The lure of the ring

Chris Daniels might dress like a priest, but don’t be fooled by the black shirt and white collar.

The outfit is part of his professional wrestling gimmick, and whenever his flock of 400-plus wrestling fans sees him enter the arena, a chorus of boos breaks out.

Daniels likes breaking "the code of honor," which requires wrestlers to shake hands before and after matches. But when Ring of Honor Wrestling makes its monthly return to Murphy Recreation Center at Fourth and Shunk streets Saturday night, he might finally repent for his sins.

If he loses, Daniels will be forced to shake his opponent’s hand. If the bad guy manages to win, his opponent will never be allowed to shake hands again.

Daniels’ saga and other suspenseful story lines started developing in February when the Langhorne-based Ring of Honor held its first-ever house show at Murphy Rec. Gabe Sapolsky, a booker with the organization who writes the monthly shows, said Murphy provides a great atmosphere.

"We are not a big company, so we wanted an intimate setting," said Sapolsky, of Broad and Reed streets. "Everybody has a ringside seat."

The recreation center can hold 500 fans and, so far, four of the six shows have sold out. Tickets are $15 apiece, and $10 for students with ID.

Rec Leader III Gary McNulty said the center has used the money from rental fees to paint the fence and help cover the costs for its tot soccer program.

McNulty approves of the program as good family entertainment, and said it has some residents hooked.

"I have four or five fathers who come in and rave about it," the rec leader said. "They want to know when they are going to be here again."

Sapolsky said South Philadelphia is a great wrestling market because it’s a central base between New York City and Baltimore. The organization has monthly bus trips available for the diehard wrestling fans from those two cities.

South Philly also has a heavyweight wrestling history. Viking Hall, Ritner and Swanson streets, used to be home base for Extreme Championship Wrestling, which included World Wrestling Entertainment superstars Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Bubba Ray Dudley and Tazz.

At one time, ECW, World Championship Wrestling and the WWE (previously known as the WWF) were the big-three wrestling organizations. Within the last two years, WWE purchased World Championship Wrestling and ECW went bankrupt. The developments left WWE the Microsoft of the wrestling world.

When Ring of Honor owner Rob Feinstein, a former ECW employee, decided to start his own wrestling organization in February 2001, he had no intention of competing against the WWE. Instead of building a fan base using raunchy WWE story lines that include lesbians and bikini contests, Feinstein wanted to get back to the basics.

"I knew wrestling needed to be brought back to Philadelphia, but different from ECW," he said. "We wanted to use a Japanese style [high-flying and realistic-looking] and mix in story lines that wouldn’t insult people’s intelligence."

Extreme Championship Wrestling was best known for its hardcore that included participants body-slamming each other through tables and battering one another over the head with metal chairs.

Once Feinstein developed his idea, he started traveling to other independent wrestling promotions in the Delaware Valley to scout talent. Ring of Honor also brings in wrestlers from around the world. Ikuto Hidaka, one of the top wrestling talents in Japan, is on Saturday night’s card.

Sapolsky said recruiting — and retaining — fighters to perform in South Philly is fairly easy because of the receptive crowd. The fans might be aware the matches are scripted, but at ROH shows, the writers and wrestlers do their best to make the act believable.

"When you come to our shows, it doesn’t look fake," Sapolsky said. "Our shows are a lot more athletic, more innovative and more creative."

Some of the Ring of Honor wrestlers were recruited from ECW, including former world champion Steve Corino. On Saturday, he’ll challenge Rudy Boy Gonzalez in a Texas Death Match, guaranteed to be a bloody showdown. Competitors bring their weapon of choice to the ring.

Feinstein originally wanted to stay away from the extreme-wrestling style that employs the hurling of tables, chairs and ladders, but has since decided to add some hardcore matches to the card to please the fans. Hubcaps and chairs will be legal when Da Hit Squad challenges the Carnage Crew Saturday night.

The majority of the story lines aren’t as violent. Like a daytime soap opera, a good wrestling show needs heated rivalries in which the face (good guy) and heel (bad guy) settle a score. James Maritato and Tony Mamaluke — better known as the Full Blooded Italians (FBI) — used to be one of ECW’s most dominating tag teams, but these days they’re having trouble getting along. Maritato, the good guy, is getting serious about wrestling and wants to drop his FBI gimmick, while Mamaluke wants to keep the act intact. The winner of a face-off will get his way.

Ring of Honor will keep the suspense going with shows Nov. 9 and Dec. 28. The event will expand to three shows a month at Murphy starting in January, and Feinstein also is taking the organization into other East Coast markets. ROH wrestlers will make a second appearance in Boston in November.

Fans who just want the highlights can catch Murphy ROH footage every Tuesday at midnight on Channel 48. The hour-long show features wrestling action and behind-the-scenes interviews with top wrestling stars like Brett Hart, Terry Funk and Ricky Steamboat. The show is yet another local attraction for wrestling fans — as well as promoters.

"We would love to make Murphy Rec our home every single month," Sapolsky said.

Tickets for the Ring of Honor show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday can be purchased at the door. To order advance tickets, call 215-891-9404 or visit