The pain gripped Will Cuevas’ face as a muscle-bent man in a wrestling mask yanked his arm over his head - in ways arms weren’t meant to be yanked. Cuevas’ face twisted into a tortured grimace as he struggled to his feet and retaliated with a blistering chop. “Good!” yelled the trainer, as the pair parted ways and leaned back against the ropes of the ring.
Inside this San Jose warehouse, wrestling posters papering the walls, pro wrestling dreams are being made - and pummeled. This is where Gabriel Ramirez has run his Pro Wrestling Revolution Academy - a training ground for aspiring pro wrestlers. “I think everyone in life always wants to have their name in lights,” said Ramirez, watching his charges taking turns leaping and landing on their backs.
Ramirez figures some 100 people a year will enter his program - only around five will actually make it to the public stage. “There’s pain,” said trainer Vinnie Massaro. “Mentally, physical - you know financially, there’s pain.” Massaro noted several of his students come from as far away as the Central Valley twice a week for the classes.
Some students went through the mock matches wearing comical Lucha Libre wrestling masks. A female wrestler in a blue mask who identified herself only as La Furiosa said her dream was to eventually earn a living through wrestling. “I’ve known since i was little i wanted to be in entertainment,” she said. “I just didn’t know until several years ago, how?” Her classmates included a construction worker, a recently retired marine and a 17-year-old Italian woman who traveled to the area to attend the school.
“You have comic book artists,” said Ramirez. “You have construction workers, you have lawyers.”
Ramirez was bitten by the pro wrestling bug as a child watching Lucha Libre wrestling, popular in Latin-American culture. He spent years in the industry before opening his own school.
“People would mock you and say ‘that stuff is fake how could you like that?’” Ramirez said. “So then you become a closet wrestling fan.” But the popularity of the sport - took a drop kick to the proverbial closet. Pro wrestling now draws people like Cuevas who retired after nine years in the Marines to take a shot at a career in wrestling.
“A lot of stuff hurts,” Cuevas said. “So you really gotta enjoy it.” And Cuevas must really enjoy it, having added whiplash, concussions and neck strains to his litany of injuries. “That’s why you have to be trained properly,” he said. “To make it hurt less.”
The world of pro wrestling, famous for stars like Hulk Hogan, is a big stew of pageantry, theater and athleticism. Sequins, tights and fur are as ubiquitous as hulking muscles. Cuevas said even a stellar wrestler won’t climb the ropes of the industry without the skills of a daft performer. “You’ve gotta love pro wrestling,” added Cuevas. “And you gotta be a little tiny bit crazy as well.”
Popular wrestlers can make serious dough through pay-for-view deals, appearances and merchandising. “Everyone comes in thinking they’re going to be the next superhero with a cape,” said Ramirez. “But before they get to anything near that they have to learn how to wrestle.” With that, Ramirez gathered up the roughly 20 students in the class - informing some they still weren’t accomplished enough to compete in an upcoming exhibition at the Santa Clara County Fair. The group took the news in stride - and then took to the task of breaking down the practice ring for the upcoming show.
“At the end of the day it’s entertainment,” said Ramirez. “But don’t get confused, don’t get twisted - it’s hard work.”