Loverboy Steve stalks into a wrestling ring wearing tights, a loud, jumbled, rainbow-colored vest, and a pink feather boa around his neck. The PA blares out Living Colour’s "Cult of Personality," and the crowd starts chanting "Urkel!" — his hated nickname.
He grabs the mike from the emcee. "Stop calling me Urkel!" he shouts. They jeer.
"All of you people are trash!" he yells.
Just another typical night in the ring for Oak Park resident Stephen Proctor, who knows, more than most of us, what it’s like to live a double life. On weekdays he wears a suit to Procter and Gamble’s offices in Troy, where he works as an account executive in the cosmetics department.
On weekends, he becomes Loverboy Steve, one of dozens of Detroit-area professional wrestlers sparring before hundreds of fans in high school gyms and VFW halls. Appearing in such matches gives Proctor, 25, the chance to live out a dream he’s had since he was a boy, when he watched with admiration and awe as Ric Flair, the Nature Boy, wrestled and preened on TV.
Today, pro wrestling has gone way over the top. Anyone who surfs cable TV has seen the rude, dramatic clashes of characters in World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Federation bouts.
But on any given weekend, chances are you can see a real live minor league pro wrestling match somewhere in southeast Michigan — at least eight local and regional wrestling associations promote matches in the metro area.
About 500 fans — a mix of boys, teens, men and a few women — recently visited one of these events at Troy Athens High School, to watch more than 80 wrestlers compete in 14 matches and a massive "battle royal."
The crowd cheers when D.B.A., champion in the Midwest Championship Wrestling circuit, enters the gym to the beat of hip-hop music. He and two opponents — first a scheduled challenger, then a hot-headed rogue assailant — slam and throw each other, then swing golf clubs, trash cans and pieces of chairs at each other. Finally, D.B.A. drapes his dazed opponent over a folding chair in the center of the ring, ascends to the top of the ropes, and takes a flying leap onto both opponent and chair.
Later, in another hard-core, "no-rules" match, Michigan Wrestling Alliance champion DeathDealer Tommy Starr, wearing black, his face masked with red and black paint, beats opponent Gene Austin of the National Wrestling Alliance of Michigan with a wooden stick. They chase and fight all through the gymnasium, throwing each other down the steps of the gym’s bleachers before DeathDealer finally pins Austin.
Then comes the final match, the climactic battle royal: 80 wrestlers thrown together in a three-ring free-for-all.
This is Loverboy Steve’s big moment.
He slips into the crowded mass of tough bodies and tight costumes and picks a few fights, striking his chosen opponents across the chest with his forearm. They recoil dramatically, then retaliate.
A guy in martial arts whites karate-chops Steve. Someone else chokes him against the ropes. But as other, bigger wrestlers, dazed from their blows, are flipped and thrown over the ropes, Steve’s quickness helps him survive until he is one of only a dozen men remaining.
A feud escalates between Steve and a bigger guy in a blue suit with the name "The Specialist" printed on his rear end. Two guys in black named the Cold Brothers help Steve beat up The Specialist until he is sagging on the ropes.
Steve backs up and rushes him, hoping to knock him out of the ring — but the force of Steve’s cross-body block knocks them both over the ropes and onto the hardwood gym floor, eliminating them both from the battle.
Steve reels, splayed out on the floor for a few moments, as The Specialist gets up and kicks him a few times in retaliation. After complaining to the referee to no avail, Steve stalks off toward the locker room. A couple of teens in Insane Clown Posse jerseys chant "Urkel" as he goes by.
"Don’t call me Urkel!" Steve shouts, then covers his ears, and runs out of the gym.
I’ll show you
Pro wrestling is surrounded by the question of whether it’s "real" or "fake." But bringing up the subject with a wrestler is like asking a magician to reveal his secrets. Proctor says his usual response is, "Get in the ring for five minutes and I’ll show you how fake it is."
He talks about his very real bruises, pulled muscles, and other injuries. "Every time you go in there, you never know what’s going to happen," he says.
Fans, for their part, don’t seem to care whether wrestling is staged. Eklypss, a St. Clair Shores rapper who integrates pile drives into his onstage performances, explains that wrestling "incorporates everything a man could want: Sex, violence, comedy … it’s fun."
"As long as you come to terms with the fact that it’s fake, it’s fun," says Eklypss. "But it’s not totally fake. They’re still taking a beating. They’re some of the best athletes. They’re like daredevils."
And they know how to draw the crowd into the drama.
