Billy Roc teaches people how to fight without fighting. On a muggy Sunday afternoon in a double-wide storage unit in Lafayette, he observes a scripted altercation with a critical eye.
He watches The Metal Messiah receive a kick to the stomach and double over in pain. He sees Tripp Cassidy, the assailant, stand over his victim with a sinister smile. Cassidy lunges into a string of mustard-yellow ropes that encompass the fighting ring, propelling himself towards the injured combatant. The Messiah musters the resolve to fight back, rising from his submissive stance in time to deliver a powerful elbow to Cassidy’s shoulder. Cassidy falls squarely on his back, his bad-boy grin now a wincing O-face.
Roc, leaning against a turnbuckle, starts clapping. The sound bounces off sheet metal walls and concrete flooring.
“Good job, guys. Way to sell the contact,” Roc says.
On cue, the fighters relax. The Metal Messiah, a bombastic fan of Iron Maiden and Metallica, is now Josh Cantrell, a polite 29-year-old Bloomington resident with a job in tech support. The villainous Tripp Cassidy has transformed into Tim Handlon, a 21-year-old Indianapolis native who loads semis in a warehouse. Each looks to make sure the other is unscathed.
Roc begins instructing both men on better ways to sell a fight. Exaggerate body movements, savor a punishing blow, contort your face, scowl and sneer. Such terminology is more familiar to thespians than brawlers. For Roc, however, it is the everyday lingo of the job. He is a professional wrestler, the nexus of theatricality and physicality, and he’s been doing it for 12 years.
Today, Roc is teaching seven students the art of fake fighting. The sweat-scented garage doubles as his classroom, dubbed The School of Roc. His program is one of a handful in the state to teach the sport. But no teacher compares to Billy Roc, the self-proclaimed King of Indiana.
Roc, whose real name is William Lodgson, has owned and operated the school since its inception in 2009. His wife was pregnant with their first child, and Roc was weary of the excessive travel wrestling required. Looking to remain in the sport but stay close to home, opening a school seemed logical. Roc worked with a local promoter to secure a ring for free and a facility in which to teach, much to the delight of Handlon, his first student.
“He kept houndin’ me and houndin’ me to start teaching,” Roc says.
Handlon came to know Roc while attending underground wrestling shows in Indianapolis as a teenager. “When I was a fan, I hated Billy Roc,” he says. “Growing up I was a real grungy, punky kid and he was the polar opposite. Billy’s a super family man, a pretty boy, the nice-guys-finish-first type deal.”
Though the youngster didn’t warm up to the clean cut image, Handlon admired Roc’s technical prowess. Roc employs a style of wrestling called the British Lincolnshire, which emphasizes submission holds and crisp body movements. Handlon watched as Roc dismantled opponents with acrobatic grace and was eager to train with Mr. Pretty Boy.
“He was the Indiana guy. If there was a good wrestler in Indiana, it was Billy Roc.”
Roc was aware of Handlon as well, always eyeing him ringside at matches.
“I remember seeing Tim at all the shows in Indianapolis,” Roc says. “Some of those shows went on until (midnight) or one in the morning, and there he was, front row.”
They began a correspondence over MySpace, sharing messages about wrestling style and technique. All the while Handlon prodded Roc to open a school. It wasn’t until Roc’s retirement from wrestling full time, a move spurred by his daughter’s birth, that Handlon’s persistence paid off.
The school’s first year was bumpy. The level of interest was lower than Roc’s expectations. Only two students enrolled and the curriculum was nothing more than a list of wrestling moves written on a piece of paper. The cost of admission was, and remains, $1,500 with practice occurring once a week. The school’s original location, in a neighborhood full of dilapidated houses and overgrown lawns, was less than desirable. Roc recalls feeling scared as he walked alone in the dark to his car after practice.
“I’m pretty sure most of Lafayette’s potential felons live (there),” Roc says.
“Billy had to warn us to lock our cars,” Handlon says.
Roc peppers inspirational tropes throughout practices. Dig deep! Want it more than the guy next to you! The will is more important than the skill!
Five years and 26 students later, the school’s location has become safer. Roc has since moved his business to a row of storage units which sit behind a six-foot chain-link fence. His rental fee is $300 a month. Roc also acquired his own ring, a 16’ x 16’ square that cost $5,000. The floor is made up of metal, plywood and a matte red canvas held in place by bungee cords, minimal padding to catch bone and muscle.
Roc’s teaching methods have become more exact as well. Each Sunday from January to October is more or less the same four-hour routine: cardio (squats and stretches), fundamental drills (flips and falls), learning new moves (Russian Leg Sweeps and Atomic Drops), and five-minute matches (trash talk and body slams).
