Bourne Grad Takes His Lumps On The Pro Wrestling Circuit
By: Alex Scofield
When the clown smacked Joseph P. Trant in the stomach last Friday, the cracking reverberated sharp and loud throughout the gym. No amplification was necessary. More than 200 people cringed and groaned, but when the clown asked them if he should smack Joe again, the fans at South Shore Regional Vocational Technical High School hollered their approval. Joe hung helplessly, ensnared in the ropes at the corner of the wrestling ring, and Doink the Clown reared back and smacked him a second time, even louder than the first. Fans roared in amusement; Joe roared in pain.
Moments later, Doink pinned Joe for a three-count. Adding insult to injury, the clown then heaved Joe through the ropes bordering the ring. Mr. Trant plummeted to the gym floor, staggered back to his feet, and lumbered toward the exit. While most fans in the room cheered for the victorious Doink, a few taunted Joe as he departed.
“Shut up!” he snarled at them.
Minutes later, out of sight from the crowd, Joe examined the pair of overlapping handprints on his stomach. They were a deep red, bordering on purple.
“It’s not too bad,” Joe said with a shrug. “It goes away in an hour or two.”
It was another weekend night in the life of Joe Trant, a 2010 Bourne High School graduate.
Joe is a wrestler. Not of the Greco-Roman variety, but of the World Wrestling Entertainment’s smack-down variety.
As the child in between two siblings who were accomplished varsity athletes at BHS, Joe decided early on in high school that he wanted to take a different course.
“My brother was a football star, my sister is a track star, and I’m a wrestler,” Joe said.
The belly-chops Joe sustained on Friday are nowhere near the worst of what he has endured in nearly two years on the local professional wrestling circuit. Joe has been smashed through tables, walloped in the head with folding chairs, and body slammed onto low-grade mats that felt like concrete.
“Everything in wrestling is scripted, but I hate when people say it’s fake, because it’s not,” Joe said. “It’s a hell of a beating. …But it’s worth it.”
Joe’s in-the-ring persona, Joe Varsity, is a villain—or a “heel,” in industry terms. With his hair moussed up, Joe Varsity enters the ring each night sporting a purple BHS letter jacket to the tune of Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein.” Joe Varsity is the privileged, arrogant high school student with a contemptuous sneer for every fan he sees, and every town in which he wrestles. The more fans hate Joe Varsity, the more Joe loves it.
Even Joe’s friends revel in mocking Joe Varsity. His BHS ’10 classmates William R. Lynch and William A. Olson arrived early for Friday’s match at South Shore Vocational Technical High School in Hanover. With front-row seats, they formed a “jeering section” for their friend.
“When he goes out in his character, it’s a whole other person,” Bill Lynch said. “He can get under [fans’] skin so easily. He knows some weakness in the town, or something funny about the town, and just tears it apart.”
“It won’t be pretty,” Bill Olson said before the match. “People are going to be booing him something fierce.”
It helped that Joe’s opponent, Doink the Clown, is a well-known fan favorite (or “face”) among wrestling aficionados. Joe’s match was one of the headliners on Friday, but it was all about Doink, who signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans. Joe said that his job is to make his opponent look good, and not to hog the limelight, when fighting somebody of Doink’s caliber.
As a child, Joe was a professional wrestling fanatic, but he lost interest by the time he turned 12.
“I got older,” Joe said, “and my favorite wrestlers weren’t wrestling any more.”
Joe’s interest in pro wrestling was rekindled when, as a BHS freshman, he attended a match at the John Gallo Ice Arena. He sat in the front row, and had his picture taken with Kamala, a former World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) star.
“I started doing the backyard wrestling after that. It clicked,” Joe said. He joined other Cape Cod students and formed the Barnstable Fight Club. This was when the Joe Varsity character was born, a collaborative creation between Joe and his friend Arthur Hapenny.
Barnstable Fight Club was a more earnest endeavor than a typical backyard wrestling gang; it aired on local-access cable television, with a theme song, storylines involving more than a half-dozen wrestlers, and a two-man broadcasting tandem.
At this time, Joe also enlisted the help of a professional. Scott J. Ashworth, a physical education teacher who is now athletic director of BHS, is a 19-year veteran of professional wrestling. With a stage name of Sweet Scott Ashworth, he is a marquee-caliber star in the regional circuits.
