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The good life of a bad guy

Thursday, March 06, 2003

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

During the 21 years of his working life, Shane Douglas has been spat upon, punched in the face and denounced as a fake.

Shane Douglas, really Troy Martin of New Brighton, Beaver County, hopes to strengthen pro wrestling's grip in the area. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

Those were just his encounters with fans in the 11 professional wrestling circuits where he has worked. The in-ring violence Doug-las has met with, though choreographed as carefully as an evening of Shakespeare, caused enough damage to necessitate five surgeries on his right elbow. His right wrist has been broken "multiple times."

Douglas knows wrestling is a dirty job with more politics than you'll find in city hall. But he will not give it up for reasons that even the spectacle's harshest critics can understand.

In his best year in the ring, he made $630,000, or more than 20 times his old teacher's salary at Beaver High School.

"My house is paid for because of wrestling, and it's given me a nice savings," he says.

This explains why Douglas, at 39, has jumped back in the ring with an upstart wrestling league run by a California pornography mogul. Called Xtreme Professional Wrestling, the organization makes its Western Pennsylvania debut at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Community College of Beaver County in an event titled "Battle of the 'Burgh." Douglas, the Xtreme league's champion, headlines the show.

He starred in all three major circuits during the 1990s, when wrestling companies competed nationally for cable television ratings, pay-per-view audiences and sales of their action figures, clothing and other merchandise.

Douglas was seven months into a three-year, $1.9 million contract with Ted Turner's Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling when it folded in 1999. The company was purchased by Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment), which offered Douglas a lesser deal. He declined, choosing to sit on the sidelines in New Brighton and collect the money owed him until his contract expired.

As he had a hundred times since he turned pro in 1982, he thought about running for public office or getting a more normal job, such as his stint as a teacher. Then Douglas did what he always does: He went back to the mat.

His latest venture has put him in strange company, even by wrestling standards.

Xtreme Professional Wrestling is bankrolled by Rob Black, whose pornographic film career went from successful to white hot after the first President Bush called him a menace to society. Black's wife and film partner, whose performing name is Lizzy Borden, works the wrestling shows as Douglas' valet.

Black hired Douglas 10 months ago to be XPW's lead in-ring talent and booker, or writer of wrestling story lines.

Douglas' first mission was to stop Black's adult film company from infecting the style and content of Xtreme Professional Wrestling. "My goal when I came on board was to separate the two," he says.

In Douglas' view, XPW now offers matches that are "traditional but with a 2003 twist," meaning more mayhem than crowds ever witnessed in the 1970s or '80s.

The world according to Shane Douglas

Pro wrestler Shane Douglas is known as one of the better talkers in a business filled with loudmouths. Here he is at his quotable best.

On fellow wrestler Lex Luger, a sculpted 280-pounder: "He's a $10 million body and a 10-cent talent."

On wrestling promoters admitting that matches are rigged so they can save on government regulatory fees: "Everybody knows the magician doesn't really saw the lady in half. But you don't need to beat the audience over the head by telling them before every show."

On losing the old World Wrestling Federation intercontinental championship in 1995 to Scott Hall after a reign of just 18 minutes: "If a promoter tells me to do a job, I do the job."

On wrestler Shawn Michaels, with whom he feuded in and out of the ring: "Shawn is an incredibly gifted performer, the best in-ring performer ever, maybe. But he's three-faced."

On his approach to work: "It probably costs a family of four $200 to see a night of wrestling. I'm always worried about making sure the fan gets his money's worth."


"Nobody wants to see arm bars or cross-body blocks anymore. That's kind of boring by today's standards," he says.

XPW started three years ago as a Los Angeles-area promotion. Its matches are now televised throughout Pennsylvania, in New Orleans and in markets sprinkled across Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia. Television is key to reaching XPW's target audience, boys and men from age 15 to 49.

Douglas, whose real name is Troy Martin, knows all about the lure of wrestling shows. He became addicted to them as a 12-year-old growing up in Beaver County. The man who hooked him was Superstar Billy Graham, a bleached blond with 22-inch biceps, tie-dyed costumes and a strut that created a stream of imitators, including Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura.

After watching Graham preen and prattle, Martin wanted to be a wrestler, too. He began humbly but caught a big break in his first foray into the business.

