I had spent three hundred dollars of my wife’s hard earned money. I had driven seven hours and thirteen minutes from my house to the Ring Of Honor Dojo. I had cut a promo that made me stand out from the pack. Now, I had to deliver in the ring.
Before my group of twenty five starry eyed dreamers began our in ring drills, the ROH head trainer Delirious welcomed us with a speech.
One of the first things he said was, “I don’t know what expectations you guys had coming in. Some guys think they’re gonna show up and do one camp and get offered a contract.” He paused as many people in the room laughed; I’m amongst the ones that didn’t. He continued, “That’s not how it works around here. This is an opportunity that may lead to another opportunity, then another, and then may eventually lead to a contract.” He paused, again, then continued, “Nobody actually thought that they were going to get offered a contract at the end of this camp, did you?” He looked around. A lot of heads shook from side to side answering with the body language of, “No, of course not.” My head wasn’t one of them.
He spoke a few more words of encouragement, about guys who have went on from tryout camps to get a contract, then said, “Okay. First two in the ring for drills.”
Before he had finished “in the ring”, I was wiping off my feet on the apron. I wanted to show that I wanted it and I was thirsty to wrestle on that ROH canvas that had hosted so many legendary matches.
The other guy that jumped up looked promising, but as we started the “just wrestle for three minutes, so we can see if you know anything” drill, it became apparent that he didn’t know much. He was inexperienced, but trying hard. Too hard, really. It was a three minute struggle and I was in my head too much to wrestle well.
Afterwards the trainers critiqued us and I immediately regretted my decision to go first; if I had waited, I could have heard advice other guys got and adjusted to it.
Truth Martini asked me, “Is your gimmick you never make a sound?”
No, it wasn’t. I was just too nervous and on my heels to be vocal. I was glad to get that reminder.
“Brutal” Bob Evans asked me, “How many times do you need to use the ropes in three minutes?”
A valid rhetorical.
Delirious said, addressing the whole room rather than just us, “I know you guys are going to be nervous, but remember to slow the f_k down. Next two.”
I was destroyed inside. With my thirteen years of in-ring experience, I had let a guy with less than a year in drag me down to his experience level, rather than bringing him up to mine. But, at least, we still had matches to do.
I watched the other twenty-three participants do the drill. Some did much better than I had done, some did much worse. The whole while, I was fuming angry at myself and motivated to have the best match possible.
After the last two completed the drill, it was time to break for lunch. I didn’t want to eat; I wanted to redeem myself, but I had to wait.
At the end of the break, Delirious posted a match lineup and we were told, “We’ll start in five minutes. All matches are five minutes. You will have five minutes during the match before you to go over your match, otherwise you should be ringside, paying attention. Don’t disrespect the guys in the ring by going over your match during thier’s.”
"Well, shit," I thought to myself. What makes me special in the ring is my creativity. Five minutes isn’t a lot of time to explain my craziness.
The guy whom I was lined up against found me before I found him and we threw together a few ideas during the initial five minutes before the first match started. He was much less experienced than me, but much more experienced than the guy that I had shared the ring with earlier.
The matches started. Most of the ones that came before mine had me feeling confident that, even though this scenario wasn’t the best opportunity to show off my particular skill set, I would still stand out.
The time came for my match. I made sure to be vocal, to utilize the ropes less, to slow the f__k down. We were told to show our faces to one side, as if it was the camera. I did, but I made sure to steal a glance at the trainers every once in awhile. They looked unimpressed.
Then, during the last few moves, I went into a sequence of maneuvers that these men, who spend a majority of their lives watching and executing wrestling moves, had never seen before. I stole another glance. Head nods of approval this time.
Another critique ensued.
Bob: “Not bad.”
Delirous: “I liked it, but I think you’re so fast and smooth that you should go slower between the moves; like...zombie slow.”
I felt a bit better after the match, but only a bit. Then guys like Jon Gresham, Vinny Marseglia, and J.T. Dunn wrestled and I was back to being destroyed inside.
Well, at least there’s another day left in the camp, I told myself.
As I drove the hour drive to Wilmington, Delaware, to stay with my buddy, because the gas money was a lot cheaper than a hotel, I called my wife and I felt like I might cry when she asked me how it went and I had to answer the woman who had graciously loaned me the money for the camp as an investment in our shared future, “Not great.”
“Oh, that sucks. But, I know you’ll do better tomorrow.” She responded.
I vowed to prove her right.