By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Wendt, who wrestled for a while with the WCW in the early 1990s, says wrestling is so competitive that sharp skills are more of a must than ever. "You have to be good or people see right through it." But getting to the TV big time is another matter. "When they want you, they call," he says. "It's a funny business. When it's good it's good...When it's bad, it sucks."
On the night of student Jason Gallaway's professional debut, Fowler has the crowd of 300 or so eating out of his hand.
He's set up a hokey "Witch Doctor's Corner" near the ring, an "illegal" oasis decorated with plastic Halloween skeletons where the villains rule.
Fowler has some theatrics worked out for later in the night: a "battle royale" with seven guys in and around the ring, hammering on the ref, roaming into the audience, etc. The headliners, "Blackbird" Action Jackson and "Iceman" King Parsons, are Sportatorium regulars.
"I don't give 'em everything they want," says Fowler. "I give 'em nearly what they want."
Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Cold Shot," Bob Marley's "Jammin'," and some dance cuts warm up the thoroughly integrated crowd. In the sparsely filled stands are sheetrock installers, discount-store clerks, retired factory workers, and their kids or grandkids, who have paid between $5 and $10 for their seats. Fully half of the audience is 14 or younger.
Gallaway, dressed in a blue jersey with black flames, is paired for the first fight on the supporting card with Chuck Singer, a 212-pounder who looks about twice as wide as his rookie opponent.
After a few minutes of hip tosses, pile drivers, and body blocks, Gallaway is clearly sucking wind. Like most of Bart's students, he is a little surprised at how much stamina a match actually requires.
The action drags for a bit, the "dead air" is doing nothing for the crowd, and Fowler thinks it's a good time to break away.
"Here, let me introduce you to my partner," Fowler says.
But what happens to Gallaway?
"Oh, he wins," says Fowler, casually predicting the finale in which Singer jumps from the top rope, misses Gallaway with a spinning splash, then is cradled and pinned. "You think I'd let one of my students lose his first match