IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: The Final Chapter
By Al Laiman
Dec 26, 2012 - 6:24:11 PM
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For those who may not know, I wrote a book about working in professional wrestling, which can be found here . It's basically what got me the job here, and I'm very proud of it, even if one Amazon reviewer did completely miss the point. This is the epilogue.
I posted this story on the LOP Columns Forum a few months ago, because it was their support that not only lead to that book being written, but got me here to the Main Page. If you're not interested in reading a story and a first-hand account of my final experience wrestling, I'd appreciate it if you just moved on instead of making a stupid comment. You don't have to like it, but don't be a dick about it. Thank you.
IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: One Final Chapter
“It’s just like riding a bike, man.”
Those were the encouraging words I received from my friend JP when he called me. I needed them after all; I was going to be wrestling live for the first time in fourteen months, and I hadn’t even been in the ring in that time. I’d just published a book about the time I’d spent in pro wrestling, but I wanted to get that adrenaline rush one more time. An opportunity had arisen for me to get back in the ring, and I was all about taking it.
My last three matches before I moved to Minnesota had been with a small company in southwestern Pennsylvania, just over the border from West Virginia. I’d easily had the best match of my career in a fatal four-way elimination match, and I was on good terms with everyone there. I’d spent nearly every day in Minnesota working out, and I got to 230 pounds. Not bad for a guy who started at 155 on the first day of wrestling training.
This company had gone on hiatus after the show where I had what I thought would be my last professional wrestling matches. I wrestled twice on that show; once in a singles match with a heel interfering, and then right after the intermission in a tag contest against the two heels. I was only double booked because about seven workers showed up, and by combining two matches and a promo, we’d managed to take up a good chunk of the card that was otherwise screwed because of a lot of no-shows. I’d gone out with a win, and though it was a mediocre match at best, it was still somewhat triumphant.
You see, I never should’ve been in the wrestling business. One of my trainers constantly told people that I had two left feet, and it’s true. I’m tall, skinny, and awkward, and while I’ve always been good at sports, my mind worked a lot faster than my body did at learning things. There’s really nothing physically impressive about me from a wrestling standpoint, but what caught the attention of the people who gave me a chance was my heart.
When I got my first chance, I was thrown in a battle royal with about 40 rookies and a few veterans who beat the shit out of all of us. A year later, three of us remained. I never even should’ve gotten to the point where I was in the ring, but I was blessed to have the chance to live out that silly dream that no one ever told me I would do. On that book I wrote about my time in the wrestling business, a critical review on Amazon blasted me for not having enough matches to hold his interest. Yeah, and I guess Rudy was a terrible movie because he only was in one game.
The point of my story was never to make myself out to be some kind of star, because I wasn’t. I was just a kid who never should’ve gotten a chance to live his dream, but I did. I spent two years wrestling on the circuit in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. I learned a lot during that time, met a ton of great people, and got the everloving shit beaten out of me plenty of times. I also won two professional wrestling matches during that time, something that is only a fantasy to many who long for the chance to know what it’s like to be in that ring. Some people wouldn’t consider my wrestling career a success. I never considered it a career, but more just a chance to do something I loved.
Now I was getting one more chance to soak in those moments and that love before I’d be done with it forever. I’d written about it. I now had a main page column on LOP where my experience allowed me to analyze the business in a way that most people couldn’t. However, I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity. I’d be wrestling a friend of mine named Kris, who I was convinced would be a star in the business someday. He’d been trained by Tatanka, and was a beast of a guy. I knew I could count on him to help me through this experience, as I didn’t trust being in the ring with anyone I didn’t know.
My girlfriend at the time came with us. We met him near Waynesboro and spent most of the trip discussing the business, my time away from it, and how I just wanted one more chance to be in the sun. I learned a lot about the guy’s experience in the business, and despite never coming anywhere close to his time or accomplishments, it was at least cool that I could hold my own in a conversation with him. In my limited exposure, I’d seen some interesting things as well. We planned out most of the match, took into consideration the obvious rust I would have, and I’d be able to go out with that feeling of closure, while of course one more time getting to see a lot of the friends I’d made during the course of this journey.
When I got to the building, everyone was thrilled to see me. I’d brought copies of my book to sell, and most of the guys wanted to buy one. Once I got back into the ring, bumping and rolling and taking basic moves all felt natural again, like I’d never left. I bounced around, did a few spots, and walked through my match with Kris. Maybe this wasn’t going to be a disaster!
My girlfriend, who knew of the back problems from which I’d been suffering, watched with a wince every time I took a fall on the mat. I even spent some time with a few new trainees, teaching them how to flip bump. That was a conclusion of a story for me, seeing as I struggled with that for weeks before finally figuring out a way to do it right, so to be able to help someone else in the genesis of their training meant a lot to me.
Kris and I were third on the show. It was a roulette-style tournament for a shot at the heavyweight title later in the show. As Kris played the angry Russian, I’d be the young American underdog, a gimmick that was never hard to get over in the sticks. When I walked out, I got a pretty good response, but once I walked back and grabbed the flag, it was an awesome reaction. For those who have never had the experience, coming out to your entrance music in front of a live crowd is one of the greatest things that I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. It’s everything you’d think it would be, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like in front of thousands of people.
I grabbed the mic and cut the promo I’d been planning for weeks. Since Kris was the last person with whom I interacted before moving to Minnesota, I played it up that he’d broken my back by slamming it into the side of the ring. Granted, he did do that during that tag match, and it hurt like a son of a bitch, but nothing had been broken. I thought it was solid and delivered the point well, but the crowd was crickets. Suddenly all the confidence I’d had was gone.
