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Hooters invaded by hungry, giant wrestlers

by Brian Clarey

Balls Mahoney looks like he could run through a brick wall.

Check that. Up close, Balls Mahoney looks like he has run through a brick wall. But for now he’s barreling with a graceful, big-man’s gait through the large crowd that’s assembled here at Hooter’s, making his sweaty way to the bathroom after he’s taken down a rocks glass filled to the rim with what looks to be a margarita, no salt no ice.

He’s friendly and gregarious, Balls Mahoney is, and he gets and gives backslaps and clinches when he’s outside the perimeter of the area Hooter’s has cordoned off for him and his friends, the group of professional wrestlers that has just finished slamming the crap out of each other at the Greensboro Coliseum just down the road.

I bet you didn’t know that professional wrestlers, after they strip off their Spandex and shower off the detritus of a good night’s grappling, like to head for the nearest Hooter’s and take down some beers and wings. I didn’t. But I probably could have figured it out.

Kori Martes, who has been serving chicken wings in tight clothes for about eight months now, was on duty the last time the wrestlers came in after their bouts at the coliseum.

“I mean, everybody was here,” she tells me. “It was like Wrestling 101.”

Tonight they enter through the side door in trickles: Jimmy Wayne Yang with Little Guido Maritato, Tommy Dreamer and Matt Striker, CM Punk, Matt Hardy. They’re wearing ballcaps, ponytails, tattoos and beards, with sternocleidomastoid bulges in their T-shirts and still a bit of intensity in their eyes just after showtime.

On the tables, plates of shrimp, wings, clams, fries, fried pickles, burgers and chicken sandwiches pile up in short towers. Pitchers of beer and tall, iced Cokes are drained with brio.

Kelly Kelly eats wings demurely, a zebra-striped hood obscuring her young and fresh face, with a couple other WWE divas and Hornswaggle, the league’s littlest fighter. Mark Henry, the widest, most solidly built human being I have ever seen, holds court on the outside patio. And then there’s my friend Balls Mahoney, who can tell me he’s from New Jersey but little else, as the various professional wrestling entities are fairly protective of their talent and forbid unapproved interviews.

Which is fine by me – I’m here to dig the scene, this frenetic and star-struck sequence unfolding in Hooter’s on this Tuesday night.

The fans jostle and crane to see their heroes from outside the perimeter of the zone, and occasionally one slips through for an autograph, a squeeze of a perfect bicep, a moment captured on a phone. And the gladiators are gracious, rubbing elbows and sharing tales of the ring, signing autographs and Hooter’s menus, making faces for the kids.

But they gotta eat, so Tommy Dreamer, who is known as something of a heel, hustles the hooples out of the corral.

Dreamer, one of many ex-New Yorkers in professional wrestling, is perhaps best known for being the first person in wrestling history to kick out of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Superfly Splash. Guy’s been around forever, worked his way up through the business and is now something of a statesman in the sport.

Matt Striker, too, has risen to prominence in the league after resigning from his job as a NYC schoolteacher in 2005. A bit of controversy there – Striker took 11 sick days during a semester so he could wrestle in Japan, and the school district sought reimbursement for the time off.

The educator thing has stuck with him as part of his wrestling persona: He lends his face and skills to the WrestleMania Reading Challenge, which encourages reading among teenagers, and acts as spokesman with CM Punk and the Miz for Teen Read Week.

He’s the only one wearing a suit – “Because I make more money,” he says – and he’s not afraid to throw around his heft, both intellectual and physical.

“From one educated guy to another,” he tells me, “these guys see you writing things down… they don’t know what you’re doing. If I were you I might not be here.”

Striker’s duress is interrupted by the arrival of the Edge, one of wrestling’s prototypical golden faces. He’s huge, of course… chiseled and cut, with a Hollywood visage and kind, wide eyes framed by blonde locks and a knitted toboggan.

He’s major. In 2007 he beat the Undertaker (with a little help from Mark Henry) to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, only to lose it to him at WrestleMania XXIV.

Now he makes his way past the fans, signing a few menus and posters, posing for photos with the waitresses and greeting his comrades in arms. Striker brings his dinner: a piece of plain broiled fish and a similarly prepared chicken breast. When the adoration hits a lull, he hunkers down and protein loads.

For questions or comments email Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com

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