Lance Cardoza hangs outside the Lucha Xtreme dressing room decked out in a full tuxedo, which seems out of place in the catacomb of hallways beneath Chukchansi Park.
Cardoza isn't sure of his role in the night's event, set to begin just after the Fresno Grizzlies game, but he is Lucha Xtreme's president, CEO and commissioner and that means he may have to step in if there are any problems during the matches. He needs to look good for this special promotional event, held after the Grizzlies game on Aug. 14.
"There are some problem makers," Cardoza says, his smile hinting at the ensuing theatrics. "It's what they call an angle in the business."
That business is professional wrestling, and fans can get a double dose of it in the next two weeks, starting with WWE Live Sunday night at the Save Mart Center. Lucha Xtreme then will stage its Battle for the Gold tour Aug. 30 at the Hanford Civic Center Auditorium.
Lucha Xtreme is one of the few independent wrestling organizations to televise its events. It broadcasts at 9 p.m. Saturdays on KAIL (Channel 7.1) and has on-demand viewing and monthly pay-per-view matches on its website, www.luchaxtreme.com.
The organization is affiliated with Fresno's Pro Wrestling Training Center and serves as a farm league for the larger wrestling organizations, Cardoza says. Mostly that's World Wrestling Entertainment.
WWE is the standard-bearer for the industry — an entertainment and television franchise that stages about 320 events each year and has launched the careers of superstars such as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and John Cena.
Cena will be on hand for the WWE Live event Sunday night. WWE consistently draws some of the arena's largest crowds and has loyal fans, including Lucha Xtreme wrestlers like "Money" Mike Rayne.
"Every week, I can't wait for (WWE's) Monday Night Raw," says Rayne, who moved to Fresno 10 years ago to train to become a professional wrestler.
He would like to make it to WWE. He's tried out and has worked as an extra during local live tapings. But the opportunities are scarce.
"There's only so many spots up there," Rayne says.
Still, he is a professional wrestler. He travels hundreds of miles each weekend to compete with independent outfits like Lucha Extreme. It's a lot like a touring stand-up comic or musician, he says. There's plenty of carpooling with other wrestlers.
When he's not traveling, Rayne is in the gym three or more hours each day doing drills and working on his cardio. That's when he's not too beat up to train.
Wrestling matches may be staged, but the athleticism and danger are real.
JR Kratos — who wrestles as the God of War — broke both wrists and his foot while in the ring. The Grizzlies match was his first time back since the injury, although the cast he wore was just a prop, which he played up to get sympathy from the fans.
That kind of acting is as important as the action, says Kratos, whose name fits his physique. He was a body builder and boxer before he started wrestling professionally 21/2 years ago. Recently, he returned from a private tryout at the WWE's training facility in Florida.
Kratos follows the WWE superstars both as a fan and a student.
"You're always studying, always trying to evolve your character," he says.
Being a pro wrestler is more than knowing how to take a hit or getting smashed into the mat without blacking out, Cardoza says. With Lucha Xtreme, wrestlers learn how to develop a character and tell a story while in the ring. It's something WWE owner Vince McMahon excels at doing.
"I look at what Vince does and what WWE does. They transcended pop culture when they did Wrestlemania 1," Cardoza says.
"Really, their story is our story. We modeled what we do after a huge, successful company."
The big difference here is the working budget.
"We're not WWE," he says. "But we sign guys to WWE."
WWE Live, 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, at the Save Mart Center, $18-$98, (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com
Lucha Xtreme, Battle for the Gold tour, 7 p.m. Aug. 30, Hanford Civic Center Auditorium, 400 N. Douty St., Hanford, $10-$25, (559) 321-7982, www.luchaxtreme.com