Psycho Mike eyes WWE gig
By Kathy Yanchus, REVIEW STAFF
Mike Oberegger remembers sneaking into his older brother’s room while his parents slept, eager to catch his wrestling heroes executing atomic drops and camel clutches as the clock ticked well past his bedtime.
It was the mid-90s, the era of characters like The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan of the World Wrestling Federation, and absurd, cartoon-like bouts that enthralled fans of all ages, particularly kids, said the now 27-year-old professional wrestler.
“I was the perfect target demographic,” said Waterdown’s Oberegger, recalling his infatuation with wrestling beginning at the age of 10. “Some kids dream of being a baseball player or an astronaut. For me it was wrestling; I wanted to be a wrestler.”
It was the roar of the crowds, the bright lights and larger than life characters that enthralled him and that’s the image he tries to emulate when he steps into the ring, said Oberegger.
“That’s what interested me when I was a kid, so I’m assuming there will be kids that will be watching me, and like me and like wrestling for the same reasons.”
Growing up in Mississauga, Oberegger wrestled “a bit” in high school, but primarily stuck to baseball, soccer, football, even badminton. His high school buddies would be incredibly surprised to discover he’s wrestling “because it’s a complete 180 of what I was doing when they went to school with me.”
As is often the case with a childhood fantasy, Oberegger reached Grade 12 feeling it was just that and almost abandoned the idea, until he saw a classmate’s website design for an independent professional wrestler.
Deciding to give it a go, he signed up for a summer session at Living Legends in Hamilton. On the fourth day of classes, he dislocated his shoulder, ended up in surgery and facing a long rehabilitative process.
“I thought ‘Okay, I’ve had my fun. I did it and that’s that.”
Fate stepped in again when Oberegger heard about professional wrestler Johnny Devine of Spike TV fame, opening a wrestling school in Oakville, just as he was medically cleared to begin working out again.
Devine held tryouts and worked them to the bone, said Oberegger, one of the young wrestlers invited back by Divine.
“The next day I’d never been so sore in my entire life. We had to do 250 squats, countless pushups, countless sit-ups, bridges and planks.”
“As I trained there though, I loved it. As I started learning more about weightlifting, training and nutrition, I actually enjoyed it a lot, immensely. It basically changed my life.”
Initially, Oberegger began a weightlifting regimen to help rehabilitate his shoulder.
“I guess there was a silver lining to my injury because as a result of it, I began training and exercising and it’s now a huge part of my life. I enjoy it immensely.”
Back then Oberegger, was a tall, lanky 180 lb teenager. Today, the 6’2” Psycho Mike Rollins, as he is known in the ring, weighs in between 215 and 220 lbs.
With his shaved head (one side buzzed shorter than the other), muscular physique, Clockwork Orange makeup and steely-eyed stare, Psycho Mike is well known on the independent wrestling circuit and has worked throughout Ontario and into the U.S.
Psycho Mike’s wrestling persona reverts between hero and villain with great ease, his bouts often laced with humour.
“What ended up happening I started doing things in matches strictly to entertain my friends (fellow wrestlers) and as a result of that, I ended up just being myself. Whenever I was trying to do something that I knew my friends would enjoy, people in the audience started enjoying it.”
Essentially he is an independent contractor, hooking up directly with wrestling promoters like Alpha-1 in Hamilton, Fight Brand and Smash Wrestling in Toronto and Battle Arts in Oshawa, among many others. He has also wrestled for the WWE Superstars - where he found himself facing the 6’7” 375-lb Brodus Clay in an impromptu match - and renowned independent promoter Ring of Honour, based in the U.S.
Oberegger’s biggest job to date was Wrestling Revolution, the brainchild of Hollywood producer and wrestling fan, Jeff Katz. Oberegger was handpicked by Katz to fly to Los Angeles for a week to film a TV series, blending a Hollywood-style wrestling production and storytelling, but the show has yet to air.
The lifestyle requires a tremendous commitment because even if you’re not in the ring, you’re training and watching your diet, said Oberegger.
Drives to weekend shows are often long, with fellow wrestlers carpooling to save on travel expenses. Oberegger can be booked for multiple shows on the same day if they’re close geographically.
“You tend to work smarter,” explained Oberegger of his strategy to mitigate the toll on his body when he works several shows in a short period of time.
“Even your social life changes because these are the people who are becoming your friends and extended family.”
There are some independent wrestlers who have carved out enough of a reputation and make enough money to survive without a second job.
“It is very, very difficult to make a living. I wouldn’t be able to earn a living off of independent professional wrestling at this point.”
His goal is to work fulltime for a company like WWE, he said.
Independent wrestlers are compensated for their work, gas mileage and any merchandise, such as 8x10 photos, they can sell, which might add up to $200 or $300 per weekend, not enough to pay the bills, said Oberegger, who is a software developer in Kitchener.
“It’s very difficult to break into. I’ve pretty much wrestled for everyone at some point. A lot of it is right place, right time, so if they’re looking for a particular someone to fill a particular role, or they have an idea for a character or a storyline.”
In the future, Oberegger hopes to have the opportunity to do more WWE shows.
Oberegger would argue wrestling is one of the hardest forms of sport or entertainment to train for because of its combined requirements of aesthetics and athleticism.
“I’m not saying it’s the hardest, don’t get me wrong. But you have to look athletic, you have to train like a bodybuilder but at the same time you’re going to be picking people up and you’re going to need to keep them safe. You’re going to need conditioning so you don’t get tired as you’re out there running around.”
There’s also a performance component, said Oberegger, a former drama and improv student.
Wrestling, with its equal parts entertainment and athletic prowess, is more realistic today because of the competition from Ultimate Fighting Clubs and Mixed Martial Arts, he said.
Watch out for Psycho Mike; he’s in the ring, on the radar and soon, no doubt, on a roster fulltime.