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Would-be wrestlers learn the art of the smackdown

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SALISBURY -- Trent Horn figures he'll give it a year. A year of body slams, toehold takedowns, exaggerated clothesline flops, headlocks and scissors and sleeper holds.

Throw in a few thousand pulled punches to the chest, shoulder and face - received as well as given - some elementary acting lessons on taunting audiences and posturing for a crowd, and Horn thinks he'll be ready for the bush leagues of professional wrestling.

Then maybe, says the 6-foot-1-inch, 260-pound Burger King manager, after a few more years knocking around high school gyms, National Guard armories and county fairs in small-town shows, Horn will have what it takes to move to the pinnacle of the pro circuit, joining heroes he's watched on television since he was a child.

"For me, I'm tired of saying I could've done this or that," says Horn, 22. "This has always been my dream. If it doesn't work out, then at least I tried. I know it's going to be a long road."

Horn is one of nearly two dozen would-be grapplers, ages 17 to 33, who are counting on Damieon "the Assassin" Anderson, a 26-year veteran who's worked in every wrestling federation you've heard of - and plenty you haven't - to teach them the time-tested moves that could make them marketable in the theatrical passion play that is professional wrestling.

In a sport that is carefully planned choreography staged as combat, the Assassin (whose real name is Kenny Frazier), says it's all about heart, dedication, training and preparation. That and old-fashioned showmanship.

Three weeks after setting up a retail shop and wrestling school in the long-floundering and mostly empty Salisbury Mall, Anderson has as many students as he can handle - all eager to shell out $1,000 to $3,000 to learn the basics.

"Nowadays, you've got to be a good athlete and a good performer," Anderson says. "The foundation is to know all the old school moves. You don't want to get in a match and have any surprises when you call a move."

Anderson is a former high school and college wrestler who spent most of his professional career as a "bad guy," disguised behind a leather mask on the independent circuit, driving from match to match through the Midwest and East Coast. On many nights, Anderson says, he'd wrestle once without the mask, then return as the Assassin and get paid twice.

It was nothing like the six-figure incomes, the glitz and outrageous theatrics so evident in the TV big time controlled by the World Wrestling Federation. But Anderson, an Indiana native, is proud to say that wrestling has paid the bills through much of his adult life.

At 46, a little paunchy and slow to recover from an Achilles heel injury, Anderson is weary of the road, anxious to stay home on the Eastern Shore with his new bride, Ann, a fifth-grade science teacher.

"I'm tired of airports, tired of waking up and not knowing what town I'm in," Anderson says. "What better way to settle down than to teach what I've learned over the years?"

Cooperation, not competition

Scott Dukes, a 22-year-old golf course maintenance worker, says he has made noticeable progress since signing on with Anderson. The most important lesson, says the 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pounder, is that none of it is real, no match is a competition. It's all about cooperation and timing designed to make it look authentic, Dukes says.

The lesson couldn't have been clearer during a recent workout as Dukes struggled to lift and slam 300-pound C.J. Parsons, Anderson's 17-year-old stepson.

"They learn pretty quickly in that kind of move that the guy getting slammed has to jump as he's being lifted; that's how you see these guys on TV carrying some huge guy all around the ring before the slam," Anderson says. "When you call a move, both guys have to know what's going to happen. Both guys have to be working toward the same thing."

Anderson's school, Clothesline Pro Wrestling, which includes a retail shop selling T-shirts, action figures and other WWF paraphernalia, is one of three or four in Maryland.

The Maryland State Athletic Commission licenses wrestlers and promoters, but has no authority over wrestling schools, says Patrick A. Pannella, the commission's executive director. The annual fee for a professional wrestler's license is $10, the same for promoters who stage wrestling events.

Dangerous stunts

The real concern, says Pannella, is the amateur backyard wrestlers who attempt to mimic the moves they see on television. Last month, a Carroll County jury acquitted a Sykesville man who was charged with allowing wrestling in his back yard - so his stepson could stage shows like those he saw on television.

"When people see wrestling on TV, they assume no one's getting hurt and there's no guarantee people won't get hurt, especially if they don't know what they're doing," Pannella says. "The [schools] provide people with an opportunity to live out their dreams, but we want to make sure that people know what they're doing."

Dan McDevitt, who wrestles under the name Corporal Punishment and runs the well-known Bone Breakers Training Center in Arbutus, says he does not know Anderson, so cannot vouch for his expertise.

"To be honest, anybody can open up a wrestling school," McDevitt says. "If you have a good reputation, you can get matches for your students."

But Horn, for one, says he's satisfied with the training he's received from Anderson and plans to continue.

"There are a lot of easier jobs," Horn says. "I have an easier job, and I'm not happy."

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