Puppet - The Psycho Dwarf stands just 4 feet 4 inches tall, but nevertheless commands the spotlight when he walks into a room. He has a gravelly Chicago accent and weighs 178 pounds. Under his Chicago Bulls stocking cap, his forehead is pockmarked with dozens of dents - the result of what he calls "Staple Gun Death Matches."
At 37, Puppet, the owner and leader of the Half Pint Brawlers, an all-midget wrestling federation, is the sport's latest entrepreneur. The crew has sold thousands of copies of its first DVD, "Half Pint Brawlers Vol. 1," and just signed a deal with Pay-Per-View for their next four releases. There's also been talk about a reality show starring the group.
The Brawlers could be bound for superstardom.
Saturday night they made their first stop in Alaska with a three-hour performance at Marlintini's Lounge.
Chilkoot Charlie's in Anchorage has hosted some in-state midget wrestlers over the years, but this is believed to be the first time an out-of-state midget wrestling federation has come to Alaska.
"We love our jobs," Puppet said. "We get drunk, we go wrestle and we pick up chicks. What else is there in life? We have a lot of opportunities here."
Saturday's showplace was filled to capacity, and the appeal was obvious. They're midgets who wrestle.
But they also wrestle outside the ring. In the main event, Puppet and Justice - The Midget Prosecutor (4 feet 4 inches tall) dragged each other through spectators for a spectacular series of piledrivers and suplexes off bar tables and chairs.
Eventually they ended back in the ring for the surreal death match. The crowd showered the ring with wadded-up dollar bills, while Puppet loomed over Justice with an industrial staple gun. He nailed a bill just over Justice's right eyebrow that appeared to open a nasty cut, much to the crowd's delight. Later, Justice miraculously recovered, taking down Puppet and stapling a dollar bill to his lower lip. It stuck there, until it was ripped away.
"I'd seen the video, so I knew they're unpredictable about what they do," said owner Ethan Billings. "I have confidence in them, because they've been doing it for a number of years. They're not like some fly-by-night group."
Puppet, 37, wrestled in high school and was a stand-up comic for years. In the mid-1990s he caught on as a personality on Mancow's Morning Madhouse, a national radio show broadcast out of Chicago. He performed various stunts on remote, once attempting to break the world record for longest time spent by a midget in a running dryer.
A Chicago wrestling federation persuaded him to get into professional wrestling. They sent him to a school to train, then flew in another midget to wrestle him. The show was a hit, and Puppet was inspired to start his own midget wrestling company. Eight years ago on a 15-below January night in Chicago, he held his first show at Slugger's, a popular bar across the street from Wrigley Field. It completely sold out.
Teo the World's Smallest Extreme Athlete, 24, is the shortest of the crew at 3-foot-6. He grew up in Gary, Ind., and started working in construction after high school. In his spare time, he went to wrestling school. He quickly caught on as a sidekick to full-size wrestlers.
Teo met Puppet a little over six years ago and joined his all-midget wrestling federation. The crew had five midgets and two full-sized wrestlers and began to criss-cross the country in a van.
"I really didn't know what I was getting myself into," Teo said. "I grew up in a small town and I just loved to travel. I was getting paid to see new places and have a good time."
The Brawlers got their big break a few years ago when professional wrestling legend Randy "Macho Man" Savage saw them perform. He was impressed and helped them get their first pay-per-view show.
Midget wrestling has a long, sordid history, but for the most part it's always been cloaked in vaudeville or as an accessory to the main event. The Montreal-born Sky Low Low stood just 3-foot-6 and gained some notoriety in the 1940s and 1950s. A handful of other midget wrestlers are all in the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
In the United States, midget wrestling peaked in popularity in the 1970s. The Half Pint Brawlers seem to have brought it back.
They tour across the country virtually nonstop. They've performed with most of the major wrestling organizations in the world and have opened for bands such as Kid Rock and Powerhouse 5000. They've sold more than 6,000 copies of their first DVD, a combination of hardcore wrestling, stunts and Girls Gone Wild.
"In professional wrestling, the fans are 16 feet away," Puppet said. "We go outside the ring. You get to see midgets jumping off the bar in front of people. We're the only midget wrestling company in the world that does the hardcore stuff."
The Half Pint Brawlers have their detractors. The not-for-profit organization Little People of America has urged Puppet to use the politically-correct phrase "little people" instead of the word "midget."
"Nobody's going to come out and see 'little people,'" Puppet said. "I don't want to be called a little person. I'm a large person. I own the company, and that's what America is about. You use what you've got in the world. People say why are you using the word 'midget?' It's not a hateful word. I'm not ashamed of being a midget. I'm not ashamed of being a dwarf. I love who I am. We're going to be in the spotlight, because no matter what, everyone's going to look at us. So why not create something with it?"
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