Two brothers find a new life through extreme wrestling
Vinnie Vegaz stares with piercing, demonic blue eyes at the scrap of barbed wire clenched in his left hand. With his long, knotted, fire-red hair dangling in front of his transfixed face, he appears to be a man possessed. His camouflage-covered adversary T.J. Roe lies motionless and face down at his feet, completely helpless. Vegaz lifts Roe’s head by its golden locks, stretches the barbed wire across Roe’s open mouth and jerks backward. A stream of blood gushes forth from Roe’s lips, trickles down his chin, and forms a small crimson puddle beneath him. A handheld video camera quickly zooms in on Roe’s facial expression — he appears to be smiling.
|Brothers Scotty and Tommy Childers, aka Irish Red and T.J. Roe. The New Braunfels-based wrestlers are working to move their wrestling show out of the backyard and into the spotlight.|
Such vulgar displays of power are commonplace for Scotty and Tommy Childers. The brothers, better known as Vinnie Vegaz and T.J. Roe, respectively, are the creators of Block Buster Wrestling, a backyard wrestling organization that sponsors monthly shows in New Braunfels, Texas.
Backyard wrestling is a relatively young cultural phenomenon. Inspired by the World Wrestling Entertainment’s so-called “Attitude” era of the late 1990s (when WWE was the WWF) — which, in turn, was heavily influenced by the rise of hardcore independent wrestling promotions like Extreme Championship Wrestling, Xtreme Professional Wrestling, and Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling — a generation of untrained teenagers began to re-create the carnage and theatrics of sports entertainment with their own characters, moves, and story lines.
The movement has garnered a lot of media attention throughout the years, due largely to The Best of Backyard Wrestling video series, a graphic collection of amateur footage sold through late-night television ads since 2000.
What these hometown federations lack in professionalism and production value, they mask with a barbaric use of lethal weaponry, including plywood, fire, plywood on fire, nails, plywood with embedded nails, ladders, thumbtacks, cheese graters, street signs, and fluorescent-light tubes. Each promotion (there are an estimated 700 worldwide) claims to be more extreme than the next, and bBW is no exception: “Hardcore like never before,” it claims, and “Often imitated, never duplicated.”
In its seven-year existence, Block Buster Wrestling has left a trail of broken glass all over the small tourist haven of New Braunfels. Wrestlers called Cannibal, the Majestic King, Counterfeit, and the Ragin’ Cajun have shed blood in the most unlikely of places, from backyards, bars, and trailer parks to gyms and small clubs.
In the process, the organization has gathered a following of Pavlovian fans conditioned to salivate at the sound of a ring bell or the cold, hard smack of a steel chair crashing against a skull. Roughly 200 people attend each backyard brawl, a large number of which are caffeine-crazed kids clutching signs with taunts like “The Champ is a Chump.”
To the members of bBW, backyard wrestling is all about pleasing the audience, making them “pop.” It is pure escapism, the opportunity to momentarily become someone else — to feel alive and accepted. It is freedom and liberation from their daily trials and tribulations. For often, the epic battles Scotty and Tommy Childers endure within the ring cannot compare to those they face outside of it.
Beyond The Mat
Scotty Childers has always been captivated by professional wrestling.
“From my childhood, I knew it was something I had to do,” Scotty declares with a sense of pride and vindication that usually only surfaces when he’s in wrestling character. “It’s an addiction, an inspiration, a rush, everything you need all combined into one thing that makes you feel like you’re doing something in life ... it’s always there.”
The latter sentiment can’t be applied to Scotty’s father, who has been in and out of prison for the majority of Scotty’s life.
“He was never there; he was always trying to be something he just couldn’t,” Scotty says slowly, between drags from a Marlboro Light. “Then one day he just pulled a disappearing act. He took off with some girl ... after a while we thought he was dead.”
Though Scotty is reluctant to reveal his birth name, which he shares with the man he adamantly describes as “worthless,” he does acknowledge that it was his father who initially turned him on to professional wrestling. He fondly recalls congregating with his family around the television and “sitting on grandpa’s back watching wrestling.”
But in 2001, after Scotty graduated from high school, wrestling became much more than entertainment; it became the only dependable thing in his life.
Scotty and Tommy’s mother, weary from working three jobs and raising four children, decided to move to Florida, leaving her two oldest children to fend for themselves.
“She felt like it was her time to go somewhere and do something with her life,” Scotty says. “Tommy and I were kind of just left behind. It was like starting a new life right then and there. That shelter was just gone ... it was hard.”
Tommy was only 15 at the time. He recalls solemnly that “They didn’t even say goodbye.” He abruptly dropped out of New Braunfels High School and began working full-time at Mr. Gatti’s to make ends meet. Scotty took a job at the local K-Mart and the two moved in with a friend who lived on his own.
“I think Tommy had his freedom too early,” Scotty comments. “He missed those years that are supposed to prepare you for everything else. He just got dumped into a whole new life.”
His new life was that of T.J. Roe.
