By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
According to Sharkey, the PWA now stands as the longest-running indie wrestling promotion in the country. There have been occasional disruptions since his comeback, the longest of which came in the wake of a row with a fellow promoter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. "He [the other promoter] shorted us a hundred dollars, so I punched him," Sharkey explains matter-of-factly. "Then, just to be cute, I broke a beer bottle over his head. If I had just behaved myself, I would have gotten simple assault, but instead I got a felony." At trial, Sharkey cracked a bottle over his own head in an effort to prove that the particular brand of beer bottle was unlikely to cause serious injury. The judge was not impressed, and Sharkey got a six-month sentence, which he served at the Hennepin County Workhouse. "It was a terrible inconvenience and it cost me a ton of money, so that was pretty much the end of my brawling days," Sharkey says. "I was just sticking up for the boys. I sure hope they appreciated it."
It is November 4, a little after 6:00 p.m., when Sharkey arrives at Grumpy's in Coon Rapids. Dressed in jeans, a leather sport coat, and a canary-yellow shirt, he is a bundle of nerves. "I'm up to my neck in shit as usual. Story of my life," he sighs, sidling up to a barstool. He explains that he just sold his home in Edina. His divorce from Princess Littlecloud has just been finalized, and he has been scrambling to find a condo or an apartment by the end of the month. For now, though, he is worried about the bottom line.
A good turnout could mean a regular gig; maybe here, maybe at the bigger Grumpy's in downtown Minneapolis. As usual, Sharkey has enlisted his wrestlers from camp to sell tickets. Ten bucks a pop. "I've got a lot of new guys on tonight. New guys sell a lot of tickets," he explains. "The old guys don't, and they shouldn't have to."
Terry Fox, Sharkey's partner, is already on hand, busily assembling the ring with the assistance of a few wrestlers who are paying off their camp tuition with a little sweat. The ring is wedged into a corner of the bar, pressed up against a pair of big picture windows. Because of the room's long, narrow shape, the best view is from the parking lot. This worries Sharkey. "We gotta make sure the crowd gets in a good mood from the start," he says, assessing the situation through his thick wire-framed glasses. The wrestlers have a more pressing concern than sightlines. A section of suspended ceiling hangs dangerously low over the ring. In one corner, a metal fire sprinkler mounted to the ceiling looks particularly hazardous. "Five to one somebody's gonna hit their head," offers Patrick Cooper, a camp regular who has come to man one of the television cameras for a cable-access taping. Sharkey eyeballs the ceiling: "The guys better be careful tonight. Damn careful." Of course, Sharkey notes, anyone who has wrestled in the garage at camp ought to know a thing or two about working around a low ceiling.
Sharkey is carrying a note pad on which he has scribbled tonight's card. Seven matches, mostly guys and gals from camp. The wrestlers arrive in dribs and drabs. Mitch Paradise, a strapping six-foot-five-inch, 27-year-old farmer from New Prague, ambles in an hour or so before show time. Sharkey is optimistic about Paradise's chance to make the big time. "He's got the look, and he's natural," he says, meaning that Paradise has the sort of bulk and cut the WWF looks for, without the use of steroids. Another Sharkey student, "Doctor" Darin Davis, arrives a few minutes later. In real life The Doctor is a soft-spoken computer programmer who bears a striking resemblance to actor Timothy Busfield. And he has the gimmick to end all gimmicks, one that has made him a fan favorite. He's a proctologist. In all his matches, Davis inevitably produces a rubber glove, which he waves about with a devilish smirk. And, invariably, the crowd loves it. "It's funny, when I started out with Dr. Darin, I was definitely a heel. But the fans turned, and so now I'm usually a face," the Doctor says, pointing out with an amiable grin, that the glove is not his finishing move.
One by one, the rest of the wrestlers lope off to a corner of the bar's kitchen, which serves as tonight's locker room. It is cramped, but Sharkey has seen worse. In a recent show at another north-metro bar, Sharkey says, there was absolutely nowhere to change, which forced the wrestlers to don their spandex outside by a dumpster and a grease bin. By the time the show begins, the tiny bar is packed with some 250 people, standing room only. After tweaking the lineup one last time, Sharkey plops down in the middle of the crowd to watch as his students take to the mat.
Helmut, actually a 22-year-old video-game magazine writer named Justin Leeper, incites the crowd with classic, old-school shtick. "I am from Germany! Germany!" he bellows in an accent that appears to be derived from repeated viewings of Hogan's Heroes. His opponent is a security guard from the Little Earth Housing Project in south Minneapolis who uses the stage name Stormwolf. Stormwolf and Helmut wage the usual battle, face versus heel, ending with Stormwolf's inevitable, come-from-behind triumph. Then Lacey, a 17-year-old high school student and camp regular, sashays to the ring for the second bout. She's leggy. Blonde. Pure face. Her opponent is Ashley, a bulky brunette. To signal that Ashley is tonight's heel, the ring announcer introduces her by saying that she is "from Canada." The crowd boos. Another seesaw battle. Another victory for the face. And so it goes for nearly two hours; a mix of the amateurish and the professional. Much care is exercised to avoid the low ceiling.