Sunday, November 27, 2011

John Skyler's Insatiable Quest For Hatred And Respect

John Skyler (Photo Courtesy of Wayne Rush)
In the midst of my interview with wrestling legend The Barbarian, I catch out of the corner of my eye a gent in a button-up green flannel and a pair of jeans. He wears a broken-in Country Strong ball cap with it's brim bent in almost a perfect upside down u-shape.

John Skyler is operating on maybe five hours of sleep in the last 48 hours, but he doesn't make a peep about it. Instead he does what he does best, what has made him one of the most talked about wrestlers in the southeast: he listens and observes.

I part ways with Barbarian, and turn my attention to the seated Skyler. A fresh beard blankets his face; another casualty of the No Shave November movement sweeping the nation. I've heard previous radio interviews done with Skyler in the past. Useless drivel. Unless someone has been on television with that blasphemous mutated WWE logo in the bottom left corner, they don't know what to say. Their minds are stunted by a constant addiction to the national wrestling scene; like children scarfing down candy as their only source of nutrition.

The true meat and potatoes of professional wrestling lies in the independent scene that stretches coast to coast through the gymnasiums and National Guard armories. If this scene was a Wild West metaphor, Skyler would be Billy the Kid.

Before he donned the stage name John Skyler, John Brumbaugh (real name) began his wrestling training in March 2008 under the tutelage of wrestling veteran Bob Keller. His first meeting with Keller was actually as a fifth grader in 1998, but as a novice wrestler looking to learn the trade, it was Reginald Vanderhoff who brought Brumbaugh to Keller's attention ten years later.

Brumbaugh's training continued throughout the summer of 2008, but the show that fell on July 6th proved to be a fateful experience. As Brumbaugh recalls, it was in Big Bear Lake, West Virginia, and he found himself confined to grunt work, constructing and deconstructing the ring while also hawking merchandise at Keller's table.

In between making sales for Taka Michinoku and Ahmed Johnson bend-em figures, Keller asked Brumbaugh if he was nervous. Sensing a good rib, Brumbaugh asked why. A dead serious Keller revealed that he was wrestling third on the card that night against Bill Bain. (The monosyllabic alliteration lends me to imagine Bain as Big John Studd in the film Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man.)

Not having any gear to change into, Brumbaugh relied on the patchwork donations of the other wrestlers to look presentable for his debut match. His nerves ran high, but the match, itself, was thankfully a straightforward jaunt: Bain squashed Brumbaugh inside of three minutes.

His trial by fire was a success, and to this day, Brumbaugh remembers all of the nerves he felt that night. But most importantly, it was the night his metamorphosis was complete. John Skyler was born to the wrestling world...

Three yeas later, the seasoned Skyler has continued his travels throughout the Carolinas all the way up to West Virginia, where it all began, and as far west as Las Vegas. In fact it is West Virginia where Skyler has burned the midnight oil from to attend tonight. His tank is running on empty, but his stories refueled laps ago.

Skyler is fashioned as a heel in the majority of the shows he is booked. He has a particular knack for upsetting the crowd, especially this year while embroiled in a feud with his mentor, Keller, which ended in Skyler retiring him as a result of a match.

Now, he proudly wears a "I Retired Bob Keller" when he makes an entrance to the ring, which produces a venomous reaction from the Lowcountry crowd that OSCW entertains each show. The pigtails in his hair and the flirtation with ambiguous homosexuality with former WCW star Lodi in the match tonight incited the Goose Creek youth to spat chants of "You are gay!" A sad byproduct of a show designed to be a benefit for a medically impaired coach, revered by the local community.

But as Brumbaugh, the man behind the maleovant Skyler, the success of his character lies in the dichotomy between actor and wrestler. Skyler maintains strict kayfabe at all times and believes heavily in the old school rules of the business. When someone approaches him and asks if he really is an asshole in real life, he replies with spit and a dismissal. But when Brumbaugh is told by fans or his peers how his match was a standout of the night and awe-inspiring, he is humbled and appreciative, like a Broadway star stepping out of the stage door onto Jane Street in New York, flooded by appreciative theatre fanatics.

The comparisons to Shawn Michaels humble Brumbaugh the most. Michaels, after all, was the idol that inspired him into the business in the first place. There's even a slight resemblance to HBK, but it is more so in the confidence he projects even in humility. There seems little doubt in his words that in five years he will be on television in some role as a wrestler.

The long nights on the road away far from home is a trope of the wrestling business right out of a Bob Seger song, and it no doubt takes it toll on the men and women who frequent it. However, the end result, the reaction of the crowd, more than outweighs the hardships. Such as was the case when Brumbaugh competed in a tag match with BJBrumbaugh, and it still does, spurning him to put on that high quality of a match each and every show.

A future in wrestling is an uncertain abyss full of barracudas in the forms of swine promoters and shooting muscle heads, but Brumbaugh maintains just enough insanity to stay ahead of the danger. An interjection by Barbarian and Mike Griffie (Barb's manager) indicates a possible future venture for Brumbaugh. The location and the event unknown. Perhaps it is a secret mission to rescue Meng or Warlord from a Gulag. My attempts at surveillance are thwarted by my immediate presence in the conversation. I will stick by my hypothesis for now.

However, for Brumbaugh, it is another adventure in this mad, mad world of wrestling and another addition to an already burgeoning resume that also includes training with Japanese stars CIMA, Akira Tozawa, and Naruki Doi at Dragon Gate USA. It is also further accreditation that Brumbaugh is an exceptional student of the business.

In a way, it is Aristotelian. Brumbaugh is what he repeatedly demonstrates. Therefore, dedication is not merely accident but habit.

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