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London school teaches lessons in pain
By IAN GILLESPIE - London Free Press


Cowboy Frankie Lane in his later wrestling years. -- photo by Terry Dart

It's a monkey flip off the corner turnbuckle. Kaaablaamm! It's a drop swing into a Boston crab. Kaaablaamm!

It's a three-way criss-cross off the ropes into a double clothesline. Kaaablaamm! Kaaablaamm!

"Sell the pain!" yells an instructor. "Sell the pain!"

The Texas cloverleaf. The atomic knee drop. The guillotine face driver.

Welcome to the Hard Knocks school of pro wrestling, where the good guys are pure, the bad guys are rotten and the bottom line is entertainment.

"It's all scripted and choreographed," says coach Steve (Death Row) Boyle. "But when you hit that mat, it hurts. You hit your head on the mat, it hurts. You fall wrong, it hurts.

"I've gone home with welts, I've had gouges, I've had blood come out," says Boyle. "But that's all we're doing -- selling pain to the crowd."

Along with partners Steve Martin and Mike Warren, Boyle has owned and operated the Hard Knocks pro-wrestling school in London since last March. Located at 1140 Dundas St., behind McCulloch's Costume and Party Supplies, the Hard Knocks school shares space with classes devoted to kick-boxing and unarmed combat.

"We'll teach them (students) everything they need to know," says Boyle, adding six "show-ready" students recently finished the year-long program. "You've got to learn how to fall, learn how to make the other guy look good and learn how to sell it to the crowd."

The school offers two six-month sessions to wrestling wannabes -- the first session focuses on learning the moves, while the second half concentrates on the theatrical elements of developing a character.

It costs $2,500 to enrol. But Boyle says anyone who displays a poor work ethic or engages in "backyard wrestling" -- a dangerous underground pursuit involving untrained amateurs -- will be turned away.

"One exercise I put (applicants) through is called 'Pain, Torture, Agony,' " says Boyle. "It's basically 30 minutes of hell. They go through jumping jacks, sit-ups, crunches, squats -- anything I can do to get them to whine to me that they don't want to continue.

"And once that happens, then I won't train them at all."

Boyle admits graduates likely have a one-in-a-million chance of making it to the big-time World Wrestling Entertainment league.

But he says graduates have a good chance of working in the many "independent" wrestling leagues -- Boyle figures there are about a dozen such organizations in Canada and hundreds in the U.S.

Many of these matches are "house shows" that draw 50 to 300 people. Boyle says he plans to enlist Hard Knocks graduates into his own alliance, then promote his own shows.

But Boyle insists his shows -- he hopes to stage the first one this spring -- won't imitate the extreme antics of the WWE. Instead, he vows to return to the old-school tactics of wrestlers such as Whipper Billy Watson.

"I'm not going to put people through tables," says Boyle. "I'm not going to come into the ring with barbed wire and cut a guy open. What they do on WWE is totally overboard."

"Cowboy" Frankie Lane agrees. Lane, who now lives in Alvinston, is a former World Wrestling Federation grappler who sparred professionally from 1963 to 1989 in close to 30 countries, including Japan, Germany and New Zealand.

During a Monday night session in the gym, Lane alternates between advising young wrestlers and reminiscing about the good old days when he body-slammed the likes of Sweet Daddy Siki and Jimmy (Superfly) Snuka.

"It's not how much you do," says Lane. "It's how you do it."

Lane fondly recalls his 1971 bout with Walter (Killer) Kowalski at the Olympia Auditorium in Los Angeles before more than 10,000 screaming fans. Lane says he hid a blood-filled condom inside his mouth, then bit it open after Kowalski's devastating knee drop off the top rope.

Standing ringside, Lane recreates the effect. He fills his mouth with water and then staggers like a poleaxed drunk, blood -- or in this case, water -- spraying from his mouth like mist from Niagara.

Like the man says -- sell the pain.

RELATED LINKS

  • May 26, 1999: Promoters' greed puts wrestlers' lives at risk

    Ian Gillespie is a London Free Press columnist. This story originally appeared in the February 18, 2004 edition of the newspaper.