NEW PORT RICHEY
Smoke and lights. Cheering, jeering and leering. Spandex and body slams.
Everything that professional wrestling has, that is, except for the famous names. It's what you'll get at the Florida Championship League, or FCW, which is a developmental program for World Wrestling Entertainment and its numerous shows.
Think of it as a WWE minor league team, which has produced such superstars as John Cena and Dave Batista.
"Actually, it's a lot like a farm league," said retired WWE wrestler Steve Keirn, who now runs the FCW and has trained such wrestlers as Diamond Dallas Page and Dustin Rhodes. "This is where we get them ready to go on TV because not all wrestlers start off good. There are only a few Hulk Hogans out there. You just don't grab professional wrestlers out of the sky.
"It's entertainment, and they have to be taught."
There are four shows a month at the Club Bourbon Street in New Port Richey. Every Tuesday night, wrestlers with no names, but promising futures, suit up, strut their stuff, perform routines and await — hope for, really — a phone call from the pros.
Keirn adds that the business always needs new personas.
"This business is very demanding," Keirn said. "You get in, make as much money as you can and get out, because if you don't, you won't have a family. They're aren't many of these places like this and this is the only game in town, so we have to fill the void of talent somehow."
Ralph Mosca, now the promoter of FCW at the club and in the area, was a wrestler for 16 years and had pro-wrestling shows for about 3 1/2 years before the FCW took over about 7-8 months ago. Mosca says there's always a good crowd, generally ranging from 100-200 people.
"People love seeing this," Mosca said. "There are some serious fans out there, some extreme ones, but those are the best guys. They keep coming back. There's nowhere else where you can see something like this."
These hopeful wrestlers aren't all talk. They're here to learn because that's what the league is worth.
Ted DiBiase Jr., son of wrestler Ted DiBiase Sr., who was well-known as the Million Dollar Man during his on-again-off-again 14-year career with the then-WWF, has been with developmental league for about eight months. He says there is a lot of learning at FCW, such as moves, techniques and perfecting a good persona, but DiBiase adds there's more to it.
"It's about learning to respect what wrestling gives you," DiBiase said. "I've been working at this a long time — for as long as I can remember ... They're grooming us for TV. We hone our skills and talent here and they prepare us for the next level. We're in the entertainment business and we have to learn to be entertainers."
Another young, rising star, Jake Hager, realizes this is his big break.
"This is such a huge opportunity," Hager said. "This a great place to get started, really the only place to get started. Thousands of guys from all over the country apply weekly to join this league and there are so many spots. They teach us the little things you can do to make yourself much better, and those things help from being a millionaire wrestler to not making it."
Hager says they watch a lot of film, to not only perfect the routine, but to learn how to make their show better, that way "we can use anything to become a superstar."
But like any other job, whether in sports or business, this league is about gaining experience and exposure. These wrestlers want to be here, to be called up more than they can dream about.
They're with the FCW because they strive for stardom.
"This is the farm system," DiBiase said. "We come here because we want to be at the top. TV is the finished product, obviously, but every wrestler starts at the bottom. It's not easy, but that's why we're here."
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