The teenagers eagerly awaited their teacher's entrance as hard rock music blared at Gayle Middle School's gym on a recent Saturday night
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — The teenagers eagerly awaited their teacher’s entrance as hard rock music blared at Gayle Middle School’s gym on a recent Saturday night.
Metal barricades separated the teens from double doors that had been turned into a curtained-off entrance for Classic Pro Wrestling’s grapplers. On that night, Mr. Gordon the music teacher would become Jeffrey Gordon the pro wrestler.
But more than 10 seconds ticked by, and Gordon still had not swept through the curtains. Some students glanced at the wrestling ring, where the villainous R.C. Lovin’ waited for an opponent he mocked as “Jeffrey, the Toys ‘R’ Us kid.”
“Oh, my god!” a girl suddenly shrieked.
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Gordon, perched on the top rope, had bypassed a traditional entrance in favor of a surprise attack. The students, not to mention some of Gordon’s colleagues at Gayle, rushed closer to the ring as the teacher leapt from the turnbuckle and hit R.C. Lovin’ with both fists clenched, a move known in the trade as a “double axe handle.”
He then pummeled his downed opponent with punches to the face as the crowd cheered on, despite the fact that the blows were all feigned.
The avid professional wrestling fan had finally made his début at age 35 — at the Stafford County school where, by day, he teaches students how to play stringed instruments.
Gordon is known as the pro wrestling guy at Gayle Middle School. It’s his character, so to speak.
He carries a championship belt in the hallways, draping it over his shoulder or even putting it around his waist. His classroom is decorated with masks of Mexican pro wrestlers and seven championship belts, including a replica of the one worn by his idol, Shawn Michaels, in the 1990s.
His wife, Sandy, said her husband gets the mail and answers the door for pizza deliveries with a wrestling belt in tow. “It’s a thing,” she says.
Gordon sported short, spiky hair for most of his adult life, but decided to cut out visits to the barber two years ago — making him look the part of the long-haired pro wrestler.
He casually watched wrestling as a child growing up in Stroudsburg, Pa., but became what he calls a “hardcore fan” during the professional wrestling boom of the late ’90s — when the World Wrestling Federation, now WWE, and the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling competed for viewers on Monday nights. He attended events at the Stabler Arena in nearby Bethlehem, Pa., during the WWF’s “Attitude Era,” and was there live when his favorite wrestler turned into a heel.
Gordon says he thought about training to become a pro wrestler after high school, but decided to go the more traditional route. Back then, a lot of the wrestlers stood more than 6 feet tall and weighed in excess of 200 pounds — an intimidating prospect for the skinny, 5-foot-7 kid.
He went on to graduate from East Stroudsburg University with a music degree in 2007, before going to a motorcycle mechanic school in Florida. He met his future wife in the Sunshine State, and the couple moved to the Fredericksburg region in 2008 after Sandy Gordon got a teaching position here.
Jeffrey Gordon worked for a Harley-Davidson dealership, then became a music teacher in 2009. He’s been at Gayle for five years.
Gordon’s love of professional wrestling never diminished through all of those life changes.
So earlier this year, he decided to make the leap.
He found a respected wrestling school near Baltimore, but the prospect of driving there two days a week seemed daunting. After all, Gordon has two young children — with a third on the way — and runs a violin business on the side.
Then he found out about a small pro wrestling training center that operates out of a garage near Thornburg, just a 20-minute drive from his Spotsylvania County home. He spoke with the trainer, Robert Cropper — who goes by the stage name R.C. Lovin’ — and scheduled his first session on Sunday, March 4, which happened to be his 35th birthday.
Gordon, wearing gym shorts and wrestling boots, learned how to bounce off ropes made of airplane cable and garden hose. The ropes badly bruised his skin — which is typical for pro wrestling trainees — making it look like someone had bashed his shoulders with a baseball bat.
Gordon also learned how to take a bump, or fall backward onto the mat with his arms outstretched and chin tucked. “I thought my eyes were going to bulge out of my head the first time I took a bump,” he says.
He discovered his strong suit during those Sunday training sessions. Gordon was adept at “selling” his opponent’s offense, or acting convincingly hurt as someone pretended to punch his face.
