School of Really Hard Knocks

A night in the life of Ultimate University

But Dempsey was eager enough. In 1998, the last year of his boxing career, he took 10 fights—"too many," he says, and it was. When you fight 10 fights, you train for 10 fights. Each fight means a regimen of jarring your brain running 10 miles per day. It means sparring a minimum of four rounds per day. With nearly one fight each month, "my brain never got a chance to heal," Dempsey says in the manner of one ruing the fate of a pet cat run over by a truck. It was that last year that he noticed his speech was slowing. Worried he would end up like the punch-drunk fighters of old Warner Bros. movies, he quit. But what was left to him was waiting tables and working as a bouncer.

"I wasn't making any real money, and I have a family to support," he says. "Besides, I have to admit I'm the kind of person who likes being in the spotlight. I like having people look at me."

At Ultimate University, he applied the same energy he had to boxing. Bassman, who sees his share of big guys who are soon shipped out—"The No. 1 thing is attitude"—loves that about him. But he doesn't like "Who's Your Daddy."

"The character is nothing like him," he says. "The best characters are based in some way on the wrestler's own personality, even if it's a complete exaggeration. That way there's always a ring of truthfulness to it.

"Josh has such a presence—and, let's face it, a legacy—that I think eventually, he'll create a character that is closer to that. But I'm not worried. The important thing now is for him to get comfortable with working the crowd. There are a lot of guys who are real big today who had to go through four or five characters before they hit on something that worked."

"I really like this," Dempsey says. "When I boxed, I used to dance into the ring because I was trying to trick my mind into believing I was going to have fun—instead of going to get hit a lot in the head by some guy I didn't even know and I was going to try and beat him up even though I had nothing against him. This is a hundred times better."

The Galaxy show ends with Bassman climbing into the ring and taking the unusual step of asking all of the evening's performers to join him. He explains that he's doing this because Mower and Sylvester Terkay, who wrestles as a psycho hillbilly, have gotten the call to go to the big leagues, the WWF. He speaks with emotion of this group of people who work so hard together. He asks the audience to give them a big hand, and for a moment, the wrestling troupe looks like a Broadway cast on closing night, bowing and waving as the crowd stands.

It was a good show. One by one, the wrestlers leave the ring and head to the lobby to sign autographs and sell T-shirts until there is no one left in the ring but Josh Dempsey, dancing softly in the light.�

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