‘The occasional elbow drop off the jungle gym’
November 24, 2008 · Updated 7:10 PM
What’s Up looks into the alternative lifestyle of backyard wrestling and a local semi-pro promoter who’d like to put a stop to it.
The famed pro wrestler/crazy person Mick Foley (aka Mankind and Cactus Jack among other personas) has accrued a laundry list of astonishing injuries over his two decades-long career.
“I lost two-thirds of my upper ear in Munich, Germany,” Foley recalls, sitting in his garage for an interview in an online video spot of a wrestling documentary called “Most Hardcore Injuries.”
“I believe I’ve had over 325 stitches,” he goes on. “I lost count after 289.
“I suffered second-degree burns from landing on C4 explosives in Japan,” he adds. “I’ve lost three and a half teeth ... my knees and ribs that I broke back in 1990.”
And the list goes on.
He’s chronicled it all in bestselling autobiographical books.
While often criticized as “fake,” due to its scripted nature and sometimes feigned blows, the sport of professional wrestling — ala Mick Foley, Hulk Hogan and crew, with swan dives off 14-foot-ladders, folding chairs to the back of the head and elbow drops from the top of the ropes — it’s still one of the most physically brutal sports there is.
Frighteningly, it’s also one of the most imitated.
Amped up on TV shows and videos, legions of amateur fans take their love of the sport to the edge, taking it to the backyard, or to the playground, and acting out the antics.
Port Orchard resident Jayde Haugen, 25, was one of them.
“Was,” I write, because he’s now training with local promoter Ron Sutherland, aka The Iron Buddha, to become a legitimate professional wrestler.
“When it started, it was just three or four of us,” he said. “We’d go home and watch Monday Night Raw or whatever, and we’d watch very closely at how the wrestlers would perform their moves, we’d watch over and over with slow motion and everything.
Then we’d go in the backyard on my friend’s trampoline and we’d practice them there.”
They started when they were teens, and as they got older, Haugen said, they progressed into the more “hard core stuff” with actual matches and personas, miscellaneous weapons props and the works.
It progressed to the point where they had their own underground league, of sorts, putting on shows for kids at a local park.
“I’d do the occasional elbow drop off the jungle gym, or the occasional splinter bomb off the slide,” Haugen said.
Sounds like fun. But also sounds like it could hurt — broken bones, brain damage kind of hurt.
“A lot of stuff can happen in a controlled environment, let alone an uncontrolled one,” says Sutherland, a decades-long pro wrestling veteran, now a local trainer, semi-pro wrestler The Iron Buddha and proprietor of SCW — Suquamish Championship Wrestling — which has hosted bouts on the last Saturday of every month for the past year in Suquamish.
Sutherland recalled a point from a match, where he’d leapt from the top rope and came down in a bad way on his opponent’s head. “There were a scary few moments there while he was covering his face,” the Buddah said, “thinking I might have cracked my friend’s skull.”
And that was in a controlled environment.
He relayed stories of everything from crushed skulls to broken bones that he’s heard of happening in the backyard. He’s always been a staunch supporter of getting the kids out of the backyard and into actual training, like Haugen and crew.
“By shutting down backyard wrestling, I think we’re doing a service,” the Buddha said. “Because 1) I think it gives wrestling a black eye, 2) it’s dangerous and 3) it’s dangerous.”
Whether scripted and supervised in the ring, or impromptuly organized in the backyard, it’s all pretty much dangerous. But as Haugen relates through some advice he got from a pro-wrestling mentor, it’s not real wrestling until you’re in the ring.
“He always told me, ‘if you really want to be a professional wrestler, get out of the backyard stuff, otherwise you’ll always be just a fan,” Haugen said. “I think of it as really separating the men from the boys.”