“I kept trying to push him away [at first],” Mr. Ashworth said. “Why don’t you worry about finishing high school first?”
But Joe persisted with Barnstable Fight Club through his underclassman years, and when he asked about places to train, Mr. Ashworth said, “I sent him to a couple of people I knew would treat him right.”
Joe began professional wrestling training in his junior year at BHS, and he continues to train at least once a week. This requires travel to New Bedford, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, or any place else that the training sessions are available. The scene is tough to navigate, Mr. Ashworth said, because there are fewer established professional wrestling academies than there used to be.
Joe said his father, brother Michael, 22; and sister Kristen, 17; all loved the prospect of him wrestling. His mother cringed at the idea, “but that’s a mother’s instinct,” he said.
Joe’s first professional match was in April 2009, a 20-man battle royal. In the two years since then, he has fought in matches in Lowell, and was a regular with a league that held matches in Fall River.
Matches are a blend of scripted moves and improvisation. Before the match, competitors will discuss their “spots”—a series of agreed-upon moves. In the ring, though, wrestlers sometimes improvise, especially if a spot goes over unexpectedly well (or poorly) with the crowd. For Joe, the biggest challenge is “ring psychology,” or how to stage the end of the match.
“Our main goal is to tell a story,” Joe said. “My favorite match was the first time I ever faced Ashworth, and it probably always will be [my favorite].”
Last February, at an event called “One Year No Fear” in Fall River, Joe wrestled his mentor, Mr. Ashworth, for the first time.
“It was a huge match; the crowd was so into it,” Joe said. Many in the crowd were regulars who were well-versed in the story line that had developing for half a year. They knew that Mr. Ashworth was training his prodigy, Joe Varsity. Through the months, Mr. Ashworth periodically was ambushed by Patchwork, a wrestler who sported a metallic Hannibal Lecter-style mask over a ski mask—Joe in disguise.
At “No Fear,” Mr. Ashworth finally had his shot at revenge on Patchwork. Mr. Ashworth trapped Patchwork in a submission hold, and asked the crowd if he should take off Patchwork’s mask. The crowd, of course, roared its approval. Off came the masks to reveal Mr. Ashworth’s prodigy, Joe Varsity—such a betrayal!
“When Ashworth pulled my mask off at the end, the place erupted,” Joe said. “My buddies in the arena were saying how real they thought it was.”
Joe has seen “The Wrestler,” the 2008 movie starring Mickey Rourke that portrays a onetime wrestling superstar whose glory days are long behind him.
“That movie is so realistic, it’s unbelievable,” Joe said. It portrays a wrestling scene that grows ever more extreme, with matches enclosed in barbed wire, or on mats littered with thumb tacks or broken glass. Joe wrestles in tamer circuits. Last Friday’s match was a school fundraiser, for example, so there was no profanity and no flesh-tearing accessories.
“I’m not going to smash 100 light bulbs over my head,” Joe said. “Some guys do it—fluorescent ones, too.”
Sometime this year, Joe expects Joe Varsity to graduate—he will don a new stage name, possibly Powerhouse Joe Trant. He also hopes he can square off against Mr. Ashworth in Bourne this summer.
“Teacher versus former student,” Joe said. “It’s never been done before… It should be me against him, and it is going to happen.”
In the meantime, Joe will likely be a regular with Ultimate Pro Wrestling, a league run by “Lethal” Paul Lauzon of New Bedford. “He has much, much, much potential,” Mr. Lauzon said about Joe. “I would personally keep an eye on his progress.”
“It’s the toughest professional sport to get into,” Mr. Ashworth said about wrestling. He estimated that about 225 people make a living exclusively through professional wrestling. Outside of these stars in the national circuits, wrestlers need to keep a day job.
“It could be a great way to supplement your income,” Mr. Ashworth said, but he stresses the importance of getting a college degree. “You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself and put all your eggs in one thing.”
Joe knows the odds confronting a wrestler who wants to be nationally known.
“I never want to go big, because there’s nothing after it,” Joe said. Being a regional legend, like his mentor, holds much more appeal. “I love doing it.”
1 Responses to "Bourne Grad Takes His Lumps On The Pro Wrestling Circuit "
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.