Not all pro-wrestling schools are created equal. Some schools continuously turn out quality wrestlers, while others may have that one or two wrestlers that are decent, but a lot of graduates shouldn’t be getting booked anywhere. Over the last few years Santino Brothers has deservedly earned a reputation as one of the top wrestling schools in the country. People know the quality there. That is why when I heard the premise of the book Wrestling School Dropout by Oliver Williams my interest was immediately piqued.
Wrestling School Dropout is the story of Williams, who felt he had something missing in life and decided that missing thing was pro-wrestling. What made his story particularly interesting to me was that his journey took him not only to the Santino Brothers Wrestling Academy, but then later to training at the Clela Arena (he never actually names the Clela Arena in the book, but it is immediately obvious to anyone who has followed Southern California wrestling over the last few years), giving a contrast between the elite school in the area and one that was not well regarded.
Williams’ story is different than most people who get into wrestling. He is in his 30s when he begins his training, has a master’s degree, a family, and a career. He can’t get the idea of being a wrestler out of his head and eventually enrolls in a Santino Brothers’ beginner’s course. Thinking the course was going to be easy due to his size and experience, he quickly learns that training to be a pro-wrestler (at least at Santino Brothers) is no easy task. The physical regimen he describes sounds like something out US Army Special Forces Selection, but in checking with other people who have attended the school his experience mostly matches that of others ( I say mostly because there is a scene in the book where Sylvia Munoz is yelling at him to “get his dick off the mat” during exercises, and she denies she has ever said such a thing).
What really stood out in the Santino Brothers portion of the story wasn’t the physical demands of the course, but the passion of the staff. The descriptions of his interactions with Joey “Kaos” Munoz highlight what has made the school such a force in the area. His knowledge, passion, and leadership really come across. Hoss Hogg, who trained Williams in private lessons after he dropped out of the beginner’s class due to having a second child, also comes across as a dedicated and caring instructor. At one point Hoss Hogg tells Williams he should take time off for his family, as he can see he hasn’t been himself lately, despite the fact that he would lose a student and a payday. This selflessness is in stark contrast to Williams’ experiences at the Clela Arena later on.
After taking some time off of training, Williams decides to get back into it. Hoss Hogg was no longer available for lessons, and he could not commit to a full class at Santino Brothers, but is given information on training at the Clela Arena, where he learns the prices are much cheaper.
At the Clela Arena he begins training under a luchador who he gives the alias of Big Dog in the book. Based on his descriptions in the story, I have a pretty good idea who the luchador is, but I don’t think it is someone most fans would know. At the Clela Arena gone is the extreme physical training of Santinos, as well as the passion of the instructors.
Williams once again begins private lessons rather than group instruction, this time with Big Dog. The training there in a way might be a more accurate representation of independent wrestling than the professionalism of Santino Brothers, as Big Dog comes across as a carny who is out to just make as much money off Williams as possible. In my nearly 20s years of being involved in or covering independent wrestling, unfortunately there are a lot of Big Dogs.
Eventually Williams gets wise to what is going on and once again ends his wrestling training. This time for good.
Overall the book was a quick read that I finished in one setting. The stuff with Big Dog was hilarious at times and I found myself laughing out loud at some of his weird behavior. The most interesting part for me though was the contrast between Santinos and the Clela Arena. The difference is night and day, and really helps to highlight why on any given weekend local shows are filled with wrestlers who came out of Santino Brothers but not wrestlers who came out of the Clela Arena.
The biggest negative for me was the use of aliases for the Clela Arena section. As long as it is true there is no harm in naming names. If someone acts like a carny, that’s on them, not the writer. Maybe it is just me as every time they came up I was looking for clues to confirm their identity.
For fans of wrestling in Southern California, I’d highly recommend giving the book a read. Even if you aren’t into independent wrestling, it is still and interesting read and worth an hour of your time.
Wrestling School Dropout is available on Amazon for $9.99 and is free with Kindle Unlimited.