Learning Lockups with Bateman

“Holy shit,” I thought as I watched the tall, beast of a man walk up to the Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy dojo. Even with half of his face covered by a black mask, I recognized him instantly. “That’s Tyler fucking Bateman.”

As in THE Tyler Fucking Bateman of Ring of Honor fame. I had been watching him on the indies for years and had shed a few bittersweet tears of joy when he signed with ROH. I was of course happy for his success, but knew that meant I would no longer get to watch him wrestle in person. His hard-hitting, entertaining matches were always the highlight of my weekends. I had seen him at a few Santino Bros. events, but had been too starstruck to approach him. Now, here he was, watching me sweat as my referee coach, Jeremy Marcus put my class through our warmup drills.

Watching Bateman and the other amazing wrestlers and referees on the SoCal indie scene was what had inspired me to pursue my own wrestling dream. Since I felt too old to begin wrestling training, I set my sights on refereeing. I enrolled in the Santino Bros. advocate’s class at the beginning of 2020, hoping to learn more about the business and find out how to become a ref. After just a few classes, the dojo had to close due to COVID, leaving me without a place to train. A few of us banded together and Santino Bros. alumni and superstar referee Jeremy Marcus took us under his wing and started teaching us to be refs. Through some creative Zoom sessions, Jeremy made it work over the past year. Now, we are finally able to get back in the ring. We have been meeting at the dojo weekly and Jeremy has been amazing about setting up sessions with wrestlers. Each week I am in awe of the opportunity to work with these talented men and women, many of whom, like Bateman, I have been watching for years.

This week, most of the wrestlers had been unavailable. Jeremy had warned us we might just be running drills sans wrestlers for practice matches, which made Bateman’s appearance even more shocking.

“Don’t pass out and embarrass yourself,” was the mantra I repeated in my head as I counted out the last round of jumping jacks in our warmup. When Jeremy mercifully told us to get some water, I was seeing three Batemans in the ring instead of just one.

“We’re going to learn lockups today,” Jeremy said once we had caught our breath and hopped into the ring. Although we are learning to become referees, Jeremy always stresses the importance of understanding all aspects of wrestling. “If you understand the moves, you will be able to predict the wrestlers’ movements and position yourself correctly in the ring,” he stated, making perfect sense. I quickly reflected on how grateful I am to have such a thorough coach who always strives to set us up for success.

Then Bateman stepped into the middle of the ring, and I was again struck by his size. When I had watched him on the indies, he was tall and lanky. Now, he had doubled in size, making him even more intimidating. I stared at his massive frame with wide eyes as he explained the basics of the lockup, a keystone move in wrestling. Then he pointed at me to step up and try the move with him.

My entire body felt like it disconnected from my brain and forgot how to move. I just stood there and continued to gawk at him, my stupid shocked expression concealed by my mask. When he motioned for me to step forward again, his movements didn’t leave any room for disobedience. My body snapped back to attention and I shuffled into the middle of the ring.

“Don’t fuck this up,” was the new mantra I had taken up in my head as I stepped forward and threw up arms up into a collar and elbow lockup. The speed with which Bateman grabbed my neck and arm was blinding, but he applied the perfect amount of pressure, somehow both snug but gentle. His patience and thoughtful explanations made it easy to grasp these concepts in a fun environment. By the end of class, we had progressed from lockups to headlocks. Although most of my starstruck awe had faded, there was still that fan voice in the back of my brain that was losing its mind over the fact that Tyler Bateman had let me put him in a headlock.

When class came to an end, we all posed for a quick picture. There is an old adage in wrestling that only marks take photographs with wrestlers, but I don’t care. This is a picture that I will treasure forever and display with pride. Despite how silly the wrestling world can be sometimes, this training session was a great example of the awesomeness of this community. From Santino Bros. making their facilities available to us, to Jeremy and Bateman donating their time, I feel so lucky to have these opportunities.

I look forward to applying what I’ve learned to my matches when I start refereeing. Now I know if I ever need to put a wrestler in a headlock during a match, I can do it properly because I’ve learned from the best.