In the ring, he was “Boruta the Polish Wild Man,” prancing around in a Spandex singlet like Andre the Giant.
Then, last year, he tore a knee ligament and had to hang up his onesie.
Now Max Zaleski is ringside at the monthly independent pro wrestling shows he promotes in a rental hall at Normanna Lodge in downtown Everett.
What’s up with that?
The 27-year-old Everett native founded Without a Cause so he and other local fans can get a regular up-close and personal rassling fix.
It’s a smaller version of Tuesday’s big WWE “SmackDown Live” at Angel of the Winds Arena.
“We are a ragtag group of people putting on a show because this is our passion,” Zaleski said. “At WWE you can’t just walk up to Daniel Bryan and say hi.”
Zaleski will be in the crowd at the nationally televised show featuring WWE superstars such as homestate hero Aberdeen native Bryan, whose net worth is $8 million, according to the Internet.
“He’s supposed to be the bad guy now but I’ve always loved him,” Zaleski said of Bryan. “He is one of the best technical wrestlers of all times. And he also complimented my beard when I met him.”
Zaleski’s beard was part of his shtick, as was the fur collar on his tight black singlet he wore to transform into the “Boruta,” a Polish folklore devil. It fit with his Polish heritage.
Want to be a rassler?
All it takes is a gimmick — and guts — to get into the ring at the grassroots level.
“I’m 5-foot-3 and fairly rotund,” Zaleski said. “Back in the ’80s you had to be big and strapping. It doesn’t matter anymore. If you have something that accentuates your character, that’s what they look for now.”
It was a lifelong dream for Zaleski, a wrestling fan since age 5.
A congenital heart defect prevented him from engaging in contact sports. A few years ago, a test showed it was mended.
“So I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to start training for wrestling right away.’ ”
He practiced at gyms and by hauling logs around his yard. He bought a $150 custom singlet with fur.
Finally, he took his signature scoop slam to the ring as “Boruta.”
The injury was after the Seattle show, while taking down the ring.
“I debuted and tore my ACL that same night,” he said.
His career was over, but he wanted wrestling to be part of his life.
He kept his day job as a contractor for Amazon and in October launched Without a Cause as a side gig. He thought of the name in the shower. “I wanted to run a show without a cause or without a reason.”
“Cause” sounded better than “reason,” he said.
It does have a cause, though. To promote pro wrestling, something that’s often misunderstood.
It’s not school wrestling where two people grapple on a mat and get points for reverses and takedowns in timed rounds.
These wrestlers pull hair and throw chairs.
“I liken it to soap opera,” Zaleski said. “It’s a stage production. We tell stories with pageantry and characters.”
He helps devise a plot for the cast of the core wrestlers joined by a few headline acts for each show. Winners and losers are predetermined 99 percent of the time, but don’t go betting the farm on the outcome. “What they do in the ring is up to the wrestlers,” he said.
The portable 16-by-16 foot ring is stored at the home of a wrestler in Arlington and Zaleski keeps the banners at his Everett house.
The Feb. 24 event features “King of Sleaze” Joey Ryan.
“He slathers himself in baby oil and he’s all hairy and he has a ’70s porn star kind of look,” Zaleski said.
Admission is $25 at the door. Attendance has averaged 150.
“You can meet all the wrestlers afterward or during intermission,” he said.
The shows are in the Scandinavian hall typically used for weddings, parties and swing bands at the lodge, which also has line dancing, sewing classes and pancake breakfasts.
“It’s like going to a local music show versus a show in a big venue,” said wrestling fan Henry Yarsinske Jr., a musician and Live in Everett editor. “It’s intimate. You are right up next to the performance. It feels more alive. It’s more like wrestling when I was growing up in the late ’90s, with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and all those guys.”
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not a bunch of geeky guys clamoring around the ring and slamming back beer.
It draws women on both sides of the ropes. “We’ve had women’s matches at two shows and want more,” Zaleski said.
Kids are welcome to watch, he said. “But it is wrestling, so sometimes an F-bomb will drop.”
Zaleski’s wife, Avalon, helps at the door. So does his mom.
He and Avalon didn’t bond over wrestling when they met eight years ago.
“There’s a funny saying: ‘Be yourself, unless you’re a wrestling fan. Then wait six months and then be yourself. Because you don’t want to scare them away,’” he said.