This Action Is The Real McCoy

A new professional wrestling league, one that offers actual athletes wrestling as opposed to the scripted theatrics of the WWE, features a host of participants with Penn State ties.

No one will enter the ring wearing a mask and hailing from parts unknown. No one will leap from the top rope or get hit in the head with a metal folding chair. And no one will be slammed through a table.

Real Pro Wrestling, which made its national television debut Sunday, is exactly what its name states. It's real wrestling, the kind seen at scholastic, collegiate and Olympic levels. RPW boasts a mix of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling featuring eight regional teams broken into seven different weight classes.

“It's pure wrestling,” says Kerry McCoy, a two-time NCAA champion at Penn State and current assistant coach at Lehigh University who coaches RPW's Pennsylvania Hammer. “It's not fake. It's not typecast. It's not scripted. It's going to be competitors going out there and wrestling their guts out. Even if you have been exposed to international wrestling, there are a few twists that I think make it a little more exciting. It's just going to be a great showcase for the sport.”

Ties to Penn State run deep in RPW. Two-time All-American Pat Cummins wrestles at 264 pounds for the Hammer, and Jeff Prescott, who won two national titles while at Penn State in the early 1990s, represents the New York Outrage at 121 pounds. Penn State assistant coach Tim Dernlan competes at 121 pounds for the Minnesota Freeze. Former PSU assistant Sammie Henson is at 121 for the Hammer.

RPW (www.realprowrestling.com) is the brainchild of former Northwestern wrestlers Toby Willis and Matt Case. About three years ago, the two were pondering the future of their sport and the viability of creating an arena to showcase the nation's best wrestling talent once their amateur careers were complete. RPW was their answer.

“We got the product and we got the athletes,” Case says. “We've been able to go back to the drawing board with the rules because we aren't subject to any governing body. We can design the product how we best see fit. The final goal is to see it as a pro league similar to the NBA or the NFL.”

Competitors were chosen for the inaugural season of RPW using amateur rankings, and in some cases, their potential in the sport was factored in as well. Wrestlers were assigned, based on geographical location, to one of eight teams-the Pennsylvania Hammer, New York Outrage, Minnesota Freeze, Oklahoma Slam, Iowa Stalkers, Texas Shooters, California Claw and Chicago Groove.

The premier episode featured the 121-pound weight class, with Henson dominating his quarterfinal and semifinal matches. He will wrestle former Oklahoma State NCAA champ Teague Moore in the final.

“The main thing is selling the product, and in wrestling the athletes are the product,” McCoy says. “It's very important to have some of our great athletes involved. If you can follow someone's career at a professional level, that's really going to help keep the sport going.”

As head coach, it's McCoy's job to prepare the wrestlers and offer encouragement from the corner. Once per match, he is also permitted to challenge a referee's call.

“Obviously, having the experience of competing at a high level and knowing some of the competitors, it helps to know what you are talking about,” says McCoy, who wrestled in the league's pilot episode in 2002. “Coaching them in the corner is the main focus, because at this level the guys are pretty well established.”

The current season, which was taped last fall in Los Angeles, will feature hour-long episodes at 4 p.m. each Sunday through May 15 on PAX, and will be replayed at 3 p.m. every Wednesday through May 25 on Fox Sports Net. Olympic champion Rulon Gardner serves as a color commentator.

Each episode showcases one of the weight classes leading up the championship episode, when the first RPW national champions will be crowned. In the final episode, the outstanding wrestler and team champion will also determined. Wrestlers from each team are seeded 1 through 8 and earn points for their team. Competitors are compensated for their efforts from a total prize pool of $250,000.

The scoring system is simple. If a wrestler wins by fall or technical fall, it's worth 15 points for his team. If a wrestler wins by decision, the margin of victory will determine how many points his team is awarded. For example, if a wrestler wins 4-3, his team receives one point. Matches take place on a raised circular mat, and wrestlers can also earn points if they toss their opponent over the edge.

Another twist in RPW is the alteration of the stalling call. In a typical match, if a wrestler is stalling it's up to the official to make the call. RPW features a stalling meter on the screen for each athlete that shows if one is more active than another. If a wrestler stalls, his meter will count down to the danger zone. Once it reaches the danger zone, stalling will be called.

“Fans can expect to see a lot of wrestling action,” Case says. “You are going to see a lot more points being scored. When you add the financial incentives, there is a lot more motivation to score points.”

James Reeser covers sports for the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice.

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