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Every wrestler dreams of getting to the “pinnacle of sports entertainment” — Wrestlemania. But the road to get there is a difficult one, filled with bumps and bruises — and the occasional concussion. I learned this in a hard and painful way. My stint as a pro wrestler was short, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons in the process.
My journey to pro wrestling
The larger-than-life characters of pro wrestling have always intrigued me. In 2009, I decided to attend a pro wrestling school. At 5’4” and 135 pounds, I thought I fit the part. I saw an ad on Craigslist for a local wrestling try-out. I knew wrestling was choreographed, and I had learned dancing and singing choreography in high school when I was in the show choir. That counts as experience, right?
I drove to an auditorium-style venue called The Phantasy, a gritty concert venue usually reserved for metal and punk bands. I saw a wrestling ring set up in the front row and about 10-15 guys standing around. One guy was small like me, maybe even a few inches shorter, but more muscular. Another guy looked like a lumberjack, about 300 pounds. With his big beard and a big gut, he was quite impressive. There was one guy there who looked like a shorter, fatter hybrid of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bill Goldberg.
We got started, and I found out quickly just how hard the ropes were. In this particular ring, the ropes were made of steel cables wrapped in electrical tape. Not exactly soft and inviting as they looked on TV.
The first drill was running the ropes with a partner. To the layman wresting observer, this probably looks easy. After all, what’s so hard about running and bouncing off ropes? Believe me, the execution wasn’t easy. When you run the ropes with another wrestler, you have to keep in sync so you don’t crash into each other. I was exhausted at the end of the 60 seconds; the bruises underneath my shoulder blades slowly forming.
I quickly realized that while I was in decent shape, I wasn’t in wrestling shape. That realization led to my first lesson.
Lesson 1: It takes practice to be good
Running the ropes was something my favorite wrestlers on RAW did effortlessly. But I learned quickly that they had been running the ropes for years, and for countless hours, way before they were performing on Monday nights and on pay-per-views.
The thing is, we all have to “run the ropes” in some way or another in our careers. In my professional career as a copywriter, it’s taken me years to get into “copywriting” shape. Sure, I’ve been bouncing off the ropes with art directors and account managers for almost five years now, and my writing has improved since then, but it’s a skill that I still have to hone daily.
Lesson 2: Learn how to take a bump
The next, and probably most important step for any inspiring wrestler, is learning how to take a “bump.” A bump in when a wrestler lands solidly on their back with high impact, spread over as much surface as possible.
Bumps in wrestling are a painful learning experience. Everyone sucks when they start. You hit your head a million times, you land awkwardly, and then you get up and try it again. Like most skills, it’s only improved through repetition.
About three months into my pro wrestling training, we had a practice (practices were for three hours, two days a week) where we focused exclusively on bumping. With another wrestling student, I’d bounce off the ropes, and lunge my right shoulder into his right shoulder. In wrestling terms, it’s called a shoulder tackle-bump.
These drills move at a breakneck pace. You deliver a shoulder tackle-bump, then take a shoulder tackle-bump, then do it all over. You’re up, you’re down, and you’re trying to keep the match moving. After the drill, I was exhausted, but I left practice feeling pretty good.
Lesson 3: Know your limits
Seven hours after practice ended, I woke up in bed, and the room was spinning. I was foggy, queasy, and mostly scared. What was happening? Somehow, I managed to jump in the shower and get dressed for work. Yes, I had an office job during the day. About a mile into my commute, I knew something wasn’t right. I was experiencing mild vertigo. I turned around and drove home.
I went to a neurologist who told me what I already knew — I had a mild concussion. When I told him what caused it, he smiled, nodded, and said, “My son plays college hockey, and I can’t wait until he’s done. He’s gotten a couple of concussions. I would tell you the same I’d tell my son. If you have better — and safer — career options, quit wrestling.”
I’d pushed myself to my limits. Per the doctor’s order, my time in the ring was done.
Lesson 4: Never forget the basics
It’s been 10 ten years since I stepped in the ring, but running the ropes and bumping are two of the hardest things I ever did. Today, I have a greater appreciation for sports entertainers and what they put their bodies through.
Even though WrestleMania is the biggest spectacle in sports, there’s a good chance these superstars started in the same dingy gyms and venues that I did.
My wrestling career might have been short-lived, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons that I continue to take with me today. Here are a few that have carried over from the squared ring to the squared cubicle.
- Collaboration is a two-way dance. My wrestling instructor would always stress that the most important job a wrestler had when entering the ring was making sure the person you were wrestling with was able to go home to their families after the match.
- Wrestling involves some serious teamwork and trust. And when you have that trust, chances are you’re able to produce good matches (or in my case today, good copywriting).
- Recognize the work upfront. I never wrestled in front of a live audience — one of my life’s regrets — but when I did watch my classmates perform at shows, I had a greater appreciation of the countless hours put in before the match.
- Most of us want to get ideas and projects off the ground immediately. Have a little patience with the research and insights that may go into your next presentation or pitch. There’s a lot of late nights that go into the main event.
- Keep runnin’ and bumpin’. Before Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre The Giant, or The Undertaker threw Mankind off a steel cage, they were practicing how to get the basics down. This was so they wouldn’t get hurt and wouldn’t hurt their opponent.
You might not make it into the ring at WrestleMania, but hopefully, now you realize there’s nothing “fake” at all about taking pride in your craft.