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Full of Fight

Backyard wrestling among teen boys is growing in popularity. Body slams and use of 'weapons' such as barbed wire are firing up opponents and audiences.

November 29, 2000|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She calls it an arena, but the wrestling ring in Pam Adams' small backyard in Santa Ana is a raggedy construction of used tires, plywood, old carpet padding and a blue tarp.

Scores of teenage boys from Los Angeles and neighboring counties come here each weekend to wrestle, using moves they've learned from watching pro wrestling on TV. Some of the more extreme teen wrestlers beat each other over the head with steel folding chairs and draw blood with baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire.

Backyard wrestling is one of the hottest sports for teen boys these days--and one of the most controversial. An estimated 1,000 federations--including the Backyard Brawlers in New York, Global Championship Wrestling in Chicago, and Backyard Hardcore Wrestling in Crawford, Colo.--have sprung up around the country in the last two years. Most members meet online, joining up with other kids in their area to practice and compete, using fire, thumbtacks and barbed wire in their matches to heighten tension and rev up the crowd. Wearing little, if any, protective gear, the combatants body-slam and pile drive each other, and some take swings with fluorescent light fixtures and throw mousetraps, hoping they'll catch skin. Videos of the events are Webcast, traded and sold online.

The violence has alarmed many parents and has put professional wrestling organizations on the defensive, but the kids involved shrug off all that.

"Yeah, sure, we're getting hit in the head with chairs and getting cut and everything and bleeding, but, you know, we walk away," said Chris Jackson, a 19-year-old wrestler from Upland whose stage name is Mr. Fantastik. "Cuts heal, pain goes away. . . . We're still nonetheless having fun."

The total number of backyard wrestlers is small compared with the number of kids participating in sanctioned sports, but the rise in the popularity of the marginally supervised and often injury-inducing sport is catching many by surprise.

Some blame the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling for starting wrestling fever and Xtreme Power Wrestling for raising the stakes. Much of what Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock and other wrestling stars do is choreographed--but that is lost on many backyard wrestlers.

Movies, music and the media are also seen as culprits in desensitizing kids to violence. Some point their fingers at rocker Marilyn Manson, saying he started blurring the lines between self-mutilation and entertainment with his onstage antics. Whatever the reason, many teens today have seen almost everything, and they're hungry for something more.

"You can go to WWF and see them doing the moves, but this is different because it's new. . . . They're taking it to a new extreme, and kids like to see it," said Veronika Vester, 17. Veronika is dating Kidd Krayz, a backyard wrestler who's revered as one of the best "bleeders" in the Ventura-based Real Wrestling Federation. Its members are "their own little stars in their own town," according to Veronika. "Everyone knows them."

Veronika didn't always enjoy seeing blood. When she started dating Kidd Krayz last January and went to one of his matches, she said: "I turned around. I couldn't watch it--and then as time goes on, it's just like the normal thing. . . . Now I'm out there yelling, 'Yeah! Hit him!' "

Veronika has no interest in being a wrestler herself, she said, though she's swatted people with the barbed-wire bat and once "cheese grated" another girl's forehead.

She was one of about 30 kids who got together last Saturday for a match among members of the area's two largest federations--Ventura's RWF and California Backyard Wrestling, which is operated by Adams, a 43-year-old mother of two.

Wrestling Beats 'Doing Drugs, Drinking'

Adams said she's been watching wrestling for the last 25 years. Known to the wrestlers as "Pam Powers," she is dressed in a panty-skimming black shirt dress, knee-high patent leather boots and a red fedora. Glittery blue makeup rings her eyes.

She lets the kids wrestle in her backyard because "I'd rather them be here than on the streets doing drugs, drinking, smoking pot, whatever," she said. "I'm here. I know what they're doing."

And she trusts that the kids know what they're doing when they get in the ring, even though most of them are self-taught. "They know how to prevent themselves from really getting hurt," she said. "Of course, there's gonna be accidents. There's gonna be accidents when you play football, basketball, anything."

But the "crimson masks" of blood that streamed down the faces of wrestlers Freddy Gabriel, 17, and Matt Heersink, 16, after they'd hit each other on the head with a barbed-wire baseball bat were hardly an accident. When Matt, known as the "Rock 'n' Roll Mechanic," and Freddy, known as "Psycho Child Freddy Fido," stepped in the ring, they knew they wouldn't leave without drawing blood.

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