Bloody backyard bouts

Teenage wrestlers use steel chairs, barbed wire, bats in hot new 'sport'

Toronto Star
January 6, 2001
By Susan Carpenter
Special to The Star

Los Angeles - She calls it an arena, but the wrestling ring in Pam Adam's small backyard is a raggedy construction of used tires, plywood, old carpet padding and a blue tarp.

Scores of teenage boys from Los Angeles and neighboring counties come there every weekend to wrestle, using moves they've learned from watching pro wrestling on TV.

Some of the more extreme teen wrestlers beat each other over the head with steel folding chairs and draw blood with baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire.

"None of these kids are made to do anything that they don't want to do," says Adams, a mother of two in Santa Ana, California.

Backyard wrestling is one of the hottest sports for teen boys these days -- and one of the most controversial.

An estimated 1,000 federations (including the Backyard Brawlers in New York, Global Championship Wrestling in Chicago and Backyard Hardcore Wrestling in Crawford, Colo.) have sprung up around the U.S. in the last two years.

Most members meet online, joining other kids in their area to practice and compete, using fire, thumbtacks and barbed wire in their matches. Wearing little, if any, protective gear, the combatants body-slam and pile-drive each other. Some take swings with fluorescent light fixtures and throw mousetraps, hoping they'll catch skin. Videos of the events are Webcast, traded and sold online.

"Yeah, sure, we're getting hit in the head with chairs and getting cut and everything, and bleeding, but, you know, we walk away," says Chris Jackson, 19, whose "stage" names is Mr. Fantastik.

"Cuts heal, pain goes away... We're still nonetheless having fun."

Some people blame the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling for starting the fad and Xtreme Power Wrestling for raising the stakes. Much of what wrestling stars do is choreographed, but that is lost on many backyard wrestlers.

"You can go to WWF and see them doing the moves, but this is different because it's new," says Veronika Vester, 17. "They're taking it to a new extreme and kids like to see it."

Vester is dating Kidd Krayz, a backyard wrestler revered as one of the best "bleeders" in the Ventura, California-based Real Wrestling Federation.

She didn't always enjoy seeing blood. When she started dating Kidd Krayz last January and went to one of his matches, she says she turned around. "Then, as time goes on, it's just like the normal thing. ...Now I'm out there yelling: 'Yeah! Hit him!"

Vester has no interest in being a wrestler herself, although she has swatted people with a barbed-wire bat and once "cheese-grated" another girl's forehead.

Wrestlers take a lot of abuse.

Matt Heersink, 16, recently took at least four hard blows to his head with a steel folding chair. That was after he'd been clobbered on his noggin with a baseball bat, but before he fell into a bale of barbed wire.

"It was a great reaction from the crowd," says Matt, his head wrapped in a towel to sop up the blood. "That's what you're really looking for."

His mom is understanding.

"Truthfully, I don't like my boys to be in it, but it's part of what they're into now. What I was into as a teenager, my parents didn't like either, and I grew up to be a good person," says Robyn Heersink.

"As long as what they're getting at home is wholesome, then as long as it's supervised, I don't think there's anything wrong with it."

Like most parents, she doesn't stay to watch.

"I think parents need to be a little more proactive," says WWF spokesperson Jayson Bernstein.

"We do our part," he says referring to the "Leave the danger to us" public service announcements the WWF airs during every show.

"What we do in the ring is entertainment. These are trained professionals. ... They're in a safe, standardized environment. It concerns us that children have been injured trying to do what we do."

Xtreme Power Wrestling, the group that uses barbed wire and tacks, runs a warning against backyard wrestling in the intro to all its videotapes.

Kevin Kleinrock, vice-president of operations, says backyard wrestlers confuse theatre with reality.

"When we have one of our so-called death matches, it's not just about hitting someone with a chair," he says. "It's used as part of the storyline to enhance the match."