His face had reddened. His eyes had begun to roll back. His tongue lolled from the side of his mouth and his chin, covered by a golden goatee, was quivering.
The vice grip hold on his head and neck had Jake Crist looking as if he was going to submit.
Outside the ring, Jake’s wife Nevaeh – her long hair streaked blond, her black skull t-shirt slit across the back, a pained expression on her face – began to smack her palms on the ring apron and chant “Jake…Jake…Jake.”
The cry was soon picked up by the small but raucous crowd — a colorful, disparate group that included everybody from a mountainous taxi driver named Cabbie Joe to a Wright State communication department administrative specialist — that had made the weekly pilgrimage to this darkened theater of the absurd on East Third Street Wednesday night.
No one was more fervent than 9-year-old Brooklynn Crist, who wore a shirt with her daddy’s ring name on the front and the claim “Breaking Teeth Since 2001” on the back. Sitting in the front row, she pounded her fists on her knees and in a little-girl’s high-pitched voice joined the chorus: “Jake… Jake… Jake.”
The urging — having the same energizing effect as a stream of spinach did on an open-mouthed Popeye — fueled Jake for his phoenix-like rise. He broke free from Relentless Ron Mathis, suddenly sent a pair of roundhouse kicks into his rival’s mug and hurled him through the ropes.
Before Mathis knew what hit him, Nevaeh wrapped her arms around him and flipped him backward over her head — a perfect German suplex — for a face plant onto the floor and the black-and-blue reminder that when you tangle with this husband and wife:
There can’t be another sports couple in the Miami Valley quite like Jake and Nevaeh.
Former school-kid sweethearts at Tecumseh High (where they were then known as John Crist and Beth Vocke, a five-sport star for the Arrows), they are longtime pro wrestlers, as is Jake’s brother Dave, who is currently touring the country with the hip hop show, the Insane Clown Posse
Sometimes they all work the same shows, other times they are in different cities and even different countries.
This weekend Jake wrestled in Chicago on Friday and then had a rare Saturday night off as he readied for a wrestling tour of Japan that begins Tuesday. Nevaeh, meanwhile, wrestled Friday and Saturday night in Memphis before hustling back to get Brooklynn ready for Monday’s third-grade classes and her own nursing studies at the Beavercreek branch of Clark State.
“We are a pretty rare breed,” Jake said with a grin. “We’re not your typical couple.”
That was never more evident than over Mother’s Day last weekend.
The couple made their monthly trek to Voorhees, N.J., for a wrestling double-header.
Several other guys on the Combat Zone Wrestling show, some from as far away as Iowa and Indianapolis, met them at their East Dayton home Friday night about midnight and they all piled into a rented van and drove 10 hours straight to New Jersey.
For the first time ever Jake and Nevaeh were wrestling two matches as a tag team and then they’d each have their own match at another show.
But during that second bout, Nevaeh tried a leaping move off the top rope and immediately felt her left knee cap slide completely out of place. It was the same knee that had required three surgeries during high school and derailed her time with the Dayton Lady HoopStars.
“I was in pain, but I tried to hide it and finish the match,” she said.
“I never knew ‘til it was over,” Jake admitted.
“That’s when I told him, ‘You’ve got to carry me back to the dressing room,’ ” Nevaeh said. “I braced it up as best as I could and then wrestled again that night. If you don’t, you don’t get paid. But by the end of the night I couldn’t bend me knee.”
At 2 a.m. Sunday morning, the group piled back into the van and made the long return trip to Dayton.
“Every bump I hit on the turnpike, I could see her wince in her sleep,” Jake said. “It was rough, and when we finally got back we were pretty dead, but we did celebrate Mother’s Day.”
Nevaeh smiled: “Brooklynn had a big bouquet of yellow roses for me and he had gotten me a new pair of gym shoes.”
More importantly, though, she had gotten a nap, an ice pack and some ibuprofen.
A rough start
“I don’t think Beth’s parents liked me at first,” Jake said with a laugh. “I showed up weighing all of 110 pounds (he’s 210 now), I was wearing ICP (Insane Clown Posse) merchandise and I had long hair. I think if my daughter ever brought home a kid like me now, that guy would be gone.”
Beth was 15 when they met. He was 16.
“With us it was a case of opposites attract,” Jake said. “She was the good athlete, the basketball girl, an honor student, but I didn’t pay too much attention to grades. I had tunnel vision. Just like my brother, I was only interested in wrestling.
“Dave built a ring in welding class at Tecumseh and we put that in my buddy’s barn on Milton- Carlisle Road. We had our own shows out there, charged $2 and would get a couple of hundred people.”
When it came to his initial courtship of Beth, Jake stuck with his wrestling script.
“I challenged her to a wrestling match,” he said with a shrug. “I was pretty small then and she held her own.”
That was 12 years ago and along with becoming teen parents, holding fulltime jobs — Jake worked nine years at Wright State — and Beth’s studies, they are still wrestling. In fact, now more than ever.
