Aug. 27 2009 12:00 AM

Author hits mat for closer look at wrestling mania


Ted Kluck is at again. This time the Grand Ledge-based sports writer has set his sights on exploring professional wrestling in the style of George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion,” the seminal participatory sports book.

In his previous outings, Kluck has written on boxing in “Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories,” and his first-person experiences playing arena football in “Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey.”

Turning to his boyhood love of professional wrestling, Kluck, 33, leapt into the squared circle to find inspiration for his latest book, “Headlocks and Dropkicks: A Butt-Kicking Ride through the World of Professional Wrestling.”

For the duration of his training, Kluck said he continually asked himself why he was doing it.

“I remember watching Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts when I was a kid,” Kluck said. “Every guy goes through a phase for wrestling and its weird, circusy subculture. You know it’s not real, but it’s a good versus evil morality play, and it’s fun.”

To train, Kluck first traveled to Chicago to check out professional wrestling trainer and promoter Rich Jenig, who runs matches with names like “New Year’s Evil” and “Thanksgiving Turmoil.” It helped that Jenig is a cousin who was familiar with Kluck’s strange proclivities.

In the book, Kluck tells how by the time he showed up for training he had already worked out some of his persona; he planned to call himself either Professor Pain or The Great American Author, and his finishing move would be christened the “tenure track.”

Ultimately, Kluck decided to train closer to home at a training school run by Dan “The Beast” Severn in Coldwater, Mich. It’s been more than a decade, but Severn was once the Ultimate Fighting Champion.

Along the way to becoming a “pro,” Kluck takes time in the book to tell about professional wrestlers who have come and gone, like “Leapin’” Lanny Poffo, who is now a used car salesman but still gets into the ring. Poffo, who is the brother of wrestling superstar Randy Savage, is also a budding poet who read verses in the ring as part of his shtick.

As his training progressed, Kluck soon found his 6-foot-two-inch, 225-pound frame made him more of a plodder than a high flyer. He also learned how closely aligned wrestling is with gymnastics, with every move or bump choreographed to keep the athletes safe. “You protect yourself and your opponent,” he said. “The headlock is a good time to talk about your next move.”

Working with other potential pros, Kluck learned the classic moves and holds, such as the hammerlock, side headlock and lockup. For those who are interested, training at Price of Glory Wrestling School in Coldwater runs $95 a month. Kluck found out you are basically paying to collect bruises and soreness.

With his often funny, self-deprecating prose, Kluck makes readers remember how much fun professional wrestling was and how much it has changed from the pre-steroidal era of the 1950s and ‘60s, when matches were held in the local American Legion Hall.

The author was also exposed to some of the seedier sides of wrestling, and he met some female wrestling divas who pose for photos in skimpy costumes. He also scored an interview with Stych, a wrestling diva discovered by Vince McMahon, head of World Wrestling Entertainment.

To live the final part of his dream, Kluck built a ring in his basement. Using plans he found online, he and a buddy gathered used car tires to place under the ring for bounce. He created not only a ring, but also his own league, the Literary Wrestling Alliance, which is reminiscent of a group of 10-year-olds staging a wrestling show in the basement with cardboard championship belts.

Kluck’s “championship” match is punctuated by a haiku-screaming “heel” and poetry from Kluck, who eventually puts his patented “tenure track” choke-hold on his opponent to end the match. It’s a somewhat noble ending for someone who refers to himself as Professor Pain.

‘Headlocks & Dropkicks: A Butt- Kicking Ride through the World of
Professional Wrestling’ By Ted Kluck. 214 pages. Greenwood Publishing

One Soloist

When this year’s One Book One Community chose the “The Soloist” for incoming Michigan State University freshmen to read, they didn’t know they could be providing an early lesson in how to study for college: rent the movie. It wasn’t until later that the Cliffs Notes video equivalent of the “The Soloist,” by Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez, was released. The “The Soloist” is the straightforward story of Lopez’ experiences with a talented, schizo phrenic street musician living on L.A.’s skid row.

In pursuit of a column, Lopez discovers Anthony Ayers playing on the street, which, Lopez in itself, is an interesting, but not necessarily unusual tale. But it’s the back story and Lopez’ interactions with Ayers that make for a gripping book about mental illness and our perceptions of it.

Lopez will make two appearances in East Lansing to discuss the book. The first is 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, at East Lansing High School auditorium. The second is an address to MSU freshmen at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 31 at the Breslin Center. Both events are free and open to the public.

If you hurry, you still have time to rent the DVD.