FOX5NY (WNYW-TV) - Gleason’s Gym is a legendary boxing gym that sits in Dumbo right in between the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. Boxers such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Zab Judah, Jake LaMotta, Roberto Duran and many others cut their teeth and trained there.
However, alongside the many boxing rings and up and coming pugilists in the facility, is another ring that has also churned out legends. Professional wrestlers such as Tazz, Vince Russo, Rocco Rock, Tommy Dreamer, D-von Dudley, Big Dick Dudley, Matt Stryker and current WWE Superstar Big Cass all made their debut in this ring. A ring that is part of a wrestling club called the World of Unpredictable Wrestling; owned by WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz.
Rodz wrestled for the WWE back in the 1960s until the 1980s. During that time, he was known as a great wrestling technician who could always be depended upon to make his opponents look great. He was also known as the man who management would use to test out the readiness of other wrestlers making their debut by putting them through the grinder and seeing what they were made of.
“I worked my heart out 120 percent” Johnny said. “If they gave me anyone, good or not, I never complained. I did my job because it’s a professional game for the fans to enjoy. As long as I could perform for those people to believe it and make sense of it, then I feel like I did my job.”
All of his hard work eventually paid off. In 1996, Johnny Rodz was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. “I did it for years and years, suffered through it all… and one day, got the call to be in the WWE Hall of Fame.”
Since retiring in the 1980s, Johnny turned his focus on transferring his knowledge to various up and comers who wanted to make it in the wrestling business.
“Fifty-two years ago, I was helping SD Jones get in the business. That’s the first guy I brought in the business” Johnny said. “Later on, I started a wrestling club in Brooklyn and eventually moved it to Gleason’s Gym in 1985.”
Today, the World of Unpredictable Wrestling, also known as the WUW, still has dozens of members, and hundreds of alumni, looking to hone their skills, fine tune their knowledge and continue learning the craft.
Ann Khozine, who wrestles as ‘Skin Ripper,’ started training at the WUW when she was just 16 years-old. Now, less than 2 years later, she is ready to make her wrestling debut in Japan.
“When I first started in November of 2014, I was just 16 and had to save every month just to pay my monthly dues. WUW molded me into an independent person and brought me into focus and gave me the love I have been longing for my whole life. And now, I will be debuting in Japan at a Reina show on July 7th!”
Once every other month, the World of Unpredictable Wrestling features a show which gives the members a chance to showcase their skills, and learn from their experiences, while performing in front of a live audience.
“Once you do the shows, you get rid of those butterflies; you learn everything about being on time, obeying the order of the pro-game” Johnny said. “Rain or shine, the show must go on, rain or shine, the person has to be willing to bring everything to make the crowd want to come back and see the show again.”
Johnny refers to the bi-monthly shows as a test for the members "in order to make them professionals."
“It is not an Indy show, it’s a member club production, where the members work together to practice what they learned and grow” he said. “This is the only way outside of practice where you’ll know if you have it or not. You need to learn the discipline the WWE looks for in order to succeed. Obeying the game and honing your craft.”
Long-time member Mike “Mikey Firezone” Frisone has been training at the WUW since he was 13 years-old. He feels WUW has given him opportunities in the wrestling business but ultimately, it has made him a better professional not just in wrestling, but all around. “I look at Johnny as a second father to me. He has taught me so much not only in the ring, but outside of the ring as well" Mikey said. "He taught me so much about professionalism and how to conduct yourself in the business, as well as life lessons. When Johnny teaches, he speaks from the heart. WUW is like no other because not only will it teach you the business from the ground up, but it will make you a better person in life.”
Another member, Dorian Holden, who wrestles as ‘Medic X,’ started at WUW back in 2008. He says the brotherhood and comradery he experienced at WUW is like nothing else he has ever experienced. “We were all bound by the passion of professional wrestling. Johnny gave us the opportunity to experience the business. I love Johnny for giving me the platform to perform. He allowed us to live our dreams whether we had a chance to make it or not. There is a strong brotherhood at WUW and I am not sure you can find that at any other wrestling school or club.”
At 75 years-old, Johnny still doesn’t mind getting in the ring to teach his members the skills they need to learn in order to grow and develop. But when he isn’t in the ring, there are always experienced members, long-time members, who will teach what Johnny taught them and pass it down to the up and coming members. One of those members is “Cowboy Billy Walker” Mark Davalos.
Davalos has been a mainstay of the World of Unpredictable Wrestling for over 25 years as both a mentor and trainer. When members train with him, they gain a wealth of knowledge which includes many of the basics and the most important aspect of the business, in-ring psychology.
"I joined April 2nd,1990 and my wife Renee Westgate a.k.a 'The Texas Rose' joined on April 14th 1995" he said. "In that time, we have trained with Bill Demott, Taz, Tommy Dreamer, Damian Demento, Big Vito, D-von Dudley and many others. We are both steeped in tradition and proudly preach to the congregation known as the G.A.R. or the Gospel According to Rodz."
Davalos has a favorite saying that members of the club and alumni will attest to being true. "Who you know gets you there, what you know, keeps you there!"