Fans love to hate The Hype

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

DOTHAN, Ala. -- The venue was small and sweltering, but it didn't matter to spandex-clad villains Dab Savage and Johnny "The Heartthrob" Romano.

The tiny Saturday night crowd was hostile and the wrestling ring was adequate, and that's all Savage and Romano needed. As they strutted toward the ring, trailed closely by security, they swapped barbs with several women sitting in the front row.

The two wrestlers had their sexuality challenged, were presented with several one-finger salutes (including a two-hander), and were booed lustily while being compared to baby poo-poo -- but in decidedly adult terminology.

"Shut up!" Savage barked at one hissing female as he swept a hand down the length of his chest then winked at her.

Striding past another rabid fan, he remarked "The '80s called and wants its hair back!"

Finally entering the ring, Romano climbed atop the ropes and struck a pose while Savage took the microphone.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" he shouted, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. "Put down your Natty Light and your spit cups. Put your false teeth in and smile real big because your heroes are here ...

"And put your hands together for THE HYPE!"

The show was officially on. This is what's known in the South as rasslin' -- epic contests between good and evil manifested in baby faces pitted against heels inside the squared circle, as the late legendary wrestling commentator Gordon Solie so eloquently described the field of battle.

DURING THE WEEK, Savage is Chandler Dabbs of Albany, a marketing rep for a regional petroleum company. "The Heartthrob" is Fred Miller of Moultrie, a student at Abraham Baldwin College in Tifton.

But on Saturdays they transform into "The Hype" -- the biggest, baddest tag team of rule-breaking scoundrels on the Southeastern Extreme Wrestling circuit.

"I love wrestling," Miller, 25, said. "Since I was five years old I wanted to be either a fireman, policeman or pro wrestler. Then at 18, I found Dory Funk Jr. and he changed my life."

Funk is a wrestling legend, having held the National Wrestling Alliance heavyweight championship for four years. He later founded the Funking Conservatory Professional Wrestling School in Ocala, Fla.

"He (Funk) saw some of my film and invited me to Ocala to help with his wrestling school," Miller recalled. "He taught me to be a 'ring general.' A ring general is a guy who helps put other wrestlers into positions to keep them from getting hurt.

"Our motto is 'safe but spectacular.'"

Two years ago, Dabbs, 25, and Miller hooked up on Facebook, and the rest is history.

"I was on Facebook and we just stumbled across each other," Dabbs said. "I was always interested in wrestling. He had a ring, so I drove down to Moultrie to check him out. We became friends and he started training me."

Miller said the 6-foot, 215-pound Dabbs is a natural in and out of the ring.

"We trained for about six months then we tried him out live," Miller recalled. "He got his lip busted up pretty good second time out, but he shook it off and handled it. I always tell kids who want to wrestle to have a match, wake up in the morning and take a couple of aspirins. Then wait a couple of hours and if they still want to wrestle, call me."

THE GUYS AREN'T going to get rich on this circuit, but they hope to be noticed and have some fun in the process. It could happen. Many of the biggest stars in pro wrestling -- the Jack Briscos, the Mr. Wrestling II's, the Hulk Hogans -- took their first falls in high school gymnasiums and farm centers scattered along rural roads in the Deep South.

Dabbs is the mouth of The Hype, and it seems he has cultivated a talent that is critical for heel characters -- the ability to make people angry. He's especially adept at finding ways to rile the female fans.

On this night after the matches are over, the woman with the '80s hair and her friend were waiting in the parking lot as the guys were heading to their car. It's often been said that the most dangerous part of wrestling -- especially for the heels -- is the walk to and from the ring. But most often the abuse, like tonight's from these two Southern belles, is just verbal.

"I love being a bad guy," Dabbs said. "Anybody can be a good guy and we're not interested in that. I like insulting the fans; they love to be pissed off. They work at their crappy 9-to-5 jobs every day, then get the weekend off and they and want to let off a little steam.

"Plus, you have to understand that for 20 or 30 minutes I get to live a personal fantasy. Where else can you do that?"

Miller agrees.

"We're doing this for fun," Miller said. "We're kind of like musicians who struggle to get noticed after 20 years. We are a form of superhero, we get to take on a different persona, like Clark Kent and Superman.

"Then we have to go back to real life. This is our drug."

And that's perfectly fine with rasslers like The Heartthrob and Dab Savage.