Reporter’s Notebook

Getting Near the Wrestling Ring



John Patella, left, and Anthony Velez

James Baginiski

My journey into the world of professional wrestling essentially began on the tail end of a fantasy football championship loss to Anthony Velez. On a frigid night in early February, we met up at our favorite local dive bar in Bayonne, in part for drinks but mainly for him to gloat about his win.

We knock back a few Jack and cokes and talk about life: our kids, music and school. “I have to start this paper, but I don’t have a topic yet,” I tell him. I explain the premise and then it dawns on me. One half of my subject is sitting right in front of me. “You and John [Patella] are amateur wrestlers, right?” He corrects me: “Pro wrestlers.” “Right. Well, what if I did the story on you guys?” He agrees and we call Patella, who was apparently sleeping at the time. Never one to mince words, he says “Yeah, I don’t give a fuck.”

The following Saturday, the three of us pile into Velez’s car and head out to the training facility. On the ride, Velez and Patella bounce ideas off each other regarding character development and techniques. Velez makes a call to Marcus Jones to remind him of his role in next month’s show. At the time, Jones still seems a bit unsure but agrees to go along with it by the end of the call. “What’s he getting out of the deal?” I ask. “He owes me one, plus he’s gonna get a nice dinner out of it, too,” Velez says. “So like a date?” Patella asks jokingly.

I mention that I have a few questions for the owner of the company. They tell me that I can’t reveal myself as a writer only for the slight chance that the owner might not go along with it. I don’t want to kill the story before it begins, so I comply.

We walk into the training center and I’m expecting to see dozens of wrestlers at work. There are six. I shake their hands and make way to the bleachers. It’s killing me that I can’t openly talk to anyone here about the paper. I occasionally take notes on my phone, pretending that I’m texting.

Half way through the training, Patella is matched up against a 16 year old half his size. He patronizes the young wrestler and allows him to get a few shots in . . . but then he gets bored. They lock up. Patella breaks the lock, picks him up by his legs and spins him around much like a parent playing with his 5 year old would. Patella lets go and he almost lands outside of the ring. You would expect a cheer from the onlookers, but everyone was stunned. The room was so quiet you could hear the electric hum of the fluorescent lights above the ring. The kid gets up and says “That was incredible.”  Everyone in the room nods in agreement.

With training done for the day, we start to head out. “So, what did you think?” Velez asks me. “Well, I can say I have a newfound respect for wrestlers,” I answer. Near the doorway, something catches my eye that I didn’t notice when we walked in. “Is that a damn coffin?”

Patella laughs. “Don’t ask.”