The Rise of Brutality
Without the constraint of parental supervision, Scotty and Tommy were able to take their wrestling addiction to more extreme levels. They began experimenting with dangerous weapons and moves while falling deeper into their new identities.
Vinnie Vegaz was everything that Scotty Childers dreamed of becoming. He was filthy rich, a high-roller who wasn’t afraid to take risks. Likewise, T.J. Roe was the confident and competent competitor Tommy longed to be.
“For 15 minutes, you can be someone else,” Scotty says. “You’re away from it all; you’re alive.”
The brothers quickly found that they weren’t alone in their desire to escape into a fantasy world. More than 50 individuals have wrestled as part of bBW since its inception. Jorge Mata Jr., who has wrestled under the aliases Jackpot and J.P. Ruin, joined them in search of “an escape from boredom and Texas football.” Rickie Garza found a release for his financial frustrations through the malevolent, violent mannerisms of Judas Rage.
| “I take an aspect of a person’s everyday life and find that one hidden element that defines them ... That’s what makes their moves signature.” |
- Scotty Childers
Scotty invents each individual’s wrestling “gimmick,” or character, including that of his brother Tommy. “I take an aspect of a person’s everyday life and find that one hidden element that defines them, and then I make it larger than life,” Scotty explains. “That’s what makes their moves signature.”
As time passed, the wrestlers, tolerance for pain seemed to increase. They needed to use more extreme measures to feel the same adrenaline rush or to entice the crowd into the chants of “Holy Shit!” and “B-B-DUB!” they had grown accustomed to. Block Buster Wrestling responded by increasing the danger of the conditions under which they wrestled. The group’s makeshift wrestling ring, for example, began as a trampoline, but devolved into a stack of wooden pallets nailed hastily together. It is now stiff and unforgiving; it leaves no room for error and greatly increases the chance of serious, even life-threatening, injury.
Don’t Try This At Home
Block Buster Wrestling currently performs monthly at Al’s Garden, a dive bar in the heart of New Braunfels. The ring, which sits atop a slab of concrete outside, must be set up, broken down, and removed each time the organization wrestles.
Between two bumper stickers — “I killed a six-pack just to watch it die” and “My doctor said he found blood in my alcohol stream” — a large wooden sign behind the bar proclaims in bold capital letters, “We are not responsible for accidents.”
Bar manager Charlie Suarez shifts uneasily on his feet when confronted with questions regarding the hazardous, hardcore wrestling he is hosting. “You’re not a lawyer are you?” he chokes out several times. “You sure you’re not with the insurance company?”
Suarez does not compensate the wrestlers for their time and efforts. Nor does he have any sort of insurance policy in place for them. Questions regarding the waiver each wrestler must sign, how much he makes in bar sales when they perform, and what exactly would happen if a wrestler or spectator were injured during an event, are all left unanswered.
“I have to be honest, it does generate good business for me,” Suarez admits. “I tell them to take it easy. I tell them, ‘Make sure no one gets hurt.’” He stresses that the events are “open to the general public” and insists that he’s giving the wrestlers “a chance.”
“Don’t make it something it isn’t,” Suarez warns.
Though Block Buster Wrestling has never made any money aside from the occasional passing of a tip jar, Scotty Childers remains painfully optimistic for the future of his federation. “I want to get the company built to the point where my wrestlers can quit their jobs and rely on wrestling for income,” Scotty says. “I’m just waiting to catch an investor’s attention. Once that happens, this promotion can make a ton of money ... something’s bound to happen sooner or later.”
While most other backyard wrestlers are only polishing their skills until they can give it a try in the big leagues, Scotty aims to elevate bBW and its current roster of a dozen or so wrestlers to the level of a legitimate independent promotion. He has been preaching his faith in a future investor since the very beginning. Everything, from the building of a real wrestling ring to the selling of merchandise, has always been in the works.
But Scotty can’t afford to wait much longer for the right pieces to fall in place. At 23 years of age, his body already shows severe signs of permanent damage. A tattoo on his right arm best sums up his current condition: bBW No Pain, No Glory.
Half of each front tooth is missing from a miscalculated, high-risk move from atop a ladder. He limps around on the foot he fractured in two places during his last battle with T.J. Roe. Small pencil-thin scars line his forehead from where he’s purposely bladed himself for shock value in his matches. And he suffers from constant back pain that he believes is caused by a herniated disc.
Nor can Scotty, who now wrestles under the name Irish Red, afford the medical attention he desperately needs. He is stuck working paid-under-the-table, contract labor. With a pregnant fiancée is already raising one child, Scotty will also have to start thinking about providing for his family.
Yet, Scotty avoids the possible ramifications of his decisions at all costs. “I try not to think about those things,” he says, adding later, “I’m not going to change my life; I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Tommy, on the other hand, is physically exhausted — T.J. Roe no longer wrestles with the same spark and zeal — but he refuses to abandon the one person who always stood by him.
“Scotty has his dream and he won’t let go,” Tommy laments. “He needs to let it die. It just can’t last. He’s going to try and carry it out as long as he can. I don’t know how it’s going to end, but I’m sure I’ll be there for it.”