Did Mickey Rourke get robbed at the Oscars? Not especially, since he was basically playing himself. A true and therefore more interesting character is that of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, the real past-his-prime wrestler who lives in New Jersey with a heart problem and wrestles on weekends to recapture past glory.
Snuka is doing more than just dreaming of his heyday, however. He’s helping to create the next generation of professional wrestlers. At Body Slam University, young men and women learn the ins and outs of the business, from the athletics to the theatrics. Basically, everything short of landing a Superfly Splash on Magnificent Don Muraco from atop a 15-foot steel cage.
Located in Broward County, Fla., Body Slam University (”Book Your Birthday Party Here”) was started by Bruno Sassi and Dan Ackerman, two local wresters. Tuition is $2,500, and membership is for life.
“Some students aspire to make it all the way to the top,” Sassi says, “while others want to do it locally or become a referee.” He estimates that only about 25 percent of the school’s wrestlers will stick with it. Ackerman, meanwhile, points out that semi-pro football players have enrolled in the school and quit after a month.
“Some can handle it, but most quit,” Sassi says. “A lot of guys come in with the preconceived notion that this is fake and not going to be hard work. But when you slam into the ropes, you’re hitting steel cable with your ribs. It’s really how much are you will to sacrifice to have your dream?”
Snuka visits the school about once a month to teach the psychology of wrestling, a field at which he’s particularly adept. Do you think just anyone could have made getting hit by Roddy Piper with a coconut such a seminal event of my childhood? But Snuka says he’s just doing it to make sure his charges are trained the right way.
“I got involved with the school a couple of years ago to teach students the right way to wrestle,” Snuka says. “Once you get hurt, you’re done. You have to be mentally and physically prepared. You can’t just hop in the ring and fly off the ropes. It’s a process that requires a lot of memorization.”
Even if you do it right, you’ll get hurt.
Three weeks into training, [Fernando] Jimenez (aka Sean Phoenix) suffered a mild concussion after falling the wrong way. He lifts his shirt to reveal the surgery scar he received after his lung collapsed. “We’ve been through a lot for wrestling,” Maldonado says. “When his lung collapsed during a fight, he had no insurance. The day he got out of the hospital, we drove two hours to Sebring to see a match and our car almost broke down on the way. But I’m still 100 percent supportive.”
Say what you will about washed up wrestlers like Jimmy Snuka, but they’re still capable of entertaining a crowd. It may be VFW buildings and bingo halls instead of stadiums and arenas, but to still be plying your craft at 65 is admirable. And to also be able to give back to the generation that idolized you as they chase the dream? That’s not just fly, that’s Superfly.