As the Navajo Warrior, Arizona-based wrestler Steve Islas traveled the world for major individual and tag-team matches. He has also tried to impart his knowledge on other wrestlers.
This year, he celebrates his 30th anniversary as a professional wrestler with a special event at Sun Studios of Arizona on Saturday, November 21.
The main event will be a six-man tag-team match with three wrestlers on each side, including the Navajo Warrior.
With VIP tickets, patrons will receive a chance to see a special VIP wrestling match and take part in a Q&A with Islas.
Islas says his 30th anniversary evokes feelings of nostalgia and pride in what he accomplished as a wrestler and teacher.
“I’m feeling like the time flew by,” Islas says. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. It’s a good feeling to see the guys and girls who I’ve wrestled with and traveled with do their thing, branch out and have their success. It’s a really cool feeling.
“To know that people still want to see me wrestle is exciting.”
To build his wrestling career, Islas says he has lived a healthy lifestyle and continued to work out, including weight training and strongman lifting.
“It is a lot of taking care of yourself. You really can’t avoid injuries, but if you can minimize the number of injuries you get, it helps with longevity,” Islas says.
In his career, Islas sustained major injuries such as torn ligaments in his knee and a broken leg. He returned to wrestling the same day his cast for the broken leg was removed.
“I would get bored if I was sitting too long,” Islas says. “I feel better when I’m active. Once I slow down, the aches and pains start to catch up.”
Islas continues to occasionally wrestle through companies such as Impact Zone Wrestling, which he co-founded.
Hailing from Gilbert, Islas still lives in Arizona and travels for work—handling licensing for wrestling video games.
During his wrestling career, Islas won major tag-team as part of the Tribe with his student, Hawaiian Lion, and heavyweight titles with organizations like the World Wrestling Federation, now known as the WWE.
He worked with the Hawaiian Lion since 2004, when they went to Japan to wrestle together. Islas says it can be difficult to find a good tag-team partner. He and the Hawaiian Lion developed a strong connection in the ring, but the rapport came over time.
“Besides getting to know each other’s wrestling moves and styles, it is also getting to know the person,” Islas says. “A lot of the stuff that happens in the ring is by a look. If I give him a look or he looks at me a certain way, we can tell what the other is thinking.”
The two had a strong rivalry with fellow tag teamers the Ballard Brothers, whom they wrestled in 15 countries. He enjoyed the experiences he had in Japan, Spain, Germany and England.
“In Japan, it is treated like a sport,” Islas says. “You would get the newspaper, and in the sports section, you would have the results of the baseball games and also the results of wrestling matches. In the United States, it’s looked at as entertainment.”
As a Native American wrestler, it was important for him to be a positive role model.
“I wanted to represent our culture in a way where if a young Native American boy or girl happened to see me on television or see me live, it would give that feeling of ‘somebody who looks like me is doing this,’” he says.
“I took that as a responsibility, because I didn’t want to look bad in their eyes.”
Islas used to operate an Arizona wrestling school.
“I would always remember the guys who came before me who would take the time to teach me something, even if it’s just a small lesson of how to do something in the ring or the etiquette of how to carry myself,” Islas says.
“If I can pass on the knowledge that was given to me to the next person, and they could find success in it and pass it on to the next person, that was one of the things I did because I wanted to keep the wrestling business full of new, fresh faces.”
Known as the Navajo Kid and Shawn Dakota, too, Islas says it was challenging to develop a larger-than-life alter ego, as he was a shy kid growing up.
“It was hard to put myself out there like that, even though that’s what I was attracted to,” he says. “What drew me to wrestling was the larger-than-life characters. Trying to develop myself into one of those was hard. But once it started to happen and I started to get the reactions I was looking for from the crowd, it made it easier, and it evolved from there.”
He was inspired by wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Wahoo McDaniel and Tito Santana. He wrestled through junior high and high schools.
It took him some time to develop as a professional wrestler, after breaking into the business at age 19.
“I would say it was about nine years in where I started to feel comfortable in my own skin and get my groove,” Islas says.
His persona evolved with him.
“The persona went from as the Navajo Kid, it was the youthful good guy that was full of fire, full of energy,” Islas says. “As it has developed, it is the seasoned veteran who is not afraid to take a shortcut here and there to get a win but still fights with that fire.”
IZW NAV30: 30 Years Brother! Navajo Warrior 30th Anniversary Celebration, 6 p.m. Saturday, November 21, Sun Studios of Arizona, 1425 W. 14th Street, Tempe, $20 to $30, facebook.com/izwwrestlingaz.