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Becoming John Rambo

A local wrestler is honored by his peers with Hall of Fame induction

May 01, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • John Kreczman Jr. as his professional wrestling alter ego John Rambo, early in his career.
Submitted photo,

Professional wrestler John Kreczman Jr. never set out to become John Rambo.

"Wrestling personas have a way of finding you," said Kreczman, 48, of Hagerstown, who is best known locally by his alter ego. "Someone else created it for me, and it stuck."

Happily for Kreczman, the Rambo thing stuck.

The New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame honored Kreczman for his contribution to wrestling. The induction ceremony was held in April in Rhode Island and paid tribute to wrestlers, spanning generations of entertainment sports eras and independent wrestling league circuits.

"It's a love, a passion," Krecz-man said. "Once it gets into your blood, it's addicting."

Kreczman body-slammed his way through the ranks of National Wrestling Alliance bouts, wrestling overseas and on television from the late 1980s to mid-1990s. He has wrestled Mick Foley, former commissioner of the World Wrestling Entertainment, and was groomed in part by the wrestling family of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

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"I've had my face shattered in eight places, I got broken knee caps, chipped elbows, broken ribs - just about anything and everything," Kreczman said, listing some of the injuries he's sustained throughout his career. "I got hit a lot."

But will he ever stop wrestling?

"Wrestling? Yeah. Teaching, nah," Kreczman said.

For the past 13 years, Kreczman has been teaching the art of professional wrestling at the Hagerstown-based National Wrestling League. The league presents free matches on Tuesday and Saturday nights. He trains 25 to 35 wrestlers, mostly men, at any given time.

The pageantry of what you'd expect at a wrestling bout played out at the League's downtown Hagerstown ring on a recent Tuesday. The matches had a good guy and a villain. The crowd - mostly young people - cheered the good guys and booed the villains. They were convinced the referee wasn't paying attention, especially if the good guy was the one who lost the match.

The practice space is among warehouses, parking lots and a slew of row houses along Franklin Street. The inside is accessible via the parking lot and smelled like a warehouse. There was enough room for a ring and a few rows of chairs. A few fluorescent lights cast a faint greenish-yellow light into the ring and onto the chairs.

Rambo sat among the crowd, neither booing nor cheering. His darting eyes followed the wrestlers in the ring as they slapped, slammed and smacked each other.

He watched like a coach watching his players, quietly evaluating how well they executed a given play. He takes wrestling seriously. He said that to make it, you've got to be more than a persona.

"You have to join a school," Kreczman said. "The training, it's a lot of theatrics. It's entertainment. That's not a secret any more. I look at it as physical theatrics. But you still have to know how to hit properly."

Kreczman grew up in Bethlehem, Pa. His father was athletic and had a reputation for being a talented football player.

He followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a star football player in high school. He also studied tae kwon do and had earned his black belt by the time he was 14.

Rambo played football in college, but he ended up working for the U.S. postal service after school. He wasn't satisfied with his work. He wasn't playing ball, but he was still in good shape.

"If I wouldn't have gotten into wrestling, I would have gotten into body building," Kreczman said.

Kreczman said he met former wrestler Rocky Johnson, the father of wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne Johnson, who wrestled for WWE as The Rock. The Johnsons also lived in Bethlehem, Pa. Rambo said he started by doing some video work for Rocky Johnson.

"One thing led to another and I decided to give it a try," Kreczman said.

He said while training in the Lehigh Valley, he met Neil Caricofe, the son of Dick Caricofe.

Dick Caricofe, who owns the wrestling league, asked Kreczman to come down to Hagerstown and run the school.

"It was right here in Hagerstown where John Rambo the gimmick and the wrestler was created," Kreczman said.

His family's lineage comes from the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia. Before coming to Hagerstown, he was wrestling as John Maxwell.

"I wasn't even leaning anywhere near the Sylvester Stallone thing," Kreczman said.

But there was a resemblance to Stallone's Rambo. He had long dark hair and a "Stallone"-like accent. It was Caricofe who made the suggestion, he said.

So Kreczman put on some Army fatigues and made some other minor tweaks - and the new persona was born.

Why didn't Kreczman go on to become a household name?

"I've done my share of TV wrestling, I traveled the globe and made a very good name for myself and in the wrestling industry everybody knows the name John Rambo," Kreczman said. "I just opted not to go the route of these WWFs. I wasn't crazy about how things were at that point."

Kreczman said he didn't like where the things were heading, with wrestlers feeling pressured to be bigger and better in order to make money. He wasn't a fan of steroid use and felt it cast a negative light on the entire industry.

He said that he was considered old by the time he entered the sport. He wrestled his first match at age 27.

Today, Kreczman describes what he does as part community service, entertainment and passion. He hosts matches to raise money for local charities and offers scholarships to fledgling wrestlers who come from low-income backgrounds. He said professional wrestling was an expensive hobby.

"It's tough to make a living in this business, especially in the independent circuit," Kreczman said. "But we do it for the love."

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