But wrestling is more than a series of moves and countermoves. It’s about characters that embody eternal elements: good over evil, determination over defeat, inspiration over hatred. Roc teaches every facet of the sports, bundling them into an all-encompassing term called Ring Psychology.
“Every wrestling match, it’s like a TV show,” Roc says. “Every wrestling match should have a beginning, middle and ending. There should be the antagonist and the protagonist, and you should be developing that story among them throughout your actions in a wrestling match.”
After the Metal Messiah and Tripp Cassidy have met their Ring Psychology quota, the rest of Roc’s students run through the same drill: boot to the midsection, run to the ropes, elbow to the shoulder.
The school attracts a diverse student body: an architectural designer, a meat packer, a night stock, a web designer, and a pizza boy take their turn in the ring. Some have college degrees and girlfriends; others skipped higher education and think “women are expensive.” Their experience ranges from more than 500 matches to having never fought in a professional ring. One wrestler makes roughly $80 a match in fights across the country while others pay out of pocket. Many are lifelong Hoosiers, though one hails from as far away as Long Island. While most have supportive parents, others don’t have anything to do with theirs.
Here, wrestling is the group’s grand unifier. All are longtime fans of the sport and were undeterred from their passion upon discovering the outcomes are predetermined. Each has aspirations of using wrestling as a means to see the world. Everyone has trained through icy winters with no heat and sweltering summers without A/C. All have come to bruise and bleed under Roc’s tutelage – after signing an obligatory waiver.
Picture frames decorate one wall at the school. They house photos of previous classes, award certificates (2006 and 2009 Matches of the Year), press clippings and pictures of Roc doing battle in the ring. Roc isn’t legally obligated by the state to have a license to wrestle or teach it, so his career achievements double as his credentials.
Some of the plaques refer to Roc by his oft-used moniker, “The King of Indiana.” The title pays homage to a wrestler named Reckless Youth, who referred to himself as “The King of Delaware.” Roc took the gimmick as his own, intending to use the slogan while portraying an arrogant “heel” – wrestling slang for the villain. Though Roc never went to the dark side, the nickname stuck. Roc spent his career playing the babyface, or the hero. He cast himself as a sympathetic every-man who was pummeled for much of the match only to mount a storybook comeback for the win.
The farthest frame along the wall displays a collage from fights throughout Roc’s career. In one photo, his face is bloodied from a busted forehead. Nestled among the carnage, however, is a picture of serenity. Roc is sandwiched between his parents, Kathy and Bill. The trio proudly hoists a tournament championship belt Roc has just won. Everyone is all smiles. It is June 2008, eight months before Roc’s father passed away from cancer.
Roc’s relationship with his dad hovers over many aspects of his life. An age gap of four decades separated the pair, causing a generational divide that led to disagreements throughout Roc’s youth. What the two tangled over, Roc can’t recall.
“I’m sure at the time it was the pettiest stuff ever,” he says.
The school’s first year was bumpy. Only two students enrolled and the curriculum was nothing more than a list of wrestling moves written on a piece of paper.
However, Roc remembers his father fostering his budding interest wrestling as a child. One day, while working for the county, the elder stumbled across a wrestling magazine on the side of the road. Wet and tattered, he brought it home to dry and give to his son.
“It was all black and white. I don’t think there were any colored pictures in it,” Roc says. “That was my first big exposure to the wrestling world.”
Roc also remembers Bill coming home early from work with a VHS copy of Wrestlemania II. He had paid a buddy to record it the night before.
“That was the kind of stuff he did to support wrestling,” Roc says. “I guess he never thought I would actually get into it.”
When Roc made his wrestling debut in 2002, his father looked on from the crowd as his son lived his dream. While Roc never learned to suplex or clothesline an opponent from his dad, he did learn to understand a word that’s prevalent in his lexicon: Respect.
The School of Roc boils down to a series of lessons in respect. Respect the sport, the history the hierarchy. Respect your opponent. Respect iconic wrestling moves. “Respect the DDT!” So fundamental is the mantra, it’s emblazoned across a banner that hangs from the back wall behind the ring: “The School of Roc: Where RESPECT is 2nd Nature.”
“It comes from my father,” Roc says. “When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate it. But I now know what my dad felt like going through a younger generation.”
It’s a younger generation Roc views skeptically with regard to wrestling. To him, too many young fighters favor brutality and strength over technique and craftsmanship. In Roc’s program, hard work and diligence trump all. Roc peppers inspirational tropes throughout practices. Dig deep! Want it more than the guy next to you! The will is more important than the skill! Roc preaches a blue-collar ethos, just as his father did.
