JOHN CARLISLE Detroit Free Press
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — CENTER LINE (AP) — The guy standing in the wrestling ring jumped straight up in the air, did a somersault and landed hard on his back.
Slam! It sounded like a bomb went off.
Troy Alexander was attending a weeknight class at the House of Truth Wrestling School, where he and other students were practicing what’s called a back bump — when someone’s full weight is thrown onto the mat, usually with the forceful help of an opponent.
But first, students were getting a feel for the fall by themselves. Alexander jumped up and did another midair somersault. His whole weight crashed to the mat, and he leaped up again.
You’d never know that just a few weeks ago, he was hesitant to even try it.
“The first time I heard a back bump, I was like, ‘Wow, I gotta do that?’ “ the 30-year-old Highland resident told the Detroit Free Press ( http://on.freep.com/12Qbc77 ). “It was like an explosion.”
You’d also never know that he was nursing cracked ribs that night as he sent himself crashing onto the mat over and over. Or that both of his wrapped elbows were drained of fluid in a hospital just days before.
At House of Truth, guys who grew up watching Hulk Hogan, (Stone Cold) Steve Austin and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson have the rare opportunity to go from being wrestling fans to wrestling superstars.
And little inconveniences like painful injuries don’t get in the way of their determination.
“It’s common to have cracked ribs during training,” said Truth Martini, the gravel-voiced 38-year-old founder of the school. “I let them know on day one there are going to be the days when you don’t want to come in. But how bad do you want to do this?”
Martini, whose real name is Martin Krcaj, founded House of Truth a decade ago. It’s the only professional wrestling school in Michigan and is among just a handful in the country.
After a childhood in Hamtramck spent dreaming of being like the wrestlers he saw on TV, he worked his way up to wrestling for the major promotion groups like WWE and TNA. He was back in town about 10 years ago, practicing at a now-defunct wrestling school in Livonia, when school officials asked him to fill in after the teacher failed to show for a class.
It went so well — and he enjoyed himself so much — that he started his own school. Its name referenced his stage name, but also gave the school the nominal air of a storefront church.
Krcaj remains active on the pro wrestling circuit in Ring of Honor, the industry’s third-largest promotion group behind WWE and TNA. In the character-driven soap opera of professional wrestling, Krcaj plays the loudmouth manager who hops into the ring and taunts the crowd.
“I’m usually the leader of the bad guys,” he said. “I’m the guy who talks all the crap.”
He still travels to cities like Chicago and New York for bouts on the weekends. But during the week, he’s back in south Macomb County, trying to mold ordinary people into extraordinary showmen.
The students begin a long way from the glitz of televised wrestling. The school is a bare, single room in a little strip mall on Van Dyke, behind a tattoo shop, with an 18-foot-by-18-foot wrestling ring, some workout equipment and a desk at the front from which Krcaj directs the classes.
But everyone has to start someplace. And around here, this is their only option.
“Try a little bit higher on your front bumps, please,” Krcaj shouted to the students.
They stood in the ring, sweating and panting, looking like the last thing they wanted to do was try a little bit higher on their front bumps.
But a dream was at stake.
“Yes sir,” they replied.
Alexander leaped up again.
Last year, the class started with nine students. By the end of the grueling course, only one student remained.
It’s no wonder — the curriculum is demanding and punishing. For four hours a day, four days a week for 12 weeks, and a cost of $2,000, students get pounded, pummeled and punched as they learn wrestling’s key moves.
This spring, there were three students, and each was nursing cracked ribs midway through the course.
There was Sean Russell, a 27-year-old from Melvindale who works at Chili’s when he’s not being flung to a hard mat.
There was David Tulacz of Taylor, who builds prototype line harnesses for cars by day and is a strip club bouncer at night.
And there was Alexander, who has five kids, a patient wife and a 13-year job at Wendy’s.
“But my passion has always been this,” he said, pointing to the ring. The others nodded.
Just try telling him, or anyone here, that professional wrestling is fake, as Tulacz’s father once told him.
They admit it’s choreographed, in that you know your opponent is likely to slam your body into the ground at a prearranged point. But there’s nothing fake about the physical demands of the show, they insist.
“Ask the guys with cracked ribs and the guy who just had to have his elbow drained,” Krcaj said. “It’s like a stuntman. When a stuntman in a movie falls down the stairs, he really falls down the stairs. When he gets hit by the car, he really gets hit by the car. The wrestling ring is not a trampoline, it’s not a mattress.”
It takes four qualities to make it as a wrestler, Krcaj tells the group during a brief break.
First is having a distinct look. Krcaj leads by example with tattoos, black clothes, long hair and a bandana.
Second is technique — knowing how to avoid killing yourself or somebody else.
“If you wanted to, you could drop me on my head and break my neck,” Krcaj said. “So imagine the trust everyone has to have.”
Third is charisma, which Krcaj insists can be taught to the right person.
And fourth is being able to grab a microphone and command attention, to get the crowd engaged — either with you or against you.
“The fans want to feel like part of the shows,” he said. “They don’t want to feel like they’re sitting home, watching TV. And the wrestlers need to know when to interact back with the crowd, to get them riled up or to get them pumped up, or whatever the case may be.”
When the students graduate in a few weeks, there will be no ceremony, no certificate cementing their achievement. They’re simply done with the first step toward stardom, and they’ll wait like all the others for that big break into show business.
As part of their tuition, Krcaj shops them to various wrestling promoters. Out of 200 students over the years, about 30 are currently working the professional circuit, he said.
“That’s pretty much the main goal of probably all three of us, anyone that walks in this door,” Russell said.
Break over. When Russell stood up, a trainer grabbed him and flipped him in the air, cracked ribs and all, and threw him flat on the mat — one backbreaking slam closer to his dream.