With a keg for a belly, a BORN TO RAISE HELL tattoo on his biceps, six missing teeth and a smile that shows his tonsils, there is nothing not to like about K.C. Jones. But for whatever reason, the pea-brains who run big-time pro wrestling haven't seen fit to give him his break.
It's not as if Jones, who has a day job as a secretary and receptionist at a construction firm, hasn't worked his tail off in nearly four years of evening classes at the School of Hard Knocks. This training academy for Hulk Hogan wannabes is located in a dumpy storefront gym in San Bernardino, about an hour's drive east of Los Angeles. There you can see Jones expertly dropping freshmen classmates with an arm to the throat. Wham! Smack!
The man is an artist, but as he nears 40, his chances of breaking into the World Wrestling Federation are dwindling. "It'd hurt if it doesn't happen, but you can't think that way," Jones says, as another student's foot slams through the gym's low ceiling on an errant flip. "Making it takes discipline, desire and dedication," he adds. Then he goes outside, lights a Camel and coughs up what sounds like part of a lung.
Hard Knocks is one of about a dozen U.S. schools that teach TV-style wrestling. Its enrollment, after seven years, has reached 75, as wrestling's popularity soars. Students pay $25 for each three-hour lesson in such moves as fake eye gouging and rubber banding a man's neck in the ropes.
Truck drivers, grocery baggers, college students--they're all here, from buff teens to potbellied boomers. They walk in wearing street clothes, step into a storage closet and emerge, in body socks and hoods, as the Samurai, Red Tornado, Black Panther, Golden Lion. Every class is like fright night at the Elks Lodge. "Guy comes in, says his name is Greg, but he wants to be called Power Lord because that's what they called him in school," says Bill Anderson, 43, one of the two former pro wrestlers who run the school. "The guy's maybe 5 ft. 7. I said, 'Where'd you go, a school for midgets?'"
Jones, who lives in the high desert northeast of town, goes into that closet a mild-mannered secretary and comes out Krazy K.C., Wild Man from the Desert Sand, with a ponytail, Gestapo boots, combat fatigues and Harley suspenders. And why this particular getup? "You go with what you know," he says.
Jesse Hernandez, 49, the other pro who runs the school, shouts, "Let's go!" and his students beef into the ring to practice flying off the ropes like drunken sailors. "I broke two ribs my second class," says Marciano Mendiola, 29, who works with the mentally disturbed by day and seems to feel right at home with these classmates. One of them, Raymond ("Hurricane") Marcus, 18, got a $1,500 scholarship to the School of Hard Knocks. "He's part Soboba Indian, and the reservation gives out education grants," says his mother Sherri. "Jesse and Bill had to send letters saying it was really a school." Raymond sometimes practices moves on his mother. "He put me in a scissors lock once and accidentally popped my rib."