By Hector Longo
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — John Vitale scanned the New England Professional Wrestling Academy work room and admits it openly, the next John Cena or Triple H hadn’t walked through that door.
“But, you just never know,” said Vitale, known in the ring as “Johnny Vegas.”
Enthusiasm, and a childlike playfulness, dominates the group at this second annual “Fantasy Camp,” hosted by Brian Phillips, the owner of this tidy little pro wrestling development gym, tucked next to I-495 near the South Lawrence line.
“Athletes” from all over New England made the trip up Saturday afternoon for an intense four-hour introduction to the sports entertainment they have grown to love.
For Phillips, it’s new blood and new fire into the game he loves, bigtime professional wrestling.
For the true candidates, it’s step No. 1 on the longest road to the dream.
“Look, it’s tougher to make the WWE than it is the NFL, plain and simple,” said Phillips, who in the ring ignites the crowd as “The Firebrand,” Brian Fury. “There’s about 200 jobs total in the WWE. In the NFL, you’re talking thousands.”
Try telling that to Haverhill’s Tony Brogna, a 25-year-old sales manager at Paul’s TV and father of two by day.
Brogna has been at the Academy for about three months now.
“I’ve been a fan of pro wrestling since I was 8. It’s always been a dream,” said Brogna. “Now, the dream is alive. I’m having a blast, and you never know what or who they’ll be looking for.”
Perhaps, the WWE has its sights set on a baby-face do-gooder, like Salem’s Cam Zagami, a 19-year-old college student at Northern Essex, who also works at Chunky’s Pub in Pelham.
The “Zagami Tsunami” has already assumed at least one or two different rasslin’ personnas.
The folks at Chaotic Wrestling have dubbed the former Salem High Blue Devil mat man “The Weatherman.” His finishing maneuver? The “Cam-Tastrophe.”
“In our position here, we’re the longest of long shots, but we all have a chance, and that’s what keeps me going here, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays,” said Zagami. “I’m still very young, and I know there’s still a chance for me.”
Find the right character. Be imaginative and think out of the box.
Risk life and limb with exotic athletic maneuvers. And sell yourself.
Those are the simpler parts of wrestling school. The difficult part.
“It’s clearly the cardio,” said Brogna.
These athletes, male and female, pound the mat under the maniacal cadence set by Phillips.
“Up! … Down! … Up! … Down!” they pound and bounce on the loud grey mat.
Neck rolls and bridges follow. And that’s before any combat commences in the ring.
Phillips, who wrestled in high school at Spaulding High in Rochester, N.H., is right where he wants to be at age 34.
The big time promoters have already reaped the young mat talent in New England, where minor leagues or the independent shows continue to half-fill tiny gyms to keep the flow moving.
This is the region that has produced two of the games brightest stars – Cena and Triple H – among many others.
“They know they can call me at any time, because I know talent,” said Phillips, who has actually worked in ring for the WWE on certain cards in the region.
One protégé, Sasha Banks, has already been signed on to the WWE’s future’s program, called NXT.
Phillips doesn’t know who the next big thing might be, but pushing each and everyone around him to be their best remains priority No. 1.
“We’ll take anyone, anyone willing to get in there and pay the price,” said Phillips.
No promises are made about the future.
You have to love to take what some times amounts to abuse. Most often, the future holds some nights in these tiny local gyms, setting up chairs and the ring before, wrestling a quick match for a few dollars and then closing the place down.
Then again, maybe lightning might strike, like a Cena.
“Like I said, you just never know,” said Phillips.