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In the Press
In The Press


Wrestling the Holland way

By NATE REENS
Staff Writer

photo: news

  MAIN EVENT: Jimmy " Big Bully " Jacobs, 16, from Grand Rapids gets dropped from the corner ring ropes by Gil " Lumber Jack Flash " Patton during a wrestling match at the Lakeshore Wrestling Club.
Sentinel/Brian Forde

In a room where sweat wafts into your nose and testosterone creeps into your body, grown men are trying to live out childhood dreams.

About 20 men with nicknames like "The Hype" and "Big Bully" plan and demonstrate drop-kicks, head butts and clotheslines as rock and pop music blares over a loudspeaker. Spandex outfits fail to contain the girth on some as flesh hangs over their waistlines. Others, less impressively built, look as if a stiff wind could blow them over and put them to the mat for a 1, 2, 3 count.

At least for a night, though, they're wrestlers -- at least, amateur wrestlers.

The Lakeshore Wrestling Organization, LsWO, was formed one year ago by Holland resident Joe Ortega, a man who wants to build a "good" wrestling league. The organization operates one of only 20 wrestling training centers nationwide, according to Ortega.

Ortega wants to give Holland and eventually the greater Grand Rapids area a league that emphasizes actual wrestling over sex and violence. The thought is noble, but perhaps akin to ordering a pizza without crust.

"We don't want the beer-guzzling, middle-finger waving crowd," said Ortega, who has been involved in amateur wrestling for 22 years. "We want to give people structured matches that are entertaining, but give people the reality of wrestling in a positive light."

photo: news

  RING TOSS: Jordan Steele, 16, of Grand Rapids, throws Jimmy Jacobs, 16, out of the ring during a match at the Lakeshore Wrestling Club. At right is wrestler Jared Clement ( Special J )
Sentinel/Brian Forde

Professional wrestling has followed a sharply rising path in recent years from cult following to nationwide sensation and some of the highest ratings on television. For all the televised mayhem though, behind the popularity of World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation are character development, plotlines of hatred and showmanship. Ortega's league wants to retain the showmanship aspect and develop wrestlers with distinctive personalities who fans love to hate or simply love.

"We absolutely want the showmanship and have wrestlers bragging about what they do, but at the end of the match be able to go home to their families and feel good about what they just did," the league owner said before a recent fight card at the LsWO gym on Coolidge Avenue. "Everybody wants to see the bad stuff, but what you see on the WCW and WWF is ridiculous. It's not wrestling. It's awful."

Yet just minutes after Ortega decries some of big-time wrestling's most identifiable traits, into the ring comes "Black Ice" from the cramped staging room.

Smoke pours from a machine and the dim lighting in a glorified garage focuses in on the coming of the Iceman and his shredded black shirt.

Black Ice screams like a madman and glares at the fans through the diluting haze. Immediately upon the ring of the bell he tosses his opponent Jordan Steel around the wrestling mat like a dog chewing a bone.

"Get up boy, get up," taunts Black Ice.

"You all want pain, you know you do," he says before pile-driving -- wrestling terminology for slamming an opponent's head to the mat -- Steel to the mat.

Once Steel is pinned for the loss, Black Ice is attacked by two enemies who proceed to tie his arms and legs behind his back, allowing Steel to extract revenge for the pounding he absorbed.

"We're here to give people their money's worth," Ortega said. "We're working on fan involvement and that is one way to get people worked up."

Another key component of the wrestling league are bone- crushing hits and mouth-dropping aerial attacks. Yet the question if the hits are real always remains among both fans and skeptics.

"It's an actual hit, the wrestlers feel pain the next day," Ortega said. "It's just like football. They don't pretend. Some moves are designed not to hurt as much as they could, but they're still real."

No one knows that more than "Lumberjack Flash" who made his final LsWO appearance last month. The Kalamazoo resident, also known as Kevin Harvey, who's a Western Michigan University student, was set for surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and an injured medial meniscus he suffered in a botched move.

"It was a freak accident," he said. "A miscommunication led to a 240-pound guy rolling over my leg and obliterating it. But I had to come back for one more match just so my fans know that I'm leaving."

The Lumberjack's outfit of camouflage pants, a ripped flannel shirt, a dirty white undershirt and a customary ax handle "means a lot to me" Harvey said. Harvey believes his blue-collar clothing ensemble appeals to every working man.

After completing rehabilitation for his knee, the 19-year-old hopes to climb into the ring for one more match and then embark on furthering his career in the business as an announcer.

"I started watching on TV in 1988 and it became a psychotic devotion to the sport," he said. "Anything I can do to keep myself busy works for me. I figure whatever doesn't kill me makes me more employable. Who knows, maybe I'll catch the eyes of someone in the WWF."

Harvey is off to a good start, although a time-consuming one. In addition to wrestling in the LsWO he works as the commissioner for a smaller start-up league in Kalamazoo and hosts a weekly wrestling television show in Guelph, Ontario.

"I'm just working the ladder, paying my dues," Harvey said. "I'm helping myself to get on to bigger and better things."

Hamilton resident Steve Long, a truck mechanic, known in local wrestling circles as "Mad Dawg Maddox," has been wrestling for two years for the "rush" of performing in front of people.

"All my life I've wanted to do something like this," Long said. "It's just a good time and we (the wrestlers) are like a family. We beat on each other, but then go grab dinner after the show. We're quality entertainment for all kinds of people."

Long holds the LsWO "hard core" championship belt. To gain the title the Hamilton man has been beaten with metal chairs and wooden tables, but still come out on top at the end of the match.

"Anything to get the job done, whatever it takes," Long said. "Some people get their high drinking or doing drugs. This is our way of getting an adrenaline rush."

At last month's LsWO show, Long wrestled in front of a crowd of 30 people ranging from children with their parents to teen-agers sporting multiple piercings and blue hair.

The assembled denizen whipped into a furor for performers like the league's rookie-of-the-year Kenny the King, but showered his opponent Big Osyris with boos.

The change in crowd demeanor is exactly what Ortega wants to see in his league. Fan reaction, he hopes, could lead to a local network television spot. For now, the action is restricted to the local MAC-TV access channel 6.

"It's a word-of-mouth league. People from all over the Midwest find out through e-mail and the Website. It's a growing league," Ortega said. "There's potential here to provide great entertainment with a positive message to kids and adults. We just have to keep practicing, do some fine-tuning and adjust our show. I guarantee people will not be disappointed with what we give."

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Showtime set for 7:30 p.m. Friday

The Lakeshore Wrestling Organization will hold its next match 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The match is set to take place at the LsWO's facility at 131 Coolidge Ave., just off East Eighth Street.

Admission is $5 and fans can expect to see at least eight matches in the 2-hour program.

For additional information and updates on the organization, check the league's Web site at lswo.hypermart.com. The site is updated weekly and features news, rankings, and future appearances.