After just two months of training, he found himself in the main event of a show on his home turf. Cropper chose Gayle Middle at Gordon’s suggestion, figuring the teacher’s friends, students and family would turn out.
Cropper, playing his R.C. Lovin’ character, filmed a promo directed at “all you people out there in TV land” in the lead-up to the event. The recording was posted on Facebook, but, hey, this is pro wrestling.
Cropper described himself as what “every man wants to be, and what every woman wants,” a mantra he repeated at the event.
Gordon drafted a promo of his own and considered taking a jab at his veteran opponent’s age. “All the women want to be with you? Why is that — so they can use your AARP membership card?” he considered saying.
But Gordon, playing the role of the good guy, known as a baby face in the wrestling biz, opted for a more modest tone in a promo recorded at Gayle Middle. He acknowledged he had a steep hill to climb (pro wrestlers love clichés), but added: “This is my world. And when I have hundreds of my friends and family there behind me, you’re just going to have to ask yourself one thing — are you going to be able to overcome that?”
Behind the scenes, Cropper suggested that the fit, 175-pound Gordon buy a pair of pro wrestling trunks, which resemble a Speedo bathing suit, to look the part of the classic baby face. Gordon balked.
He won’t even walk around the house without a shirt, let alone wrestle in front of students in his underwear.
Gordon settled on more conservative attire — black tights, black boots, and a sleeveless Gayle Middle shirt.
Shortly before the match, he offered a sneak preview to his daughters Emma, 4, and Avery, 3.
“I said, ‘Guys, I may win, I may lose — but you’re guaranteed to watch me get the crap kicked out of me for a good, solid 10 minutes.’ “
Gordon’s offense proved short-lived in the main event against R.C. Lovin’, who outweighs him by more than 100 pounds. Lovin’ took control after a minute or two, ripping the teacher’s shirt so that he could strike his opponent’s flesh.
At one point, Lovin’ considered suplexing Gordon onto a ringside mat, prompting a Gayle teacher to shout: “He’s got to work on Monday!” The back slam never came, but the heel did act as if he was biting the teacher’s forehead before saying with a disgusted look, “Tastes like Gayle!”
The baby-face comeback came minutes later.
Gordon reversed a hold and sent Lovin’ into the corner of the ring. He then climbed to the second rope and jumped onto the heel’s shoulders for a leg-scissors takedown, also known as a hurricanrana.
Gordon covered Lovin’ for the dramatic 1-2-3 pin, securing a victory in his début match. His wife, wearing a homemade shirt with the words, “I married the main event,” cheered along with the other spectators.
The other good-guy wrestlers on the card came out to congratulate Gordon, triumphantly hoisting him onto their shoulders.
Later, after most of the spectators went home, a more subdued R.C. Lovin’ re-emerged to help take down the ring. Still, he would not break character in an interview with a reporter, saying he was happy for Gordon, but that the result would be different next time.
“I was going to suplex him off the top rope,” he said. “The next thing I know, he was on my shoulders, whipped me around. I got a little dizzy. I got high blood pressure, I got thyroid, I got all kinds of problems going on. I just got a little dizzy. If it wasn’t for me getting dizzy, I would’ve won the match.”
Gayle student Angelina Hargate, 14, said she does not watch wrestling, but made an exception for her teacher. “It was entertaining,” she said of the match. Angelina described Gordon as cool and funny, but added: “He’s a teacher — he gets work done.”
So was this a different side of Mr. Gordon? “Not really,” the student said with a laugh.
Sandy Gordon, who is set to give birth to a boy June 28, said she was anxious all week, but the payoff was worth it. Daughter Emma, wearing a white shirt with the slogan, “My dad wrestles better than your dad,” said the match was good, but that she did not like how her father “got hit by the bad guy.”
Post-match, Gordon said he had never even practiced a hurricanrana. Cropper told the rookie to leap onto his shoulders and lean back. The veteran would take care of the rest.
Gordon described the experience as nerve-wracking and surreal, but said no adjective could do it justice. “It was kind of everything I was hoping it to be and can’t wait to do it again.”
A WWE career is unlikely, but Gordon said he’d be happy wrestling a couple of times a month. And even if nothing comes of it, at least he tried.
“I always tell the kids, you have got to find whatever it is that you want and then go for it.”