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Dreams of WWE Stardom Motivate Broward Wrestler Ernest Valdes

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The story line for tonight has been prepared, and Valdes will lose. But if the crowd likes him, Anoa'i will start him on a three-match trajectory that will lead to him usurping the title from Sweet Rhythm -- an aging team also from South Florida that includes Sweet, a flamboyant 40-year-old man with penciled-in eyebrows and a long ponytail, and his partner, Kirby. If he grows into the role, a top spot at WXW means he'll almost certainly get WWE producers' attention.

The fans sitting ringside at Minneola's City Hall see none of the backstage maneuvering. Little kids crowd around the office where the promos are being shot, but wrestlers going in and out barely open the door so that no one can peek inside. While the adults in attendance know that the rivalries here aren't real, it's important to keep up kayfabe for the more naive fans who still believe. After all, WXW is a family event, and excited kids are crucial to ticket sales.

Also crucial is Anoa'i's legacy connections; sometimes a huge star like the Rock will come in for a guest match. But most likely, these 200 people have just paid $5 to watch ascendant local stars like ERA.

Although the building lacks air conditioning, it is not totally bereft of amenities. Spectators can snack on $3 poutine and dollar Cokes from a concession stand. Old-school fans can pick up an old photo of Anoa'i captioned with "personal trainer to Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler." The fashion-forward set can cop his-and-hers shirts that say, respectively, "Wrestler in Training" or "Diva in Training."

As they wait for the match to begin, the wrestlers' girlfriends are all lined up on a single bleacher. Although they're by far the most glammed-up women in the place, their favorite topic of conversation is the metrosexual qualities of their partners.

Valdes and Martinez sprint down the ramp in their feather boas and leap into the 20-by-20-foot ring.

Valdes' girlfriend, Amy Valle, turns to Marie, a glitter-covered Australian woman who's here to support her husband, the absolutely massive Outback Silvaback. Their two beaus have just emerged from primping in the back and are now practicing maneuvers together in the ring.

"Ernie wears more hair product than I do," Valle sighs. "Ladies, when we're in the WWE, we'll all remember when we were sitting here in WXW and laugh. You've just gotta think like that."

"You do," says Marie, gravely. "You really do."

Five matches go by before Valdes and Martinez sprint down the ramp in their feather boas and leap into the 20-by-20-foot ring. Both of them stand on the ropes straddling the turnstiles and face the crowd as elementary-aged girls pound against the mat screaming their heads off like they're at a One Direction concert.

When Sweet Rhythm roll into the ring with a running start, Valdes and Martinez start kicking their opponents in synchronicity. Still moving as a team, they pick them up, swing them by the arms, and send them careening into the opposite ropes.

On the way back, though, Sweet Rhythm recover, using their momentum to spring into the air and kick their opponents square in the face. They steal the feather boas and wrap them around their necks in mocking triumph.

After that, Martinez and Kirby tag out, leaving just Valdes fighting Sweet in the ring. After every blow, Valdes works on his new gimmick: acting deranged. As Sweet lies on the ground after a particularly punishing move, Valdes sits just outside the ropes, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his hands running through his hair like he's in a sensual shampoo commercial.

A little blond girl in a pink romper and a ponytail is cheering on the other team."Screw you!" he yells in her face.

Martinez and Kirby return, and 11 minutes in, Valdes is standing with Kirby on his shoulders. He's facing a turnstile helmed by Martinez. In a beautiful display of athleticism, the Mohawked wrestler jumps over the human totem pole and onto Sweet, who's lying on the ground beyond them. Seconds later, both members of 5-Star Era have their respective opponents pinned to the ground.

The referee counts down -- 3, 2, 1 -- but -- shockingly! -- declares Sweet Rhythm the winners: Valdes and Kirby were the only legal men in the ring, which means that 5-Star Era lost the belt on a technicality.

The little girl whom Valdes heckled jumps up and down as 5-Star Era fake shock and anger at the loss. She sticks her tongue out as ERA stomps past. She goes "Pfffft" as Valdes heads back up the ramp and behind the curtain in a huff.


After the match, Valdes disappears into the office where the promos had been shot earlier. At Anoa'i's insistence, a reporter is not allowed inside. Young girls stick around after the match as wrestlers dismantle the ring and pack it up, seeking hugs and autographs. A blond tries to peek inside the back room to get a glimpse of ERA.

About 20 minutes later, Valdes emerges with a smile. A WWE producer gave him great news. He gave Valdes hope.

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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.