By PHIL NOVAK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A mangled and warped mattress lies on top of a pancake-flat one in the center of a tiny, cobwebbed garage. Roughly 5 feet of dirty carpet separates the makeshift squared circle from an old wooden bar and plywood-paneled walls. A third mattress leans against the wall next to various street signs scattered around the room.
For John Catheline, 22, of Youngstown and Curtis Megginson, 22, of Campbell -- also known as The Bouncer and Curt Fury, respectively, and as Klub X-treme, collectively -- this is where it all starts. The power bombs, the moonsaults, the leg drops, the body slams and the flying elbows, they all start here.
But this isn't some backyard wrestling league, where a couple of kids crack each other's skulls with crowbars or light themselves on fire and flip off of the roof.
This sure isn't the WWF either, where the big money exists and fame follows you across the country. No, this is somewhere in between. You see, this detached garage behind Catheline's house is the hallowed stomping ground of two independent professional wrestlers.
This, you see, is the practice gym.
"We don't have access to a ring, so we take the next best thing," Catheline said. "It doesn't hurt. It's like the best thing we have right now."
Dreams: It works for Catheline, a spirited and determined young man who has dreamed of being a professional wrestler since he was 4 and sitting in front of the television and cheering for Hulk Hogan. The 6-foot, 285-pounder has been wrestling independently since 1996, when he was still a senior at Chaney High School and attended the now-defunct Preston Steele School of Wrestling near Girard.
"That was nine weeks of hell," he said of the grueling training that included learning how to fall, learning different skills and building the stamina to stay alive through an entire match.
But Catheline did it because he loves wrestling. How else can you explain how he and Megginson, the current North Coast Championship Wrestling Tag Team Champions, travel across Ohio, to Pennsylvania and to West Virginia to wrestle in tiny halls and school gyms in front of as few as 20 people, for little if any money?
"It's always nice to have a big crowd, but even if I have a small crowd, I'm still going to give my best," Megginson said. "Even if there's two people, they paid to see me so I'll give my best."
The much smaller wrestler at 5 feet 11 inches and 157 pounds, Megginson was trained by Catheline and has been wrestling for only about a year now. But he's seen his share of the independent wrestling circuit.
"There was this one place in Cleveland. The place was really small. I'm not even sure what it was, but there were basketball hoops and everything and only one row of people standing around the ring," he said.
Wages: And how much does he earn as a wrestler?
"Most of our shows we actually do for free," said Megginson, who also manages a video store. Catheline works as a DJ at a local club. "There's not a lot of money without a name. A lot of people pay their dues, and I don't feel I have enough experience. I have to pay my dues still so if I make it to that point, I'll feel I earned it."
Earning it means taking the bumps and bruises that go along with often inexperienced opponents throwing you around a ring.
"A lot of it's heart, seriously, because it hurts," Catheline said.
Pain: Yeah it hurts. It hurts when you're wrestling a guy named Buba the Stomping Hillbilly, who has no training and hits you in the lower back with a two-by-four when he's supposed to hit you in the shoulders. Or when a guy in clown makeup can't make up his mind what move he wants to do and twists you in the air so you fall on your shoulder.
"A guy did a moonsault one time, and I was in the middle of the ring when the guy kicks me right in the side of the head with a boot," Catheline said. "Instant bruise right here on the side of my head, and I was gone."
Taste of success: But all of the bumps and bruises are taken with one goal in mind: the WWF. Whether or not Catheline and Megginson will ever get a chance is unknown, but Mandrake, an independent wrestler from Cleveland, has tasted it.
"I got choke-slammed by the Big Show two years ago," he said. "I also arrested the Undertaker a couple months back when he had his battle with Triple H, and he threw Triple H on me."
So what does it take?
"You have to be lucky, you have to have a good look -- good look meaning you can move well -- and you've got to have a good gimmick," he said.
With their skills, their style and The Bouncer and Curt Fury, Catheline and Megginson think they've got what it takes. But if things don't pan out, they won't quit.
"It's tough and I know that," Catheline said. "But one time, at least, I'd like to get into the WWF. I don't care if it's only one match. I just want to get out there in front of everybody that one time."