Manglers

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

Next up is Ryan O'Riley (his real last name is Parmeter), a 23-year-old rising star who's developing an Irish gimmick. Vineberg holds a mic in front of him and directs him to trash-talk fellow student J-Dog.

O'Riley spins a 360. "Holy shiverin' shamrock!" he yelps. "J-Dog, you took something pretty precious from me, something I worked damn hard to get. You know something? Rules were made to be broken, just like bones. I think about you, J-Dog, and I think about a shooting star" -- he hisses out the words as he slashes in an arc -- "a falling one, actually. You're like a bomb, but some bombs are duds. Well, tonight, J-Dog, you will feel the infliction of Ryan O'Riley's addiction." He cackles. "I don't know where the hell that came from," he confesses afterward.

After they've all finished, Vineberg says, "The basics are what'll get you guys over. The psychology and the selling is what's going to get you guys over. Not your character. Not you putting a tape in to show your friends: 'Hey, I wrestled so-and-so.' They think it's cool, but so what? It doesn't mean anything."

Colby Katz
Wrestling school owner and trainer Flex Magnum (above left) teaches the mighty to fall with panache. Veteran wrestler Rusty Brooks growls at wrestling students but coos to his dog Sadie. The nasty moves of a tag-team match.
Colby Katz
Wrestling school owner and trainer Flex Magnum (above left) teaches the mighty to fall with panache. Veteran wrestler Rusty Brooks growls at wrestling students but coos to his dog Sadie. The nasty moves of a tag-team match.

Getting over is rare.

"Over the years, we've trained hundreds of guys," Brooks explained one evening between shouted direction to the grapplers in the ring. "If you train 100 guys, 10 make it. And I don't mean the big shows. I mean, out of 100, maybe one or two make it all the way because it's such a tough life when you start traveling. It's hard to gain entrance in this business."

Brooks trained under "The Great" Boris Malenko, one of the big names in professional wrestling in the '50s and '60s. Brooks' career began 20 years ago, when pro wrestling was still divided into territories. Florida was one, a couple in Georgia, four in Texas, and so on. "You could wrestle five, six times a week and make a pretty good living. Now, the only way you can make a good living is to get into the [World Wrestling Federation] or if you're down in Puerto Rico. If you're very popular in the independent circuit, you can pick up enough bookings to make a living. But for a young guy breaking in, it's really tough. There just aren't enough places to go."

Of course, not everyone wants the same thing out of wrestling school. Some want it as a career, some are curious, and some just consider it a hobby, like softball, Brooks says. "This is kind of like... you could almost call this a dream factory in that regard," he says.

The dreamers are getting younger.

Laura Brown, a twig of a 16-year-old from Royal Palm Beach, attended Dr. Death's seminar with her 19-year-old uncle, himself a pro wrestler. She shows up a week later for some beginning lessons with Magnum.

Activities like gymnastics and cheerleading are too "girlie" for her, she says. "I've always wanted to prove to myself that I can actually do something that guys do."

Her friends think she's crazy. "They like watching wrestling, but they say they'd never do it," she says. "I mean, they think it's fake." She earned some respect from them when she showed off her bruises from the Dr. Death seminar. "I'm willing to do anything for this business," she says.

A short time later, she gets the chance to do the most basic of things in the biz as Magnum spends about a half hour drilling her on taking solo bumps. Over and over, she takes a few steps, then tosses her legs up and lands on her back. She's tense. She wants to get it right.

Gonzo tells her, "You have a mental block about the mat. You're afraid of the mat. It's soft enough. It's all right."

Then finally, she bangs the back of her head on the mat hard enough that she remains still, fighting back the pain and, it appears, tears. She's had enough for the night and quietly rolls under the ropes and hops to the concrete floor.


Every fledgling pro wrestler suffers.

Scott Papper started training in December 2002 at a now-defunct school in Plantation, then signed up with Magnum and the gang in June after a friend mentioned the school.

"It was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be," the 19-year-old recalls. "I picked up everything pretty quick, but the first week or so, man, I was in the most pain of my life. From landing wrong, my back would kill me, especially my neck. I couldn't turn my head without being in severe pain. Also, from running the ropes, I'd have welts across my back. It was rough, but as you progress, you get a lot stronger. You learn the least painful way to fall. It builds up your neck muscles too, so it's a combination of everything."

Papper, whose nom de guerre is Scott Commodity (hot commodity, get it?), is tall and slim with a fully shaven head. He's intense in the ring, not given to bombast, and he moves with the precision of a well-trained athlete -- which he's not.

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