On a cold, rainy night in late March, Jim Hoffarth stands in the gravel parking lot of the community center in East Carondelet, Illinois, a few miles up the road from the Jefferson Barracks Bridge across the Mississippi. Despite the chill, he's still sweating from the bout that had ended minutes before.
Hoffarth is pissed. Known by his nom de guerre "the Big Texan," Hoffarth is one of the St. Louis region's top professional wrestlers. Tonight, though, the referee has just disqualified him for an illegal move: Hoffarth heaved his opponent, a bull-necked badass named "Unstable" Dave Vaughn, over the ring's top rope.
This occurred moments after Hoffarth viciously knee-slammed Vaughn in the crotch. The move electrified the crowd, touching off a thunderous explosion of boos and cheers, but it also earned Hoffarth a reprimand.
When the ref called the bout at four minutes and three seconds, he raised Vaughn's right arm in the air, setting off more wild boos and cheers and sending Hoffarth packing into the wet night.
"Oh yeah, I thought I was going to go longer than that," Hoffarth says sharply.
Different promoters have different rules, he says. Herb Simmons, the promoter of tonight's program, the Wrestling Explosion, and the power player behind Southern Illinois Championship Wrestling, is "old school," Hoffarth explains.
"It's a little bit different if we were over in St. Louis. St. Louis has their own little rules," he says. "You can't use weapons. You can't use a steel chair."
But Simmons, "he's got different rules," Hoffarth says. "He's an old-school rule guy. So throwing people over the top rope is a no-no."
Nonetheless, Hoffarth still figures he will get paid for his night's work. The money would not amount to a whole lot — maybe $75, maybe $100, depending on the head count and whether Simmons was pleased with Hoffarth's performance.
"So I don't know, I haven't talked to him yet," Hoffarth says. "But if he still thinks the match was OK, and if he still liked it, he shouldn't cut me."
Hoffarth will get his chance to redeem himself in three weeks' time at the South Broadway Athletic Club in St. Louis. There, he must defend the Mid-Missouri Wrestling Alliance championship belt that he had won in January.
"I'll be ready," the Big Texan says.
- ZIA NIZAMI
- Hoffarth works by day as the manager of an auto parts store.
On the phone, Hoffarth sounds decent and thoughtful as he discusses the history and nuances of his avocation. By day, he works as the manager of an auto parts store in Fairview Heights, Illinois, and it's easy to imagine Hoffarth patiently explaining to a customer at the counter the merits of the various brands and styles of windshield wiper blades in stock.
Married and with three sons, Hoffarth a few weeks ago welcomed the birth of his first grandchild, a little girl, into the world.
But in person, kitted for combat, Hoffarth is the picture of menace. He stands well over six feet tall and weighs nearly 300 pounds. Wrestling in East Carondelet, he wears black heavy boots, camouflage pants and a black sleeveless shirt that exposes arms like torpedoes.
Most striking is his mask. Even when he's finished for the night, he keeps it on. Stitched from shiny leather, with crude slits for his nose, mouth and blue eyes, the mask is Hoffarth's trademark, his badge.
Hoffarth refuses to remove it out of respect to professional wrestling's code of kayfabe, in which a wrestler never breaks character in public. And as the Big Texan, Hoffarth is a heel, a comic-book villain who revels in pissing off the home crowd and thrashing their good-guy heroes.
"Having people boo you, and screaming that they hate you," Hoffarth says, "that is a thrill for a bad guy. That means you're doing your job. You succeeded. And to have my arm raised at the end of that match, and have them give me that [championship] belt, in front of all of those people who are booing you..."
Hoffarth pauses a moment to savor the image.
"And even now it's worse," he says, "because they can't believe you had just beaten their champion. You took their champion's belt away from them. It's the adrenaline. It's the crowd."