Bam Bam Bigelow gave up bounty hunting a year ago after a fugitive in Mexico pumped a slug into his back. Though the bullet barely made a dent in Bam Bam's 6'3", 390-pound frame, he decided to try a less dangerous occupation. He chose pro wrestling, in which at least the seats are tied down to inhibit the citizens from hurling them at you.
He signed up at Pretty Boy Larry Sharpe's Monster Factory in Mount Holly, N.J. Pretty Boy manufactures behemoths there for the pro wrestling circuits. He promises to instill the philosophy, ethics and deportment of pro wrestling in any meaty prospect with $2,500, although exactly how much of that goes toward ethics is anybody's guess. Pretty Boy saw Bam Bam's potential right off. "I knew from the start he'd make it big," says the 13-year veteran of pro wrestling. Bam Bam could hardly make it small.
Pretty Boy and ex-champ Buddy Rogers opened the school a year ago to provide Factory-assembled heroes and villains for the mat craze, though Rogers has since departed. At the risk of offending the Hell's Angels, Sharpe's recruits tend to look like enforcers from an outlaw biker band. At this year's spring session, the student body of 11 males and 1 female lumbered around the Factory in hooded masks and choke collars—one even came in a T-shirt that read: I'D RATHER BE RAPING AND PILLAGING. But, as Rogers put it, "No costume can give you charisma."
Pretty Boy imparts his ring skills in three or four rigorous evening sessions a week. He teaches a different maneuver every class. One night it's the hammer-lock. Another evening, the duck-under. The next, a triple-reverse suplex with a beal. Pretty Boy's boys and girls are shown how to give and to receive. "If you see somebody coming at you with a flying head scissors," he advises, "lean towards him and stick your neck out. If you don't feed him the target, he'll never learn."
But perhaps most important, students are taught to fall Hat on their backs and make a hideous thwack as they land spine-first on the padded plywood floor of the ring. "When you get slammed, it ain't done by mirrors," says Pretty Boy. "The other guy is truly picking you up and smashing you into the canvas." Pretty Boy should know. In his pro career he has suffered a torn pancreas and numerous concussions, has fractured his collarbone and broken all his fingers.
At 35, Pretty Boy is still wrestling. Early this year he won the Can-Am heavyweight title in Rochester, N.H. "Fans have trouble figuring out whether they like me or not," Pretty Boy says. He's an aggressive, disheveled-looking baddie with hair bleached the color of ballpark mustard and a belly that sags like a sandbag. "I was clean-cut once myself," he recalls.
Pretty Boy tests his rookies for quickness and agility before they settle down to class work, but many don't bring anything but avoirdupois to the Factory. When school is out, he places the semifinished monsters in weekend preliminary matches at community centers and high school gyms along the East Coast. Those who stick with it can make enough money to cover their tuition.
His students sometimes serve another purpose. "A promoter will call and say one of his wrestlers has a bad attitude," says Pretty Boy. "He needs an attitude adjustment." Which means one of Pretty Boy's eager protègès knees him in the hamstrings, maybe.
Attitude has not been a problem for Bam Bam, who has been showcased in more than a dozen matches since he became a Monster. "Bam Bam is like money in the bank," says Pretty Boy. "I just can't write a check on him yet."
"Bam Bam's got just about everything," says Rogers. "The only thing he hasn't grasped so far is how to sell himself verbally." Some people are surprised that a soldier-of-fortune type the size of a nuclear reactor can talk at all. But the 24-year-old Bam Bam is quite articulate, in his own way. He remembers the time he wrestled his Saint Bernard, Big Red, for a pork chop and lost. "It was my pork chop!" Bam Bam grouses. "But I got him back. I ate his dog food."
Pretty Boy is developing Bam Bam's persona and moves. "He's a natural," says Pretty Boy. "He can do cartwheels, monkey flips and dropkick a guy six-foot-six right in the chin." Under Pretty Boy's guidance. Bam Bam has perfected the Nuclear Splash. It's a variation on Jimmy Snuka's notorious Superfly move. "The difference," says professor Pretty Boy, "is that whereas Snuka weighs 240 pounds, Bam Bam weighs 390." To create the Splash, Bam Bam slams his opponent to the mat to stun him, climbs up the ring post and then hurls his body at the prostrate victim. This usually has the proper chastening effect.
Bam Bam is a fairly fearsome sight to see diving at you. He is not only large, he is impressively decorated. His shaved head looks like the front end of a nitro-powered dragster. His pate is tattooed with a multicolored ball of fire that cost $4,500. And it's only half-done. Up and down his arms is a catalog of mythic and symbolic beasts: a hawk, a griffin, a black panther, a cobra. The most sentimental tattoo has the words "Mom" and "Dad" carved in a fiery heart, an anniversary gift to his parents. The sole of his right foot is inscribed "nuclear"; his left has "splash."
Pretty Boy teamed up with Bam Bam in May for a tag-team match in Connecticut. They were pitted against a couple of newcomers who call themselves The Boys From New York City.
Bam Bam entered the ring wearing black trunks, a black undershirt and a sneer that invited alteration with a brick. The crowd found him endearing. They chanted: "Get out of here, you fat pig." Bam Bam slapped himself in the face, like Curly confronted by Moe's snarl. "Shut the hell up," Bam Bam barked. "Shut the hell up."
The tag teams performed a routine of nutcrackers, pile drivers and four-figure grapevines. One City Boy nearly pinned Pretty Boy, but Bam Bam clotheslined him and snapped him out of the ring. Upon the City Boy's return to combat. Pretty Boy greeted him with a face lock and flung him down. Then Bam Bam mounted the turnbuckle and took one of his 390-megaton plunges. The unfortunate Boy From New York City stayed welded to the mat for the count. "He got squashed," said Bam Bam. "He got real squashed. Thank God, ribs are flexible."
Especially since the City Boy is one of Pretty Boy's lesser alums and may need to be reinflated at the Factory for upcoming matches.
Pretty Boy (back) is banking on Bam Bam, a teacher's pet who may require a leash.
Bam Bam presents a hotheaded image.