Bouncing back after a state smack-down

Wrestlers: Shut out of Carroll County, amateurs will climb back into the ring in Pennsylvania.

December 17, 2003|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The ring, once the site of free backyard wrestling performances that drew audiences from the neighborhood, is surrounded by weeds. But three years after the Maryland State Athletic Commission halted the shows, Greg "Mr. Excellent" Skipper and his cast of good guys and villains are back in action.

They've taken their act across the state line, from the Carroll County community of Gamber to a banquet hall in Hanover, Pa. And on Friday, Skipper and his friends in Ground Breaking Wrestling will step into the ring for their first show with a paying crowd.

"This is our opportunity to prove to everybody this is what we want to do," said Skipper, 21, who is using a Small Business Administration loan and money he has saved working as a cook to bankroll his foray into show business. "It's not about money; it's never been about money. Maybe down the line, it will be what we do for a living. For now, it's an opportunity to live the dream: to wrestle, to perform."

Skipper was about age 8 when he and his best friend, Mike Adams, began watching professional wrestling on television. By the time they were 14, they had joined with a group of schoolmates who shared their love for wrestling, and they emulated their heroes - Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker, among others - in basement matches.

"Then it all snowballed," said Skipper. The group wanted a ring outside, he said, "and I had the biggest back yard."

His parents, initially reluctant, came around to the idea, and by August 1999 the back yard was the site of matches. Skipper's stepfather, Bruce Bouch, used his carpentry skills to build the ring. A sound booth for playing rock music also was constructed, folding chairs were arranged. Soon the Saturday night bouts were drawing audiences of about 20.

Longtime neighbor Mike Rudnick, 52, said he enjoyed the backyard wrestling matches.

"They'd grunt and groan and make loud noises, but no bad language," Rudnick recalled. "It was fun to watch them do it."

But in September 2000, Carroll sheriff's deputies and state troopers went to the home and ordered the matches stopped. Patrick Pannella, the executive director of the state athletic commission, which regulates boxing and pro wrestling, explained then that the unlicensed matches were halted because of the likelihood of injury.

Bouch was charged with promoting an illegal contest, but a year later a Carroll County jury found him not guilty. Four other men who were charged had their cases dismissed or received probation before judgment. Skipper was charged as a juvenile.

Skipper has incorporated his wrestling organization. And the Pennsylvania athletic commission recently issued a promoter's license to his mother, Debbie Bouch, president of Ground Breaking Wrestling.

After learning of the turn of events, Pannella, the Maryland athletic commission director, said, "I'm very pleased for them, and we wish them all the best."

He added, "After this case, backyard wrestling seems to have dissolved in Maryland."

Ground Breaking Wrestling joins more than 100 other such independent wrestling groups around the nation, said Dave Meltzer, editor and publisher of the weekly Wrestling Observer Newsletter in San Jose, Calif.

"They're probably like any other new group: the bottom rung," he said. "You put on a few shows before family and friends - and maybe a few paying fans."

World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, the organization seen on television, dominates pro wrestling these days, Meltzer said. Below this level are a slew of independents ranging from what he called "the rankest amateurs to regional promoters."

Skipper and his cohorts have been practicing with a trainer at a warehouse, perfecting their moves - and their personas.

As good-guy Mr. Excellent, Skipper, weighing in at 265 pounds, according to the Web site biography, favors two-toned bleached hair, faux leather pants with gold flames and a gold dress shirt. He faces the bad guys in the ring unmasked, as a good guy should.

Other Ground Breaking wrestlers include Simon Ryme and Mighty Quinn Nash. Then there's the Prep Club.

"The story line is that they went to Yale and think they're better than everyone else," Skipper said.

But the real villains are the three-man Arabian Express. Adams will don a turban, shiny gold pants and a multicolored vest to become one of them, known as Ishmael.

"You have good guys and bad guys and run a story line. It's like a male soap opera," said Adams, 22, of Reisterstown.

Skipper said the matches should give young wrestlers a chance to showcase their talents and, perhaps, create careers for themselves. Meltzer likened jumping from a small promoter's show to WWE to "going from single-A baseball to the major leagues," but he said the WWE does draw talent from the independents, relying upon word of mouth and sometimes scouting a prospect.

Skipper plans to set up 275 seats for Friday's show. He plans a second show late this month.

Debbie Bouch compared the wrestlers to the weeds surrounding the backyard ring, which her son wanted left standing for inspiration: "You knock 'em down, and they come back even stronger."

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