Mark Anarchy’s teacher went around the room, asking students what they wanted to be when they grew up. Doctors, his elementary-school classmates said. Basketball players. Firefighters.
When Anarchy responded with "professional wrestler," he got a reaction that stuck with him throughout his youth: No one took him seriously.
"Everyone laughed," he said in an interview recently.
>> Time: 7:30 p.m. Monday
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Still, Anarchy never lost sight of his goal, and today he sits atop Hawaii’s pro wrestling world as heavyweight champion of Action Zone Wrestling, the state’s only independent pro wrestling promotion.
It’s taken more than physical growth, though Anarchy has done a lot of that since his early days of training. The 32-year-old Kalihi resident, already accustomed to overcoming challenges, also had to nurture his mental and emotional toughness in order to earn the huge, glittering belt that honors his championship status.
Indeed, willpower is what separates the champs from the chumps. Anarchy and former heavyweight titleholders say without mental stamina and a relentless drive to be better, even the fittest wrestling hopefuls always fall short.
Anarchy, billed at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, does not fit the widely accepted image of a pro wrestler, much less a heavyweight champion.
Growing up, his stature as well as his love for pro wrestling and other uncool-at-the-time pastimes — comic books, punk music, cartoons — made him an easy target for teasing, particularly when he attended Farrington High School. Sometimes, he said, it felt "like it was illegal to have me around."
The situation wasn’t much better at home. His mother was ambivalent about pro wrestling, while his father hated the sport, especially the wrestlers themselves.
"He told me he was gonna disown me if I became one," Anarchy recalled.
Anarchy joined Action Zone Wrestling just as the promotion was starting up in 2005 after reading about its first show in a posting on MySpace. Interest in the event’s guest stars got him thinking, "Why watch the show when I can be part of the show?" Soon, he was in touch with AZW founder Daryl Bonilla.
Anarchy knew he could make it as a wrestler, but he still had reservations about his eventual role in the company.
"When I first started, I thought I was gonna be like some guy who was gonna get beat up all the time," he said. He also had to overcome a frosty relationship with fans.
Winning the heavyweight title earlier this year was "something I never thought I’d be able to do," Anarchy said.
Several months into his reign, Anarchy said he has no plans to relinquish the title belt. His next challenge comes Monday in AZW’s "Summerbrawl" show, in which he will fight to retain his title against space-age opponent Calor Futuro.
Anarchy conceded that whoever ends up defeating him would "be the better man" — but that would require a heady combination of technical skill, physical prowess and mental endurance.
The biggest hurdle aspiring pro wrestlers must clear is training, which includes basic conditioning drills as well as instruction in moves specific to action in the ring.
The preparation is intense, and it’s more than a physical commitment: The veteran wrestlers push trainees to the limit to test their mental mettle as well.
"They try to break you to see if you want to do this," said Anarchy, who acknowledged his own big ego was swiftly tamped down.
The initiation was no easier for seasoned athletes.
It was "brutal" for former heavyweight and tag-team champion Edwin Flores, aka Kaimana, who started his pro wrestling career in 1997.
"The first day I trained felt like I was in a car crash," the 5-foot-11, 227-pound wrestler said. "Body bruised, battered and beaten … (but I) woke up the next day to train again.
"I learned that if you want something bad enough, you would go through anything to get there."
Many hopefuls don’t last long.
"If you can’t take what the other guys give you, then you do not belong in this business," said Darnell Gamiao, 32, who as Bobby "The Lightning" Bolt was the AZW heavyweight champion and tag-team champion.
A foundation in wrestling clearly helps. Gamiao — also one of AZW’s smaller wrestlers at 5-foot-4 and 160 pounds — was on the Damien Memorial School wrestling team and thus was familiar with the sport’s physical and psychological demands. When people lack such background, like Anarchy, that’s where personal strength kicks in.
"If pro wrestling was easy, then everyone would do it," Anarchy said.
Not everything can be taught in training. Many of the more eye-popping maneuvers — such as leaping off the ring’s posts or taking the brawl into the crowd — are learned over the years and sometimes on the fly.
These skills require "a willingness to put your body through hell and knowing it will happen again," said Flores, 36.
"You just have to go for it," Gamiao said. "If you fear getting hurt, you will end up getting hurt."
And injuries do happen: Broken bones, concussions and hyperextended knees are just a few.
There is no living to be made in small wrestling promotions, either. AZW’s shows, for example, are held monthly — which means athletes take their aches and pains to their usual jobs.
Thrilling fans and the endless drive to be better are worth the physical risks and mental toil, the wrestlers said.
"The way the crowd reacts to things that you do makes you want to become a better wrestler," Gamiao said. "If you can make kids and adults forget about their problems for those 10 to 15 minutes of a match, then I believe that we have done our jobs."
Perhaps more than anyone, Anarchy is grateful for the crowd’s support.
"I never thought I’d take the fans’ hearts," he said.
The "skinny kid" who was ridiculed for his love of pro wrestling especially likes it when young fans flock to him after shows.
"That was me when I was their age," he said. "I just want to be a good example for them."
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