Suplex City

Once a pro wrestling hot spot, Miami is again warming to the wacky lure of the ring

Next Gonzalez demonstrates the suplex on the much taller Abad, powering the wrestler straight up in front of him and then tossing him over his head, the pupil's heels arcing in the air like a ferris wheel before both crash to the canvas. When Abad tries, his first attempts at the move are shaky but successful.

Finally Gonzalez gets Abad against the ropes and "hits" him repeatedly on the side of the head. "Hold this arm here," he tells the panting kid. "Keep this one here. Show the people you're hurt. Catch your breath. You're tired. Don't get lazy." Then Gonzalez "hits" him some more, and after Abad grabs him by the shoulder and throws him into the opposite corner, they're finished for the night.

"Most guys would be lost, doing all that after two weeks," Gonzalez praises the beaming, red-faced Abad, who doesn't look the least bit disheartened by the beating his body has just taken.

"As you can see, this kid has the look," beams promoter Bill Brown. "He has something we can develop."

At about six-foot-three and 230 pounds, Abad looks capable of putting on a lot more bulk, and after only two weeks of training (twice a week, a few hours each session), he has already picked up an impressive array of moves. He's got another advantage as well: his face. Abad's prominent aquiline nose, high cheekbones, and long hair give him an almost stereotypically Native American look. It's the kind of distinctive look coveted in pro wrestling.

"I'll start with Jorge in three to six months," estimates SWF's booker George Barcelo, the man who creates most of the characters and "writes" the stories that are played out in the ring. (Running the angles, it's called.) "I'd have to look at him to make sure he's ready, then I'll come up with a character for him," says the hefty, goateed Barcelo, a full-time computer programmer and a former wrestler and promoter whose curly black hair falls halfway down his back. "According to what I see on him, he'll probably portray an Indian. I might call him Chief Little Wahoo or something like that."

That's one thing about pro wrestling, especially small-time shows: no shying away from racial and ethnic themes. Recent SWF programs, for example, have featured quite a bit of Latin bashing -- always avenged, naturally. During the most recent show in Homestead, Snot Dudley, the federation's so-called Caribbean Islands champion (who wears nerdy glasses and, yes, picks his nose), learned that his scheduled opponent, Johnny Torres, missed his plane in Puerto Rico and couldn't make the match. So Snot launched into a tirade against "bean burrito-eatin', Taco Bell-workin' punks."

At that, local Cuban-American boy Johnny Gonzalez (one of William Gonzalez's many stage names) leaped into the ring to challenge the stringy-haired Snot. "Cheech and Chong!" roared Snot, apparently unaware of any distinction between Mexicans and Cubans. "I'm gonna send you back to the border!"

To the hoots and howls of the largely black and Hispanic crowd, a good half of whose members were under the age of eighteen, Gonzalez angrily vowed to uphold the honor of "my fellow Latinos." An impromptu brawl commenced. "This Gonzalez character, whoever he is," intoned ringside commentator Playboy Bobby Davis (who moments earlier had narrowly escaped an attack by a fan outraged over his disparaging remarks about Homestead), "he ain't got no chance against Snot Dudley!"

Gonzalez, wearing a University of Miami tank top and jeans -- he wasn't "supposed" to wrestle tonight -- twisted Snot's massive arm. Snot poked at Gonzalez's eyes, Stooge-like, then lifted his reeling nemesis onto a turnbuckle. He was preparing to suplex him off the ropes when Gonzalez gave him a gourd-buster off the top rope, smashing Snot's nose into the canvas. After being subjected to a series of karate chops and kicks, Snot didn't want to play any more. Defiantly, he ducked through the ropes and walked out the back door of the building.

"Snot Dudley has left the arena! Snot Dudley is gone," tuxedoed emcee Bill Brown announced. "And the winner, ladies and gentlemen, is Johnny Gonzalez!" A chant went up: "S-W-F! S-W-F!" Gonzalez slapped high-fives on the kids crowded in the front row while a shocked Awesome Amy, the provocatively attired blond columnist for the newsletters Wrestling World and Wrestling Edge and an outspoken Snot booster, gripped the elaborate silver cross dangling between her artfully displayed breasts. Dry-ice fog billowed from behind a curtain, heralding the entrance of the next combatants.

The 27-year-old Gonzalez, who sports a goatee and long wavy hair, can't remember when he didn't want to be a pro wrestler. Still, he's happy to let the relentless demands of the quest for the top -- the endless self-hype, networking, traveling, and tanning -- take a back seat to teaching and appearing in local shows. "Wrestling gets in your blood," says the uncharacteristically plain-spoken and modest veteran of hundreds of matches, who grew up in Hialeah and attended a wrestling school in Orlando when he was 21. "Sure, it's not a normal thing to do for a living. A lot of guys keep coming back and getting their bodies pounded, but they don't want to do anything else. I really believe that to understand it right you have to get a psychiatrist."

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