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Ready to rumble: Wrestlers rock the ring during final day of the Lodi Grape Festival

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Posted: Monday, September 19, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:48 am, Mon Sep 19, 2011.

For two hours Sunday, wrestlers were stomping on each other and slamming their opponent to the ground — in and out of the ring — to the delight of spectators of all ages Sunday on the final day of the Lodi Grape Festival.

Festival director Mark Armstrong, who once handled wrestling events in Maine and Arizona and got to know the World Wrestling Entertainment wrestlers, took advantage of his contacts in the industry and booked them for the Grape Festival.

It seemed more like a show than an athletic event. Sure, people were thrown around with ease, but wrestlers also yelled to the crowd, especially if the spectators were booing them.

"Shut up!" several wrestlers yelled to the crowd, but all it did was make the spectators laugh.

And the spectators who cheered the most ranged from 5 to 10 years old — mostly boys, but even the girls got into the action.

"It was good, awesome," said Juan Valdivia, a young boy from Oakland.

"I liked the action," said Lodi resident Pedro Delgado, a sixth-grader at Woodbridge Elementary School.

The wrestlers normally don't do community fairs like the Grape Festival; they appear in larger venues, mostly in the United States, Mexico and Japan, where wrestling has the greatest popularity.

A wrestler who won the main event, who would only identify himself as The Sheik, said he will be flying to Japan on Thursday to defend his title as heavyweight champion.

The Sheik, who has no accent when not in his stage role, declined to give his real name.

"Let's not expose my character because that's how I make a living," he said.

The Sheik, who said he was introduced incorrectly in the ring as being from Saudi Arabia, said he is a first-generation American and lives in Los Angeles. His parents were born in Damascus, Syria.

The Sheik wasn't taunted by the crowd about his Middle East heritage, but one spectator said, "Go back to Stockton."

Although some people maintain that the wrestling is fake, The Sheik said it's quite real.

"I have two surgeries to prove they're real," he said. "The average wrestling match is equivalent to a car crash."

The Sheik won the main event over El Chupacabra, who in real life is Taylor Correa, of Reno.

"I'm known as one of the most violent competitors in the world," The Sheik said.

The Sheik also has some unusual shoes. They are dark red with a curved pointed tip at the middle toe of each foot.

"It's my style, signature to me," he said.

He says he's accused of using the point on his shoes as a weapon, but he maintains that he doesn't.

After the matches were over, El Chupacabra and The Sheik had a cordial conversation as they changed into their street clothes. It was as if they weren't enemies once they got out of the ring.

Asked if his wife might be concerned about him participating in such a violent activity, The Sheik said, "I treat my wife like a queen, but she has to realize I'm the king — The Sheik. If she doesn't realize that, she's out the door."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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