Monday, May 7, 2012
My (Brief) Life as a Professional Wrestler
Around ten or eleven years ago, I spent some time training to become a pro wrestler. Growing up, it was always my dream to be a wrestler, and after finding out there was a school not too far from where I grew up and lived, when I turned 18, I attempted to set out to make that dream a reality. After meeting local promoter (and former WWF jobber) Tim Flowers at an ICW show (International Championship Wrestling, which has since closed) in Tacoma, WA, I discussed things with my mom, who was also there and sat in on the pow-wow between Flowers and I, and she decided she'd pay for me to train, as she knew how badly I wanted it. A few weeks later, I met with Flowers once again, accompanied by a friend of mine who was one of Flowers' wrestlers, at a house in Renton, home to one of his other wrestlers. When I came inside, Flowers was stoned out of his mind, laying on this other wrestler's couch (I think his name was Jeff, so that's what I'll refer to him as). Immediately, I should have realized that maybe this wasn't a good idea. Unfortunately though, options were very limited for wrestling schools in Washington-this was pretty much it-so I really had no choice but to go with it. Lesson 1 for you readers who might want to follow the same path-research schools, and do not necessarily accept the first one that comes along.
Anyway, after giving him my enrollment fee-$500.00-I started with the school a couple weeks later. As it turned out, the school had been running out of someone's garage, and the guy needed his garage back, so day one of training was me tearing a ring apart and getting it loaded up for transfer. That was fine. I know part of wrestling is helping out with tearing the ring down on the indy circuit, so it was no big deal. However, because of where the school was moving to, there would be no time for training once it got put back together and set up, as the new location was nearly an hour away. Okay, no big deal. There would be next time.
Well, next time didn't happen for quite a few weeks, and when it did, it was a disaster. The ring had been moved to Jeff's backyard; his uncovered backyard. In case you didn't know, it rains in Washington, and in some cases, quite a bit more than in other areas. Renton happened to be one of the worse areas. Needless to say, After only running the ropes a few times and practicing back bumps a couple times, we ended up having to tear the ring down. I got in around 20 minutes of training time total. Not exactly enough to develop any kind of experience. Lesson 2-Location, location, location. Make sure the school is located INSIDE, and is a decent facility.
A few more weeks passed before I was able to get to training again. Since the school was around 90 minutes away from where I lived, it wasn't always easy to get up there. But, I made it when I could. This time, I actually got to get some training in. After doing some wind sprints and rope bounces to get warmed up, a couple of the guys began teaching me back bumps and flip bumps. Now, while these are the two easiest bumps to learn, they are also very easy to get injured on. It's very important to remember to tuck your chin when taking a bump so you don't crack your skull on the mat. Needless to say, always remembering to do that doesn't come naturally, and even the most experienced wrestlers can forget it once in a while. So, after practicing these types of bumps a few times and getting a good feel for how to do them, the guys had me practice hard back bumps, which involve a more whipping effect. In order to practice them, one of the wrestlers crouched behind me in the old "school boy bully" position, while two other wrestlers shoved me over him to practice this harder form of bump. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but when the guys shoved me, my head snapped back hard, colliding with the mat much sooner than my back. Needless to say, I wound up being knocked out for around 30 seconds to a minute. After that, I had a splitting headache the rest of the day, and by night time, was running a really high fever. Turned out I had just suffered my first concussion. Yep, only a couple practices in, and I already had a concussion. Not a good start.
After a few more weeks to make sure I was healthy enough, I went back for another training session, and everything went well, as I learned a couple more complex things, and the guys practiced short matches for myself and the other rookies to watch and learn from. Well, everything went well except for one thing. You may have noticed that, in all of these sessions I've attended thus far, I haven't mentioned Tim Flowers-you know, the trainer and owner of the school-at all. There's a good reason for that: he was never there. Turns out Tim lived north of the Washington border in Vancouver, BC, and only came down to Washington for the actual shows and none of the training sessions. Lesson 3-When researching the school, whether the head trainer is an active wrestler or retired, make sure he/she still bothers to show up for the training session.
So, as I said, that training session went well, and I was getting a better feel for what to do in the ring. Turns out, that would be the last good session I had, and the next session wound up being my last. That day, we were going to begin practicing back body drops. Now, I had never learned how to do this move. Sure, I had seen it on TV a million times, as it's one of the most basic moves in professional wrestling. However, as I soon found out, watching someone doing it and doing it yourself are two entirely different things. Unfortunately, I was the only wrestler there that had never done this move before, so I didn't have a clue. Instead of prepping me for it, the guy who was basically "teaching" in Tim's place, a fat slob of a wrestler named Avalanche, was literally going to throw me right into the move. Before I tell you what happened next, I should point out that I was probably the second-shortest guy in the crew at only about 5'6", and weighed in at around 165 lbs. and Avalanche was the tallest at around 6'6" and over 300 lbs. Keep that in mind.
