published Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Kennedy: Hey Lawler: Want some of this?

Jeff Mendenhall, 39, has biceps the size of frozen turkeys.

He carries 225 pounds on his 5-foot-6-inch frame, and he can bench press 405 pounds.

His vision was damaged in a hospital oxygen unit shortly after his birth. Consequently, only his right eye connects. His left eye circles.

Mr. Mendenhall’s goal in life is to grapple with professional wrestling legend Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Wedged into his tiny office at Chattanooga State Technical Community College, Mr. Mendenhall, an assistant professor of public speaking, looks like Bluto in a phone booth.

His phone rings constantly.

Brrr-ing: A student calls to get a pep talk on his homework.

Brrr-ing: A former student wants to know how to negotiate a better grade with another teacher.

“Once you take one of my classes, I’m at your service for life,” he explains between calls.

Jeff Mendenhall is a busy man.

He says that his employment history sometimes leaves fellow faculty members and students bewildered. He is, or has been, a college instructor, a disc jockey, a political-campaign consultant, a stand-up comic and a professional wrestler. “White-trash dinner theater,” he proudly calls pro wrestling, which has become his hobby.

One of his bosses recently remarked, “I knew you brought a lot to the table, Jeff. I didn’t know you could fall through it.”

Since he was a kid growing up in Vincennes, Ind., Mr. Mendenhall has idolized professional wrestlers, especially those based in Memphis such as Lawler.

About five years ago Mr. Mendenhall agreed to help a couple of Chattanooga State students who were announcing professional wrestling matches in Dalton, Ga. A promoter there noticed his muscled physique. He asked if Mr. Mendenhall had ever though of trying professional wrestling himself.

“I always assumed I was too small,” he said.

A walk-on wrestler in college, Mr. Mendenhall agreed to try training to perform in a small wrestling show in Trion, Ga. Friday night he organized a show at Chattanooga’s National Guard Armory to benefit Toys for Tots.

He compensated for his vision impairment — he is legally blind — with a gyroscopic sense of balance. His physical toughness is also a plus.

“I have this talent,” he explains. “I can basically bounce on concrete.”

Now, he wrestles a couple of times a week.

Like most professional wrestlers, Mr. Mendenhall has an alter ego. In the ring he is Sir Charles Elsworth, a thuggish former rugby player who was supposedly exiled from England for unsportsmanlike conduct — specifically, attacking an opponent’s mother.

“I went upside her head, I did,” Mr. Mendenhall brags, shifting into a cockney accent.

He cues up a YouTube clip of himself lifting a 6-foot-9-inch, 350-pound giant. Not only does he lift the monster on his shoulders, he executes a running somersault. Then, he pops up and waves to cheering spectators who have paid perhaps $5 apiece to see mayhem.

“And that’s bloody entertainment,” he says with a courtly wave of his arm.

And indeed it is, Sir Charles.

  • Video: Pro wrestler
    Jeff Mendenhall, 39, has biceps the size of frozen turkeys. He carries 225 pounds on his 5-foot-6-inch frame, and he can bench press 405 pounds. His vision was damaged in a hospital oxygen unit shortly after his birth. Consequently, only his right eye connects. His left eye circles. Mr. Mendenhall's goal in life is to grapple with professional wrestling legend Jerry "The King" Lawler.
about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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