Jan 26, 2009

Posted by in Health, Industry | 0 Comments

Living the hard life of ‘The Wrestler’

by Tom Sorensen, Charlotte Observer

I’ve seen “The Wrestler” twice. The movie is on the screen at Ballantyne Village Theatre. The man is two seats down. Brad Cain wears a New York Yankees cap, an ornate and interesting beard and a necklace that looks like designer barbed wire.

You might know him as Lodi. In 1998, Lodi wrestled in front of 41,000 fans on the Hulk Hogan-Goldberg card at the Georgia Dome. These days, 400 would be exceptional. At the recreational center in Elkin or Mount Airy (he can’t remember which), there was a mix-up about the date. Four guys showed up to play basketball, and they had a dog. So Lodi and the fellows wrestled for them.

Brad CainThe movie is stark and simple and beautifully told. Mickey Rourke, who plays Randy the Ram, a small-time wrestler near the end of his career, won a Golden Globe Award for best actor and has been nominated for an Oscar. Bruce Springsteen won a Golden Globe for original song. Marisa Tomei is an Oscar nominee for best actress in a supporting role.

A friend told Lodi he didn’t need to see the film because he’s lived it.

But Lodi watched twice by himself because he knew he’d cry. By Friday, he was ready to view it publicly and agreed to see it with me.

Lodi is 38, and like Randy the Ram, he can’t walk away from wrestling. Some nights, he limps away.

He says his resume includes: two broken necks; two surgeries on his knee; two surgeries on his ankle; a little finger that refuses to work; a nose that’s been broken four times; broken ribs; two hospital stints for an enlarged heart, the result of steroid use; rehab after wrestling for substance abuse.

He remembers, after neck surgery that would sideline him 18 months, leaning back in bed and tapping his back against it, gently at first. When that didn’t hurt too badly, he began to hit it harder. He was thrilled. Despite the four-inch titanium plate inserted after the second break, maybe he could wrestle again.

Leave anything out?

“I’ve had at least eight concussions,” Lodi says.

Lodi grew up in Coleridge, an unincorporated town southeast of Greensboro. He went to East Carolina, where he majored in political science, ran track and played volleyball. After college, he became a trainer and bodybuilder. He began to train wresters and one of them, Raven, gave him his first major break. In 1997, he joined Raven’s Flock.

At 5-11 and 230 pounds with extremely blue eyes, Lodi had the look, but he didn’t have the story. Since somebody thought he resembled Billy Idol, he was told to dye his hair blond, buy leather pants and sneer. Because of trademark infringement, he couldn’t call himself Idol. The political science major had an idea. Idol backward is Lodi. “It was a regular rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle,” he says. “I was on TV three times a week, on MTV and VH1.”

He was on the road 20 days a month. He ate free and drank free; restaurants loved him because he attracted crowds. He made $225,000 a year in salary and collected royalties on video games, cereal boxes and little trucks that bore his name. He had an apartment outside Los Angeles in Marina del Rey and a house at Carolina Beach. In 2000, it ended. Several mid-level stars were purged, among them Lodi. By then, Billy Idol no longer was a big deal.

“I was confronted with the sober reality of having to make a living,” Lodi says. “What do you say at the job interview? I jump off the top rope and hit people over the head with a chair?”

He tried sales. Sales went no better for him than Ram’s stint as a deli worker went for him. There was emptiness and substance abuse. Finally Lodi returned to his roots. He started a personal training business, Your FLEX Appeal, on Carmel Road.

But he missed the rock ‘n’ roll. What is a performer supposed to do when the performances end? So he began to wrestle again.

“Nothing makes me feel like that does,” Lodi says. “Walk through that curtain and everything hurts less.”

So you’re not in it for the money?

Lodi laughs.

“I make $150 to $500 a show,” he says. “I’m the old guy whose job is to make the kids look good.”

Lodi made his debut as an announcer for the Charlotte-based National Wrestling Alliance Saturday. He wrestles three or four times a month. Some nights fewer than 100 fans show up. Before he finishes he feels as if he knows them all. “I’m like a musical conductor,” Lodi says. “I can get them to stand up, sit down and care. It’s not like the ’90s; people know wrestling is not real. The craftsmanship comes when you get them to suspend belief.”

The movie ends, the credits roll and Springsteen begins to sing. Customers walk out in the semi-darkness. Lodi sits. It’s an interesting life, this wrestling. And he’s in no hurry to leave.

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