Anyway, he tells me what I'm supposed to do and throws me in the ropes for the move. Admittedly, upon coming up to him, I panicked and wound up holding onto his waste, falling very awkwardly to the mat. Fortunately, I wasn't hurt, but I was definitely embarrassed for bad it must have looked. I did my best to shake it off, and got set up for the move again. This time, I hit the set-up right, and he proceeded to launch me in the air, using all of his force to do so. As a result, his hard throw caused me to rotate too far, and in mid-air, there was no way for me to correct myself. I wound up landing ass-first, where the most horrendous pain I've ever experienced proceeded shoot straight up the middle of my back. I immediately fell on my back, screaming every curse word I could think of as hard as I could, tears uncontrollably flowing down my face. Although I didn't know it until later, I wound up with a bruised tailbone and a temporarily compressed spinal column, the latter of which is an injury that still flares up to this day. Lesson 4-Even though it is one of the most basic and overused moves in all of pro wrestling, the back body drop is also one of the most dangerous/stupid. You have very limited time to protect yourself, and even then, you may not make it. If you don't believe me, ask an independent wrestler about it sometime. I know and am friends with numerous indy wrestlers, and many of them have told me it is one of the moves they refuse to take, even if they're in the ring with someone they trust more than anything.
The other guys training that day, being oh-so sympathetic, proceeded to roll me out of the ring onto the concrete patio of Jeff's house, and then turned around to continue training. At this point, I could barely move, much less breathe. Fortunately, another wrestler named Vinnie who showed up late came by at the right time, and was the only one nice enough to show concern and help me get up into a chair. He then spent a couple minutes seeing if I was okay, telling me to take it easy for a little bit.
So, I sat there for a few minutes until the "friend" of mine who introduced me to Tim, a wrestler going by the gimmick name of Chino (who, I should also point out, mocked me for being straight edge, and told me that, training with him and the other guys, were going to do everything they could to get me to drink, smoke weed, pop pills and cheat on my wife. Those were his exact words, too), asked me if I was going to be able to get back in the ring at any point. In between attempts to even breathe, I answered with a very quiet "no". His response to a friend? "Well, in that case, you can fetch us water." That's right, fetch them water. The guy who just suffered a back injury and could barely move or breathe, was no supposed to go fetch these assholes water from the kitchen. Trying to be a good sport, I literally crawled to the kitchen, pulled myself up by the counter and got a pitcher to fill in the sink, then crawled on one hand and knees holding the pitcher in the other hand back outside.
Not so much as a thank you from a single guy there.
After a few more minutes of sitting in a chair (which I crawled back into myself), I decided right then and there that I wasn't doing this anymore. I stood up as best I could, grabbed my gym bag with as much strength as I could muster, got back in my car and drove away. I never went back to train at ICW's "Torture Chamber" (fitting name, huh?) ever again.
A year or so later, my mom, myself and a few friends got some comped tickets from Chino for an ICW show in the area. My mom went to go use the bathroom, and on the way back, ran into Tim Flowers, who was headed to the dressing room. Tim proceeded to ask her what happened to me, and if I wasn't tough enough to handle things. She looked him right in the eye and said, "I don't think it was that. I think it was the fact that you never showed up and your wrestlers treated him like shit. I think the experience really burned him on training to become a wrestler." Tim responded with one of the most stereotypical old-school asshole answers he could, and that was "Well, that's the nature of the business." My mom fired back with, "Oh, really? It's the nature of the business to attempt to cripple a kid because he doesn't fit in with your other wrestlers?" and simply walked away after that.
I went to a couple more shows after that, always with comped tickets, but I really never saw any of those guys again. Proving karma is a bitch, ICW folded around 2006, and Tim Flowers pretty much disappeared from wrestling, as did most of the guys who ever worked for him. The ones that did stick around still only wrestle in Washington, for whichever local company is running there now (Washington promotions tend to not have very long lifespans, and there's usually only one at a time, almost always featuring the same guys as the last one). In fact, only two guys from ICW ever made anything of themselves. The first one is current ROH World Champion Davey Richards (who left ICW before I got started there, so I never got to meet him). The second was Bryan "Chico" Alvarez, who hasn't done much as a wrestler, but is now a very successful writer, co-authoring The Death of WCW with Wrestlecrap.com founder R.D. Reynolds, and is also the founder of the Figure Four Weekly newsletter and f4wonline.com, one of the most popular wrestling newsletters/news sites in the world. Beyond that, nothing. Lesson 4-Look at your potential school's track record.
Since moving to Colorado, which has a bit better independent scene than Washington, I've had the chance to become friends with a lot of wrestlers, several of which who have heard my story and offered to train me, promising I'd be okay. While I trust them and know that they would protect me and make sure nothing bad happened, unless I train to become a referee, I don't think I'll ever be able to get in the ring again. The amount of pain I was in that day is something I will have to deal with the rest of my life thanks to nagging injuries, and I'm too afraid one wrong move could damage the back again, only much worse this time around.
If you are potentially looking into becoming a wrestler, please don't let my story sway you into giving up your dream. Pro wrestling is still a great business, one that I love and support very much. I have made a lot of great friends thanks to the wrestling business, and I wouldn't trade my love for it for anything. All I am telling you is that please, please make sure you do your research and find the best possible school that you can afford. Even if you know you're never going to make it big but still want to be able to call yourself a wrestler, there are plenty of good lower level schools out there that have good trainers and whose wrestlers look out for each other (if you're in Colorado, Joe McDougal and the "Butcher Shop" training school is most definitely your best way to go). Do not do what I did, and accept a school simply because it's most convenient. Convenience will not necessarily equal quality. Do your research and make absolutely certain that your chosen school is the best fit for you.
Oh, and one last thing-don't ever, EVER work for Tim Flowers.