Dreams of WWE Stardom Motivate Broward Grappler Ernest Valdes

Ernest Valdes is a 27-year-old from Pembroke Pines who's been enamored with professional wrestling since he was a kid. In high school, he dreamed of becoming an R&B singer, but that aspiration was derailed, and at age 17, he discovered Body Slam University — a professional wrestling gym in Fort Lauderdale — and realized that a childhood passion could become a full-time job.

So instead of going to college, Valdes stopped eating carbs, enrolled at Body Slam, and began working out there six days a week for seven hours. He transformed himself into ERA, which stands for what he hopes to become — the new "era" of professional wrestling. Every weekend, he would drive to regional matches across the country, hoping to make a name for himself, sometimes going as far as Chicago for a $75 paycheck — and miraculously returning for workouts the following Monday.

Valdes is now regarded as among the best wrestlers in South Florida, but he still hasn't made the big time. New Times follows his rise through the sometimes-silly indie circuit, which is filled with egomaniacs and, finally, to his one shot at international stardom.

Read the full story: Dreams of WWE Stardom Motivate Broward Grappler Ernest Valdes.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.