Training shows 'the right way' to be professional wrestler
The classroom is square. The teacher is a small mountain named Bulldog. He slings water bottles at his students when they screw up badly. Their lessons involve things like putting each other in headlocks, or tossing someone across the classroom to land with an ear-ringing crash.
Success in these classes will get these students a chance to work alongside people with names like Barbarian, Raven, Gunner, Raging Bull, maybe even Hulk.
If you think professional wrestling is just some muscle-bound guys heaving themselves across a ring, stop by Bulldog University, in a corner of Samson’s Gym on Morganton Boulevard in Gamewell. Chad Byrd, aka Bulldog, will educate you as long as you’re willing to listen.
“There is a certain way you do everything” in wrestling, Byrd said. “People talk about there’s ‘old school’ and ‘new school.’ There’s not. There’s a right way and a wrong way.”
You might recognize Bulldog – he has been on TV. The first time was in 1991, when he was just 17, on a World Championship Wrestling show. But he says he had an awful lot to learn, and he tries in his training classes to pass on to aspiring wrestlers what pros such as George South taught him.
“The first time I ever wrestled George, I thought I was a real wrestler, and George embarrassed me so bad,” Byrd said. “He opened my eyes and made me realize there is lot more to this business than just getting in there and throwing guys around.”
The training includes basic amateur wrestling moves, some gymnastic athleticism, some of what a layman might describe as stunt-man athleticism, and a little acting to play to the audience. It’s not just knowing the moves but being able to execute them at speed while interacting with someone else who is also executing at speed, and all while being aware of what you’re showing the audience.
James Brody of Morganton, known to fans as the Mid-Atlantic Madman, said his year and a half training with Byrd has been an eye-opener. And he has seen a difference in how he is treated by promoters.
“I always had a bunch of shows, but now they’re quality shows,” Brody said.
He also noticed that the wrestlers who get top billing at the shows he works, such as The Barbarian, Al Snow and Raven, talk to him more.
“You think you’re being a professional,” he said of his previous skill level, “but they can spot you.”
Byrd said he also teaches his students other things, such as how to carry yourself, to speak carefully, and to pay attention to how you dress even outside the ring.
“These fans, they see us as superheroes,” Byrd said, “and you don’t want to go in there like a bum, dressed like you just mowed the grass.”
Reporting everything Byrd has to say about wrestling, proper techniques, the history of wrestling in this region, the things that help and hurt the business, and the importance of donating some of a show's proceeds to churches, community projects or people in need would fill this entire page. You could say he’s passionate about his work.
“I want to pass on what I learned to the new guys,” he said, “where they can carry on our sport.”