I’m a little fuzzy on what JWO stood for. I’m pretty sure it stood for “Junior Wrestling Organization,” but it’s totally possible it stood for “Juggalo World Order,” which is what just came up when I Googled JWO. Either way, my duties following my induction into the JWO were clear:
I was now a member of a backyard wrestling team.
Like many cultural phenomenons — the Harlem Shake, the Tide Pod Challenge — backyard wrestling was an exciting yet short-lived trend of the 1990s. Somewhere, in the bowels of the internet, there exists hundreds of hours of footage portraying children (and some sad, poorly-educated adults) powerbombing each other into folding tables and launching themselves from suburban rooftops. Hopefully, I’m not in any of that footage, but it’s entirely possible I am.
Now, I’d had a previous affair with pro wrestling, watching WWF stars like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage fight for the title belt, but even at 13, I thought pro wrestling was dumb as shit. It was so exaggerated, so overwrought, so…obviously fake.
But peer pressure is a hell of a thing. Fred and Wilson had only asked five or six people to be in the JWO, and I was the only person not on the football team who got the nod. To me, it was the middle school equivalent to snagging an invite to the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars.
So, I tossed aside my cynicism about pro wrestling and learned what I could.
My first order of business was to create a persona. Fred’s name was Steel, Wilson was Mr. Saturday Night. My friend Bill, whom I’d known since pre-school and gone through Scouts with (pre D&D), adopted the moniker Crackhead Bill, presumably to symbolize his willingness to do anything in the ring to get a fix.
I knew I needed something edgy, something cool, to show Fred and Wilson I was part of the in-crowd.
I finally landed on Skankin’ Sam.
For the unaccustomed, “skankin” is the type of dance one performs while listening to ska music, a faster form of reggae that had a moment at the turn of the century. Around this time, I’d just attended my first concert, a Christian ska show with my church youth group. And for some reason, I thought Fred and Wilson, the dudes who yelled ICP lyrics like if your nuts hang // and you’re bang with the gang // then tell me are you down with the clown? would really dig this.
I assembled my costume: a thrift store fedora, a wife beater, suspenders, and a chain wallet. In hindsight, I might as well had shown up naked wearing a sign around my neck that read “pound me into the ground,” but at the time it felt like a good fit.
Fred and Wilson giggled and punched each other in the ribs when I unveiled my wrestling name and costume to them at lunch.
“Skankin’ Sam,” they yelled. Skankin’ Sam!”
My face fell. “I know, it’s stupid,” I said. “I can come up with something else.”
“No no,” Fred said, trying to cover Wilson’s mouth. “It’s perfect. We’ll have a ladder match this Saturday at Wilson’s house. You and Crackhead Bill versus me and Mr. Saturday Night.”
It was official. Skankin’ Sam was to make his JWO debut. I had my name, my costume, and my bout on the schedule. The only thing I had left to do was figure out how to wrestle.
Now, I had been on the youth wrestling team half of a season when I was nine, so I knew useful stuff like how to bridge out of a pin or apply a legal half-nelson. But I had no idea how to execute a Figure Four leg-lock or a pile driver. And even so, I want to point out I had just recently recovered from a concussion and a neck injury that resulted from getting tackled by the same dudes I was supposed to wrestle during this “ladder match”…whatever the hell that was.
I tried taping Monday Night Raw and taking notes on what I saw, but watching the WWF left me bored and annoyed. How could anyone be entertained by such garbage? I thought.
But afraid of showing up unprepared, I turned to the one source that could make me an expert on absolutely anything overnight: the World Wide Web.
Keep in mind, this was 1998, when the internet was in its consumer infancy. My parents had just recently relented that personal computers and the internet weren’t just another 8-Track or LaserDisc, and they had installed a monstrous Gateway tower PC and a 14.4 MB dialup modem in my bedroom.
At that time, there were no YouTube tutorials — hell, there weren’t even photos — but I did manage to find a website that catalogued every WWF wrestler, their various moves, and step-by-step text instructions on how to execute them.
No such text instructions exist on the internet any longer, but here’s a set of instructions I might have read in 1998 showing me how to recreate Steve Austin’s “Stone Cold Stunner.”
1. Kick opponent in stomach.
2. Lean backwards into opponent, facing same way as him.
3. Wrap right arm around opponent’s neck from underneath. Bicep should be on opponent’s throat, palm clutching back of opponent’s head.
4. Close left hand over right hand.
5. Fall to ground, pulling opponent’s neck down with you.
Clear as day, right? I didn’t think so, but I memorized as many as I could, hoping I could trot them out on the big day and solidify my stature as a formidable opponent. I decided my special finishing move would be the one that made the most sense to me: The Boston Crab. I stole this move and turned it into The Skankin’ Surprise.
Not surprisingly, I never got the occasion to unveil my finishing move, because I was never got to finish a match.
My mom was dubious of this whole thing. She’d never heard of Wilson before; we weren’t in Scouts together or on the same baseball team. His family didn’t go to our church. Now, out of nowhere, I asked for a ride to his house on Saturday afternoon?
“Are Wilson’s parents going to be there?” she asked.
I had no idea, but I was leaning toward no. “Oh, of course,” I said.
“I want you to get me Wilson’s phone number. I want to talk to his mother just to check.”
That was the thing about my mom. She had been a high school teacher for almost three decades at that point. She not only knew the teenage shithead playbook like the back of her hand, she knew the schemes before they even entered into my brain.
I could only imagine how much shit I’d get at lunch once it came out that Sam’s Mommy was calling to make sure his backyard wrestling playdate was adequately supervised. I had just secured a shred of cache with the cool kids; a phone call like that would’ve torpedoed my tenuous reputation faster than the Lusitania.
I knew my mom couldn’t call Wilson’s mom. Hell, I didn’t even know if Wilson had a mom. That wasn’t the sort of thing that came up in between recitations of ICP lyrics and screams of “Oh my god! They killed Kenny!”
I had to think fast. “I don’t have his number, but I think Bill’s mom does.”
This improvisation was genius on my part. Crackhead Bill’s mom and my mom had been friends since I was in pre-school. We were in Scouts together, we went to the same church, we spent days on the beach together in the summer.
I also knew Crackhead’s mom was a lot more laid back than my mom was. He was allowed to listen to bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. He even had cans of Pepsi in his lunch.
“Bill’s going to be there?” my mom asked.
“Yeah, we’re going together,” I said, omitting the part about us being tag team partners in a ladder match.
To this day, I have no idea what Bill’s mom said to mine, but within five minutes, I had my mother’s blessing to wrestle in my first JWO match.