The Cobra’s Venom

A&M-Commerce professional wrestler talks splitting the difference between his two lives, responds to critics who say wrestling is fake, and explains why he wouldn’t want to be the next Hulk Hogan.

Andrew Burnes, Editor

It’s almost 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and 22-year-old Sociology/Criminal Justice major Christopher Hope is already in his front row seat for Dr. Martha Hurley’s Sociological Theory class. A big guy with spiky hair and a beard, he mostly keeps his head down and is silent as he prepares for the first day of class. His dress is nothing special, just jeans and tennis shoes, but his black t-shirt is eye-catching. White jaws descend from the shit’s neckline as a red material that could only justifiably be considered blood drip down toward the navel. The design across the back is similarly designed, but this time it spells something: Finn Balor. As we go around the room introducing ourselves and describing “something interesting” about ourselves to our classmates, Hope casually looks up and says “I’m a professional wrestler.”


Wrestling is a partisan topic in America today. After business tycoon Vince McMahon bought up all of the original territories, he launched the WWE, an organization with some of the most controversial history in the world. From steroid scandals to complaints from parents about aggressive and sexual content, the WWE has been through it all, and has stood the test of time as one of America’s most profitable organizations ever.


But things are a little different now. Gone are the days where scantily clad women tried to strip each other in the ring. Hulk Hogan is gone following some uncovered racial dialog last summer. Stone Cold Steve Austin now runs a show called Redneck Island and has a twice-a-week podcast. The Rock is one of the biggest blockbuster movie stars of our generation. Now guys like John Cena,  Randy Orton and Seth Rollins have replaced these all-time greats as they attempt to take the company through some of the lowest ratings they’ve had in 20 years. The edgy content has been replaced with (relatively) family friendly entertainment (provided parents don’t mind their kids watching half-naked sweaty men beat the crap out of each other). The lawsuits are gone. The competition, removed. The mystique of the wresting industry has been largely replaced by the UFC phenomenon where fighters like Ronda Rousey have taken the world by storm. But for die-hard fans, the excitement that comes from watching a great wrestling match still supersedes everything else.


From a young age, Christopher Hope was exactly that. Before he could form sentences, he was watching Shawn Michaels’ Heartbreak Hotel play out as the massive Diesel stood silently in the background. Before his first day of Kindergarten, he was watching Stone Cold Steve Austin raise hell as legendary play-by-play commentator Jim Ross shot a syringe of adrenaline though millions of television sets around the world. But unlike many young fans who eventually outgrow their wrestling fantasies, Christopher Hope’s never went away. If anything, they intensified.


“I was watching before I could understand language,” Hope says with a smile sitting across from me in The East Texan’s newsroom. “I’ve been watching for as long as I can remember.”


However, young wrestling fan Christopher Hope is not the man that steps into the ring. According to Hope, when he puts on his mask and steps into the ring, he’s a completely different person. So is the tradition in Lucha Libre (which translates to “free wrestling” in English), a fast, high-flying style pioneered in Mexico. Luchas famously perform while wearing colorful masks, and they defend them as if they are their most prized possessions. Losing a mask in a professional wrestling match is so taboo that often, it is the final death bell for a man’s career. So sacred is their identity, that nobody can even see a lucha fighter put on or remove their mask; Hope asks me to look away when he puts his on for a photo.


Garbed in black and silver, Hope’s wrestling persona goes by The Cobra. As he begins talking about the man’s backstory, he speaks in third person as if the Cobra is a completely different entity.


“Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, came up fighting MMA and boxing, found no challenges whatsoever in boxing,” Hope says. “He wasn’t in MMA very long; after a couple of fights in MMA, he decided he wanted to go after some real competition. Because ever fighter he’d faced up to that point was… they weren’t sufficient enough to give him a real competition, which is why he got into competition in the first place. He didn’t come in so much with a passion to win as he did with a passion to compete.


I am not him,” Hope says with a suddenly serious face. “He is him and I am me. If you want to speak with him, I have to go grab the guy and he has to come in with his mask and I have to disappear.”


