Gabriel Ramirez and his team of coaches at Pro Wrestling Revolution in San Jose teach the artform and traditions of professional wrestling to a new generation of hopefuls chasing their dreams in the squared circle.
It’s Saturday night, and hundreds of local pro wrestling fans are gathered in a High School Gymnasium, a few miles from downtown San Jose. The sounds of plastic vuvuzela horns echo throughout the building, as ticket holders both young and old climb into the bleachers. The place is packed and ready to rumble!
The crowd’s energy on this night at Mount Pleasant High School is at a fever pitch as the capacity sold-out crowd sits on the edge of their seats waiting for the show to begin. The ring announcer welcomes the attendees and proceeds to introduce the first wrestler of the night.
Boos erupt throughout the gymnasium as a Luchador masked man in spandex wrestling attire walks down the corridor on his way to the ring. It is none other than the villain of all villains; Grappler Number 3. Weighing in at a hearty two hundred thirty-three and one-third pounds; Grappler Number three enters the ring taunting the crowd of hecklers who would love nothing more than to watch him be pummeled.
As the match gets underway; Grappler Number 3 moves as if every part of his body is sore, but although these legs may have some miles on them, Grappler Number 3’s hands operate with precision in the ring, as he puts his opponents through a series of wrist locks and choke holds. Just when the ref turns his head, this crafty veteran reaches into his bag of dirty tricks and gives his opponent an elbow to the back of the head while the referee turns away. He follows it up with a blatant choke: daring the ref to stop him. The cheap shot artist continues to mock the crowd as they reign down on him with insults and jeers.
Grappler Number 3; or Rik O’Shea outside of the ring, is involved in a six-person tag team match tonight along with his partners Zooka and Oho Blanco. They’re the opening match at the tenth-anniversary show for Pro Wrestling Revolution, a San Jose based Professional Wrestling Promotions Company. O’Shea debuted with Pro Wrestling Revolution ten years earlier at their inaugural show in San Jose. These days when he’s not sacrificing his own body in the ring; Rick is teaching the next generation of aspiring Pro Wrestlers how to “take bumps” at Pro Wrestling Revolution’s Training Academy; a Pro Wrestling school in San Jose that teaches the fundamentals of the sports and artform.
Dreams into reality
18-year-old Mason Kennerly showed up at the Academy to pursue what he feels is his destiny. Mason explains, “Everything I do, I’ve systematically built my life over the last 4 years all culminating in being a wrestler. Everything I do is to get me one step closer to being a wrestler. I can’t imagine my life without wrestling at this point, it’s intertwined.”
Tracy Bunta from Berkeley, California found herself right at home in the Training Academy ring after fighting in Muay Thai ever since she was a teenager. She has been at the Academy for one year and dreams of making a living as a professional wrestler. She says, “Most people start saying I want to be in the WWE, I want to be bigger than that. I want to be known worldwide.”
Pro wrestling hopefuls from different paths and backgrounds walk through the Academy doors to chase their dreams of making it to the big stage like their veteran teacher. From body slams to submission holds; Rik O’Shea teaches the tools of the trade in the evening advanced level courses at the academy. When he’s instructing, you can hear a pin drop. “Pay attention, don’t talk, show respect, open your ears, open your eyes, learn & listen,” Rik directs the class.
Rick became involved with Pro Wrestling Revolution after being recruited to wrestle at a live show ten years ago by the company’s owner and promoter Gabriel Ramirez. “I just like to give the knowledge I was taught and keep it alive. Even if only one student picks it up, if they teach it again later in life it will keep going on,” he explains as to why he gives up his time to pass on his knowledge.
Gabe Ramirez’ plan was never to run a school. After twenty years in the Professional Wrestling industry as a show promoter; Ramirez aimed to launch his own company by starting small. He explains; “The plan was to do a couple of shows and see what happens, so we tried one show and it did really well and the next thing we know we had a sponsor who wanted us to do another show somewhere else, and then you buy a ring.”
What started as a storage space for Gabe’s wrestling ring quickly evolved into something far bigger than he could have imagined. Ramirez needed somewhere to put the ring after storage costs were piling up, so he began renting a small warehouse. Word would spread and eventually, a snowball effect took place and a Professional Wrestling Academy was born. The sweaty warehouse office space would quickly evolve into a hub for a wildly popular subculture. Today the Academy is serving forty-five students and employs a team of four trainers while operating six days out of the week.
The big show
For students like Diamond Samartolome the support from industry pros like Coach Rik has kept him inspired on his journey to becoming a Pro Wrestler. He says, “you start progressing from the beginners to the intermediates to the pros and then bam bam bam and you’re there and you got guys telling you “you might be wrestling soon, we might be using you, bring your gear, be ready!” so it just kind of makes you feel like ‘oh man I can do this.’”
Diamond has seen firsthand how quickly Academy members can break into the business. Several of his peers now wrestle in live shows such as classmates Johnny Espino and Papo Esco who are currently part of the Pro Wrestling Revolution’s talent roster. Espino who wrestles as El Mariachi says, “To actually be a persona that you wanted to be and bring it to life; it’s really rewarding.”
Papo Esco has embodied his persona as “The King Fat Boy.” The bruising three-hundred-pounder got into Pro Wrestling to beat up as many people as he possibly could. With his brash ring presence, he has quickly built a following on the local circuit. This form of showmanship along with character development and dramatic storylines have made Professional Wrestling an often misunderstood sport and art form.
Is it fake?
The predetermined outcomes of Professional Wrestling have led many to label it what they can’t describe any other way; fake. Owner and Promoter Gabe Ramirez explains, “It’s hard to define what we do in one word because it’s theatrical in one aspect; you’re being stuntmen at the same time; you’re being actors as well; it’s a contact sport like football or like martial arts of some sort; you’re allowing people to literally grind you to the mat.” While the decision of who wins or loses a match might be fixed, there’s certainly no denying the skill and physicality that wrestling requires. Death, paralysis and every injury imaginable have all taken place in the ring, and with the frequent bodily impact that’s been compared to a small car crash; the risks remain with every match.
Rik O’Shea is living proof of the real blood, sweat, and tears that the pros give to the sport. “If you can master the art form the chances that you can get unscathed in this business is great, but there are dangers around every corner and at any time it can be over in an instant,” he says. Rik has torn the cartilage in his knee, chipped his elbows to the point that he can’t straighten them all the way, has lost many of his teeth and has sustained numerous concussions throughout his years in the ring. Rik says, “If people are worried about concussions in pro football those guys have pads and helmets on, we’re out there without it.”
With over twenty years in the business under his belt; Gabe Ramirez never sugarcoats how hard the road to being a Pro Wrestler is. “I will never mislead them to think coming here you’ll be the next WrestleMania main event. The first thing I explain to every kid that comes in here is I can’t promise you anything besides good training, a safe environment, good trainers, good fundamentals and that’s it. I can teach you what the hammer and nail does, what you build will be always up to you,” says Ramirez.
The show goes on
Back at the 10th Anniversary show; Coach Rick or Grappler Number 3 is still up to no good in the ring, as he methodically punishes his opponent Simon Cross and lets the crowd know all about it. The boos are deafening as he soaks in the hatred of the crowd, but somebody’s got to be the bad guy. In this sport, it’s all part of the show, and the show goes on. The Grappler says, “I believe everything is an art-form and there are things that I learned 18 years ago that if they’re not continued to be taught by myself or my peers from that generation it’s going to become a dying art.” With the next generation of pro wrestlers honing their craft under Grappler Number 3 ; the future of the sport in the Bay Area looks to be in good hands.