JANESVILLE — As Janesville native "The Cowboy" Tyler Baggins lay like a dead fish on the mat, Mojo McQueen straddled him and wrapped a black cloth voodoo doll around Baggins' neck. He twisted it tight.
The officiators rang and rang the bell—a clear disqualification for McQueen for using an illegal submission hold—but the ominous voodoo priest continued to bear down on Baggins, ratcheting the voodoo doll tighter and tighter around his neck.
The crowd of about 400 men, women, high school students and younger children at the Pontiac Convention Center in Janesville roared jeers at McQueen, whose face was painted like a skull.
Embracing his role as a heel (professional wrestling parlance for "bad guy"), McQueen left Baggins in a crumpled heap on the mat. He leapt from the ring into the crowd and glared down at a table full of girls from Janesville's Franklin Junior High School.
The girls shrieked and scattered like water bugs.
It was just the first match of the night at a Janesville Wrestling Alliance main event on Saturday night, and already the crowd was getting warmed up. Ring announcer Dick McMacker waved a cowboy hat close to Baggins to give him air.
Then "The Cowboy" started to come around. Then he was back on his feet, waving and mugging for the cheering crowd. The convention center erupted in cheers.
"This match is exactly what we try to do in a nutshell. It's typical 1980s-style wrestling theater—good old-fashioned character-based wrestling," said Aaron "Getch" Getchell.
Getchell is one of two referees for Janesville Wrestling Alliance, an upstart professional wrestling organization with a cast of dozens of wrestlers from Janesville, Beloit and the Chicagoland area.
The JWA, organized by Janesville entrepreneur Jacob Sailing, has operated for about a year. Sailing says it's a "family/friends operation" that has grown enough to begin planning for main events
Sailing's father, Dennis Sailing, was selling tickets at the door Saturday night. He said when Jacob was in junior high in the mid-1990s, he and his teen friends built a wrestling ring in the backyard. They used it constantly.
He said his son wanted to offer families and children the same kind of fun.
"Jacob told me he wanted to start this to get something for kids to go and do in this town, something they can go and see. That's what this town needs more of," Dennis Sailing said.
Jacob Sailing, who also is a videographer and runs a local screen-printing business, does all of the promotion and designs and produces hats, shirts and merchandise for the JWA.
He and about 20 friends and family members paper the town with flyers for every event, and it's all hands on deck to set up and run wrestling shows such as Saturday night's main event.
The shows are run like typical pro-wrestling events complete with food and beverages. The matches are full of body slams, choke holds, chest slaps and acrobatics off the ring ropes. Each wrestler has his own persona and introduction music.
The wrestlers Saturday night included characters "Texas" Pete, a keyboard guitar-playing guy from Texas—apparently; rope-wielding bad guy Diego "The Strangler" Corleone; and 275-pound Janesville native Jay Kross.
So far, the JWA has done a few main events at the convention center and at a few area taverns.
Sailing says he's excited because his organization seems to be catching on, particularly with local families. He sees it as a different option for family entertainment. To him, it's another kind of sporting event.
"You take the Janesville Jets, which is a regionally run, local semi-pro sports outfit. You see how far they've come. I thought, "We can do this with wrestling. We really can,'" Sailing said.
The JWA recently bought a brand-new wrestling ring and had it trucked in from Kentucky. Sailing has a trailer for the ring, so now it can easily be moved from venue to venue.
He hopes to draw bigger crowds and get a foothold at taverns and some venues in the Madison area.
For now, the JWA has more local gigs lined up. Wrestling fans can see the JWA's next main event Feb. 16 at the Pontiac Convention Center.