Through a contact who wrestles under the name of Rage, Cobra broke onto the independent wrestling scene in Dallas. He didn’t exactly ingratiate himself to the competition; eager to prove himself he began fighting and attacking anything he saw, especially if they were baby faces, the wrestling lingo for good guys.


“He did nothing but dark,” Hope says with a mischievous grin. “He was straight dark.”


However, Cobra had a change of heart on August 16 when his mentor turned on him, turning Cobra face in the process.


“He didn’t really have a chance to beat the guy,” Hope says. “He knew he had to change something. So he changed. He came in pretty easy to beat, I’m not gonna lie. You could pretty easily beat this guy if you knew what you were doing.”


Dallas Texas Lucha Libre (DTLL) and Dallas Texas Championship Wrestling, the organizations that The Cobra wrestles for, are far from the glitz and glamour of the WWE. With 116 likes on Facebook (including mine), DTLL, based out of the Gaston Bazaar, only has a small audience to reach. The Cobra also finds himself in other venues from time to time, though, including Extreme Mayhem Wrestling in Paris, Texas run under Gene Valdez, a 17-year vet of the business.


Despite the differences between the independent promotion and the WWE, the business remains essentially the same. One of the key points of professional wrestling, which has garnered widespread discussion among alpha-males, is that the business is “fake.” Indeed, the matches in professional wrestling are set with predetermined outcomes and many of the strikes are pulled in order to protect the opponents, but Hope makes it clear that there’s a major difference between being fake and scripted.


“Of course the matches are predetermined,” Hope says. “If you and I were going to have a match, we’d know who was going to win before we walked out there. How we get to that desired outcome? That’s on us. You will decide what you do to me, I will decide what I do to you. Maybe we’re given a time limit, maybe we’re not. We could be the main event, we could be the opening match. We just kind of go with the flow and deal with the hand that we’re dealt. I’ve had 3 to 4 minute matches and absolutely despised them, I’ve had 11 to 12-minute matches and absolutely despised them. I’ve had 3 to 4 minute matches and loved them, 11-12 minute matches and loved them. Depends on who you face, depends on the creativity you employ. The creativity is left up to the competitors.


“There are real dangers associated with wrestling. You can call it fake all you want. When you get hit in the back with a steel chair, it ain’t fake. You get put through a table, the table not be as sturdy as it is sitting behind you holding computers, but you’re still breaking wood with your spine. And that hurts. Your punches and kicks, your typical strikes, they’re rehearsed. I could punch you 20 times and you probably wouldn’t feel it. But if I”m going to pick you up and suplex you from one side of the ring to other, you’re going to feel it when your entire body comes crashing down to that canvas whether you fell 2 feet or fell 10 feet. You’re talking about over 300 pounds of manpower getting picked up and then coming down. Wrestlers are not tiny guys.”


When people put down wrestling around Hope, he, like many others in the business, don’t appreciate it. But his approach to responding to those criticisms differ a bit from others.


“I’ve got to admit I take it a little personal,” Hope says. “But my response toward it is a little different. Most people will start to argue all of the technicals, start throwing facts about how real it is. I don’t do that. Instead, I just tell you to know what you’re saying before you say it. It’s fake? Ok. You do it. Tell me how fake it is. Wrestle me. I’ll show you how fake it is. I’ll show rather than tell you.”


Hope notes that many in America seem to have a double standard toward wrestling. Some argue that it’s way too violent to be on cable television while others talk about how stupid and fake they think it is. There’s very little middle ground. And according to Hope, sometimes those two opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum perspectives come from the same individuals.


“People fall into extremes at the same time,” Hope says. “People will say ‘Wrestling is fake.’ Ok. We’ll put on a show for you here. ‘But it’s too dangerous.’ Wait a minute. That’s a little contradictory, don’t you think. It’s fake, but it’s too dangerous? How is something that’s fake dangerous? Somehow the logic’s not adding up. Wrestling is widely misconcepted. When in reality it is a very physically demanding competitive sport. I call it a sport because, yeah you’ve got to be an athlete to do this stuff.”


