JOPLIN, Mo. —
When Barry Linduff was a kid, he loved watching professional wrestling on TV. Some of his fondest memories are of watching the larger-than-life, colorful characters doing “superhero things” and making noise.
“As a kid, I thought, ‘What is this? It’s no cartoon,’” Linduff said. “Those were real people doing those things. I had to watch. I became a fan of it from that point.”
Linduff does more than watch, these days. He trains, studies, practices and more so that he can enter the squared circle and be one of those colorful characters doing superhero things.
Linduff is “Mr. Saturday Night” Michael Berry, a member of Genetic Perfection alongside “All That” Alan Steele, who is a distant cousin. The two are the tag-team champions in the Traditional Championship Wrestling league, a new league that just landed a broadcasting deal on KSN and with a Memphis, Tenn., channel.
Now Linduff can watch himself on TV every weekend.
But getting to that point hasn’t been easy for any of the wrestlers in the league. It’s taken years of work and training to get to their dream -- as well as risking an injury that could halt their pursuit of that dream.
Larry Mitchell, of Aurora, has already been in several plays at Missouri Southern State University. He is also an athlete -- he played quarterback on his high school football team and ran track.
Professional wrestling is the perfect mix of athletics and acting, he said. After being released from the U.S. Air Force with a medical separation, he decided to pursue
“This was something I wanted to do as a kid,” Mitchell said. “When I got back from the Air Force, I wanted to do something out of the ordinary.”
He researched how to get in and went to a training center, where he met Linduff. For the last four years, the two have trained together and wrestled at TCW and other events.
Linduff started his pursuit more than 11 years ago. Never stopping his wrestling-watching habit, he attended major events such as WWE’s Wrestlemania in Houston. Seeing 68,000 people glued to a 20-by-20-foot square
“What if I wasn’t smart enough to know that I can’t do something?” Linduff said. “What would keep me from trying it? The guys I was watching had to start somewhere. I didn’t want to be 60 or 70 and have regrets, thinking I should have tried it.”
Neither Linduff nor Mitchell had illusions about whether the sport was real -- they both knew that the storylines were imagined and the results were scripted. They also knew the stuntwork and athleticism behind pro wrestling was very real.
The level of work still surprised both of them, though.
Linduff got his start and eventually met of the first wrestlers trained by Harley Race, the legendary wrestler who earned success from the WWE, WCW and NWA. Those connections led him to Sonny Myers, a former NWA champion who was in the business for about 60 years.
Earning his stripes was a long process for Linduff, who said Myers made absolutely sure his students had a passion for wrestling.
“He would have people train for six weeks with no mats, just falling on concrete, running, squats and cardio,” Linduff said. “If you didn’t have a passion for it, you were out the door.”
Linduff said that once Myers realized he wasn’t going to leave, Myers started him showing the basics, as seemingly trivial as the proper way to step through the ropes. Linduff said he’s still learning some of those little things.
He trains six days a week with stretching and weightlifting. He studies Brazilian jujitsu for extra agility, and occasionally works out during his lunch break from his job as a graphic artist for The Joplin Globe.
Mitchell also keeps up a similar workout schedule, hitting the gym for eight to 12 hours a week in between his shifts as an employee at PowerHouse Gym.