In the beginning Jake said he switched his name from John because he thought it was took common. Beth chose Nevaeh, which is heaven spelled backward.
Getting a new name was easy. Getting paid sometimes was not.
“It’s just now that I’m making a decent living with wrestling,” Jake said. “But when you first start it’s rough.”
He told of an early trip to Phoenix, where he drove 32 hours straight, performed and then got stiffed.
“The promoter lost his rear end and he said afterward, ‘Hey, I’ve got no money.’ What can you do when you’re a kid? It hasn’t happened recently but when you’re young, you’re sometimes lucky if you get a hotdog, a Coke and a handshake thanking you for your hard work.”
Although it’s different now, back then he had no insurance either. “I hurt my shoulder early on and I couldn’t afford a doctor,” he said. “It still bothers me now.”
Jake and Dave — who initially started as Crazy J and Lotus — worked their way through various wrestling associations in the Midwest until they hooked up with Combat Zone Wrestling and went with the Crist name. Associated now with ICP, as well, they sometimes wrestle with masks as the Ring Rydas.
Jake said he might wrestle four times a week all around the country and Wednesday nights, when he’s in town, he’s part of the weekly show at the RockStar Pro Wrestling Arena, a converted tool shop at 1106 East Third Street in Dayton.
He, his wife, and brother, along with Bellefontaine’s Sami Callahan, have started their own wrestling stable called Oi4K. They have a website, sell merchandise and are accompanied to the ring by a sing-song chant of the crowd that resembles Ohio State’s signature “OH..IO.”
And what does Oi4k mean?
Jake smiled and shrugged: “Ohio is for Killers. I know it sounds completely horrible but it’s not like we’re out there as convicted felons or we’re murdering people.
“My brother came up with it. He’s big into horror flicks and did some research and found Ohio has more serial killers than any place. I know it sounds pretty sick, but it fits an over-the-top character. And people have gotten into it.
“We wrestled in Germany and the whole crowd turned it into one of their soccer chants. And the way we use it, we tell each other before a match, ‘Alright, go out there and kill it.’ Give it everything you got and that’s what we try to do.”
Wednesday night, as Jake sat in a cluttered closet that doubles as a dressing room and waited for his match, he taped up his sore shoulder and listened to the frenzied roars of the crowd — some of whom had tailgated in the parking lot before the show — as they were accompanied by the thudding metallic sounds of bodies being slammed about in the ring.
Still struggling with a sore knee, Nevaeh was taking the night off and would act as her husband’s escort to the ring.
“I know this is going to sound hokey but a big reason I do this is for the crowd,” Jake said. “Listen to them out there. People really get into it and it makes you want to give everything you have.”
Over in his quarters, the heavily-tattooed Mathis, a 28-year-old from Chillicothe, said what he likes most about being a wrestler is “you can mix athleticism with this larger-than-life personality who does super-human feats. It’s pretty wild.”
One by one the undercard wrestlers — the Great American Beast, Superstar Gee Gee, Aerial Obesity, Cincinnati Shogun — entertained the crowd, but everyone was especially waiting for the main event.
They knew Jake would be headed to Japan, a big break for an indie wrestler from here, and they wanted to give him a sendoff.
Nate Karn, a Sidney insurance agent who has a weekly internet wrestling talk show, said the Oi4K wrestlers are “the pinnacle of wrestling.”
“Jake and Dave are the best,” he said. “They know how to tell a story inside the ring. And (Nevaeh) is the same. She’s not just some kind of eye candy, like you see on TV. She can fight with the guys. And I’ll be truthful, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on TV one day.”
Tracey Hill, the WSU communication department specialist, agreed: “Oi4k is what pro wrestling should be. They have the charisma, the moves, the passion. They are the whole package.”
Her words were prophetic.
When Jake and Mathis finally squared off, they battered each other — mixing technical ground work with high-flying theatrics off the top ropes — for 30 minutes nonstop and had the crowd chanting “This is … awesome!”
When time expired they then wrestled an extra five minutes, then another two until Jake ended the debate with a twombstone pile driver off the ropes.
As the crowd serenaded them with “Match of the Year!” the two men retired to their quarters and while some of the match certainly was scripted, there was no hiding that both were fully spent … and aching.
In the privacy of his dressing room, Jake gingerly rubbed his shoulder and whispered, “Man, this is killing me.”
Brooklynn was waiting at the door for her folks and that brought to mind one last question.
What if she wants to follow mom and dad into the ring?
“Absolutely not,” said Jake.
“I’d push her to get a college education first,” said Nevaeh.
Jake nodded, “Besides, she loves animals. She wants to be a vet, not a wrestler.”
Although Brooklynn agreed, she beamed at the mention of her folks: “No other kid has a mom and dad like mine. I think it’s pretty special.”
Jake laughed, “Yeah, she gets to stay up late on Wednesday nights just to watch her dad get his butt kicked.”
With the sweat still pouring down his face, he reached up and winced as he pulled the last of the tape from his sholulder.
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