Joe Klander was startled awake by the sound of cattails on the car windows, and the front end slowly started sinking into the dark river. Two tow trucks and some hours later, the car was dried out and running again back home in Duluth.
The world of a professional wrestler is that of struggle, commitment and sometimes falling asleep behind the wheel and careening off the road into a river.
Klander (Clutch), along with his cousin Trevor Leseman (Ox), are the wrestling tag team known as the Barking Spiders. Their intimidating face paint and rare ability to wrestle well together have led them to accomplishments like wrestling in Japan, winning title belts and appearing in the magazine Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
“We have accomplished more than we ever thought we were going to,” Leseman said.
Like any other success story, Klander and Leseman didn’t come out of nowhere.
“We started out jumping off the couch, dropping elbows on each other,” Klander said.
Even though both cousins were big wrestling fans, being a team wasn’t always on their minds.
“I wasn’t really interested in tag team wrestling to begin with,” Leseman said.
Even though the Barking Spiders weren’t always into team wrestling, they certainly have earned respect as a team.
Japan is known as a difficult place for any old American wrestlers to get into, but in 2006 they sent out tapes to multiple organizations in Japan and heard back from Kyushu Pro Wrestling.
They also wrestled at DDT Pro-Wrestling -- formerly Dramatic Dream Team -- on one of their trips to Japan.
“While we were in Japan, we taught English,” Klander said. “I didn’t know a ton of Japanese, so at wrestling shows I said simple things like, ‘I am Clutch, and I am dangerous!’ And ‘I eat babies!’ ”
While in Fukuoka, Japan, they also got to experience the hospitality of the country.
“The ring announcer asked us, ‘Do you like fish?’ He took us out to dinner on this wooden ship in the ocean. The bill came to about $500, and he paid for everything,” Leseman said. “When we were in Japan they treated us like kings.”
Not only are the Barking Spiders highly respected in Japan, but their peers in the United States also have nothing but praise for them.
“Whenever I've worked with them, I've been impressed at how well each knows the other, how they seem to communicate telepathically,” said pro wrestler Terrance Griep Jr. “They're both dedicated to the team, and they're both dedicated to each other.”
Outside of Klander and Leseman’s dedication to pro wrestling, their commitment to their loved ones is even stronger.
Klander is a father and husband, and Leseman is married as well. Leseman is able to stay in ring shape since he has a gym set up in his basement, and his cousin Klander lives only five minutes away.
They both also have demanding jobs outside of pro wrestling.
Leseman works as a manager of a security alarms system company. Klander is an optometric technician at St. Luke’s, where he helps with fitting contacts and glasses by taking measurements.
Even in their day jobs, wrestling can take a toll on everyday life.
“Wrestling injuries can really cause problems. I haven’t been able to work out for a while,” Leseman said.
Not only can wrestling injuries cause uncertainty, but their pay is never a sure thing, either.
Since the money they make is completely dependant upon how many people show up, they never really know how much they can expect to make on any given night. All they can do is try to make more people want to see them.
“It’s your job to make the fans care,” Klander said. “You can put a guy out there who can do a ton of flips, but if the fans don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”
Despite what parents might say, a little roughhousing could lead to an unforgettable trip to Japan and meeting childhood idols.
While Klander and Leseman’s living room wrestling federation didn’t lead to any invites to Japan, it was the spark that motivated two adult men to go chase their childhood dreams.