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

No one, of course, can predict who'll make it to the big time. For the most part, you have to make it to the World Wrestling Federation to make a real living at this. "There's 50,000 wrestlers and maybe 75 to 100 jobs open," Brooks says. "So it makes it tough. For every Rock and Hulk Hogan, there's 15,000 guys who have two jobs and call in sick to make it to that Saturday-night booking."

Smiley has a simple equation for who'll get over: "First, who's the hungriest? Two, who's willing to sacrifice the most? And third, and most important, who gets the breaks?"

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.

The guy most eager for that break now is Ryan O'Riley, whose last evaluation declares, "Looks like the 'light' finally came on!!!"

"Ryan's the guy I would say could be the next local guy down here who could make it," Brooks says. "He has talent and skill. Again, it's just the matter of the right person seeing him and getting the break."

O'Riley does seem to have the right blend of looks, ego, and glib tongue to make it big. But he never expected it would be in this business. "If you would have asked me four years ago if I'd ever be interested in wrestling, I'd have said go screw yourself," he admits.

During one recent evening at the school, O'Riley loitered outside after someone inadvertently tracked dog shit into the ring. As the cleanup proceeded, O'Riley talked about his recent leap forward in wrestling. He's 6-foot-6 and possesses muscles of Lego-block definition. His strong jutting nose is as assertive as his grappling. On his upper-left arm is a tattoo of a nasty-looking leprechaun -- his ugly alter ego.

"For a long while, it was just the same matches, in and out," he recalls. "I wanted to do stuff for myself. I wanted to make myself look good, as opposed to getting the match to look good." He'd been trying to learn psychology in the ring for about a year and a half but just couldn't get it. Then, very decisively this summer, he changed his tack the day before a match. "I told myself, 'Let's go out there and learn how to entertain. Let's have fun for a change instead of trying to remember everything. Go out there and mess with someone. Piss 'em off.'

"I swear to you, I went there the next day, my match went on, and the first thing I did was look right back at someone in the audience and told them to shut their stupid face. And let me tell you something, that gesture had that whole place just saying: You suck. We can't stand you."

O'Riley had been a star tight end on the Coconut Creek High School football team, but he says the success went to his head. Colleges courted him, but ultimately a dismal cumulative grade point average left him unfit for anything but a local community college after graduating in 1999. With a formidable physique, he became a nightclub bouncer.

A few of his weightlifting buddies talked him into attending a pro wrestling show at the National Car Rental Center that starred the Rock and Triple H. "There was a lady sitting in front of me," he recalls. "She was in her 30s, sitting there alone. She's yelling, 'Oh, I love the Rock. We love you!'

"I thought, wow, this is incredible. One man can just walk down to the ring, make his presence known, and the crowd chants, 'Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.' Then something happened where the Rock was hurt at the end of the match and she started crying. I'm not kidding -- she was in tears.

"And we know it's a work," O'Riley admits. "It's a business, know what I'm saying? But Rock was bleeding. And Triple H is standing over him, doing his poses, and this lady is crying, absolute tears. I'm thinking, 'Wow, these guys have the power to control these people's feelings. That is unbelievable.'"

He attended a local wrestling show in Oakland Park and chatted up some of the pros. Someone gave him Rusty Brooks' name and number. At the time, Brooks ran the school in his backyard. "When I was there, I basically beat myself up," O'Riley says. "I started hitting the ropes, and my ribs were practically bruised. I had these bruise marks going across my back that stuck out. I twisted my ankle. I think within the first six months, I got kicked in the face, and it split open." He's trained hard, primarily under the tutelage of Soulman Alex G., another veteran pro who hangs out at the school because it's in his blood.

O'Riley describes his first professional match as "the screamin' shits" because he immediately smacked heads and his eyes watered up. Then he and his opponent forgot what spots they'd planned.

He toyed with a few character gimmicks, such as Road Kill, where he envisioned tire tracks across his shirt and playing possum. The Irish shtick seemed to work best. He goads the audience by yelling, "Suck my shillelagh!" and taunts the women that "I'm magically delicious."

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