Within 15 minutes of us meeting, Brandon Bishop has me flying high. And not in some sort of metaphorical or smoked-too-much-pot sense. I mean literally, legs up, head down, torso about five feet above the ground as he holds me between my legs and around my waist, instructing me step-by-step through a body slam.
I'd asked for it. When I finally got the 36-year-old founder of Asylum Championship Wrestling on the phone a few weeks ago, I told him I wanted to get a feel for the group that's been performing locally since 2006. Meet some of the guys. Learn a few tricks. Maybe take on a "persona."
Let me tell you, Bishop didn't disappoint.
Call me Sarge
I arrive at the May 16 "Friends and Family" performance — a practice event leading up to ACW's downtown debut at the City Auditorium on May 29 — and Bishop escorts me to a hallway behind the ring. It's a locker room of sorts: about 20 men in various stages of dress, a bit of raunchy language and the occasional "Go get 'em" butt pat. The group could be prepping for a baseball game, but for one thing: the uniforms. Black spandex pants with white stars; a leprechaun-green sequined jacket; and, oddly enough, a business suit.
The suit belongs to the man they call Sarge. By day, Michael Boge is a sergeant at Fort Carson, having transferred here last July from Fort Hood. By night, the 38-year-old is one of the oldest ACW athletes.
Pro wrestling "hurts in the beginning," he says, but gets easier. Boge was trained by the Necro Butcher, a Texas pro wrestler who appeared in the 2008 film The Wrestler. Like I'm told by many of the guys, Boge enjoys the sport, but the entertainment factor is just as important.
"I like getting a crowd to hate me," he says, grinning.
Sport or theater?
Many of you will recognize Danger Dean from his radio gig. The Colorado native works the weekday afternoon shift for CAT Country 95.1 FM. And for the past two years he's been a part of the ACW family, first as a match announcer, and now as a wrestler. He's shimmied up the ladder quick — on April 3 he won the ACW Champion belt, and he'll defend his title in his 22nd show.
He says he's been a wrestling fan all his life, but what draws him to ACW is the theatrics: "I'm more of a showman."
I'm chatting with Aaron "The Candy Mann" Metzler, when we're interrupted by a loud, "Holy shit, Buddha!"
Put some prayer beads around his neck and a robe around his waist, and ACW's head of security, Alan Hahn, could be a grinning Chinese Buddha statue. At least until he springs into action to keep fans away from the ring. As he says, people may think ACW isn't a sport, that it's just theater, but to him, that's wrong.
"The first time I got slammed — " he says, shaking his head, "you tell me it's not a sport."
I crack a joke about them needing a massage therapist on staff, and he smiles. That's exactly why ACW has one as a sponsor, he says.
Masked and dangerous
Ringside, I take a seat next to two 30-something moms, toddlers in tow. About 50 people — high school and college kids, parents, siblings and friends — hoot and holler when their favorites pass through a curtain to flashing lights and music like "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Candy Mann is up first, against Johnny Montana, a guy sporting a plaid miniskirt and fitted T. Candy Mann doesn't miss a beat when the little blond-haired girl near me yells out, "Candy Mann?" He answers her, "Hey, Sweetie," before running off to slam Johnny one more time. He doesn't win, though; Johnny takes it in the final seconds.
Match 2 pairs Victor the Texan with Super Quincy, a man about twice Victor's size, who's wearing an "I see small people" T-shirt. This match brings the evening's debut of the ubiquitous pro-wrestling prop, the folding chair. Chairs "aren't allowed" much in the same way four-on-ones "aren't allowed" in Match 3 between a "trainer," his three "trainees" and wrestler Jason Noal.
Then comes Match 4: Danger Dean versus El Joto Loco, "The Crazy Gay," played by 21-year-old Miguel Contreras.
"Wherever I go, I'm a good guy," Contreras tells me about his character before the show. "I try to be a bad guy, but they always cheer for me." He's not kidding. Throughout the match, the crowd chants, "Let's go, Loco. Let's go!"
In the ACW world, Contreras says he's a gay guy, playing ... a gay guy. It's a bit unusual in pro wrestling, but he's comfortable with the role.
"Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be a pro wrestler. I wanted to wear a mask," he says. And he does — today's costume includes a full-face fringed mask that matches his purple and turquoise animal-print spandex.
He wasn't sure how this "bunch of masculine men" would respond to him when he jumped in the ring a year ago, "but they all took to me really good." Besides, he jokes, to be in this world — touching guys in places you wouldn't otherwise — "you gotta be kinda gay."
Enter ... me
So, back to my ACW debut. Throughout the night I've listened to the crash of the ring floor each time a wrestler took a hit. I've seen red marks blossom on their skin as they've been bounced from corner to corner. And, theatrics or not, there's a wee bit of pain in most of the guys' eyes when they take a match-ending play.
Let's just say, I'm nervous.
Bishop invites me up into the ring. Drawing upon a decade of wrestling experience, plus his work as a car salesman and musician, he banters with the crowd about "The Reporter" in the house. (Guess I've got a character now.) Asks me if I'm sure I want to be there. I give him the pre-agreed-upon theatrical hemming and hawing, when I'm, once again, in the air.
I remember him circling with me a few times. And then as fast as he swept me up, I'm slicing the air on the way down — only to be stopped inches from the floor and placed lightly on the mat.
Slight head rush notwithstanding, "The Reporter" is quickly back on her feet.
And, surprisingly, pumped. I'm hoping to be part of the expected 400-person crowd welcoming ACW's move to its new home this weekend. And Bishop had better watch out — if I can get past Buddha, I might just grab my chair and jump into the ring.