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Powerbombs, pageantry on display at wrestling show

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Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 12:00 am

As he strutted around the ring wearing a feathery purple cape and a cocky grin, Lucky Cannon briefly stopped and turned toward a screaming youngster who just wouldn't quit.

Leaning toward the boy, who was informing the 6-foot-5, 266-pound, long-haired villain he wasn't a fan, Cannon, who goes by Jon Emminger when he's not cracking chair shots off his opponents, decided he had had enough of the taunts.

Locking his eyes on the young fan, Cannon fired back with a "you SUCK," leaving the boy and surrounding fans in a humbled silence.

Any other time, this may have been grounds for a call to child services. But on Friday night, it was all part of the show.

Florida Championship Wrestling, which serves as a developmental program for industry superpower WWE, brought its "Summer Slamarama" tour to the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center for an event linking sport, theater and plenty of fanfare.

For local wrestling fans, these shows have become their best chance to see the spectacle they love in person, as WWE has not visited the area since 2006.

"We're a small market," wrestling fan J.C. Currias said. "But these guys come here because they care about getting into the small markets, and it's really amazing."

Friday night was FCW's fourth show in Gainesville in the past year, and enthusiasts like Bobby Pitts do not understand why the support for FCW hasn't translated into more WWE shows.

"I can't see any reason," he said. "Gainesville is a famous city. I mean you know, national champions; what more do you need?"

Wrestling fans are a passionate bunch. Many were lined up two hours before the 8 p.m. bell time trying to be the first through the door for a pre-show meet-and-greet with such names as WWE star John Morrison and recent "Tough Enough" winner Andy Leavine.

Some fans even have in-ring ambitions of their own.

"[Pro wrestling is] the only thing I've ever wanted to do," Pitts said. "I'd like to be famous so I can come back to Gainesville. ... When I come here, it will be ‘Mr. Primetime' Bobby Bennett."

When asked for further details, Pitts was very specific of what "Mr. Primetime" would look like.

"If I could look like any wrestler, [Morrison is] the one," he said. "You could grate cheese on his abs. It's ridiculous."

UF grad Shari Krull traveled from Tampa to see the show even though FCW does weekly TV tapings a short drive from her house.

"It's just amazing that you have the breeding ground for the WWE right in your backyard, and you don't even realize it," Krull said.

Some performers pull double duty, working both the hectic WWE schedule and the FCW slate.

Celeste Bonin, better known by fans as "Kaitlyn," is on the roster for WWE's "Smackdown" brand in addition to serving as a host for Summer Slamarama. Her typical week begins with "Smackdown" tapings on Tuesday followed by appearances at non-televised live shows and then a flight home to Tampa, where FCW takes up any possible off days.

"You miss out on a lot of sleep and down time," Bonin said. "I could never explain how intense it is to someone until someone actually goes through it. It consumes your life. It's a lifestyle."

When not on the road, wrestlers fill time with long hours of in-ring practice and classes where wrestlers practice their verbal skills, which are crucial in advancing choreographed storylines.

Wrestlers who weren't included in Friday night's show were relegated to working as ushers, selling programs and setting up the ring. They spent whatever free time they had heckling those fortunate enough to perform.

Like its parent company, FCW markets itself as "sports entertainment" instead of wrestling. Performers prefer to be referred to as "superstars" or "divas" in lieu of wrestlers.

For instance, the first thing that took place after an intermission was not a match, but a "Superstar Idol" contest in which a large bald man sang the Norwegian national anthem, and a 6-foot-10 Irish native won with his rendition of "Ice, Ice Baby."

Before the first body-slam of the night, there was a lengthy comedy routine where a "heel" - pro wrestling jargon for a bad guy - complained that one "babyface," the good guy, was trying to pull down his tights. At another point in the show, a heel stopped his match to inform the crowd via microphone he was the "King of Africa."

"Everybody has their opinions, but we are entertainment, and we come to entertain," Florida Heavyweight Champion Bo Rotundo said. "I guarantee you, if you come to an FCW show, you're going to get entertained."

However, just because it is entertainment and events are scripted doesn't mean there aren't harsh realities.

"It's not fake," said Titus O'Neill, who was in Friday's six-man tag-team main event. "It's predetermined. We know who's going to win or lose. But at the end of the day, guys really get hurt. Injuries really do happen. You do get kicked and you do get punched."

O'Neill, who in a previous life was UF defensive end and Student Body Vice President Thaddeus Bullard, needed a new line of work after his football career fizzled. It was when his friend and six-time world champion Dave Bautista showed him his WrestleMania check that he saw a potential future in "the business."

But for others such as Rotundo, whose real name is Taylor Rotunda, it's a family tradition. Wrestling fans might know his grandfather and father as the mustachioed, cowboy hat-wearing Blackjack Mulligan and the suspender-clad, unruly accountant Irwin R. Schyster, respectively. His two uncles wrestled, as does his older brother, better known as Husky Harris.

"You grow up around it, and you're so comfortable, and it's something you love," he said. "It's a lot of fun."

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