School of Really Hard Knocks

A night in the life of Ultimate University

"Almost every day, I'll hear the boys talking about wrestlers or moves, and yeah, there are times I want to jump in and say, 'No, that guy isn't any good' or, 'This is how you do that,'" she says. "But I know I can't. So I just listen and smile to myself."

Like Bassman—who, when he was growing up in the Valley, looked forward to the days his father would take him to matches at the Grand Olympic Auditorium—Lane has always loved wrestling. She counts meeting superstar Sean Michaels as one of the great thrills of her life. "It's just something about kicking butt," she says, her right hand pumping like a hatchet in the manner of dictators or wrestling managers.

Bassman met Lane a few months ago when he was beginning to put on the shows in the gym. In front of 35 people, Lane "was in the front row jumping up and down and getting everyone into it. I said, 'Get that girl.' I told her she had to be in the show." That's all she needed to hear.

All Cassandra Ferragamo needed to hear was that there was an outlet for her. A cousin of former Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo, Ferragamo had always liked to fight. Even as a kid, she'd fight anyone, any time. "I don't know, I guess it has something to do with genes," she says.

Even after she grew up and started her own business—Electric Chair in Huntington Beach—she still took the time to kickbox because she craved combat. Then she found out about UPW and jumped in. She says her persona in the ring, Sadyst, has "deep-rooted hate" and is "a total bad guy." She takes great pride in the fact that she has yet to wrestle a woman; she fights only guys—and she wins. "She takes over on guys, and they do her bidding," she says.

Ferragamo is easily the intensest of the bunch, perhaps because she feels as if wrestling is what she was meant to do. While others mention money and fame, she only talks about fighting. "I want fighting to be my life," she says.

"Who's Your Daddy" Dempsey is stepping out with his ladies. He's wearing dark glasses and plastic pants and his gold-plated front tooth as he enters the ring. He stares out into the crowd, which is divided on whether to cheer or jeer him. "Who's Your Daddy" Dempsey is "a pimp who's got to be pimpin' hos," says Dempsey of his wrestling persona. He says it again and again with the grin of a kid given license to say a bad word. He's giddy that he gets to be the bad guy—wrestlers generally abhor being cast as a good guy, a "face"—even though it was his wife, Jennifer, who came up with the bad-guy character. Jennifer and their son, Mark, usually attend his matches, but tonight Jennifer is studying for a nursing exam. Mark? "Couldn't make it—Bible camp."

Developing a compelling character and being able to communicate that character over a microphone is probably the single most important requirement of big-time wrestling. While it's the crashing of bodies that jumps off the screen, it's the back stories that give weight and context to the violence and drive the action not only in the ring one night but also into the next match on another. What keeps people coming back is what wrestling folk call "heat"—what you theater types know as dramatic tension. The audience has to care about who's being beaten or who's doing the beating.

Dempsey is huge, a Thomas Hart Benton painting come to life. If he wasn't a former heavyweight boxer—he's the grandson of legendary heavyweight Jack Dempsey—he'd be cast as one. He has a tendency to leave his mouth open and stare, sometimes looking so hard at you that it's difficult to decipher whether he's intent on listening to you or hating your guts—the latter being a bad thing because he was ranked fourth by the International Boxing Federation. In fact, he's a very gentle guy. He loves the character of "Who's Your Daddy," in part because it is his opposite. The idea of playing a flamboyant, fast-living, dangerous ladies' man is heady stuff for someone who doesn't drink and who is hurt when patrons at the South Bay bar where he works as a bouncer assume his slurred speech is the product of one too many beers. "They'll ask me if I'm fucked-up," he says, glaring. "I can't help it. I can't help it."

In some ways, Dempsey became a boxer to continue his grandfather's legacy. From age 17 to 24, he ran at dawn and trained eight hours per day. He went to bed at 9 p.m. to get up at 4:30 a.m. He ate right, he drank right: no alcohol, no caffeine. Nights, he worked as a waiter. He did everything he could, though not as much as his grandfather—a man so obsessed with becoming heavyweight champion that, growing up in Colorado, he soaked his fists in horse urine to make them tough and pickled his face with brine to prevent it from bleeding when punched.

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