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."
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."
"He's quite a kid," says Gil.
"Loving and caring," says Joey. "You couldn't ask for a better son."
"I never imagined him doing this," she adds. "But he's such a good young man. He's been through so much. Whatever he wants to do, I'm all for it. Whatever he does to fulfill his life is fine with me."
"Hey, Libido Gigante -- nice to meet you," says the big guy wearing a black-and-white mask with devil horns and holding a baseball bat who answers the door of the Westminster tract house. "Jake couldn't make it, and he asked me to answer any questions for him."
"He met you with a mask?" asks Joey. "He's a very nice-looking boy. He should have taken that thing off."
Jake's fast track to the world of wrestling began, in a way, back in 1994, when he went to watch an Ultimate Fighting Championship at the Mammoth Events Center. The fights were dominated by fighters trained in a martial art called Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Intrigued, Jake quit his basic karate and signed on with the South Americans.
A year later he moved to San Francisco. He worked a series of lousy jobs. But one of them, at a bookstore, led to another gig at a small publishing house called Laissez Faire Books, which specialized in Libertarian political theory. It spoke to Jake. "Shit," he thought to himself while perusing the goods. "This stuff makes sense."
After digesting a few more economics tomes, Jake was hooked. He registered at a local university to learn more about monetary systems and computers. (Even now, his personal Web site is a heady, if unusual, mixture of pro wrestling, political theorizing and poetry.) A couple of years ago, he took a job with a fast-moving Denver computer company and moved back home.
Meanwhile, Jake's jiu-jitsu interests had proceeded apace, until one day he badly injured his neck during a competition. Seeking a replacement activity without all the potential for injury, at the advice of a friend he decided to try his hand at professional wrestling.
Jake was captivated immediately. It seemed that he was born for the mat. He loved the combination of athleticism and hambone. He liked the spontaneity of working out the details of a performance with his opponent in the middle of a live show. "For example," he explains, "maybe while we're in a clinch, I'll whisper to him, 'I'm going to throw you off the ropes, give you a clothesline, then you lay down and I'll give you a leg dump, and I'll roll you over with a crucifix pin and you kick out in two.' So you see, it is an interesting canvas you get to work with."
Jake wears his dreams on his sleeve, so his plans were no secret, even at his new computer job. "He wasn't too shy about it," recalls Kal Rucker, whose work cube was next to Jake's. "Not too long after I met him at work, he said he wanted to be a professional wrestler. Everybody kind of laughed. I mean, I want to be a part-time baseball player. I figured both were about equally likely to be true. I didn't believe he was 100 percent serious."
But Jake was. And after some training at a local academy, he and his stepbrother sat down to contemplate one of the thornier problems facing a young professional wrestler on the cusp of fame: What would his shtick be? Eventually, they resorted to the old drinking game of coming up with a good-sounding porn-star handle by combining the name of your first pet with your mother's maiden name. Thus was born MoBush.
As time went on, MoBush's character filled out. He was a pussy hound, of course. Eventually, for reasons that are not entirely clear, he started wearing a big blue wig. Jake also had a revelation: Promoters generally decide who will wrestle, for how long, and who will win. But Jake soon realized that MoBush could be just as popular as a guy who got pummeled nearly every time he stepped into the ring as one who won every time out.
"People hated me, which was great," he says. "They're all pissed off at their boss or whatever, and they can throw stuff and get arrested and have a great time.
"Who wins doesn't really matter," he adds. "But it's competitive in that you want to outperform the other guy. You want the slicker moves, the better dialogue."
A year ago, Jake took a break for some continuing education. He traveled to Mexico to train with a famous Japanese wrestler who was an expert in an athletic, almost gymnastic style of wrestling called lucha libre. It was a formative experience. Upon his return, Jake translated MoBush into Spanish as best he could, donned a black mask with horns and birthed Libido Gigante.
As he trained, Jake continued to massage his contacts within the wrestling world. When the Vans Warped Tour passed through Denver this past summer, he was ready to go. Jake, appearing as Libido Gigante, took on El Gran Fangorio (translated extremely loosely as "The Big Fang"). Uncharacteristically, the Huge Libido won. Impressed with Jake's crowd appeal, the show's promoter called Jake onto the bus and asked if he'd like to extend his appearance on the tour. Two weeks later, after quitting his job, he did.
It was a great gig. The Vans Warped Tour, a traveling punk-music show, had recently decided to add pro wrestling to its act. The promoters had selected a San Francisco outfit called Incredibly Strange Wrestling. It wasn't exactly the bigtime -- Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan would not be showing their faces anytime soon. But by the end of the summer, the show had made 45 stops.
And ISW had its own appeal. At every stop, wrestlers like Ku Klux Clown, the Monkey Medics (guys who wrestle in gorilla suits) and the Poontangler (with her infant son, actually a bearded midget) hit the mat. They were joined by Culo de Muerte (roughly, "Ass of Death"), El Pollo Loco (a Satanic chicken) and El Homo Loco.
Though it was hard to name highlights in a tour filled with them, a few stood out above the rest. There was the time in July, in Utah, where the crowd chanted, "You suck dick!" to The Cruiser, and without missing a beat, he yelled back, "Yes...I do!" Or the time in Idaho, when the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice in the audience tried to kill ISW wrestler and neo-Nazi The Oi Boy, who had entered the ring to the song "White Power."
And then there was Libido Gigante's classic match against lucha libre star Vampiro. It was at the Toronto Skydome, with 14,000 yelling fans. The contest started out well for Jake. "He let me beat the fuck out of him with a bat," Jake recalls. "So that was really cool." But Vampiro is a genuine headliner (he later threw The Oi Boy through a table and kneed the announcer in the groin), and Libido Gigante was destined to lose. Still, it was quite a memory.
Road life was hard, yet one thing that Jake liked about the show, in which the audience is given tortillas to throw at the ring performers in place of more dangerous bottles and cans, was its social consciousness. For example, he says, when MoBush loses to The Cruiser, "What we're trying to do is make the gay guy the good guy and the hetero guy the bad guy. So you can see the message."
Plus, at $150 a day, the pay was great.
Early on in Jake's new career, Joey and Gil, despite their past personal differences, would go to all of his wrestling matches together. "Honestly, being a parent -- and being a single parent -- I was worried that he'd get hurt," Gil remembers.
"They're kind of scary," adds Joey. "He says he knows what he's doing, though, so I just grin and bear it."
"When I thought of professional wrestling, I always thought -- well, I don't want to say lowlifes," Joey says. "But that's kind of what I thought, to be honest. And my son is kind of weird. So I guess it's still true."
"The first time I saw pro wrestling, I was nine years old," recalls Kimi Cobb, Jake's fiancée. "My brother forced me to watch it. I cried." Now, she says, "It's pitiful. I know all the theme songs." (The two met when Jake spotted Kimi in a bookstore, followed her to the bathroom and waited outside until she came out.)
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"I've seen him wrestle," adds Rucker. "I don't think I'd bring my seven-year-old."
Even Jake's parents, despite their unequivocal support, haven't liked everything they've seen. "I'm not being a prude, but I don't think all that stuff is necessary," says Gil. "I've seen the stuff on TV, and I think that's okay. The off-color stuff, though, I don't think is necessary.
"But," he adds quickly, "Jake is my best friend, and I'm happy for him."
"Maybe someday," Kal Rucker adds, "we can say, 'We knew that guy back when he sat in a cubicle next to us.'"