On the wall of a former washing machine detergent factory in Hicksville, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair proudly wears the old NWA world heavyweight title belt, stoically facing any challenger thinking he is man enough to "walk that aisle."
The shot of adrenaline for pro wrestling junkies at seeing Flair and other paintings of wrestling's elite helps explain why a grown man will show up at a public event with a replica title strap slung across his shoulder, his peripheral vision obstructed by the luchador mask covering his face.
Wrestling's flock isn't comprised of spectators. They want to be a part of the show.
And that was the opportunity Brian Myers -- aka, WWE Superstar Curt Hawkins -- offered on March 23 at the open house christening his Create a Pro Wrestling Academy. The Glen Cove native hopes one of his charges can make the meteoric rise he enjoyed, from a Long Island wrestling school trainee to a WrestleMania gate-crasher.
Near the painting of Flair, another portrait captures the moment Myers and fellow Long Island native Zack Ryder captured the WWE tag-team championship in their backyard at Nassau Coliseum's July 2008 "Great American Bash" pay-per-view.
Myers, 28, started training in 2003 on Long Island with former ECW world champ Mikey Whipwreck, before Whipwreck's New York Wrestling Connection school in Deer Park was even established. By 2008, nearly four months before their title win, Hawkins and fellow NYWC alumnus Ryder made their WrestleMania debuts, running in to try and help their ringleader, Edge, end the Undertaker's vaunted "streak."
Myers still heaps praise on Whipwreck, whose training helped him get signed by WWE when he was only 20. He's dreamed for years of opening his own school, and some time helping out at the Rahway, N.J.-based Pro Wrestling Syndicate with owner Pat Buck helped cement his decision.
"I would go to Pat's school in Jersey . . . and I was realizing faster than I thought how much fulfillment I was getting in helping his guys and teaching," Queens resident Myers explained. "I would drive home feeling pretty good about myself."
Myers and Buck agreed to partner on a new school and began looking for a Long Island location last December. It's not easy to find a landlord willing to accept tenants practicing piledrivers. And unlike a karate dojo, a pro wrestling school generally has to be big enough to double as an intimate arena for student shows.
The pair finally found the Hicksville location, and were undaunted by the rubbish left on the floor and the rat that crossed their path. They set out to clean up the facility and hopefully clear up the perception that can saddle a pro wrestling school.
WWE star Chris Jericho has long told the story of showing up for the Hart family wrestling school outside Calgary, hoping to endure patriarch Stu Hart's notorious "dungeon" training. His only interaction with any Hart was on the first day, when it was time to pay the tuition.
Buck, who both teaches and wrestles in Pro Wrestling Syndicate shows, says ring time with the owners won't be a problem.
"I'm doing the drills with the guys, I'm leading by example," said Buck, 29. "I do have some credentials, so I figure teaming up with Brian, that's even more credentials in the fold."
Although Myers hasn't been traveling as much with WWE due to the company not always flying out the full roster, he says he's still in good standing, and was even used to help one of the company's biggest stars ever shake off some ring rust.
"When Rock [Dwayne Johnson] had all those comeback matches, they were flying me to wherever he was, wherever his movies were being done, Miami, New Orleans, wherever," Myers said. "They'd have a ring set up in a secret warehouse and me, and sometimes Joe Hennig [WWE's Curtis Axel], would just be there and we'd be training with The Rock one on one."
Myers said the new school will allow him to stay sharp while he's developing talent. The timing of the new project is interesting considering that WWE opened a Performance Center last year to develop new talent. Myers explained that while WWE may be looking for a certain caliber of athlete that could someday star at shows such as Sunday's WrestleMania 30, the Hicksville school isn't bound by the same requirements.
"In my opinion, WWE, they'll see a football guy and say, 'This guy looks great, can he do this?' I think people will come here and say, 'I already love this and I want to do this.' So we skip that kind of in-between step."
Greg Medina, a slightly built 20-year-old from Brooklyn, would definitely qualify as the latter. Medina signed up during the open house and later mentioned the Undertaker/Shawn Michaels Hell in a Cell classic of 1997 as a creative motivation.
It's a high bar he's set, but Medina added that if he works a match in front of a crowd no larger than 30, he'll be OK with it.
Because he'll still be a wrestler.
"My dream is to make the WWE, but if I don't I'm not going to cry," he said proudly.
It's the kind of attitude Myers appreciates, and one of the reasons he and Buck shelled out to noted artist Rob Schamberger for the portraits of pro wrestling legends surrounding the ring.
"You want them to feel inspired," Myers said as he looked at Flair.