Dennis Dobson was strapped to a hospital bed in Arlington, unable to move his arms or legs.

"My legs went to one side of my body, and my head kind of went to the other side, twisted my spine," Dobson recalled. "The ambulance came ... cut all my gear off, and I laid taped to a bed for about four hours. It was scary, but you know, when it was all said and done, I didn't break anything."

A man had come up to Dobson, grabbed him and dropped him on his head. But it was all planned -- it took place in a ring.

Dobson, 40, owns and operates a financial planning practice in Frisco during the day. But at night, he is Apoc -- a professional wrestler, something he's done for the last 16 years.

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While the matches are scripted, the danger to the performers is real. If something goes wrong, performers deal with ligament tears, bruises and dislocations.

Dallas native Jerome Daniels, known as The Flawless Jerome Daniels, remembers making maybe $30 a night when his career started in 2007. He once suffered a dislocated shoulder during a match, only to have it pop back into place as he executed the next move.

"I remember wrestling for like three or four weeks after that was pretty bad. Everything hurt, every move hurt," he said.

Said Dobson: "If there's anything to be written down, it's that professional wrestling is not fake. There's nothing fake or arbitrary about the abuse and the physicality of what we do."

Struggle for the limelight

Dallas-area men and women perform in wrestling shows in makeshift venues, in front of sparse crowds for little money and fanfare.

For some, like Irving's Andy Dalton, 30, it's all about upholding the family tradition.

Frank Dalton, his father, wrestled in the '60s, '70s and '80s and was best-known for his role as "Friday," the masked handler for Kamala during his time with Mid-South Wrestling, WCW, and the WWF. Frank's career ended in 1985, shortly before Andy was born, and he died when his son was 10.

Professional wrestler Andy Dalton of Irving holds his 5-year-old daughter, Mia, before he goes out for a match at the Sherman Elks Lodge.  

Professional wrestler Andy Dalton of Irving holds his 5-year-old daughter, Mia, before he goes out for a match at the Sherman Elks Lodge.  

Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer

"My whole childhood I thought I wanted to be a wrestler," Dalton said, "but after he died, I was like, 'All right, I'm going to follow in his footsteps and continue his legacy.'"

He's also trying to stay connected with his daughter, who lives three hours away in Austin. He only gets to spend time with her on particular weekends, and occasionally his life as a wrestler and a father overlap.

"Life as a dad/wrestler is tough," he said, "Sure, she likes seeing Daddy as the big wrestler guy, but I bet she'd rather be at home with me doing my nails and makeup."

Dalton's nails stay painted pink. He says his daughter keeps them that way so he "doesn't forget her."

For other wrestlers, performing provides focus.

"I feel like if I wasn't wrestling, who knows what I'd be doing?" said 27-year-old Arlington native Kristopher Haiden. "I could be in jail. I could have gotten involved with the wrong crowd. Wrestling's really kept me on the right track."

Haiden drives bobtail trucks to supplement his wrestling habit.

"It pays the bills, keeps me going so that way I can get my fix on the weekends," Haiden said. "I have actually turned down jobs, actual real jobs, because it would interfere on the weekends where I go out and I do my thing."

Dreams of the big time

The path to a WWE event is by no means a short one.

An aspiring wrestler needs a place to start, such as the Texas Wrestling Academy, formerly known as the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, which is based in San Antonio and has produced WWE stars such as Daniel Bryan and Texas native Paul London. Training for 12 weeks costs $2,500.

Local hopefuls can try DFW All-Pro Wrestling Academy in Haltom City. It offers training for experienced grapplers as well as tryouts for beginners.

Moonshine Mantell (top center) takes on tag team opponents Seth Allen (left) and Dane Griffin during a match in Sherman. 

Moonshine Mantell (top center) takes on tag team opponents Seth Allen (left) and Dane Griffin during a match in Sherman. 

Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer

Ryan Greeness, also known as Moonshine Ryan Mantell, said he lifts weights, but that's not enough.

"As far as keeping your cardio up, there's not really a whole lot that you can do to simulate what you'll be doing inside of the ring besides being in an actual ring," Greeness said.

Years after developing a name for themselves, independent wrestlers can make a modest living. But usually, they have day jobs, too -- from personal trainers to financial planners. Some take home close to $1,000 for a weekend of shows, and others make just enough to buy dinner and a tank of gas on the way home.

"We really have to be our own entity; Where independent guys like myself are going to make the most money, it comes from merchandise we sell," Greeness said. "The T-shirts we put out, the 8x10s, buttons, wristbands, foam fingers, anything we can sell."

Delicate dynamic

The end goal for most wrestlers is to be seen and scouted by a large outfit such as WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling or Ring of Honor.

There's a delicate dynamic among wrestlers aspiring to that. They compete with one another for recognition, but also must work together to put on a compelling performance infused with physicality and violence.

"We're all in this together. I've been privileged enough to be in there with guys who have taken care of me, and vice versa," Haiden said. "That still doesn't stop accidents from happening, obviously, but you have to trust that you guys are both going to go in there, stay safe with each other ... and not have to go to the hospital that night."

There are several smaller wrestling organizations in the area. The National Wrestling Alliance, known locally as NWA Texoma, runs a show every third Friday of the month at the Elks Lodge in Sherman, Texas.

VIP Wrestling, which hosts shows mainly in Arlington, is hosting its own post-WrestleMania show on Sunday night at St. Jude Hall in Arlington with appearances from WWE Hall of Famer Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, Dalton, Daniels, Dobson, and Haiden.

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The smaller, independent shows can be much different than the wrestling you see on TV.

"There's so much more fan involvement," said Greeness, who makes up half of the current NWA Texoma tag team champs. "It's just like live theater. It's awesome."

Instead of being locked into hitting their marks for a live TV show like performers on Monday Night Raw, wrestlers at independent shows may be more open to taking suggestions from the front row as to what to hit his opponent with next. For some fans, that makes the $10 spent at an independent show a much higher value than the hundreds of dollars fans can spend to sit ringside at a WWE event.

"When you get to come, and not be just a spectator, but a piece of the show," Dobson said. "That's the beauty of independent wrestling."

Twitter: @_joeyhayden

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