A wrestler flying out of the ring at Ric Drasin's Van Nuys home has a number of possible landing sites. There is the concrete, the lawn, the garden and, if enough velocity is attained, perhaps Drasin's bedroom.
The ring, a 16-by-16-foot square surrounded by red, white and blue ropes, fills most of the backyard at Drasin's Califa Street home and has become the centerpiece of the "school" the 23-year wrestling veteran opened five years ago.
Drasin, a.k.a. The Equalizer, Demi-Hulk and Mad Bomber, offers private lessons to men and women who want to make it in the world of King Kong Bundy, Matilda the Hun, Mount Fuji and others of their build and constitution.
As Drasin demonstrates headlocks and armlocks in his backyard ring, he draws upon memories of the bruising training sessions he endured with professional women wrestlers Johnnie Mae Young and Mae Weston at the Olympic Auditorium in 1964.
Grabbed His Ankles
The women, who were popular on television, started his first lesson by grabbing his ankles and yanking him off his feet. They repeated the drill 10 times before Drasin, then a body builder, learned to absorb the fall with his back and not his arms.
"I walked out of there a mass of mat burns," he said. "They didn't show any mercy at all."
Drasin's training methods are gentler--but not much. As Loren Franck of Sepulveda tells it, his first training session went something like this:
"Do you think wrestling is fake?" Drasin asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do," Franck replied.
Then Drasin put Franck, all 6 feet and 225 pounds of him, into a "sleeper hold" that applies pressure on the carotid artery in the neck. Franck passed out.
In five years of teaching, Drasin said 20 students have turned professional. He doesn't count the dropouts.
"You throw them down once, and they're ready to go home," he said.
Drasin used to charge $1,500 for a three-month course, but a high dropout rate forced him to switch to a $50 fee for each one-hour session. Sometimes he works one-on-one; other times, he oversees two or three students who throw each other about the ring.
"I'm getting too old to get hurt," said Drasin, 43.
Drasin set up the backyard ring a year ago after four years of training students on mats in his yard or at gyms. The training sessions are popular with neighborhood children, who sometimes gather at Drasin's fence shouting: "Do it again! Do it again!" as students tangle, said Adrian Barnes, one of Drasin's students.
Drasin said the training sessions are not loud. Other than "a lot of grunts," the neighbors don't hear much, Barnes said.
Drasin, who also acts and runs a clothing business, said he has five students who meet whenever their schedules permit. Their goals and backgrounds vary.
"I want to be a star," said Franck, 34, a body builder. "I want to be another Hulk Hogan kind of guy."
Franck said, he is thinking of shaving off his hair, except for a top knot, in the manner of a popular 1960s wrestler called The Mongol.
Likes to Perform
Barnes, a 26-year-old karate instructor from Canyon Country, said simply: "I like performing."
Randi Weber, 23, of Northridge said she hopes for television exposure, which in turn could bring money, fame and perhaps acting or modeling opportunities. A former high school gymnast, Raging Randi earned her bachelor of arts degree in communications from California State University, Northridge, last year.
Like most of Drasin's students, Franck, Barnes and Weber met or heard about him at a gym.
If Drasin's students reach the national wrestling circuit and work full time, they could earn $150,000 a year, said Jack Armstrong, a 22-year wrestling veteran from Pacific Palisades who also trains with Drasin.
Armstrong, a.k.a. Wildman, said many people don't realize that wrestling is as physically demanding as it is. He recalled a novice wrestler in his mid-30s who lasted only 15 professional bouts after lessons from Drasin.
"Every night, he broke something--an arm, a finger, a leg, a knee," he said.
Drasin himself may need knee surgery soon.
"My right one's bad and my left one's worse," he said.
But injuries have always been part of the business. Recalling Weston, Drasin said: "She had a whole set of false teeth from being knocked around in the ring. She used to take out her teeth when she trained me."
Barnes, Franck and Weber said they are aware of wrestling's hazards but hope to enter their first professional bouts in six months to a year. Friends and family have offered a range of reactions.
"Women--they think it's different," Weber said with understatement.
Her move especially surprised former sorority sisters, who considered her prim, proper and petite.
Barnes receives support from his father, a karate instructor, and his mother, a sergeant with the San Fernando Police Department. Franck's parents, however, are divided.
"My dad is totally against it," Franck said. "But my mom is a big wrestling fan and 100% behind it."
What would his father prefer? "Something a little more aboveboard, like engineering."