something that small on my wrist – in comparison to Angelina – it’s going to be the size of a softball. So with things like that, I can’t just slide under the radar and get a tattoo without anyone noticing.”

Matt’s right. When we meet Angelina, she is tiny. Petite. And it’s perfectly understandable if some of her body art goes unnoticed. However, even Angelina experiences problems.

Full body shot of Angelina Love (Lauren Williams)

Angelina Love

“I’d like more,” she says, “but I don’t think [the company] will let me. I have the most ink out of all the girls, and they’re telling me ‘maybe that’s enough!’”

Angelina has a collection of tattoos across her body; arms, neck, back, fingers, legs, but which is her favourite?

“’What is meant to be will be’ is my favourite. I got it two days before I made my return to TNA this time last year, after all the drama and ridicule I went through.” In September 2009, Canadian Angelina had to leave TNA due to visa issues. “I have always believed that if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. You can’t stop it. So right before I came back to the company and signed my new deal, I got that tattoo, ‘What will be will be.’ and everything has worked out wonderfully”

Tattoos on Angelina Love's back and neckAs someone who gets knocked around for a living, is it any easier to deal with the pain that can come with tattooing?

“My tattooist tells people about me, because I don’t scream, I don’t cry, I don’t say anything, no matter where I’m getting tattooed. We just talk. I mean it hurts, but that’s part of the deal. Tattoos are painful. Accept it. When I got this piece on my ribs, I was a little bit nervous because people had told me that your ribs is one of the worst places, but I wanted to try it and it actually made me laugh, because I could see the tattoo vibrating on my ribs and it felt funny.

“My wrist was really painful though, and the closer it got to my hand the more painful it was and the more I need to get it touched up because it doesn’t take as well.

“This one was really painful too,” she says showing us the angel near her pubic bone. “When I left the tattooist I had one friend either side of me to help me walk. The problem is the skin is so thin in that area and I’m so lean, and also it’s pretty sensitive… down there,” she laughs.

The wrestling business can be notoriously fickle, and spits out its stars as readily as it embraces them. It’s for this reason that Shannon Moore decided to open up his own tattoo shop.

“I first started Gas Chamber Ink, in Southern Pines, North Carolina, about four-and-a-half years ago,” says Shannon. “I’ve always been a huge fan of tattooing, ever since I was a kid. I can remember being five or six years old and seeing people with tattoos and thinking it was was amazing, ‘Wow, they’ve got pictures on their skin!’

“It was something I was always really intrigued by. Once I got into wrestling I decided that when I had enough money and enough time, I would open a tattoo shop. Believe it or not, the tattoo industry and wrestling business are from the same mould – it’s all kind of a rockstar lifestyle.”

Shannon didn’t just want to be a tattoo shop owner though and despite having a brilliant team around him, decided to learn the trade for himself.

Read: Interview – Colt Cabana

He explains: “I’ve always wanted to know how to tattoo, and I took a year off from wrestling about two years ago to really sit down and learn the art of tattooing. I didn’t want to just be someone in the entertainment industry who opens a shop and survives off their name – I wanted to learn the art, so when I went to conventions I would be just like anybody else. That way people would respect me because I learnt a craft, not because I thought ‘hey I can make some money off this’. I absolutely love the tattoo industry.”

During the interview, it’s clear that Shannon is incredibly proud of Gas Chamber Ink, which isn’t surprising when you consider the excellent reputation the business has created. He attributes a lot of this success to Gas Chamber’s lead artist, Shane Watkins.

“All of my tattoos were pretty much done by Shane. He runs my shop while I’m on the road and I would say he’s one of the top artists in the world.

“We still have lots to learn though. We’re going to try and take Gas Chamber to a convention in Miami this year, and when we go to a convention it’s nice to go and learn from other artists – and there’s something to learn from everybody, no matter how good an artist you are. We go and try to talk to people. There are tips and tricks that you can learn from everybody, no matter how long they’ve been in the business.”

Professional wrestler Shannon Moore shows off his tattoos

Pirate Life: Shannon Moore

Unlike Matt Morgan and Angelina Love, Shannon doesn’t face the same kind of opposition from the company when it comes to getting new work done. A lot of this is due to his current gimmick of being part of a tattooed tag team called Ink Inc. alongside the equally-decorated Jesse Neal. For TNA, Shannon Moore’s tattoos are all part of the deal. Things weren’t always like that though.

