Winchester IN Star – October 25, 1999
By Brian C. Brehm
Most fund-raisers involve baked goods, car washes, or raffle tickets. But the one held Saturday night at the National Guard Armory in Winchester involved a lot of pain.
Or so it seemed, at least.
The independent National Wrestling League (NWL) brought its road show to Winchester to benefit the Family Support Group of the Winchester unit of the Virginia National Guard. Proceeds from the evening will pay for a Christmas party for local guard members.
About 350 wrestling fans of all ages poured into the armory to scream, clap, and make hand gestures (many of which were of the rude variety) as the wrestlers tumbled about the ring.
Either these fans hadn’t heard, or they just didn’t care:
Professional wrestling is fake.
For decades, the authenticity of professional wrestling remained an oft-debated mystery. Even now, years after the revelation that wrestling is entertainment and not sport, some wrestlers are still unwilling to openly discuss the fact that wrestling isn’t real.
John Rambo and Headshrinker Samu are two exceptions.
Prior to their bouts Saturday night, Rambo and Samu agreed to talk about the spectacle that Rambo refers to as “athletic acting.”
Rambo, 38, of Bethlehem, Pa., won’t reveal his real name, but that’s about the only secret he keeps. In fact, he is so committed to debunking the myths about professional wrestling, he has set up a web site (www.nwlwrestling.com) that reveals the careful planning and scripting involved in wrestling matches.
“I never had a big dream of becoming a professional wrestler,” Rambo said.
“My dream was to become a professional football player. But I got hurt playing ball in college. I just lucked into wrestling.
“I started late, when I was 26 or 27 years old. But I hit it off real big,” Rambo said. “The last 11 years, I’ve been traveling around the world.”
Samu, 35, whose real name is Samu Anoai, said he was practically born into the business.
“I’m a second-generation wrestler. My father has a wrestling school in Hazelton, Pa. I’ve been doing it since I was 15 years old. It’s all I’ve ever done,” Samu said.
“History keeps going. My 15-year-old brother is a junior heavyweight champion. And my 7-year-old son is already doing splashes from the top rope,” Samu said.
Samu, who lives in Allentown, Pa., is recognizable to most fans of professional wrestling. A few years ago, when he teamed with his cousin, Yokozuma, in the Samoan Swat Team, he was a two-time WWF tag team champion and was featured prominently on the WWF’s nationally televised matches.
Samu said he left the lucrative world of the WWF because it became “a headache. I was just having my kids at the time, and the schedule was hectic. It was 17 days on, three days off. And I fractured my hip, which kind of slowed me down.”
Samu’s fame makes it possible for him to earn a solid income from professional wrestling. But Rambo said most other pro wrestlers on the independent circuit, including those in the NWL, have to work full-time, 9-to-5 jobs to fund their “expensive hobby.”
For example, when Rambo isn’t wrestling, he’s operating a training school for aspiring professional wrestlers in Hagerstown, Md.
“If I didn’t have the wrestling school, I’d be out working a 40-hour-a-week job.”
One reason the pay is low in the independent wrestling leagues is because most bouts, such as Saturday’s match in Winchester, are small, non-televised events. Plus, the wrestlers must provide their own gear and transportation.
“The reason why we do it is because we love doing it,” Rambo said. “Whether it’s in front of 100 people or 100,000 people, you still get that same feeling. Even if you just have a couple of fans clapping and cheering for you, it makes you feel good.”
“It helps me become closer to the fans and come to places where the WWF or WCW will never get to,” Samu said about his fondness for independent wrestling leagues.
Rambo said most wrestlers in the small, independent leagues will never make it to the big time. But many, including him, still keep their eyes on the national spotlight.
“I’ve had offers from the WWF and WCW for the past 10 years. But for my own personal reasons, I’ve decided to take another route. It’s something I will end up doing eventually, because I’ve got a lot of years left and a lot to offer. But right now, I’m making the NWL what it is, what it’s becoming. It’s one of the top independent wrestling leagues in the world.”
Rambo and Samu said they are bothered by the current televised wrestling matches of the WCW and WWF, which often push the limits of decency.
“Everyone’s going borderline now. We were yelled at if we even attempted to go as far as they go today,” Samu said about his prior career in the WWF.
“They need to realize that little kids are watching, too. I’m just waiting for somebody to say, ‘Enough’s enough.’ ”
“What you see on TV, all the T&A and all that stuff, we keep that away from here. Our shows are clean, with none of the gestures or foul language. It’s a show that’s designed for the whole family,” Rambo said.
Perhaps the key to professional wrestling is the fact it is, as Rambo said, “designed.”
“Professional wrestling is not a legitimate sport where two people go out and compete against each other. What you see out there is entertainment. We know what we’re doing, and we know what the outcomes will be. Your better professional athletes will make it look realistic,” Rambo said.
“I don’t know how ‘scripted’ it is,” Samu joked. “Somebody’s beating the hell out of me.”
Rambo added the referees are also in on the act. “Together, they combine to put on a stage show for the audience to sit there and enjoy.”
Despite the pre-planning, accidents happen, and wrestlers sometimes get hurt. Rambo said a missed cue or false step with their opponent can lead to trouble.
“I’ve had my face shattered in eight places, I’ve had broken ribs, I’ve had a busted tailbone, I’ve had a chipped elbow and fractured kneecap. You get hurt constantly,” Rambo said. “But 99 percent of the time, the injuries are your own fault because you took an unnecessary risk to impress the crowd.”
“I wouldn’t recommend (wrestling) for just anybody to go try in their backyard, like some of these kids do,” Samu said.
Rambo said the wrestlers in the NWL are a tight-knit group. In fact, prior to Saturday night’s matches, all the wrestlers were joking together in the dressing room at the National Guard Armory, watching an episode of “Seinfeld.”
But the warm feeling of camaraderie seemed to vanish when Rambo, the reigning NWL heavyweight champion, climbed into the ring to defend his title against Slickyboy.
The two men bashed at each other, sometimes hitting their opponent with a wooden ladder or metal folding chair.
However, on closer examination, you could tell the punches were restrained, and any contact made with the other wrestler was done in a way that would not inflict serious pain or physical damage.
So, who won the match?
Rambo, of course.
Because it was in the script.