An old standby that wrestling is infamous for is that in the case of injury, performers must finish the match. In years past, wrestlers would even continue wrestling multiple matches with a pre-existing injury. Though that kind reckless behavior has largely disappeared from WWE (due, in large part, to issues with former wrestlers and addiction to pain killers), it still exists in the independent scene.


“I can be hurt and get back into the ring,” Hope says with a hint of pride. “that’s just me. I’m used to putting on matches with injuries. I remember once I couldn’t walk. This thing (he gestures toward his left leg) was gone. I wrestled a whole match on it. Didn’t feel a thing while I was out there. Adrenaline rush. As soon as I got to the back, I fell. I ain’t getting up again. You can only do so much. You can push your body to certain limits and even then the adrenaline rush is only going to account for so much. You get your head split, some people will call it quits there even if they’re adrenaline wants them to keep going. Because you just don’t have it left in you.”


Wrestling has always been a notoriously difficult business to get into. From crooked trainers who take money and then sit on it to independent promoters with payouts of less than $10, wrestlers must be truly dedicated to get into the business and stick with it. Add to that multiple hours a day training their bodies so that when it comes time to go in the ring they can go, and it’s a punishing business with little chance for reward. Even so, Hope’s passion for the business burns just as hot today as it did when he first began training.


“I’m not going to go so much into who trained me,” Hope says, “as much as I am how I got lucky enough to break into it. Because you’ve got to have some kind of connection. You could be a five-star talent, but if nobody knows your name, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to book you.’ I had to break in through the independent circuit. That’s what you’ll see in the little towns. The shows in Paris. The shows in Dallas. If I tried to break into something like NXT, WWE, TNA, Ring of Honor, I’ve got no say-so behind my name. And you’ve got to garner some kind of respect in it. A lot of guys say they’re really excited and then two weeks later they’re gone and never come back. The difference is with me is two-and-a-half months of shows and I keep coming back. I come back to train. If I”m going to tell you anything about wrestling without getting in the ring. Cardio. Cardio, cardio, cardio, cardio, cardio. And more cardio. Do cardio in your sleep! Cardio. Because you’re going to 100 miles an hour fresh out of the gate and you’re going to keep going that speed until you get done.


If you want my honest opinion, I think training is harder than actual matches. I’ll go to training, especially with Dallas Texas Lucha Libre and spend three hours flipping around the ring. Come back, can’t feel my body at all. Then I have a match on Sunday and I feel fine. Training is where the accidents happen most of the time. Because that’s where you’re trying something you don’t know. They tell you to run to the corner, jump over the top rope and land on the ring apron. What if you split your legs too much and land on the ropes? Those things aren’t ropes. They’re steel cables with plastic over it. Landing on those ropes hurts. I did it once. I didn’t walk right for two days. And that happened in training. Not a match.”


Hope even trained a short stint with professional wrestling legend Jeff Jarrett who wrestled for both WWF and WCW and was behind the start up of small-time wrestling brands TNA (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling) and now Global Force Wrestling. Even after all of this work, Cobra has only been an active wrestler for about four months, though Hope himself has been a part of sporadic competition for years with “well over two dozen matches” under his belt. Just breaking onto the scene as a new face, this is perhaps the most exciting time for Hope as a wrestler and will be a huge determinant in how the rest of his, and Cobra’s, career will progress. Every match, according to Hope, is a learning experience. It all comes down to one simple premise: respect.


“You learn to respect every single person that steps into that ring,” Hope says. “Wrestling is a huge respect game. You don’t have to like everything about his life. But the fact that they decided to get into that ring and do the same thing that you’re doing, entertaining a crowd and putting butts in the seats, you’ve got to respect that. Everything they do is extremely dangerous; they take risks just like you do. Every wrestler takes a risk.”


But of those more than two dozen, does Hope have a favorite?


