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A Lot to Wrestle Before Going Pro

April 09, 2002|SCOTT SANDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pro wrestling occupies a gray zone of sports, requiring tremendous athleticism and a competitive nature even though the outcome is predetermined. "Bodyslam! The Making of a Professional Wrestler" veers into a gray area of its own, chronicling the struggles of four hopefuls but also coming across at times as a promotional vehicle.

With a touch of gentle humor, the documentary (10 tonight, TLC) begins by introducing Drzan McBee, a former NFL cheerleader, a mother and a born-again Christian; Big Jon Heidenreich, an ex-NFL player who works two jobs as a bouncer to make ends meet; Mikey Henderson, a would-be "Backstreet Boy" of wrestling desperate to leave his father's firewood business; and Chris Daniels, a.k.a. the Fallen Angel and the elder statesman of this group.

Despite varying levels of experience, all four have come to Ultimate Pro Wrestling, a Southern California production company and school, to wrestle on the independent circuit, a kind of minor league to the WWF. They follow a strict regimen of pumping iron, perfecting the full nelson and reciting self-aggrandizing soliloquies.

Pursuing the dream takes a physical and emotional toll. "Anybody who's a professional wrestler is paying a dear price," says Heidenreich, who breaks his hand during practice. It adds injury to the insult of losing the girlfriend he left behind in Louisiana.

The filmmakers skillfully illustrate such sacrifice, as well as the demands of showmanship. First, Henderson grapples with portraying the villainous persona given him by writer-referee Marty Rubalcaba. Later, he and his opponent walk through their moves with the concentration of ballet dancers.

Though "Bodyslam!" has many strengths, it is sometimes swept up in the hype, with narration more befitting an infomercial than a documentary. Meanwhile, Ultimate President Rick Bassman repeatedly touts his school as the, well, ultimate place to learn, but the film never states how much a person must pay ($3,750 to $5,250 for new students, according to the school's Web site). It's one of several details that could have better rounded out this tale of the square ring.

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