The main eventers of Sacramento’s Total Wrestling Federation bloody up DIY-style
Vortex squints through the stream of blood flowing from a 4-inch gash in his forehead. The blood has browned his blue Cookie Monster T-shirt. He’s down on one knee, heaving, at the feet of a large man called Raz the Whip, who looms over him, admiring the inflicted damage. Teeth prevailing in a face twisted by a blood-stained wince, Vortex looks up to accept what he knows is coming next—another fist to the face.
“How do you like that, bitch?” the Whip asks, then cracking Vortex over the head yet again. A raucous crowd of Sacramento locals surrounds the dingy wrestling ring, screaming grotesque and at times unfocused sentiments at the contestants. As scripted, Vortex rises to his feet, and the crowd cheers. He grabs his assailant and slams him hard to the black canvas. Then Vortex manages to mutter a single, four-syllable request. “I need a chair,” he says, with maddened eyes flaring.
The crowd screams its approval.
It’s just another night of unpaid work for the members of Total Wrestling Federation, a herd of about 20 young aspiring wrestlers trying to make names for themselves in Sacramento, usually by taunting and beating each other bloody twice a month at the Colonial Theatre.
This violent and openly bizarre pageant is the vision of Folsom resident Jake Schuerman, 29, who grew up infatuated with professional wrestling. His head filled with the memories of Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik, Schuerman, who also wrestles as “the Jake,” has set out to create his own wrestling empire.
“My long-term plan was to go San Francisco State and study film, and I never quite made it there,” Schuerman said recently. “I always enjoyed video and I always liked wrestling.”
He started off in the late ’90s by hosting lawn matches at his mother’s house and then taping them. “It kind of exploded in Tracy,” Schuerman said. “I guess it was a small town, nothing to do and a lot of kids. It was kind of a tribute-slash-satire of wrestling. We had the very ’80s announcer and a lot more campy characters than we have now.”
Schuerman’s wrestling show made its way onto cable-access channels in Tracy and Stockton, which brought local aspiring wrestlers to him. “A lot of people show up, and they want the world to be handed to them,” he said. “Whether they’re delusional or just mentally deficient, they think they can do it.”
In the early days, Schuerman said he found a spot for most who wanted to be part of his program, no matter their mental health. One such walk-on was “Mad Rob,” a local fan who, although he wasn’t much of a wrestler, made for an entertaining side show on video.
“He was good guy at heart, but when someone set him off … whoa,” Schuerman said, adding that there’s a police report out there somewhere documenting a particularly unsettling, vegetable-intensive assault perpetrated by Mad Rob on his own mother. “He was more or less crazy.”
Maybe you have to be. Scorpion, for instance (a.k.a. Tony White, 23), does an entrance routine where he mounts all four sides of the ring one at a time, sprays water from his mouth, then extends both middle fingers to the crowd while also pointing to his groin and exposing his tongue. Then there’s Vortex, who by day is known as Daniel Crozier, a 24-year-old employee of Round Table Pizza in Elk Grove, and by night is known for his toughness and tendency to bleed.
A quick responder to commands, Vortex’s manager has grabbed a folding chair from underneath the ring. He slides it out onto the canvas. “Kick his ass, Vortex,” one older woman yells through slurred speech. “Fuck that motherfucker in the fucking asshole, you bitch-ass bitch motherfucker.”
Raz the Whip’s manager for the night, who goes by the name G-Spot and oversees a large stable of other wrestling combatants, begs the referee to intercede. “Shut the fuck up, you ugly faggot,” growls a bearded audience member known to many as Psycho Fan. (Rumor is Psycho Fan was hit by a car in his youth and never recovered all of his faculties.)
G-Spot responds by pacing around the outskirts of the ring and riling up the crowd’s hatred, usually with some sort of gesture involving his crotch. Vortex bashes his opponent with the chair, slams him around the ring and then drops him from the turnbuckle. But despite his best efforts and his bleeding to please the crowd, Vortex can’t escape getting himself pinned. On this night, Raz the Whip will be victorious.
Having outgrown the humble environs of Tracy, Schuerman brought his enterprise to Sacramento several years ago. TWF now has fully functioning ring, a truck to carry it and a modest but rabidly loyal fan base of about 300 diverse and slightly deviant locals.
Schuerman now spends several hours each night editing videos of his matches, posting them on Sacramento’s cable-access channels and sending DVDs to television networks, which have yet to offer him a deal. “I’ve done this song and dance for years and it’s always no,” he said. “I would love to showcase what we do on a national level, but it probably won’t happen. But it doesn’t mean I can’t aspire to it.”
“There’s nothing like this,” the late Douglas Stanko, TWF’s former unofficial photographer, once said. “I normally hate wrestling. But I love this.” Before dying of lung cancer, Stanko compiled more than a 1,000 TWF photos, he said, figuring his collection one day could be a valuable archive for what surely would become a successful enterprise. “It’s amazing,” Stanko said. “They put on the best show I’ve ever seen, and they get paid nothing. It’s just for the love of it.”
As for TWF’s future, Schuerman, who has his own day job as an office clerk, says it has a long way to go. But he calls himself content to have found his life’s pursuit. “I think a lot of people want what I have with TWF,” he said. “A lot of people don’t have that one thing that they’re totally passionate about. I am glad I have it.”
Backstage after the fight, a trail of blood leads to a large puddle with a head bandage floating in it. This is where, according to witnesses, Crozier briefly passed out from blood loss and fell head-first to the pavement. Tonight, he took a string of industrial barbed wire—not that fake shit they use on World Wrestling Entertainment—to the face. That’s what opened up the nasty gash along his forehead.
“It’s OK,” he says later, seeming by now at least technically conscious. “It’s nothing that a little Super Glue won’t take care of.” Super Glue, Crozier explains, can be used as a substitute for stitches for those who don’t have a health-care plan—which most of the wrestlers don’t. A close inspection of Crozier’s forehead reveals slight scarring from years of purposeful, audience-approved head wounds.
The crowd tonight contains several enthusiastic children whose parents don’t seem concerned with their exposure to the steady stream of profanities and theatrical violence. One 9-year-old, when asked outside a show to name his favorite TWF character, said, “I like Vortex, because he bleeds a lot.” That’s one good thing about doing your own sport your own way: Sometimes, even losses can become victories. Even blood losses.
As for the boy’s least favorite character, he said, “G-spot, because he’s a fag.”