“Absolutely!” he says enthusiastically. “It was August 15 in a match against a man called Cazador de Demunos. Translated in Spanish, The Demon Hunter. Yeah, you can guess who went into this the bad guy. But we were both wearing black and silver. Cazador’s a great guy to work with; he’s a very safe competitor. I remember throwing finishers back and forth at the end of the match and barely kicking out. I remember a match that the crowd was actually invested in. I remember a moment right after the match when Cazador’s manager, a guy named Donovan Darco (who is really just a huge fan of wrestling in reality is a good friend of mine) gets in the ring and shoves Cazador’s championship belt in Cobra’s face. He tells Cobra that that’s about as close to that championship as he’s ever going to get. And then he tells Cazador to unmask the Cobra. Cobra wouldn’t let it happen, hit Cazador with a finisher and rolled out of the ring. It evoked crowed emotion. Matches that bring out the feelings of the crowd will always stand out as my favorites. And that was a double countout victory. Wins and losses don’t really matter for me. Which one was the most fun to put on? That’s what matters.”


Two matches stand out for Hope as his favorites that he’s ever seen. Both took place in the WWE and both involved the legendary Undertaker, one of the greatest performers in the history of professional wrestling. One is Undertaker’s infamous Hell in a Cell match with Mankind at King of the Ring 1998 which saw Mankind thrown off the top of the 16-foot high structure only for him to get up and get thrown through it in an unplanned spot crashing to the mat below. The other took place at The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania, the biggest show of the wrestling year (often cited as the Superbowl of wrestling). At that event, The Undertaker defended his undefeated streak at “The Grandest Stage of Them All” against Shawn Michaels, the man often considered the greatest all around performer of all time.


Although he is an avid follower of WWE, having watched it his entire life, Hope surprisingly says that making it to the WWE is not his primary goal. In fact, if the deal was not he table, he’s not even sure he’d take it.


“The wrestling that I want to do that’s going to make the most of a difference is not in the WWE,” Hope says. “It is not in TNA. It’s not in Ring of Honor. It’s not in NXT. I may consider a stint in NXT some years down the road, because if I was going to wrestle for any big entity I would wrestle for NXT. At least there I’d be getting to work with some of the best talent in the world who are just on the brink off being the greatest thing on the planet.


“The type of wrestling that I want to do is local shows and small or big cities that are at the same place at the same time every week. You’re independent wrestling circuit is where I want to stay. Why? Too many politics. Look at Hulk Hogan. He had a bad sting on the radio, he doesn’t exist anymore. Interesting how something like that works. I don’t want to just become nonexistent because I had a bad day. I want to make a difference where I do things. So my main career is not going to be wrestling. My main career is going to be related to my degree. Because that’s going to fall in line with one of my bigger life goals. I want to find somebody that’s right for me. I want to live the American Dream. A wife and a child and a beautiful home. That’s what I want to aim for. The wrestling that I want to do that’s going to make a real difference is not going to fund that. But my passion is there. So I will continue to compete despite how little I get paid.”


Even if he got a call from HHH, the man who runs NXT and said that he was going to make Cobra the next big thing, Hope would still have reservations.


“Am I going to be the next Finn Balor or am I going to be the next Hulk Hogan?” Hope asks. “Because if I’m going to be the next Hulk Hogan, I’m not interested. Do you realize what that means? I’m not saying I can’t do it. Of course I know I can do it. But I don’t want to. Thirty years I would live on the road. I wouldn’t have a hometown because I wouldn’t have a home! I wouldn’t have a family the way I want it. Because I’d never even get to see them. That would rip me to shreds.”


Hope has a message for anyone reading this story about the difference between himself and his character in addition to anyone interested in getting involved with the business.


“You know who I am if you’re reading this story,” he says. “I’m not the best person to help get you started. I’m not some big ring vet. But don’t get the wrong impression of me. I was an evil guy for months. Now I’m a good guy. I don’t care if I’m a good guy or a bad guy. You see me on campus with the mask on or without. Talk to me. I’m not going to bite your hand off. I’m not evil. Wrestlers aren’t like that. The fans make and break their careers. The catch is: when someone’s in character at least respect that. Don’t refer to them as a personality. Because that’s not who they are. They’re somebody different.


“I live both sides of my life 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It gets tiring. You can talk to either one and I can talk from both perspectives. But don’t think I’m evil just because I’m a wrestler. Fairness gets fairness. Respect gets respect. Given. Earned.”