SHOWTIME The action in Cumberland.
For most boys growing up, professional wrestling, with its salacious storylines and otherworldly characters (who could forget the Ugandan Giant, Kamala?) serves as a rite of passage into adulthood. But at some point, boobs tend to replace body slams, Sasha Grey becomes your favorite entertainer and just like that, Monday is no longer the most important night of the week.
That wasn't the case for Anthony DiIorio. The 29 year old says he fell in love with the sport after watching WrestleMania VII (in 1991) and has wanted to be a wrestler ever since. He can vividly recall an epic match between his hero Shawn Michaels and Bret "The Hitman" Hart from 1996 and admits to spending hours browsing the Internet for rumors regarding upcoming WWE storylines.
If that doesn't qualify him as a hardcore wrestling fan, you ought to meet his two boys. Austin and Adam are named after — you guessed it — two of DiIorio's favorite in-ring performers: Stone Cold Steve Austin and Adam Copeland, who goes by Edge in the squared circle.
DiIorio, his children, and more than 20 friends and family members were out in full force at the Dunk Monday night for WWE Raw, which bills itself as the longest running episodic television show in history. But unlike the majority of the other wrestling enthusiasts in the building, the group wasn't there simply to be entertained. Many are members of the Renegade Wrestling Alliance (RWA), DiIorio's backyard wrestling league, and were in attendance to pick up new moves and critique what they view as the big leagues.
The RWA was founded in 2007, about a decade after DiIorio and his wrestling-obsessed buddies started rolling around on mattresses set up in his Pawtucket backyard. From the very beginning, they videotaped their matches and before long, with encouragement from DiIorio's mother, purchased a custom-designed ring for $2600.
"We wanted to become legitimate and make a serious go of it," says DiIorio, who wrestles under the name T-Phoenix. "We didn't have any real goals going in; it was just a bunch of us who loved wrestling. Now we're a team and a family and we want to put on the best show possible."
DiIorio said the RWA is split between guys who treat wrestling as their version of pick-up basketball and ones who really hope to make it big one day. He mentioned Stan Styles, a wrestler who drives in from Philadelphia on weekends, Jason Devine, and JP Hansen as three performers who have the potential to become professionals.
The league gets together a couple of Sundays each month and rents out an old building just off the Nate Whipple Highway in Cumberland. The free shows are taped and aired on Public Access Tuesdays at 11 pm and Fridays at midnight. DiIorio has no clue how many people tune in (it's gotta do better than The Joe Trillo Show, right?) but said he was surprised by the league's growing Internet following. Since starting a YouTube channel last July, the RWA has 123 subscribers and more than 22,000 video views. Its Facebook page has 650 fans.