Alex Whybrow

[PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER]

“A LOT OF PEOPLE AREN’T INTERESTED IN BLURRED LINES BETWEEN WHAT IS REAL AND WHAT IS FAKE. THEY WANT THE REAL. WRESTLING FANS DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT. THEY’RE CAPTIVATED BY THE BOUNDARY.”
Knowledge that benefits the career of a professional wrestler:
Understanding Hindu philosophy
Reading Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
Practicing yoga
Attending Oberlin

In 1999, Larry Sweeney was still Alex Whybrow, a freshman at Oberlin College. He was a sweet-faced hippie kid in baggy cargo pants who weighed about 140 pounds and played classical guitar. After graduation, Whybrow moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania to begin training at Chikara Wrestle Factory—a career move equivalent to a rock musician heading to Brooklyn.

The product of this postgrad study was “Sweet ‘n’ Sour” Larry Sweeney, a blustery, unhinged manager character who quickly became a unique fan favorite in the scrappy yet immensely popular independent wrestling promotion Ring of Honor. Nowadays, he barges into rings, not as an interfering schemer but as a fun-loving heel combatant given to tie-dye, fluffy blond perms, and statue-bronze skin—a swaggering cartoon of a Californian with brutally mercurial mood swings. From challenging a tiny, prepubescent audience member to an arm-wrestling match—and cheating—to interrupting a heated bout to instigate a sound-tracked strutting contest with his rival, Sweeney commands crowds, a skill that has served him well on his journey through the ranks of WWE hopefuls.

Sweeney has appeared on the legendary live television program Monday Night Raw, and carved out memorable story lines on a number of independent domestic and international circuits in Europe, Japan, and Mexico. He has thousands of MySpace followers and his own action figure. Still, to make ends meet, Whybrow supplements his wrestling earnings by working, at various points in time, as a housepainter, a Domino’s Pizza deliveryman, and a Kaplan tutor. When possible, he holds down an apartment of his own, but frequently crashes on the floors of friends and stays at residence hotels. What follows is a conflated, condensed, and edited transcript of two phone conversations I had with Whybrow, one in late May 2009, the other several weeks later, in mid-June.

—Andrew Simmons

*

THE BELIEVER: Growing up in the 1980s, I saw a lot of my friends get really into pro wrestling. When I was eight, I thought the world was full of these giant, aggressive dudes with wild costumes and outsized personalities who had to hash out epic dramas in the ring. I assumed they always lived like that, that they never existed as regular adults. Then, when I was about ten, I actually saw Lex Luger at a grocery store in northern Florida and was just blown away.

ALEX WHYBROW: Hero is a huge word. We’re all regular people, in the locker room and in the audience, but when the music starts and you walk through that curtain, it’s time to be larger than life. You have a vocabulary of moves to make you larger than life. People want to believe in you and make you larger. You can do Shakespeare in the park in front of nobody and it’s still Shakespeare, but wrestling needs fans to work. Athletes and actors don’t depend on fans the way we do. We appreciate them because they’re involved.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Andrew Simmons lives in San Francisco and writes, often about food.

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