Professional wrestlers Mark and Renee Davalos plan to open a wrestling club next to their Lansford home. Mark is looking to put up a heated tent to house a 20-foot by 20-foot professional ring.
"Once it goes up," Mark said, "I can give my wife the biggest ring that I can ever possibly give her."
Mark and Renee have been wrestling since the 1990s and are headliners in the Johnny Rodz WUW – World of Unpredictable Wrestling.
In 2000, looking for a "tight knit community," the couple discovered Lansford and "fell in love with the town."
"The youth of the area don't have many things to focus on or ways to express themselves," Mark said. "For us, wrestling has been a means of following a dream, keeping ourselves physically fit and mentally sound, and learning how to overcome obstacles."
Mark began amateur wrestling in fifth grade and continued until he graduated high school. He trained with the Unpredictable Johnny Rodz for 11 years of his 21-year pro-wrestling career. In college, he didn't wrestle, although he enjoyed watching pro wrestling on cable television in the Upper Manhattan shoe repair shop where he worked with his father.
"I was working at the counter and a guy brought in a pair of boots for resoling. 'These are professional wrestling boots,'" he said as he showed them to his dad.
Mark learned the man was training at Johnny Rodz's School of Professional Wrestling at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn.
"Two weeks later, I signed up," Mark said. "The opportunity was there and years down the road, I didn't want to regret not doing it."
Mark began training in 1989. His first match was in 1991.
Professional wrestling is a burlesque of amateur wrestling, a form of theater with cowboys and Indians, good guys and bad guys.
Mark's wrestling persona is Bad Billy Walker, a cowboy in a black hat. He and Renee, who wrestles as Texas Rose, are the bad guys the audience loves to hate.
Renee first worked as an underage cocktail waitress near her home in Staten Island. When she reached 18, she got a bartender's license.
Mark and Renee met in high school, but when Mark's father became the body double for Telly Savalas in Kojak, Mark was put in a private school in Manhattan, and they lost contact.
Years later, after they each married and divorced, Mark and Renee met again at a bar where Renee was tending. Mark invited Renee to watch him work out at his gym.
Renee remembers watching those wrestling workouts.
"I sat outside the ring for a year taking notes and watching and learning," Renee said. "I watched and I watched."
Although she was 32 years old, she was thinking about becoming a wrestler.
"One day, it was just like a Cinderella story," Renee said. "Johnny Rodz came over to me. He said there was a big show coming up and the girl who was supposed to wrestle dropped out. She didn't want to wrestle anymore. She wanted to be a boxer."
"So, there's an opening," Johnny Rodz said.
"I can do it," Renee replied.
"He put me in the ring and for eight weeks they beat the daylights out of me," she remembered. "It was boot camp. It was hell. It was worse than anything you could possibly imagine. I got boots in the face.
"We were drilling, drilling, drilling," she continued. "I had to get it right because I had to fill the shoes of a girl who'd been wrestling for many years, and I'm wrestling the girl that she was supposed to wrestle."
She was introduced to Sweet Destiny, the girl she was scheduled to wrestle.
"She knew I had no clue and she took me under her wing," Renee said. "I was very lucky and thankful that she was very sweet to me."
Renee and Sweet Destiny met in Staten Island "and the match was beautiful," Renee said. "I came out of the match with a new friend. We developed a close relationship and we got to train together."
The match went so well that Johnny Rodz took Renee and Destiny on the high school and college circuit.
Renee now wrestles as Texas Rose. For her first year of wrestling, until she could replace her New York accent with a Texas drawl, she wasn't allowed to talk to the audience. Now, her Texas twang is just fine.
Renee and Mark often wrestle together. She describes her character as the "fillie who hangs out with Billy." Sometimes they wrestle as a mixed doubles team. More often, Renee stands outside the ropes and while Bad Billy Walker distracts the referee, She tries to choke the opponent. Renee tells people that it's all a burlesque and not to take the mayhem seriously.
"We're here to entertain the public," Mark noted, remembering one funny gambit. He, Renee and a midget, Lil King Lawler, were in a threesome wrestling against Sweet Destiny, the Musketeer and a second midget, Lil Louie.
"I got both midgets so upset that one got behind me and the other tripped me over him," Mark explained. "They held my pants up and pinned me. The house went nuts. They loved it."
"It's a war between good and evil," Renee said. "You always want the good guy to win. And someone has to play the bad guy. That's us."
Mark and Renee hope to break ground for their gym this summer and to have it in operation by the fall. The haven't agreed on a name but their working name is Walker Ranch Wrestling. They also plan to teach bar tending and club security – two skills that tend to help wrestlers find work between matches.
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