To Get a Hold on a Pro Career, Wrestlers Pin Their Hopes on Larry Sharpe's Monster Factory
Sharpe isn't worried. Other members of the student body are here, to listen and to learn. Chief Thundermountain, for instance, is in the locker room getting ready for class; in his case, this means putting on his Indian headdress.
Thundermountain, whose real name is David Mosier, could be the student body somewhere else: he's 6'2" and weighs 425 lbs. He is typical of the big men on campus at the institution of lower learning that Sharpe co-founded in 1984 and that many experts think is the finest of its kind in the land. True, the place isn't as pleasing to the eye as the University of Virginia; it's just a run-down, former pizzeria on a side street in a blue-collar town. The SAT scores are not something you want to discuss in a loud voice. And then there's the name—after all, the Monster Factory doesn't have quite the same ring as Harvard or Princeton or even Fairleigh Dickinson.
But the Monster Factory turns out newly renamed professional wrestlers the way MIT graduates engineers. Its roster of more-or-less-distinguished alumni includes King Kong Bundy, Tony Atlas, Bam Bam Bigelow and the unforgettable Virgil the Bodyguard.
"Sharpe teaches wrestling like it's a game of chess," says Dynamite Dennis Allen, 20, who already is making his living on the grunt-and-groan circuit but, like the good pro he is, keeps coming back to the Factory to hone his skills.
When Dynamite gets into the 16-foot-by-16-foot ring that is the Monster Factory's chief arena of instruction, he immediately falls under the lash of Sharpe's sharp-tongued pedagogy. "Okay, Dennis," Sharpe barks. "Slide your armpit down to his shoulder—no, the other arm. Now pull that arm back. That's it! Reach behind his neck, turn into his belly, now drive into his arm." Just like chess really.
Sharpe, 38 and about 260 lbs., says he always knew his future would be in wrestling, even when he was a kid growing up large in Gibbstown, N.J., the son of an auto body-shop owner and a telephone operator. "The first sporting event my father took me to was wrestling at the Philadelphia Civic Center," he says. "I saw this giant struttin' down the aisle in this sequin outfit, his hair slicked back—ands into the freakin'." The giant was Buddy Rogers, one of pro wrestling's legends. He became Sharpe's boyhood idol and, eventually, his business partner.
Sharpe began wrestling in seventh grade, competing as a 200-lb. heavyweight in the more genteel amateur form of the sport. He wrestled through high school and at Gloucester (N.J.) County College. He turned pro at 24, under the personal tutelage of Gorilla Monsoon and Mr. Fuji (the wrestling equivalent of studying piano under both Horowitz and Rubinstein). "Fuji just beat me up all the time," Sharpe recalls fondly. "He'd say, 'We're going to learn a body slam,' and he'd give me one slam after another and a dozen hip tosses. On the way home, he'd make me get out of the car and say, 'Now, jog home,' and he'd start chasing me with the car."
This careful grooming led to a 15-year career—under the name "Pretty Boy"—that even Sharpe admits was not distinguished. "I was never a big-time wrestler," he says. "I was making maybe $60,000 to $70,000 a year." That's not exactly small change, but it pales next to the $1 million plus pulled in by the Hulk Hogans and Randy Savages.
In 1984 Sharpe decided it was time to quit the pro circuit, so he and his old idol, Buddy Rogers, opened the Monster Factory. "There was no place for kids to learn how to get started, so we knew there was a market," says Sharpe. Rogers has since sold his share to Sharpe, who is now the sole owner.
Sharpe handles about 30 wrestlers a year, charging each one $3,000 to attain a professional level of competence, which takes an average of four to six months. He schools them in such niceties as the Front Face Lock, the Back Breaker and the Chicken Wing. "Promoters call and ask me if there's anyone here who's ready, or I'll call them and tell 'em I've got a guy who I think they'd be interested in. After 15 years, I can tell if someone's any good or not."
One of Sharpe's current prospects is Joe D'Acquisto, 28 years old and 385 lbs., a former juvenile corrections officer from Rochester, N.Y. D'Acquisto, whose now de ring is Big Joe Nasty, got into wrestling sort of by accident. He became so excited while watching a bout in his home town that he jumped in the ring and pinned one of the professionals. Joe was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. When his antics were reported on the local news he was, naturally, approached by a promoter, who directed D'Acquisto to the Monster Factory for fine tuning.
Inside the Monster Factory, where gigantic men sweat and strain and change their names in pursuit of an elusive dream of glory, there never is so much as a whispered question about how, you know, authentic "On the way home, he'd make me get out of the car and say, 'Now, jog home,' and he'd start chasing me with the car." pro wrestling really is. (In an attempt to deregulate their sport, the World Wrestling Federation testified before the New Jersey Senate in February that their bouts are simply "entertainment.") Larry Sharpe, although he would never come right out and comment on the sport's legitimacy, may have referred to it obliquely when he was asked about his win-loss record during his 15 years on the circuit: "The only records you keep in wrestling are the ones at the bank when you go to make a deposit."
Obviously, he's not just another Pretty Boy.
—Michael Neill, Andrew Abrahams in Paulsboro