As the credits rolled and the elegiac song began, Chasyn Rance and Shawn Osborne still seemed lost in the movie. They had just watched The Wrestler. Much of it felt like autobiography. • As professional wrestlers, they have pretty much done every painful, weird, madly brave wrestling thing depicted. • They have not witnessed the open sale of steroids in a locker room. Neither has been staple-gunned. But they've "bladed" themselves with razors to show the crowd blood. They've flinched under folding chairs and fluorescent light tubes crashing on their backs. • Orlando wrestler Chasyn Rance has a college degree. He also has had 10 concussions. • Brandon wrestler Shawn Osborne traded baseball for the ring. Yes, he will bleed himself for the crowd, but "only when it is needed." • The Wrestler is their story, and at the end, Bruce Springsteen sings their song.
These things that have comforted me, I drive away . . . My only faith is in the broken bones and bruises I display.
Chasyn and Shawn watched a DVD of The Wrestler at the home of their promoter, Sal Hamaoui. They wrestle for Sal's Largo-based entertainment company, Full Impact Pro.
Sal also does all the DVD production for Ring of Honor, the national wrestling combine featured in the movie.
Sal is 39. He is widowed with two children. He's an ex-Marine with a Stetson law degree. As a young boy in Cleveland, he got his uncle to take him to wrestling matches. He and his uncle drove a VW Rabbit through snowstorms to get to the shows. He remembers jumping from the car at stoplights to pour antifreeze on the windshield.
Chasyn is 25. He graduated in business management from the University of Central Florida. He also studied Judaic history. He has seven screws in his ankle. He was invited to audition in New York for a small part in The Wrestler, but couldn't do the plane fare.
Shawn is 32. He chose wrestling over baseball. He had an early shot as a "developmental talent" with the WWE national wrestling monopoly. But he was released. He's now trying to get signed by Ring of Honor. He has a finishing move called "the Bad Slam." His day job is making calls for a collection agency.
They watched the movie as they ate Papa John's pizza. The opening scene showed Mickey Rourke, beaten and bent over, on a stool in a locker room. He had won his match. His face bled from razor cuts.
"Guys," Sal called out, "this is what you have to look forward to."
"I don't have to look forward to it," Shawn shot back. "It's already happened."
They know most of the movie's wrestlers.
Chasyn was awed by the comic performance of wrestler Dylan Keith Summers, the "Necro Butcher." Summers has a peculiar, formal way of speaking, like a professor. In the movie, he calls Rourke "sir," then asks if he has anything against being staple-gunned.
Necro Butcher, Chasyn said, "is one of the nicest, most polite people I know."
"I've never had to wrestle him, and I don't plan to."
Most of the wrestling scenes in the movie take place in a shabby American Legion hall in New Jersey. Almost everyone, Shawn and Chasyn said, starts out that way. They wrestle in legion halls, elementary school gyms, flea markets and prison cafeterias. They sleep in their cars outside the gates.
"Ninety percent of the WWE roster started out just like that," Shawn said.
Shawn nudged Chasyn.
"Remember Little Tootsie's?"
That's a Tampa strip club, now known as Sin City. They wrestled there.
"Remember the jars of condoms?" Shawn asked. "Remember wrestling as the girls danced around the pole?"
Most people only know TV wrestling. "It's sterilized," Shawn said, "more show business than wrestling."
People would be shocked by the starting level. The untrained ones are the dangerous ones, Shawn said. You never know what they'll do.
"Your life is in their hands."
Promoters don't like injuries, Sal said. But wrestling is storytelling, and every wrestling story starts and ends with an injury.
Let's say it starts this way: Maniac insults Brain Bucket's intelligence. Brain Bucket says something nasty about Frankenstina, Maniac's wife, and her glass eye. Frankenstina's cousin Plague vows revenge against Brain Bucket.
Bad blood stews for a year.
The fans expect to see the bad blood spilled in the ring.
"Once in a while," Sal said, "you need that level of violence."
That's pro wrestling.
For Sal's 2007 production, Cage of Pain II, in Crystal River, he shopped at a hardware for light tubes, trash can lids, tiki torches, a fire extinguisher and four-pronged barbed wire, "because they didn't have two-prong."
Eight men brawled in Cage of Pain II, including Chasyn. He was the seventh wrestler in. By then, glass shards littered the ring like snow.
Chasyn wore two sweatshirts and long pants. He looked ready for the Arctic. A ring commentator dryly noted, "He's definitely not a fighter."
Everyone was blood-spattered. To blend in, Chasyn cut himself. But no blood came out. He had to cut himself again.
Sal said the script was trashed.
"It was out of control. Guys got hurt. Guys were doing s--- they weren't supposed to. They weren't supposed to use the light tubes until the end."
It wasn't that clear that Sal was complaining.
So The Wrestler was their movie — dramatic resolution achieved the wrestling way, the way of all blood sports.
In every last fighting man lies some white-hot spark.
"If you have a passion for it," Shawn said, "you'll do anything it takes."
Springsteen, in his closing song, poetically defined it:
Bet I can make you smile when the blood, it hits the floor.
Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?
John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2258.