Martin was not yet old enough to drive when he staged a wrestling show in his back yard to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The oddball event attracted the attention of Beaver County's most famous wrestler, Dominic DeNucci. A charitable sort himself, DeNucci showed up to give the kid's fund-raiser a lift.

With a big-name pro in his midst, Martin pounced.

"He started bugging me all the time to train him," says DeNucci, now 67. "I told him that if he finished high school and went to college, I'd do it."

Martin's mother began chauffeuring him to DeNucci's garage for wrestling lessons. In wintertime, they worked together in the old Freedom High School.

DeNucci later opened a wrestling school that enrolled as many as 18 prospects at a time. The best-known of his students, former Steelers offensive lineman Steve Courson, could bench-press 500 pounds and seemed as agile as a cat.

But Courson lacked the charisma and ring skills of DeNucci's two star pupils, Martin and Mick Foley.

Foley, with a body by Pillsbury, did not look as though he could draw paying customers to anything except a pie-eating contest. DeNucci, though, recognized that Foley's ample frame covered an enormous heart.

"Troy and Mickey were on time all the time, and they would work out three or four hours at a time. Both were good," DeNucci says.

Pro wrestler Shane Douglas, with his 23-month-old son, Connor, says the Xtreme Professional Wrestling league offers matches that have more mayhem than crowds have seen in the 1970s or '80s. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

Each was on a track to stardom and wealth. Soon after Martin turned pro, he took Shane Douglas as his ring name. He also has been known as "The Franchise," a pompous bad guy who's enraged crowds from coast to coast. Foley, a main event performer in the WWF during much of the 1990s, has wrestled under his own name, as well as the aliases of Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind.

While Douglas was learning the ropes, he kept his promise to DeNucci. After finishing high school in New Brighton, he enrolled at Bethany College in West Virginia. He graduated in 1986 with a bachelor's degree in politics and public policy.

Students and professors at Bethany knew he was performing as a professional wrestler on weekends, but Douglas blended into campus life as easily as any muscle-bound blond could.

"He was a B student, and he earned everything he got," said Albert Osman, who was a Bethany professor and Martin's adviser. "He was well-spoken, had real good character and a fantastic personality."

Douglas described himself as a rarity among pro wrestlers in that he holds three college degrees, a bachelor's and two master's.

But his story did not square with the registrars at Geneva College, where he said he received a master's in education, and Slippery Rock University, where he said he received "a master's equivalency" degree in biological science.

Geneva says Martin received teacher certification from the school, but it has no record of granting him an advanced degree. The registrar's staff at Slippery Rock said Martin studied there for a semester in 1988 but received no degree.

Asked about the discrepancies, Martin said he had completed about 300 college credits. His claim of having two master's degrees is "more or less a summation of the number of hours I've acquired. I describe it as master's degrees because journalists like brief answers. There's no official master's degree."

Such biographical glitches have little relevance in pro wrestling, where fable and truth are treated as interchangeable.

In the old days of the business, breathless ring announcers described heavyweight Verne Gagne as a former member of the Green Bay Packers, then the best team in football. Gagne never played a down for the Packers, who cut him after a tryout. But the myth about his being part of the Green Bay dynasty lived for decades.

Martin's biography could have more importance than that of the average wrestler. Like former Minnesota Gov. Ventura, he has his eye on a political career.

A registered Republican, Martin has had occasional discussions with Beaver County residents about running for state or federal office.

"You'd like to leave the world a better place than it was before," he says of his interest in public service.

Back at Bethany College, he prepared himself for work in government, never thinking he could make a living as a wrestler.

But when he graduated, the job market seemed bare in most sectors. Wrestling promoters started calling, and Troy Martin, prospective civil servant, was bumped from the work force by the villain called Shane Douglas.

Pro wrestlers often work deep into their 50s. Martin said he does not know how long he will stick with the business. His wife, Carla, so dislikes his ring personality that she cannot bear to watch him perform. They have a 23-month-old son, Connor, so life on the road is not as appealing to Martin as it once was.

But travel he does, for his job is to build up a minor league dwarfed by McMahon's WWE.

DeNucci says Martin's XPW circuit has a chance to survive if it doesn't get greedy.

"They need to work the small towns and stay away from Vince," DeNucci said. "You try to rush him, and he'll squash you like a grape."

Even if XPW fails, McMahon or other promoters probably would come looking for Shane Douglas. To them, he's a bankable bad guy who always answers the bell.

Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.

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