Louis Long was bullied growing up on Buffalo’s West Side. He had 11 bicycles stolen from him by his 21st birthday, though Grandpa kept buying them.
By that point, Long was fed up. So when three men came up behind him, grabbed his backpack, punched him in the face, and tried to steal his wallet – an ordinary occurrence – Long decided to take a stand.
He let out a yell and put the leader into a sleeper hold. The other two ran away, terrified, and the assailant followed suit once Long let him go.
“I held him like an anaconda snake,” Long said. “I fought back. I could feel his voice on my arm as he tried to scream.”
He could feel it, but he couldn’t hear it.
Now 37 and better known by his wrestling name, Silent Warrior, Long has been fighting back ever since. The Buffalo resident battles stereotypes and doubters as he strives to become the first-ever deaf World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler.
In 2012, Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked Long No. 495 in the world. The St. Mary’s School for the Deaf alumnus knows there is a long way to go until he tangles with the likes of Triple H and John Cena.
“Growing up, I always wanted to become a wrestler,” said Long, who was captain of his school’s varsity soccer, basketball, and track and field teams. “I want to show the world deaf people can roll up their sleeves and do these kinds of things. My goal is to educate others that deaf people can compete. There’s a huge lineup of people waiting to get into the WWE, but I want to show we can do this.”
There is no exact route to making the WWE. Some wrestlers have a connection in the industry and just about all WWE athletes reach that level because of how they look (the ideal appearance is 6-foot-8, ripped, and roughly 270 pounds) and what they can do in the ring.
Correspondence with the WWE communications department reveals a list of criteria for making the company, but nothing too specific. Some of the expectations are “3-5 years of professional wrestling experience or the athleticism, size and charisma to become a star” and “1-3 years training at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Fla.”
Perhaps the two most detrimental to Long are “strong communication skills” and “the ability to listen and learn.” Long communicates through sign language, email and hand-written letters, and he does not read lips.
Unable to communicate verbally but a beacon of joy nonetheless, he often ends his emails with “High Five, Louis.”
Long, ever the optimist, holds tight to his goal. For now, he is just looking to move up the rankings and gain exposure. There are several ways to win a match, and the most famous is pin fall, which involves holding an opponent’s shoulders down against the wrestling mat. Unlike professional wrestling, which requires a three-count, amateur wrestling requires just a one-count to win a match.
He sports a constant, warm smile that counters his tightly shaved head, the finest black grains just poking out from his scalp, and imposing 6-2, 220-pound frame.
“When hearing people say, ‘you can’t do this or that,’ I want to demonstrate I can,” Long said. “I want to prove to deaf people we can do it.”
Long traveled to Japan and won the MATA Wrestling Championship in November 2011. He successfully defended that title for 12 months. Though he is not yet sure when he’ll have his next match, Long will compete in Tokyo, Manila and London in 2014.
Long rides his bike to Pride Martial Arts Academy in Williamsville once a week and lifts weights and swims at LA Fitness four times a week. He still lives on the West Side with his grandmother, Anna Cook, who has raised him since he was 14.
“He’s so proud of being a wrestler,” Cook, 80 years old and 4-foot-10, said on the front porch with her excitable cockapoo, Poodles, on her lap. “He’s very independent and wants to do things on his own.”
The house’s walls are covered with photos of Long wrestling and interacting with fans, the frames barely hanging on nails, waiting to fall any minute and begging to be adjusted.