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The Nation

A Place to Take a Thrashing -- and Pay for It

At Slamtech Wrestling University's three-day fantasy camp in Rhode Island, participants learn the art of taking a beating.

October 30, 2005|Eric Tucker | Associated Press Writer

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — An instructor holds Tim Tietgens' posterior with one hand and his shoulder with the other, hoists him high in the air and heaves him hard on the black mat below. When Tietgens lands on his back with a rattling thud, all 260-some pounds of him, the spectators in the ring cheer.

Tietgens is learning how to take a spill, part of a three-day camp at Slamtech Wrestling University.

As the name suggests, Slamtech is no regular college. There are no textbooks, no professors and no standardized tests -- just a square wrestling ring where students are schooled in, literally, hard knocks.

In his glasses, goatee and yellow "Hulkamania" T-shirt, which he tucks inside his sweat pants, Tietgens doesn't exactly resemble the next Hulk Hogan. Even so, he's spending the weekend learning the art of tying up an opponent in a headlock; maneuvering out of a full-nelson hold; and, of course, getting body-slammed.

"It's part of wrestling," the 32-year-old Tietgens, of Leominster, Mass., explains while taking a breather against the ropes, his proud girlfriend poised nearby with a camera. "It's part of the event."

The school is run by Bob Evans, a professional wrestler who relocated Slamtech to Pawtucket three years ago after founding the program in New Hampshire in 2000.

Josh Curro, a slight 15-year-old from Framingham, Mass., began watching pro wrestling when he was a little boy and now competes seriously with friends. He said he considered the sport an excellent stress reliever and physical workout.

"I was pretty concerned because of my height and weight," Curro conceded.

Undaunted, though, he hopes one day to be a pro wrestler -- and a popular one at that.

"I like the fans," Curro said.

Evans started out on a public-access television show in the early 1990s, wrestling with buddies in the backyard of his parents' home in Swansea, Mass. Using the stage name "Brutal" Bob Evans, he went on to wrestle professionally in the Northeast for more than a decade, meeting some of the bigger stars in the sport -- including Hogan -- and squaring off against well-known pros such as King Kong Bundy.

Evans charges $2,500 for a lifetime membership to the school, which allows members to train Monday through Thursday in Pawtucket. About 12 to 15 people have signed up for the classes, Evans said.

"Stuff that I picked up in six or seven years, we can teach here in two months," he said.

Slamtech's recent three-day, $125 fantasy camp was open to anyone 14 or older.

"Teaching you how to walk like a wrestler ... carry yourself like a wrestler -- that's the hard part," said Dan Freitas, a wrestler who helps teach the camp.

Evans said some of his students have become pro wrestlers, signing on with World Wrestling Entertainment, though none has become as famous as Hogan or Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

Most camp participants leave after three days without any ambition to go pro. That's probably not surprising for a sport in which, Evans acknowledges, injuries are "a sacrifice you have to make."

"I'm 33 years old. I probably have a body like a 45- or 50-year-old, and I only do it part time," Evans said. "My back's sore every day I get up, I have trouble walking down the stairs first thing in the morning."

Evans nearly broke his neck several years ago while jumping off the top rope, and he says he's seen plenty of popped ankles and torn-out knees in the ring. Evans said he stresses the basic moves and holds to his inexperienced students, ensuring they master the fundamentals before trying anything daring.

"I'm not going to lie to you and say to you that we're super-safe and no one ever gets hurt and it's the safest thing I've ever seen -- because it's not," Evans said. "People get hurt, but we try to minimize that risk as much as we possibly can."

Tietgens, who says he has followed wrestling since he was about 18, came to the camp after meeting a couple of Slamtech students at church. He planned to watch but was encouraged to get in the ring.

Several days later, Tietgens acknowledged that his body wasn't used to the slams and bumps.

Even though he doesn't intend to become a professional wrestler, Tietgens said he was still "revved up" about the experience and would do it again.

"I've experienced what I enjoy watching," he said. "I got to see some of the tricks and some of the behind-the-scenes, and some of what they go through."

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