About a decade ago, teenagers Nick Taylor and Patrick Strietz were in gym class at Liberty High School when Strietz overheard Taylor talking about professional wrestling while the two were running laps. Instantly, a friendship was formed. The two would spend time daydreaming about one day stepping into the squared circle themselves. They never imagined it would be in the same gym they met.
Taylor, who goes by the ring name "Skull," and Strietz, known as "Pat Anthony," are independent professional wrestlers and will both be part of the show when Adrenaline Championship Wrestling holds its "Chaos in Carroll County" event Saturday at Liberty.
"Through all the miles traveled, all the twists and turns in the story, all the bumps and bruises and dues we have paid in the last three and a half years working shows together, this show is a culmination for myself and Skull," Strietz said. "The emotions that will be running through me this Saturday night ... I can't even put it into words."
The show came about when ACW's promoter and fellow wrestler James "Jimmy Dream" Morris asked Taylor if he knew any other venues where the organization could run shows. Taylor, who lives in Eldersburg, immediately thought of his alma mater. So he called the school and before he knew it, they were filling out paperwork to bring professional wrestling to Carroll County this weekend.
"So far we're doing awesome," Taylor said about ticket sales. "We're trying to make this one of the bigger shows in Maryland and hopefully, it turns into a regular thing."
Taylor began training to become a professional wrestler about a year after graduating from Liberty in 2007 and had his first pro match in June 2009. He was trained by Claude "Ruckus" Marrow, a pro wrestler from Baltimore who has been on the circuit since the late 1990s, and who will challenge for the ACW Heavyweight Championship at Saturday's show. Taylor got the ring name Skull because he would often wear clothing with skulls of it while he was training, he said. He still incorporates that look into his ring gear.
Strietz, a 2004 Liberty grad who is also the stadium public address announcer for several Lions sports teams and has worked as a broadcaster for various wrestling promotions, including ACW, learned the ropes from Taylor, who has a wrestling ring at his house and gives lessons on weekends. Strietz wrestled his first match in September 2010 after five months of training.
The two weekend warriors travel the mid-Atlantic for gigs, sometimes doing two shows in a weekend.
On Saturday, they won't be the only familiar faces to members of the Liberty High community. Nick "Rayburn" Kortises, a 2009 Liberty grad, and another of Taylor's students will be part of the show. So will Liberty English teacher and wrestling coach Mike Flemming.
Strietz, who was an amateur wrestler for Flemming in high school, knew it wouldn't take much convincing to get his coach to be part of the show. Flemming had always been a fan of professional wrestling -- he said he uses more well-known pro wrestlers like John Cena, the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin to teach archetypes in his English classes -- but he'll step into the ring for the first time on Saturday.
"I've had some of the students in my class saying they're going to come to the show to see me get beat up," Flemming joked. "Not in my gym."
Flemming is part of a six-man tag team match with a duo known as Fed-up against a team called The Winners with manager Andy Vineberg, who, as part of their storyline, has claimed that Flemming's amateur style isn't the "real" kind of wrestling, an ironic twist on the traditional argument that pro wrestling is, well ... you know.
While the wrestlers all acknowledge it's a show and the matches' outcomes predetermined, don't use that four-letter "f" word to describe their line of work.
"Everyone thinks it's all fake and that it doesn't take a lot of effort to do what we do," Taylor said. "That can't be further from the truth. The stuff we put our bodies through and the conditioning we have to have in order to endure it takes a lot of work. You're teaching your body to do something that you wouldn't normally do. People can think all they want that they can come off the street and get in a ring and do what I do and I will gladly prove them wrong."
But fans who attend shows are in on the secret, something Strietz said can make independent shows like this one a little more difficult without the storylines of the major promotions.
"With shows like WWE and TNA, they have these storylines that draw people in," he said. "On the indies, yes, you have storylines, but they are not drawn out as much because a lot of promotions can't afford the television time. So to tell a story based on an in-ring performance to a group of fans who most of them understand that it's not real, to get reactions from them -- good or bad -- that's a form of art."