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So you want to be a pro wrestler?
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Super Jaguar’s eyes were wide as he paced back and forth waiting for his music to hit, the excitement building as he prepared for his first-ever match inside the squared circle. Outside the curtain a loud crowd of around 200 wrestling fans waited for the opening match of the night – a match he would wrestle against Warren County’s own Cal Redmon.
“Yeah, I’m nervous,” Super Jaguar said as he pulled at the mask covering his face and concealing his true identity. “I think part of it is I want to put on a good match and the other part is this is my first time so I’m not really sure what to expect.”
“You’re on,” the promoter said as he pointed to the curtain and his music began.
The rookie split the curtain and ran to the ring getting a loud pop from the revved-up fans who were ready for a night of Tennessee All-Pro Wrestling action.
Backstage the rookie’s work was being watched on the monitor from the opening bell, a critique prepared by his trainer to be worked on during their next training session.
Watching Super Jaguar backstage on the monitor was a man who first burst through the curtains 28 years ago – “The Handsome One” Ron Davis.
“It was brutal back then,” Davis declared of his early years in wrestling as Super Jaguar took his first bump in the ring. “When I was training they would beat the (crap) out of you and then you wouldn’t even get in the ring for your first match until a year of training.”
Davis noted tasks for a youngster back then included things like putting up chairs, breaking down the ring, and sweeping the floor, as well as training five days a week.
Davis said his first match was against the man who trained him. The match went for an hour – an hour in which he was expected to perform every move he’d been taught or face the consequences later.
Another ring veteran, Lord Frost, who also coaches the WCHS wrestling team, agreed with his fellow wrestler. With 20 years under his belt, the 400-pound, fire-breathing vampire has seen the business change over the years.
“Wrestling had its renaissance back in the 1990s,” said Frost, who most people know as Stephen Martin. “Wrestlers were rock stars. But just like everything, it’s cyclical.”
Frost noted one of the most obvious changes over the past two decades is the size of wrestlers. Years ago, it was mainly larger grapplers, but now it’s common to see a 160-pounder in the ring.
“They told me I was too small,” Davis laughed, recalling he had to bulk up to about 220 before he was allowed in the ring.
Alongside the ring veterans was Brent Powers, a relative newcomer from McMinnville. While in the business less than two years, Powers has one of the biggest followings at Tennessee All-Pro Wrestling, which has matches every Saturday night at the old cheese plant. Powers has held the Southern Heavyweight Champion-ship twice.
While his initiation wasn’t as brutal as those suffered by Davis and Martin, his road to the main event was sometimes a tough one like the night he was bloodied in a strap match against then-champion Daddy Mac, beaten with a rusty cowbell provided by a fan. Or the night Powers was choked so hard with a belt that blood vessels burst in his eyes.
“It’s what I always wanted to do,” Powers said, even though he has suffered many wrestling-related injuries. “I love it.”
The veterans agreed with Powers, noting that after all these years it’s the love of performing in front of fans that keeps them in the business despite the injuries and sometimes long travel.
Fellow local wrestler Ugly Kid Joe, known here as Tim Jernigan, is also relatively new to the ring, going from fan to wrestler. He wrestled his first show at Relay for Life in June.
“When they first started shows here in McMinnville, me and my boys would come and then that’s all we’d talk about all week until the next show,” Jernigan said. “I remember one year on New Year’s Eve my wife asked me what we were doing for New Year’s. I told her I didn’t know what she was doing but me and the boys were going to the wrestling show.”
Jernigan said over time he wanted to be more than just a fan.
 “When I got a chance to train and become part of it, I jumped at the chance,” Jernigan said, noting he then embarked on a crash course of training with the local group.
Jernigan admitted it isn’t just about the show but it’s about the brotherhood within the business.
“I’ve made a lot of new friends here,” Jernigan said.
Somewhere in the middle of the new wrestlers and the veterans is fan favorite “The Best Around” Toby Farley, who has been in the business for just over a decade. Although a “bad guy,” Farley also gets some of the loudest cheers when his music hits and he’s followed to ringside by his annoying manager Chris Cruise.
While Farley dedicates his Saturday nights to entertaining his fans in McMinnville, he differs from others in the locker room when it comes to his other gig – mixed martial arts. Teaching his own MMA class and holding a 2-2 professional record in the octagon, Farley admits wrestling and MMA are a lot different.
“Right now I’m up over 200 but when I’m preparing for a MMA match, I’ll get down to around 160,” Farley said, adding that cutting the weight isn’t as tough as one would think. “In wrestling you want to be bigger but that’s not true for MMA. You have to make weight.”
In the meantime, as the stories of three decades of wrestling were being bantered about, some that can never be repeated under penalty of death, Super Jaguar was pinned by Cal Redmon following a 10-minute match.
“It was great,” Jaguar declared as he came back through the curtain, a big smile on his face.
“Not too bad for the first time but there’s a couple of things we need to work on,” his trainer said as he pulled him to the side as the music hit for the next match.
TAP wrestling holds shows every Saturday night beginning at 8 p.m. at the cheese plant on the corner of the bypass and Red Road.