After nearly 30 minutes of applying pressure to the cut to slow the bleeding, John walks out to his back yard, where his club, Extreme Fuckin' Wrestling (EFW), continues its show under the bright Saturday-afternoon sun. His friends slam one another on a homemade wooden stage, which is laden with barbed wire and tacks. The boys leap from the roof and crack their faux opponents over the head with real metal chairs and garbage cans. They crash through burning tables and whack their fellow wrestlers with a barbed wire- wrapped baseball bat. They dive from rooftops and ladders to the ground below. The EFW members are not alone: About 40 kids, all of them yearning to see savage beatings, lounge on the grass to watch.
The barbaric show takes place in what seems a wildly incongruous setting: John's solidly middle-class neighborhood in Coral Springs. Surrounding the bloodletting are large, well-kept homes with an average worth of about $150,000, and bordering the rear of the yard is a wide canal that cuts past swimming pools, freshly painted gazebos, and orange trees.
With his head wrapped in a makeshift white bandage that turns redder with every passing minute, John watches the final competition, the "death match." It features his buddies, Giovanni "Psycho" Torres and Jason "The Sensation" Jelonek, and doesn't disappoint the fans. There's plenty of blood, a bed-of-nails stunt, body slams, and a 12-foot dive, the highest in the club's short history.
But the February 24 show ends in an almost surreal outburst of unscripted violence as the raw, sadistic longings of the crowd and the pumped-up showmanship of the wrestlers collide. Police are called to stop the mayhem. An ambulance arrives and takes John to the hospital as a "trauma alert," which is code for a potentially critical injury. He initially tells the medics his cut was caused by a blow to the head from a folding chair. Later he admits the truth: He cut himself with a razor blade to make sure the crowd and the ever-present EFW video camera got their fill of blood.
EFW is one of hundreds of backyard wrestling clubs that have sprouted up across the country in the last couple years. The participants, who mimic their pro wrestling heroes, say they love the audience reaction and long for stardom. But what distinguishes EFW from the other clubs is that it is truly extreme. Kid Suicide, Psycho, and their compatriots have broken numerous bones and repeatedly been knocked unconscious. Why do they go so far? The answer may lie not in their back yards but inside their homes.
John's obsession with backyard wrestling began, predictably, in front of the television. At about the age of ten, he and David, who is a year older, started watching the World Wrestling Federation. Soon they moved on to Extreme Championship Wrestling, which might be considered the WWF's foul-mouthed, hell-raising, jail-bound cousin. Soon they were idolizing ECW stars such as Mick "Mankind" Foley, Rob Van Dam, and Spike Dudley, all of whom are renowned for spilling buckets of their own blood. The two brothers and Giovanni, who goes by Gio and lives next door to the Ulloa brothers, soon began imitating their heroes and dreaming of staging a show of their own.
At first they practiced simple things like headlocks and fake punches. Then they graduated to various moves, such as body slams, suplexes, and pile drivers. Next it was on to the props of pain. John experimented with razor blades. David practiced taking staples in his head. Gio had thumbtacks stuck into his forehead. They all took shots to the head from metal chairs and learned a trick: If they popped the metal to invert the curve of the seat, it would pop back into place upon impact with a skull to make a louder thwack. To perfect their falls, or "bumps," they slammed one another to the ground relentlessly. The secret to avoiding injury, the boys say, is to spread out the impact as much as possible so the arms and shoulders, instead of the backbone and ribs, take most of it. The same theory applies to the high dives. They jump straight out and flip into the air before landing on their backs. Tables are usually positioned below, and crashing through them shortens the free fall and cushions the impact with the ground. John and Gio, the only EFW wrestlers who venture high dives, started from heights just a couple feet up, then graduated to a 6-foot ladder, then to a rooftop, and now to the 12-foot ladder, which is akin to leaping from the backboard of a regulation basketball hoop. It's equal to dives of some of the top pro wrestlers, who rarely leap from heights of more than 15 feet. John says he doesn't know how high will ever be high enough.