When Roc is away from the ring, he is no longer the King of Indiana. He is the king of his quaint ranch style home, which sits on two acres across the street from a soybean farm. When I meet with him for a midday conversation, Roc is on vacation from his fulltime job as a distribution supervisor at Caterpillar (his superiors are aware of his wrestling side job). He isn’t traveling anywhere, however. It’s a staycation, a time to catch up on yard work and The Walking Dead. No wrestling paraphernalia can be found in his living room or kitchen. Instead, pictures of his 5-year-old daughter adorn his refrigerator. Roc is happily domesticated, and out of shape.
“I’ve gained some weight around the waistline, so I’m trying to shed that,” he says while eating a turkey and spinach salad.
He hopes to shed 15 pounds by his next match, an August 23 bout in Lafayette against Heidi Lovelace, one of the School of Roc’s most notable alumni. According to Roc, Lovelace is close to making her international debut at a tournament in Japan. SOR graduates achieve varying degrees of success. A handful has been scouted by the WWE, while some make a name for themselves on the independent circuit. Others burn out quickly and give up on wrestling after two or three matches.
Until his next bout in the ring, however, Roc’s regiment will consist of two-a-days at the gym and rebuffing his wife’s suggestions for Mexican food. Such is the price for being a novelty wrestler, the preferred term for an act that seldom performs.
Despite his modest tummy paunch, Roc looks healthy. Though he calls himself “old by wrestling standards,” his cleft chin and boyish sideburns help disguise his 37 years of age. Regardless of his physical condition, Roc knows he’ll be anxious before the fight.
“I still get nervous because I care. I want to put on a good show.”
Aside from the match, Roc will also be weary of other obligations. In addition to being a husband, dad, teacher, wrestler and supervisor, he’ll begin his first semester at Indiana Wesleyan University in the fall, where he plans to study business management. He trusts that will lead to a significant pay raise.
Though he’ll be spread thing, Roc has no intention of giving up wrestling. The sport has been good to him. Aside from injuries suffered in the ring (his sciatic nerve still tingles from a bad fall suffered a decade ago), Roc has accomplished what he wanted to do. He has performed at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, the mecca of independent wrestling. Titles were won and fights were had against who inspired him. Roc has wrestled in front of his daughter. He is at peace with his career.
“I didn’t make it to the national level, but I see some of my friends and contemporaries making it,” he says. “And I’m glad to be a part of their success.”
“Every wrestling match, it’s like a TV show,” Roc says. “Every wrestling match should have a beginning, middle and ending.
Before the staycation, however, Billy Roc must pin The Syko Sun for three seconds. It’s the final pseudo-match before the end of practice, a test run in which each wrestler gets into character and employs tactics learned from the day’s lessons.
Roc has cast himself as the heel. He becomes an egotistical brat whose monomania knows no bounds. He sizes up The Syko Sun (real name: Isiah Van Auken) with disdain. He flaunts his black muscle shirt, the phrase “King of Indiana” screen-printed in white across the chest.
“You see this?” he asks. “You want this? You gotta come get it.”
Roc runs to a corner of the ring and hops onto the turnbuckle. He flexes his biceps and pumps his fists in the air. His students mockingly boo him and begin chanting, “Billy Roc sucks!” The teacher pays them no mind. He refocuses his attention on the The Syko Sun, the school’s most inexperienced student.
Roc makes short order of the novice. After a brief stare down, he attacks his student with quickness and poise. The British Lincolnshire is hypnotic. Roc moves about the ring with ease, using his opponent’s appendages as a personal jungle gym. The Syko Sun can’t keep up, his eyes always a second too slow for Roc’s nimbleness. The veteran lets the kid get a few chest slaps in for a measure of good sportsmanship. But, like all professional matches before, the outcome has already been determined. It’s only a matter of time before Roc makes his final move.
As The Skyo Sun throws Roc into the ropes, Roc slides under his enemy, wrapping his right arm around the Sun’s right leg. Roc curls up his victim, pinning his shoulders to the mat. A student serving as the referee makes the count.
1 … 2 … 3.
Roc explodes off the mat, his eyes bulging with joy. He almost stumbles over his feet in a hurried attempt to celebrate. Once he regains his balance, he exclaims with humor and unadulterated joy.
“I’m the greatest wrestler alive!”
The proclamation is so persuasive it’s easy to forget he’s in character at all.
Feature photo by Michael Schrader