Axl Rotten says professional wrestlers are a nervous lot.
They book their own performances and are afraid to have their baaaad names linked to sissy things such as lawsuits.
But Mr. Rotten and other tough guys -- "Bulldog Denton," Diamond Dave Casanova and "Agent Orange," to name a few -- have become unwitting pawns in a legal grudge match between professional wrestling promoters.
Wrestling Independent Network Inc., (WIN), a Dundalk-based promoter, is alleging that three former employees set up a rival business, ruined the company's good name and refused to return the promotional materials and talent list of wrestlers that are "the lifeblood of the company."
Last week, a Baltimore County judge denied WIN's request for an immediate court order but scheduled a hearing March 31 on the promoter's request for an injunction. The suit also is seeking $200,000 in damages.
One of the defendants, Marty Hyatt of Pikesville, scoffed at the allegations but referred specific questions to Arnold G. Foreman, the attorney who is representing him and co-defendants Jeffrey T. Capo of Dundalk, and Edward Zohn of Dauphin, Pa. Mr. Foreman said he'd wait until the hearing to comment.
WIN's owner-manager, Steven Unterman, 46, of Pikesville said that rumors about his business forced him to cancel a March 5 event in Anne Arundel County. Word on the street was that the wrestlers weren't going to show, that WIN was going out of business or was "running a bandit show" without a license from the state's Athletic Commission.
Then, the Frederick Jaycees canceled an April benefit because they heard negative things about WIN.
Mr. Unterman said his 2-year-old WIN is like a double-A baseball team looking toward triple-A status. It is far removed from the major leagues: the World Wrestling Federation, the Global Wrestling Federation of Dallas and the World Championship Wrestling of Atlanta.
"The wrestlers start out with the independents like WIN," he said, "in the hopes of getting to the majors."
Mr. Rotten is a current champion. In the ring, he is a punk-rock villain, dressed in black with a white-blond haircut from hell. The 21-year-old 300-pounder from Fells Point agreed to be interviewed only under his stage name. He said WIN always kept its promises, paid him and paid the other area wrestlers who performed in its matches.
For him and others in the professional circuit, the only thing worse than being linked to a lawsuit is having their real lives exposed.
"You wouldn't believe some of these guys' day jobs," he said. The ring name "is a persona you take on. You don't want people to knew that by day you might be working at Hechinger's or selling used cars. Or maybe you don't want your bosses to know that at night you put on a mask and scream at people in the ring."
Those day jobs are left behind when these athlete-performers -- the "Cream Team," "Beauty and the Beast" (a.k.a. Insatiable Adrian Hall and Morgus the Maniac), "R.I.P." Sawyer, Chris Candido, and former World Wrestling Federation tag-team champion Nikolai Volkoff -- grapple in the ring.
According to the lawsuit, these and others -- none of them parties to the lawsuit -- were being misinformed by WIN's would-be rivals. Mr. Unterman said several wrestlers from his list told him they had been contacted by the former employees. Some had heard the March 5 event had been canceled before the announcement. Others asked if his show was unlicensed.
"Talk about running a bandit show is absolutely ludicrous," said Mr. Unterman, noting the television and radio announcements for the March show, and the promotions. Last month, there was as an autograph-signing at the Harundale Mall. Four hundred people each gave $1 to charity to meet the wrestlers, who included Mr. Rotten.
The match's proceeds were to be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, said Mr. Unterman, adding that many WIN events are for charities such as the March of Dimes or the Ronald McDonald House.
Mr. Unterman also said he puts on five to seven shows a year, primarily with wrestlers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Delmarva area. Such shows are only part of Mr. Rotten's heavy schedule. As half of the USA Global Wrestling Federation's heavyweight champion tag team, he has worked up to five times a week for the past two years. On Friday, he left WIN's offices for a tour out of Memphis, Tenn. After that, he was to head for Japan, Korea and Puerto Rico.
"I've been getting steadily increasing notoriety," he said pleasantly.
Even with the international recognition television has brought, Mr. Rotten said, he still books himself from match to match. Only the top wrestlers have exclusive contracts, he said.
His stage name comes from former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten and from Eddie Murphy's character in "Beverly Hills Cop."
"It's gotten to the point where people hate me so much, they love me," he said. "People are chanting my name -- "Axl, Axl" -- my fans, while an equal number are steadily booing."
"Wrestling is a black and white world, and the rest of the world is gray. It's sports entertainment, with a lot of physical activity," he said. "It takes a lot of strength and agility. The top rope is 4 1/2 feet from the mat, and when you're 300 pounds, projecting yourself up in the air and landing on someone lying flat, there's a potential for incredible injuries."
Wrestlers suffer broken wrists, legs, ankles and eardrums, he said. Head wounds are stitched. All this for as little as $75 a match. Sometimes, if a promoter's word proves worthless, the wrestler goes home with nothing, said Mr. Rotten.
"A lot of people that run independent wrestling are not exactly on the level," he said. "WIN has always followed through."