As referee Tony Ceto prepares for the evenings festivities, his step-mom reminds him in the background to not wear his work pants before the show, or “ref pants” as she referred to them. He folds them, puts them in his duffle bag and calmly reminds her with a tone only a teenager can carry, “They’re not ref pants, they’re slacks”.
For the 14 year-old pro wrestling referee, the dichotomy between his freshman year in high school and his freshman year in the pro wrestling business provides quite the contrast. Having reffed his first match shortly into his 8th grade campaign, the Yuba City resident has logged over a year in the business, well shy of qualifying for a driver’s permit.
It was a fateful journey to East Linda, California in late 2010 where the then-10 year-old would learn of local wrestling promotion Ultimate Championship Wrestling, a company running shows on the western side of Yuba City.
While some his age may be ordering a scoop or two of ice cream at Brock’s on Grey Avenue, Ceto thumbs through a secret catalog of sorts, preparing to order trunks, boots, knee pads and the like as he inches closer to his 15th birthday, at last exceeding the barrier of an official minimum age policy that could only be conquered by patience and perseverance.
For years the professional wrestling business has been littered with wild stories of hazing, and the reverberating consequences of ribbing one another. The legend of WWE superstar Randy Orton saturating the duffle bags of unsuspecting newcomers with loaves of fecal can be easily googled, and remains quite the social study into this secret fraternity. Television viewers a decade ago got quite the behind-the-scenes look into the physical rigors of the business that don’t always unfold on screen, as veteran Bob Holly was captured on film putting an absolute one-sided whooping on a young defenseless student. No explanation from the vet, other than teaching these kids that if they can’t handle an established curmudgeon, ornery and bitter, years past his prime taking liberties with a rookie, this is not the business to be in.
So naturally, the baby face and cocky swagger of a high school kid, just now discovering what it’s like to be Judd Nelson in Breakfast Club, can rub a locker room the wrong way. Still, Ceto tries to remain humble, and take his lumps with an approving nod.
Heart aside, like any business, it will be the wisdom and execution of lessons learned that will enable Ceto to find his way to the top of the food chain in his profession of choice. For now, the seeds have been planted firmly in the Yuba Sutter area. How far those branches stretch, only time will tell. If it’s up to Ceto, when it’s all said and done he’ll be high atop the industry, looking down from a perspective that can only be described as homegrown.
Note: This article was featured in The Prospector Winter 2014 print edition.