MAYWOOD — The most maniacal of the troupe, who went by the name of Ripper Savage and who had hair that no hairdresser would ever admit to having done, said, "This is a circus, pal."
A traveling sideshow, at least, one that stopped in a dusty city park on a hot, cloudless afternoon Sunday and set up, not tents, but a wrestling ring, and charged $7 to sit around it and gawk at the performers.
"I'm the strong man," said Ripper, the star of California Championship Wrestling who had pectorals and deltoids that indeed suggested long hours spent in gyms.
Ripper waited with the other wrestlers in a recreation room at Maywood Park where they dressed for their matches. Their street clothes sat on Ping-Pong tables.
"He's the fat man," Ripper said, pointing at Beartrap Smith, who sat across the room with most of his 460 pounds bunched around his middle. Ripper said Beartrap got that way from eating doughnuts. Beartrap denied it.
Greasy Gold Hair
"And we have acrobats and clowns, which I am neither," Ripper said, although surely he jested, for here was a man with hair bleached to a greasy gold on the sides and separated by a furry black swatch that sneaked down his forehead.
Ripper briefly discussed his background: "I'm from the Bronx. I grew up fighting in YMCAs and in the streets. My old man made me lift weights so I wouldn't be like these wimps in California."
California Championship Wrestling is not to be confused with wrestling's really big show, the World Wrestling Federation, which has high national television ratings, a celebrity following and a major star in Hulk Hogan.
But the CCW, a fledgling federation trying to entice TV viewers and attract arena crowds of at least 2,000 by developing some stars of its own, does not have an inferiority complex. At least the Ripper doesn't. "I'd wrestle Hulk Hogan any day in the week," he said.
Only 8 months old, the CCW is headed by Thomas Renesto, who produces the TV shows which have copied the WWF format in which wrestlers commit studio mayhem while being interviewed by the show's host, who for the CCW is Barry Richards, a former radio disc jockey.
On the TV show Saturday, the Ripper and his manager, tuxedo-clad Tux ("Don't Call Me Crazy") Newman, rowdily hyped Ripper's Maywood "championship" bout with Victor Rivera. "In New York I used to beat the hell out of those Puerto Ricans all the time," the Ripper had said.
Renesto, 52, a former wrestler, said he has started a pro wrestling school in an effort to find stars like the Ripper. "It takes a lot of time to build (a new wrestling federation)," he said. "We look for charisma and conditioning."
Host Richards said: "We're not trying to compete with the WWF. We're building our own stars and Budweiser is backing us. We're the only local wrestling show west of Dallas."
(The CCW would get half the day's receipts and the other half would benefit the Maywood Recreation Department.)
And so more hype was about to begin in this sport, which has never been accused of being legitimate although its rabid fans have never seemed to mind. (If you're close enough to the wing, you can sometimes hear the wrestlers whisper to each other things like "stay here" or "let's go to the ropes.")
But the Ripper, flexing inside a black leather vest muscles that seemed to have been inflated with an air pump, vowed: "You'll see blood flow, teeth fly and hear bones break. There's nothing fake about it, pal."
The blue ring was on the dirt infield of the park's baseball stadium, and Beartrap Smith stepped into it to the accompaniment of ZZ Top's "Legs," which pounded from huge speakers. Beartrap's legs, inside blue dungarees, could not be seen. He discarded his suede vest and hat and prepared to wrestle two men.
"This is a handicap match," Richards, the sideshow's barker, announced to a crowd of 375 people, most of them youngsters. "All he has to do is pin one and he's the winner."
Beartrap's opponents banged into his stomach, causing him to growl, but not in pain. Appropriately, they kept trying to get him in a bear hug, but because Beartrap's waist looked to be about 60 inches around, that was impossible. Beartrap simply bucked backward, sending his tormentors flying across the ring like limp puppets. Beartrap fell on one of them and the match was over--after only four minutes.
Then came the hard work. For at least 10 minutes, Beartrap, who said he tracked animals in the mountains of Colorado as a kid, stood in the hot sun and signed autographs for the kids. One boy touched Beartrap's arm, cautiously, as if just to find out what it felt like.
"You guys all come and see me wrestle again," Beartrap said, perspiration drops falling from his bushy eyebrows. "I'll be on Channel 56."
Frances McDade, 62, also got an autograph from Beartrap. "He seems friendly and honest," she said. A red-haired woman, she sat in the front row of folding chairs, her eyes glued to every match.