Fake? Sure. But the blood is real, the headaches are vicious, and that VCR somebody just bashed you with is made out of steel.

None of the students look like they're loving him this evening, however, as he preaches the need for pacing and, basically, taking a bow after pulling off a great move. "Bring the crowd into it," he cajoles. "If the crowd isn't with you, they get bored. You guys wanna do an exhibition instead of show. The hardest thing to learn in this business is showmanship."

Smiley puts in his two cents, and Brooks picks it up again: "The cardinal rule is, if you fuck up a spot, don't go right back in and try to run it again. The audience is going to know that you went back to the same one you fucked up on."

"Sending out the clear message that wrestling is not real," Smiley interjects.

A headlock, an arm twist, a grimace, a sneer: These are a few of a wrestler's favorite things.
Colby Katz
A headlock, an arm twist, a grimace, a sneer: These are a few of a wrestler's favorite things.

Brooks agrees. "You want to avoid the f word." He means fake, not fuck, which is used unsparingly by his grunting menacing charges.

Since the subject has come up, yes, pro wrestling is fake. Everybody knows it. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of pain involved, though. As Pablo Pabon, an 18-year-old student from Wilton Manors, puts it: "People say this is fake. Well, I say, I'll pay for your first week's lessons, and I'll bet double or nothin' you'll quit before a week is over."

"The misconception," Brooks asserts, "is when people look at this and say, 'I can do that.' You'd be surprised how many people we get here, and two days later they don't come back. It's not as easy as it looks. Anyone who's done this 10 or 15 years has back and neck problems."

Still, no Las Vegas oddsmaker is ever going to waste his time with matches between the likes of A-Train and Undertaker. Years ago, promoters skirted the issue of authenticity, but the wrestling business has embraced campiness and gone postmodern. It's a show within a show, The Larry Sanders Show with arm twists and turnbuckle crunches. One wrestler describes the fights as "physical drama," what with the struggle between good and evil, ongoing feuds, and midmatch reversals of fortune.

Choreography is everything. Every action needs to make sense; it needs to produce the most entertainment for the crowd with the least harm to you and your opponent. There's got be a reason for every spot, a discipline the school's instructors refer to as "psychology." If you don't have psychology, you'll never "get over," the slang for becoming a marketable professional.

"If you do nine, ten highspots flying off the ropes every night of the week, you'll have a two- or three-year career, because your body will be so banged up, you're not going to be able to go," co-owner Magnum lectured the advanced students one night. Magnum comes off as a bit menacing, what with an indented shaven skull, as though it once took a helluva whack. "There are guys who've been around 25, 30 years. How did they get there? They were solid. They do the basics. They don't try to do too many fancy things.There's an old saying that less is more."

Magnum's advice? Use your mouth. It'll save a lot of wear and tear on limbs and muscles. "When I'm in the ring, I do a lot of solid mat wrestling. I don't think I've ever had a match that the crowd hasn't enjoyed. I may do five or six offensive moves in the match, but I move my mouth."

In fact, the jaw muscle is among the most essential in pro wrestling.

When Dr. Death finishes with the advanced students, he turns them over to Andy Vineberg, an agent with Major League Wrestling, which is based in Baltimore. The company will present the so-called "War Games" wrestling matches the next night at the Fort Lauderdale War Memorial Auditorium. Dr. Death is scheduled for that, hence his sojourn from home state Louisiana to South Florida.

"I'm here to work with you guys so you can make better promos," Vineberg says. "The Rock. Stone Cold Steve Austin. Hulk Hogan. All those guys are great talkers."

Promos aren't easy, and they can make or break pro hopefuls. They're all ad-lib, and voices must be choked with an overweening vengeful rage. Oh, and humor is a plus.

"Know what really thins my latte?" begins one student, playing a rich spoiled guy who has just lost his championship belt. "When a man steps into my high society and steals my gold. You stole my gold! That does not happen here. I want a rematch. That man is an impostor, and I am Preston James III, and I want my gold."

The group likes his latte crack, but someone warns him, "Ya know, you can only use it once, man."

He takes another stab at it. "Know what really takes the bubbles out of my champagne? When a man comes into my ring and steals my gold. He's an impostor. He may have won the gold tonight, but I hold the power. I should hold the gold. I am the future of this company. If he thinks he can come in here and take my title, that's not going to happen. Not on my watch, not on my Rolex watch."

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