By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Gio manages a smile at his exaggeration. His stepfather actually weighs 220 pounds, according to a Coral Springs Police Department arrest report from that night. Gio's mother complained to officers that her husband threw her into the pool, then into the Jacuzzi, then against a wall, and then grabbed her by the hair and shoved her into her daughter's room. William Crofts was arrested for domestic violence and later, his wife acknowledges, was sentenced to probation. (Although the arrest report details the incident, New Timescould find no record of the case in Broward courts.)
To try to stop Gio from backyard wrestling, his mother and stepfather threaten to exile him to Orlando to live with his father. But the boy says that just makes him angry. And it makes him want to be more hard-core. "I don't like [my stepfather], and that's why I keep doing the backyard stuff," Gio says. "He keeps getting on my nerves. That's why I get the 12-foot ladder, build a bed of nails, and stick the thumbtacks in my head." He pauses a moment before adding, "That and because I love wrestling more than anything else."
All the EFW members collect wrestling action figures and hang posters of their heroes. Each of them has read Have a Nice Day, the autobiography by Mick Foley, one of hard-core wrestling's original stars. But their love of backyard wrestling is no mere hobby; they want to do it for a living and dream of someday attending a professional-wrestling school to begin the climb to stardom.
Only Rich Teixeira, however, comes close to fitting the traditional image of the professional-wrestling behemoth. Gio and John, who from a distance appear almost like twins, are short and thin. Most pros weigh more than both of them put together. But there is one wrestling star who gives them hope, who is cut in their mold, whose very existence helps to keep them going, and his stage name is LSD.
Extreme Championship Wrestling's Li'l Spike Dudley stands five foot seven and weighs a mere 140 pounds. Dudley, whose real name is Matt Hyson, says he overcame his diminutive dimensions by taking extreme punishment in the ring (he's renowned for bleeding buckets), by diving from obscene heights (he claims his highest dive is from 25 feet), and by training for many years. Now 30 years old, Hyson went to a pro wrestling school in his early twenties and soon began traveling the country on the lowly independent circuit, in which ambitious beginners often perform in poorly attended shows for scant wages. He worked three years before landing his gig at ECW; in this league he has perfected his wrestling persona: a half-witted, burned-out druggie who wears denim suspenders over a tie-dyed shirt. In the past few years, Hyson has realized the EFW members' dreams of good pay and a TV gig. He says he can earn $3000 a night for pay-per-view performances, and while declining to provide a specific amount, claims his annual pay is six figures.
Though Hyson's success story gives EFW members hope, the pro wrestler is not optimistic about the kids' wrestling success. Young wannabes send backyard videos to the ECW every week, and those usually end up in the trash, Hyson says. "They give the business a terrible name," he says of extreme backyard wrestlers. "There is an art form in doing it safely, and these kids have no regard for that whatsoever. We think they're idiots. When I was a kid, we would wrestle around on cushions, but not anything like these guys. They're going to get hurt."
Despite all his training, Hyson has suffered a slew of injuries. Like John, he often cuts his own forehead with a razor blade to amp up the bleeding. "There are subtleties to how far and deep you go with the blade," he cautions. "I've probably had stitches 15 to 20 times, and half of them were not self-inflicted."
He also blew his knee out and once required surgery after flying into a rail outside the ring during a high dive. He claims he was the first wrestler to take a staple gun to the head. "There's a little difference though," he says when told of the boys' adventures. "It wasn't real. There weren't any staples in the gun."
Hyson knows that, as much as he may try to dissuade youngsters from hard-core backyard wrestling, he has helped to inspire it. "My story in the ring is David and Goliath," he says. "I appeal to the children, to the little guy. I'm probably the smallest pro wrestler out there other than the midgets. Any guy who can relate to the underdog can relate to Spike Dudley."
While he knows kids are imitating him, he doesn't feel any responsibility for the dangerous stunts. "It's a show, and if you can't grasp that, then you got bigger problems than pro wrestling," he says. He then mentions Lionel Tate, the 14-year-old Fort Lauderdale boy who was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing a six-year-old girl while imitating pro-wrestling moves two years ago. Tate's actions can't be blamed on pro wrestling, Hyson asserts: "I never went into a backyard and killed someone mimicking something I saw on TV."