Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea.
Jake Abramowitz was standing backstage at the Prudential Center in Newark, waiting to be called into the wrestling ring. He had pulled out his old uniform from college, and it still fit him. At first he thought that was a positive sign, and he started to feel encouraged. This was a good idea. He could do this, and the money would go a long way to paying his rent, and for buying the airplane ticket to Aruba he had been dreaming of. Winter was hard in New Jersey.
Then he watched the match before his from backstage. Mike the Slayer against Righteous Rick. It looked brutal. Bodyslams, Legdrops. Dropkicks. Backbreakers. And a few moves he had never seen before. The crowd roared every time flesh pounded flesh, or a body was forcibly thrown to the mat. These guys were big, really big. And they knew their stuff. How did he let his roommate talk him into this?
But he had been a star in college. That is, until Yeshiva University disbanded the Macabees Wrestling Team. He had been featured in the Y.U. Commentator as Sports Star of the Week. True, that did not cause him to abandon his accounting major, but it was satisfying, nonetheless.
Now here he stood wearing a baby blue singlet, waiting to go into the arena as a last minute replacement for a professional wrestler named Bob the Barracuda who apparently had the flu. He was up against a guy called The Angel. They told him he would be billed as Jake the Kid. All he had to do was last the full twenty minutes in the ring to get paid. He was the Heel, the no-name challenger, and The Angel was the Face, the star expected to win. It was all staged to keep him uninjured, or so he had been told. Money in the bank.
The light was blinding when the curtains parted and he walked towards the ring. He could hear a smattering of applause and more than a few boos as he approached center stage. Then loud music began to pulse through the speakers. What tune was that? Enter Sandman? No, he couldn’t place it. Oh, yes. Angel by Jimi Hendrix. Good one.
Then he saw him. The spotlight caught him entering from offstage left. He had large glittery wings hanging from his back. And he was huge. A small mountain. A slab of rock.
Jake felt a strange sense of foreboding. What on earth had he gotten himself into?
O.K., it can’t be that bad. It was all choreographed, right? And you rarely heard stories of a wrestler dying in the ring, right? Almost never. All he had to do was last until the end of the bout. It was all about endurance.
The referee was saying something to the two of them, perhaps reviewing some rules. He thought he heard his name mentioned once. Then he walked to his corner and the bell rang.
The crowd roared. The Angel clasped him tightly and said something in his ear.
“Throw me against the ropes.”
“I’m not going to say it again.”
Jake shoved the man-mountain and he fell hard against the ropes. Wow. He was good.
This wouldn’t be so bad.
The Angel came in close again and said something like, “Atomic Kneedrop.”
The next thing Jake knew he was ten feet in the air and then down on the Angel’s knee. Again the crowd roared its approval.
Disbelief more than pain. But lots of pain, too.
And so it went. He felt like a piñata. He occasionally shoved The Angel and the wrestler went flying, but most of the time Jake was airborne or hugging the mat. And The Angel would tell him something just before his body assumed a new contortion.
How long could these twenty minutes be? Jake tried to think of a way to keep going. He thought of jumping from the ring, but stayed put. The next time The Angel locked him in a clasp, he tried to hold on.
“Let go, kid. The match is almost over.”
But Jake held on for his life.
The Angel grabbed his thigh and squeezed.
Jake jumped back in pain.
“You’re doing great, kid. Hang in there. I don’t give out compliments often, but you’ve got a real future in this. We could give you some new wrestling name, something flashy, and you could go on to glory.”
Wow. Blessed by The Angel.
And just before The Angel raised him up from the ground and lifted him over his head to execute something called a “Jackknife Powerbomb” Jake knew that, despite the pain all over his body-- especially his left thigh-- he was going to be alright. For he had wrestled with The Angel, and he had persevered. He had shown he had what it takes to survive in this world, maybe even to flourish. He was the real deal. A contender.
He also knew that he would never ever wrestle again. Ever.