Kris took the early offense and pounded the hell out of me. I tried to sell the best I could, but I’d already been shaken up a bit. I started to come back, and still there was little to no response from the crowd. I was already afraid I’d killed my moment. After I mounted some quick offense to send him to the outside of the ring, I climbed to the top turnbuckle. I nearly slipped on the brand new pad, and stared at Kris at ringside. This was easily the highest ring I’d ever scaled, and now my confidence was completely shot. I didn’t belong here.
I made the leap, hoping to anything that he’d catch me, and fortunately it was flawless. Chirp chirp, not a damn thing. Kris took over the cheap heat, and I continued to try to get the crowd into it by selling and trying to get them to do anything. Instead, some idiot at ringside kept pointing out all the mistakes I was making. Kris went for a pinfall, and I didn’t kick out to his liking. I was already nervous and overcritical of myself, and this guy certainly wasn’t helping. Now I just wanted this match to be over so I could get out of it and sell some books during intermission.
Finally, it was my time to come back in the match, and as I ducked one of his moves, I threw a pretty damn good superkick with the handslap on my tights with perfect timing. As he was down in the corner, I catapulted to the second rope and did the Jeff Hardy-style front kick. Pulling him up to set up my Downward Spiral finisher, he instead took a back bump right before I was about to swing back. Fuck, that looked like shit. Thinking quickly, I double-stomped his chest, and went toward the turnbuckles, where the heel manager would run out and distract me.
I stood on the second turnbuckle for a good ten seconds, and the heel manager was nowhere in sight. God, what a mess this turned out to be. I shrugged and jumped toward Kris, who caught me and did a running powerslam. Good, my part in this match was basically over. Finally the heel manager came out and threw some cheap punches as I lay in the corner. Working the back, Kris threw me in a reverse bear hug, which we were hoping would gain a little heat. I managed to get the arm up before the three count, but once again, there was nothing from this crowd. Tough room when an American gimmick in the country couldn’t do anything. Finally, the bell rang, and I collapsed at ringside, spitting several times as I could barely swallow. I may have worked out, but I suffered from a serious lack of cardio, and while I’d been able to remember how to do the moves, I’d forgotten timing, selling, and some of the basics like breaking a pinfall by turning away from my opponent.
The night was not all bad though, as during intermission, I sold about twenty books, and shortly afterward, I got paid twenty more dollars by the promoter for working the show. In one night, I’d made as much as I had the entire time I’d spent in the business, and most of it was for writing about it as opposed to actually working in it. That to me was a fitting message.
During the second half of the show, one of the wrestler’s sons, who is special needs and saw his father wrestle for the first time, came backstage because he was extremely upset that his father was hurt. One of the tag team champions got on a knee and calmed him down. He played around with him and let him hold the tag team title belt. I took a picture of it, because I knew my friend would want to have it. It was one of the nicest things I’d ever seen happen in a wrestling locker room. Unfortunately, a few months later, that great guy passed away, and I haven’t been able to go to an independent wrestling show since. After what happened to Larry Sweeney, throwing that one in there just put the nail in the coffin for a long time.
At the time, I was so jazzed up from the adrenaline that I planned on coming back to wrestle a few more shows. Once I got home and the pain kicked in, reality hit me that it was never going to happen. My time in the business was over, and I’d gotten everything out of it that I’d ever hoped for. For someone who never should’ve ever stepped in a ring, I’d gotten lucky with some great people who gave a kid with no talent but a big heart a chance to be a wrestler. That, however, did not come without consequences.
There’s not a day of my life that I’m not in pain. Most of it probably came from the awful rings from the first few months of my career, and a couple of botches that I’m lucky didn’t cause me further serious injury. My hips are out of whack, my spine is curved, and my neck is in considerable pain on a regular basis. Both of my feet bother me, I don’t walk straight, and I struggle to stand all day at work. I can’t imagine what the full-time wrestlers go through, because a couple years of inconsistent matches has me in a place where I will probably never be at full health again. Don’t get me wrong; I have no regrets, but I paid for the decision of going after a dream.
That girlfriend, by the way… She turned out to be a psycho bitch. The one good thing she gave me was knowing that at least one person thought I did my job well that night, because as I was helped to the back by the referee, the video picked up her saying, “If you’re actually hurt, I’m going to kill you.” I watched the match once and got rid of it, because I didn’t want to remember the humiliating silence or the armchair critic at ringside. Not to mention, once that psycho did what she did, I wanted to forget that night ever happened. Now I have a wonderful significant other who completely gets me and is the most loving and supportive person I’ve ever known, so things all worked out pretty well, all things considered.
I felt giving this a year gave it the time of reflection that it needed. In some aspects, trying to be a professional wrestler was incredibly stupid, as my body will pay the price for it for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I have the firsthand experience to be able to watch an episode of Monday Night RAW and be able to give my thoughts… 30, to be exact… and have people pay attention to them. I went through the wrong part to find the right one, and that’s not all bad.
My time in wrestling was also a bridge between hitting rock bottom in my life and turning everything around. When I got into wrestling, I was recently divorced, heartbroken, and felt I had no reason to be worth anything to anyone. Now, I’m in management at my job, I’m in my third semester back at college and in honor’s society, I have an amazing girlfriend, and two columns that hundreds of people support, and I’m grateful for all of it.
IN CASE YOU MISSED A VERY JADED CHRISTMAS