“I have a dragon piece on my side that represents my father. He was in a car accident when I was nine years old, and I had to pretty much take over the household and take care of my mother. And when that happened, I kind of considered myself the dragon of my family, overlooking them, because my dad wasn’t there no more.

“I was working for another wrestling company at the time and they were totally against me getting any kind of tattoos. So I just said ‘you know what, this is for my dad, and for my family’, and sat there nine hours and got it done. And I actually changed that company’s tattoo policy; now you have to go and get permission and blah blah blah – but it was just one of those things. I believed in it, and when I believe in something I just go for it, and I’m ready to suffer the consequences.”

Surprisingly, given the emotional pertinence and the fact it represented a ‘fuck you’ to the boss, the dragon isn’t Shannon’s favourite piece, that accolade goes to something else.

“On my stomach I have 2BME tattooed, and I had that done at a time when I really grew as a person, and accepted who I was, and it felt good to finally not care what anyone else thought of me.

I thought, ‘I’m gonna live life for me, I don’t care what anyone thinks, and that’s the way it’s going to be.’ I had this done in 2001, when I was 23 or 24 and had come out of that shell and realised who I was as a person. It usually takes people a lot longer to figure out who they are, so I’m grateful that I found out at such an early age, and when I did, it took a huge weight off my shoulders. This is who I am, this is what I’m gonna be, and this is how I’m gonna do it, and if nobody likes it, then oh well.

For that reason, 2BME is my favourite piece. It explains me, and it’s advice that I give to people.”

With a hectic wrestling schedule, a successful business to run and a burgeoning career as an artist in his own right, Shannon still finds time to plan what’s going to adorn the rest of his body.

Being in the wrestling business presents unique problems. Spending a lot of your professional life half-naked means that a lot of people want to claim ownership of your body.

“On my neck I have ‘Pirate Life’, and on my back is the start of what’s going to be a big pirate-themed backpiece. Sometimes, in the wrestling business I feel like a pirate; out there constantly fighting, travelling around the world taking whatever comes along. It’s a rough lifestyle; you’ll be drinking beer in a bar one night and the next night you’re fighting in front of a bunch of people right after a 10 hour flight… it’s how it makes me feel.”

During our conversation, my eyes are constantly drawn to an intriguing piece on Shannon’s neck. The small section I can see appears to be the base of a chalice of some sort. However, when he lifts his head, it’s something quite different.

“Yeah, this is a gear shifter,” says Shannon as he stretches his neck out. “It symbolises my early days in the business when I made a bunch of money and spent tons of it on cars. Cars and motorcycles are a huge downfall for me and I’ve blown so much money trying to buy these things that I needed to mark it in some way. Every time I see I see it in the mirror I’ll think ‘Right, don’t go buy another car’, although it also symbolises my love of the rat rod and hot rod scene.”

“Everything on my body means something.”

Including the gas mask on his hand, which is more than simply an advertisement for his shop.

“Most guys think that wrestling’s going to last forever, but we could be done tomorrow; you could get fired, you could get hurt. The fact that I took the step, sold everything I had, opened my shop and took a gamble with my money and succeeded made me want to put something where I could see it every day to remind myself of that leap of faith. And now I look back and I’m so happy to have it, I have something to lean on away from wrestling. If I ever want to walk away, I can.”

And he says again, with a gleam in his eye: “Everything on my body means something.”


Author: Mike Shaw

Founder and editor of The Void, among other things. Interested in movies, tech, theatre, comics, WWE and UFC. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeshaw101 or check out his site www.mpshaw.co.uk

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Responses to A Life on Canvas

  1. Great article. Would be even greater in print. I knew Matt Morgan was huge but had no idea he was that huge!

  2. I love shannon’s tattoos ! and him !

  3. Shannon is a personal friend and a great tattoo artist he tattooed X-MAN on my stomach a Dragon on my left leg and he tattooed my wife’s foot I’ve know Shannon over 10 years hes the most real and genuine human being I’ve ever met

  4. This is one of the best articles on wrestlers tattoos I have read in a long time.

  5. definitely should do this sort of thing with Jeff Hardy..

  6. Just another reason why Shannon Moore continues to be an inspiration to people like myself. I no longer have fear of being my true self because of him. Ink Inc 4 Life.

  7. Yes Jeff Hardy definately & maybe Crimson

  8. I like tattoo I have like 4 or 5 of them

  9. Great write up but Matt Morgan isn’t 7.3 he’s only 7.0 Still huge but thats a misprint.

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