Jake's Big Break

A computer geek dons a blue wig and takes a flying leap at the fringes of pro wrestling.

You could say Jake Shannon's big break -- his biggest so far, anyway -- came when he got the call from the people in California who told him the gig was his if he wanted it, and could he fly out right away? Jake hemmed and hawed. His work troubleshooting statistical models with a Denver dot-com had its demands; he couldn't just leave. He asked if the gig could hold out a bit. They said it could and that they would give him a call if anyone got hurt. So Jake reluctantly took a pass.

But he had already made the decision in his heart. And so, two weeks later, when the tour called again, he had already quit the nine-to-five thing and was ready to go. On a sunny day in early August, he hopped on a plane to the East Coast to join the show, already in progress.

Jake hit the road immediately, which went a long way toward wiping the stars out of his eyes. "It was good and it was bad and it was ugly," he says now. "I don't know if I'd do it again. Maybe in a year."

A wigless Jake Shannon (right) gives a salute with Vampiro.
A wigless Jake Shannon (right) gives a salute with Vampiro.
The good boy: Jake, GIl Shannon and Joey Senter in a quiet moment.
The good boy: Jake, GIl Shannon and Joey Senter in a quiet moment.

The pace was grueling. He had two matches a day, outside, sometimes in 100-degree heat made hotter by the big blue wig or the black hood. "Also," he says. "We lived on a tour bus. They gave us a hotel room one day a week to get a good night's sleep. It was unbelievably horrible. There was a TV in front of the bus and one in back, and we slept in these tiny bunks, with all these guys burping and farting through the night.

"Then there was the crazy Christian-fundamentalist bus driver. What we did was very cutting-edge humor, and I don't think he got it. So sometimes during the middle of the night, he'd try to jerk us awake. And you know those grooves on the side of the road to keep you awake if you drift outside the lane? He'd drive on those for a fucking hour."

One of the bits of humor the driver might not have gotten was the match-up between the Chemo Kid, a starry-eyed child stricken with cancer, and Uncle N.A.M.B.L.A., a character named for the North American Man-Boy Love Association. Or maybe what the driver didn't get was any of the contests involving The Cruiser, a gay, leather-hooded competitor who shouts at his opponent, "There is no way you give better oral pleasure than me."

But Jake had always wanted to be a professional wrestler, and this was the life.

When Jake was little, his parents divorced. Jake went to live with his mom in Buena Vista, but that didn't work out, so he returned to Denver to be with his father. Though glad to have him back, Gil Shannon, at the time the chief of security for Denver Public Schools, was worried. "When he came to live with me, he couldn't do a push-up," he recalls. "I was a little concerned at first."

"I have always been the athletic type," Gil adds. "I was a wrestler in high school. Now I ride the bike every day, work out every day, play golf every other day. So I tried to get Jake interested in sports early. He started wrestling when he was four. Then, when the Karate Kid came out -- you know, that movie with Ralph Macchio -- he jumped all over that.

"Later, I used to take him to professional wrestling when he was a kid," Gil adds. "You know, Dick the Bruiser, Gorgeous George. I believed that he needed to be exposed to as many things as possible and then choose."

In addition to taking to sports, Jake also demonstrated an early aptitude as an artist. "He would sit and draw by the hour," says his mother, Joey Senter. "I still have a lot of the drawings now. Lots of action figures, people, and so on. Then, in high school, he was in a lot of drama. In one he came out dressed like Elvis and sang and sounded just like him. I always thought he would be an actor or an artist."

"He's always been artistic, I guess you could say," agrees Gil. "He's always been the entertaining type."

When he was fifteen, Jake was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. A month before, Gil had had a heart attack. Both recovered, but, says Gil, he and his only son's brushes with death brought them as close as a father and son can be. "It really opened our eyes to life," he says.

After high school, Jake won a partial scholarship to the University of Colorado. He graduated with a degree in English literature. A couple of years later, while living in San Francisco, he began getting interested in economics and computers. He returned to college to pursue an arcane field of study called financial engineering. After that, he moved back to Denver to work for a successful computer company.

His parents could not have been prouder. "Jake never gave us a bit of a problem while growing up," says Joey. "No drugs and drinking. Always such a good boy. He's always had a job and worked hard."

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