A 4-year-old Batman with a blanket cape grapples with his 2-year-old brother, who’s wearing wristbands. Their three cousins toss around a few of the 200-plus wrestling figurines scattered throughout the house. A sister loads laundry and washes dishes, trying to keep the house in order. A wife studies entomology because she won’t have time for homework while she babysits other people’s children at work tomorrow.
So why does Josh Sievers only notice the TV?
For Sievers, World Wrestling Entertainment's "Monday Night Raw" is the most important event of the week. It gives Sievers a few hours a week to share excitement with his kids. "Raw" allows him to call his dad after a big match and find an excuse to have something to discuss.
And it gives Sievers inspiration.
While most aspiring astronauts and pro quarterbacks wind up as mid-level accountants and salesmen, Sievers never quit chasing his dream. He wants to compete at WrestleMania, the Super Bowl of wrestling, even if pursuing his goal means sacrificing his body and his family’s stability. Sievers will risk injury and being away from his wife and kids because he wants to lather up with baby oil and brawl muscular, spandex-wearing behemoths in a choreographed manner fit for a soap opera. And he’s damned serious about it.
That’s why Sievers studies wrestling moves the same way Peyton Manning breaks down opposing defensive coverages.
“I’m always thinking about wrestling,” Sievers said. “I’m obsessive about it. But I need that mentality if I want to get where I want to be. That’s why it’s my life, and not just a hobby.”
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After Sievers lost his job at Subway this past year, his wife, Angel, told him to use the time off to chase his dream, rather than just look for another job. At age 24, it’s now or never if you seriously want to go after it, she said.
“My comment … was meant for encouragement to follow his dream, but also as a way to get him out of the house and excited about something again,” she said.
The plan was for Sievers to spend his time improving his wrestling skills -- wrestling a buddy, practicing his persona in the mirror, watching video -- while applying for jobs and watching their two kids. Angel would keep the family afloat, working at a daycare while also going to school full-time to chase her own dream of becoming an elementary school teacher.
So with his wife’s blessing, Sievers entered a wrestling training camp in Hastings a year ago. Sievers wrestled in a ring for the first time -- something he’d dreamed of since childhood.
“After it was done, I felt at peace,” he said. “I felt at home in the ring. And I was really excited. And sore, for, like, three days. A lot of people don’t have ambition or desire to chase after something they love. Stepping in the ring gave me confidence that I can do whatever I want to do.”
Though Sievers always dreamed of getting in the ring and had acquired a storehouse of knowledge about the sport, stepping into the ring for the first time didn’t come easy. After turning off I-80 near Hastings, anxiety overtook him. He feared he’d humiliate himself trying to imitate guys such as the Undertaker and Hulk Hogan, whom he grew up idolizing. So to limit potential damage to his reputation, he only told his wife about the camp.
“I kept it secret from everyone, because I was a little worried I might suck,” he said.
But he didn’t. Following the camp, the owner of Nebraska Organized Wrestling, a Lincoln wrestling group, recruited Sievers.
In the next seven months, Sievers earned a belt and a small cable-access TV audience before he decided to take his commitment to another level and participate in independent wrestling shows.
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Sievers serves as his own agent.
Unlike standout former college football players, there are no agents pursuing up-and-coming wrestlers and paying for their training.
That’s why Sievers shows up 3-4 hours before independent shows. For $30 and help setting up the ring, Sievers gets a few hours training in front of promoters and owners who can later book him lucrative matches, some that pay enough for gas money to the event.
If Sievers wants professional training, he needs to pay an even higher premium. Wrestling camps run by big-name former superstars such as "Nasty Boy" Brian Knobbs, Booker T and the Dudley Boyz can run more than $1,000 per month. To cut costs, many wrestlers opt for cheaper, lesser-known trainers.
For $400 a month, Sievers plans to join a new wrestling school, Midwest Entertainment Wrestling, where he'll learn from guys who trained with legends such as Knobbs, Hogan and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
“In this industry, you gotta pay to get paid,” Sievers said.
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While wrestling brought Sievers closer to his dad and kids, it also drives his family apart, as it does for most wrestlers.
He moved to Wichita, Kan., in November to live with a trainer and pursue wrestling. His days consist of working 8 to 5, so that he can send money back home to support his family, followed by a wrestling night class and several hours working out.
“As a mom, my biggest concern is for stability in my children's lives,” Angel said. “I had to move around a lot as a child and I don't want my children to experience that. … I would rather make a few sacrifices and keep our family together than the alternative.”
To get fans riled up, Sievers utilizes a cocky persona. His gimmick is “Mr. Nebraska” -- a sports jacket-wearing egomaniac so fixated on the Huskers that people in other states are obligated to hate him. But sons JC and Tyler don’t buy it. They adore Mr. Nebraska. That’s why they pretend their well-dressed WWE announcer action figure, Taz, is Mr. Nebraska. It’s why they shout, “Mr. Nebraska! Mr. Nebraska!” when asked their favorite wrestler.
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Though no central agency tracks independent wrestling stats, Sievers said more than 1,000 indie wrestlers are trying to make WWE’s 70-man roster. And those who gain fame face constant pressure to bulk up their bodies. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a chiseled 260 pounds. Even Chris Jericho, who often wrestled in the lightweight division, weighs 225 pounds. Sievers, at this point, weighs about 200 and looks more like a pizza delivery man.
And though the action is scripted, injuries aren’t. Pro wrestling's high-flying, body-pounding nature can end careers prematurely and cause nagging injuries. Since Sievers started wrestling, he’s seen knee braces, softball-sized bruises and men struggling to walk after matches.
But for all the danger, the biggest risk, the one Sievers can’t afford to take, is passively going after his dream. Or even worse, not even pursuing it all.
So even if he doesn’t make it as a wrestler, he won’t give up. He says he'll referee, he’ll announce. And he’ll write, like he did when he created a wrestling blog, scripting fictional matches. He says he'll even be a roadie if it means he gets to be a part of the show.
“Sometimes I doubt Josh will be making enough money off wrestling alone to support our family and that is stressful, but he is a fighter and won't give up on his dream,” Angel said. “But I am hopeful that he will be happy and safe. That's all that matters. Ultimately, he would like to be signed by a big company like WWE or even TNA, so I support him in going for that dream. As long as we have each other we will be OK. That makes life a little less scary.”