Learning the ropes
By TIM BAINES -- Ottawa Sun
Slammed from ringpost to post ... Sports Editor lives to tell about it
I may very well have been mumbling my own last rites as Terry Mooney's huge leg was about to slam down onto my chest.
Death by leg drop. So what if pro rasslin's about as fake as a $3 bill? Surely, this would drain the life out of me.
I lay flat and helpless in the middle of a wrestling mat after agreeing to allow Terry Mooney (alias T.T. Moon) and Fred Leeks (alias The Bruiser) punch, kick and slam me from ringpost to ringpost on a Saturday morning.
Twist me into a pretzel, do anything you want, I told them.
For more than 25 years, I had watched wrestlers from The Sheik to The Rock seemingly beat each other senseless, yet live to tell about it. How did they do it? I had to know.
"You won't feel it. It won't really hurt," says the Moon Man as he prepares to launch himself off the ropes.
Four times he drops his leg onto my chest. It's a move that legendary Hulk Hogan has used to not only finish off, but seemingly maim, opponents with for years.
Thud. The leg connects. I open my eyes. My body parts seem to still be connected.
Okay, Hogan. Bring it on.
The move doesn't hurt. Not at all.
Like much of pro wrestling, it's a mirage, a move that sounds worse than it actually is.
And as my indoctrination into wrestling continues, it all starts to make sense. The Barnum and Bailey world of pro wrestling is exposed, not for its fraudulence, but for its simple magnificence. The art of illusion.
When wrestlers step into the ring for a match, the key is constant communication. While they're hooked up, they're talking, usually in one-word codes, setting up a combination of moves. Something as simple as a squeeze of the wrist can set up a move. And the referee acts as the conductor, helping set up the sequences.
For 21/2 hours, the two local wrestlers let me in on secrets that for years were sacred, talked about only in whispers.
"It's like being a stunt man. It's all calculated," says Moon. "We're not the lunatics we appear to be."
"If all these moves were real, you could snap a guy's back, maybe cripple him for life," says The Bruiser. "Any bump where you land together ... if you don't screw it up, it's not going to hurt.
"The ring is like a big playpen for us. Whether you've got 50, or 500 or 5,000 people watching, you've got to put on a good show. So you have to sell people on the moves. They've got to believe that what you're doing is real."
That's not to say there's no danger involved. Broken bones and cracked ribs are not uncommon. But, in pursuit of the big-time promotions, some wrestlers suffer an even worse fate -- fractured dreams. Very few of the independent circuit workers get a chance to perform alongside the stars.
"One night, the promoters wanted me to get bladed (cut open) against Abdullah The Butcher," says The Bruiser. "They promised me a championship belt if I'd do it. "I said: 'For $50 and a belt? Are you kidding?' "
More and more, fans are demanding hardcore wrestling, a style that has taken wrestling away from all its amateur roots and swerved it into blood-filled anarchy where chairs and tables are used as weapons with kitchen utensils used to carve much more than the Thanksgiving turkey.
The Bruiser and T.T. Moon aren't in this for money.
Moon, alias Mooney, is a garage attendant for OC Transpo. At 6-foot-6 and 247 lbs., he's been told he resembles Randy "Macho Man" Savage and has been wrestling for two years. He's 35 and has a wife and four children.
Leeks, alias Bruiser, is a jack of all trades, qualified as a bricklayer. He's 5-foot-11, 235 lbs., and has been wrestling for seven years. He's 34 with a wife and a three-week-old baby girl.
"Guys like us, we'll work for free," says Moon. "Some nights you'll make $50. Other nights you'll make nothing. And you still have to drive to wherever you're wrestling.
"For 20 minutes, you get to step in the ring and be a star. That's what makes it all worthwhile."
Wrestlers often cough up thousands of dollars to learn the tricks of the trade at wrestling schools.
"It can be a tough experience," says The Bruiser.
"We had guys built like Arnold Schwarzenegger in there and they didn't come back the next day."
* * *
My wrestling lesson continues. I'm pushed into a corner. And Moon begins to punch away. One by one, the blows seem to deflect away, all at the last second. The secret, my mentor says, is the cupping of the hand.
He tells me to lay on the mat. His foot pushes into my throat. Again, there is little pain. It's all in the selling of the move. As he yells and grimaces, the wrestler on the mat does much of the same. I'm too petrified to scream, fearing I'm about to taste a knuckle sandwich.
* * *
The lesson is over. My neck is stiff. My back is sore. I've got a couple of bruises. But I'm alive. Maybe there's a future for me. I need a ring name.
Let's see -- The Bulkster, Sun of Flubber, Timbitz?
* * *
The Davidson Brothers, Bob, John and Bernie, have torn down the ring and are already loading it onto a truck.
T.T. Moon and The Bruiser will begin preparing for their next matches, watching other wrestlers.
How can they make a move look devastating, with very little actual pain being inflicted?
They'll come up with something.
They always do.
And the fans will buy into it.
They always do.