As fan Torey Adkins says, "(Loverboy Steve) comes out with a can of aerosol, telling the crowd they stink. He gets the fans involved instead of just coming out wrestling."
Adkins, an Adrian College communications major, studied pro wrestling as his senior research project. "It’s an art form in a way. I appreciate the art. It’s like theater, with the classic good guy and the villain."
Name that villain
Proctor wrestled in high school and college, but his pro career began three years ago, when he went to a wrestling school in Memphis. There, he learned professional moves and the art of character development: Every successful wrestling persona, no matter how exaggerated, has to come from some real part of the wrestler’s psyche.
"If it’s not a part of you deep down inside, it’s not going to work," he says.
His name came almost by accident. "I was walking down the street with my trainer and we were talking to some people, and he said, ‘Go ahead, Loverboy,’ because girls were smiling at me."
Now, before every match, Steve sits alone in the locker room and channels the personality of an arrogant playboy.
"I’m the baddest man," he tells himself and, later, the crowd. "I’m the best-looking man there is in the state of Michigan, every woman here wants me, the women are jealous because they can’t have me, and the men are jealous because their women want me."
He figures the crowd wants someone to exchange insults with. "They want to be entertained, and yell and scream their heads off. They like that exchange. It’s an escape for people."
Steve tries to oblige. "If you’re the bad guy, you want to be the most hated person in their life, whether it’s the tax collector, whether it’s that ex-wife, whether it’s that boss who just won’t give them a break and is cracking a whip on them every day ... I want that man to sit there and want to strangle me. That’s a good bad guy. If he’s not having any reaction, I’m not doing my job."
But Proctor needed another aspect to his character if he wanted to stick in fans’ minds. One night, watching the ultra-nerdy Steve Urkel on "Family Matters," he had an idea.
At the next match, "I started out insulting all the people, called them Tennessee trash, talked about how they had to cash their welfare checks to come out to the show. Then I said, ‘I heard some brat out here call me Steve Urkel when I walked into the ring. Don’t you people call me Steve Urkel! I don’t look like Steve Urkel, I don’t talk like Urkel — and all the while I’m doing a voice ..."
The crowd eagerly taunted him with the name. A couple of times, he wore Urkel’s trademark red suspenders to encourage them, but after a while, he didn’t need to. The nickname, as planned, stuck.
Larger than life
Proctor doesn’t look like Steve Urkel. He’s a good-looking guy, with a thin face and prominent cheekbones, medium build, but muscular. But at 5-foot-8-inches and 165 pounds, he’s certainly smaller than many of his opponents, and in the macho world of wrestling, that may have been enough for his nickname to stick.
Regardless of his size, he’s managed to make himself larger than life, winning various championships on circuits in the South. In Memphis, where the cable station showed local wrestling on Saturday mornings, kids recognized him outside the ring.
"Whenever I’d go to grocery stores in town, I’d have little kids come up to me and say, ‘Can I please have your autograph? I won’t call you Urkel. I think you’re the coolest wrestler.’"
But if they see him after a match, he gives them the bad-guy nastiness they expect. "I tell the kids, ‘Get out of my face, you little brat.’ I break their pencil in half and give it back to them. I crumple up the paper and throw it down."
In a conversation before the match, Proctor drinks Evian water and is polite, friendly and calm. He majored in business in college, and he talks about his responsibilities at work with enthusiasm.
Stephen Proctor and Loverboy Steve are "100 percent" different, says Kamal Hanna, a wrestling fan who works with Proctor and attends his matches. Loverboy Steve is "flamboyant, stagey and animated," says Hanna, while co-worker Steve is quiet, reserved and focused on his job.
But Proctor loves being a bad guy in front of a crowd.
"It’s a great stress relief," he says. "You go through a week of work, working for a $40 billion company, dealing with customers, dealing with trying to increase productivity, sitting at a computer, dealing with headaches all week.
"Then on Saturday night, you get to go out there and whack somebody over the head with a chair. In your mind, it can be any person you want it to be."
See Loverboy Steve’s next match May 22 at the Wired Frog, 21145 Gratiot, Eastpointe. Bell time is 2 p.m. For more information, surf to members.xoom.com/DAWNWrstling/index.html. Find out about Loverboy Steve’s upcoming matches at www.angelfire.com/mi/loverboy steve/index.html.
For information about Detroit-area pro wrestling, call the Pro Wrestling Insider at 313-438-1415, or go to the Michigan Wrestling Alliance Web site at www.angelfire.com/mi/mwa1.