Deaf Sports Stars11th December 2013

When it's Good to Fight

Louis Long is a Deaf wrestler in the USA fighting his way towards professional status.

by Sarah Lawrence

Louis Long grew up on the West Side of Buffalo in the North East of America. He was bullied and picked on growing up, including having 11 bicycles stolen from him by his 21st birthday. He was lucky he had a grand father who could keep buying him a new one.

​Despite the constant bullying, Louis didn't always just let things happen. He had a lot of fighting spirit and one day this erupted when a boy threw a rock at his head, resulting in Louis grabbing him and biting his ear, reminiscent of the Mike Tyson affair! However, despite fighting back every now and again, the attacks continued.

Needless to say, at some point enough was going to be enough and aged 21 that point arrived. Louis was attacked by three men who came up behind him, grabbed his backpack and tried to take his wallet. During the attack he was punched in the face. Despite this being a quite ordinary experience for Louis, it was during this attack that he decided to draw the line. Letting out an aggressive yell, he put one of his attackers into a 'sleeper hold', causing the other two brave souls to run away, shortly followed by the third man once Louis decided to let him go.

“I held him like an anaconda snake,” Long explained. “I fought back. I could feel his voice on my arm as he tried to scream.” Louis could feel the voice, but he couldn’t hear it as Louis is Deaf.

After this incident, Louis had newfound vigor. It was a bold decision, but he decided he wouldn’t back down from anyone ever again and he has been fighting his corner ever since.

Now 37, Louis recalls wanting to be a wrestler from an early age. An active and sporty youngster he was captain of the school's varsity soccer, basketball, track and field teams, but his ambition was to be a wrestler. 

Now more widely known by his wrestling name, Silent Warrior, Louis is battling stereotypes of deaf people and the many doubters who believe he will never make the big time, but he remains determined to become the first ever Deaf wrestler on the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) tour. 

“I want to show the world deaf people can roll up their sleeves and do these kinds of things. My goal is to educate others that deaf people can compete. There’s a huge line-up of people waiting to get into the WWE, but I want to show we can do this.”

The problem for Louis is that the route into WWE is far from clear, with some wrestlers getting in because of connections they hold. Another requirement seems to be size, with the WWE seeming to look for wrestlers who stand about 6 feet 8 inches and weigh in at about 270 pounds. There are some specific criteria like years wresting as a professional and attendance at the WWE Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida but it two other issues that discriminate against Louis.

To be part of the WWE, there are requirements to have 'strong communication skills' and 'the ability to listen and learn'. Without adaptations on the side of the WWE, these requirements make Louis' ambitions significantly more difficult to achieve. Louis' first language is American Sign Language and he also uses email and hand written notes to get by.

In the right environment Louis is a fun and fluid communicator, so despite the difficulties he remains fiercely determined to succeed.

In 2012, Louis was ranked 495 in the world and for now he is just trying to improve his ranking. He knows that a higher ranking increases his public exposure. Ultimately, that leads to more opportunities. 

For now it is his love of the sport that makes him put so much time and effort into his wrestling despite not getting paid. He rides his bike to Pride Martial Arts Academy in Williamsville once a week and lifts weights and swims at LA Fitness four times a week. Still living on the West Side of Buffalo with his grandmother, Louis finished his education at the Culinary Training Institute at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. He now cooks at the First Niagara Center during the Sabres’ season.

Louis was brought up by his grandparents from the age of 14 and they have been significantly important in his life. “He is so proud of being a wrestler,” his grandmother said, “He’s very independent and wants to do things on his own.”

Despite the constant battle for recognition and a fighting chance to succeed, Louis said, “I’m very passionate about wrestling and I don’t care if I make money or not.” Despite his fierce performances in the ring, Louis wears a constant smile and clearly enjoys life, but he also a man on a mission.

“When hearing people say, ‘you can’t do this or that,’ I want to demonstrate I can,” Louis explains, “I want to prove to deaf people we can do it.”

Even though he is an amateur, Louis traveled to Japan where he won the MATA Wrestling Championship in November 2011. Amongst a stream of challenges, he successfully defended that title for 12 months. He will also compete in Tokyo, Manila and London in 2014.

Proud of what Louis has achieved, his grandparents have covered the walls of the house with photos of him wrestling. Asking Louis about that he explained that his grandfather, had been an inspiration.  Sadly, he had died in 2004 but he had loved wrestling and had taken Louis to see the World Wrestling Federation at Memorial Auditorium as a young boy. He had also given Louis some important advice about life; to overcome what others think; to buckle down and focus on schoolwork; and to love wrestling.

“I was lucky to have him,” Louis said. “If I hadn't had my grandparents to look after and guide me, I could have wound up in juvenile detention and not at St. Mary’s.” In tribute to his grandfather, Louis has a tattoo of his initials on his right arm, with the letters in orange and black because he had been born on Halloween. On his forearm, is an image of the wrestling mask that he has never removed in public. Louis is proud of this tattoo which he says was designed by deaf artist Ariel Bauza.

As well as not removing his mask, Louis refuses to have pictures taken without it as the black-and-white mask represents his alter ego, the Silent Warrior.

Touching on a much talked about issue by spectators and critics of wrestling, Louis is unimpressed by questions that the sport is fake and almost non-contact.  “I get irritated with that,” Louis says seriously, “I tell people I can show them how real it is.”

Wrestling at the MATA Expo in California in 2012, two of the spectators went up to him after a match. Keen to wind him up, they asked him in sign language if the sport was fake. Having taken a hefty elbow to the nose in a particularly grueling match, he took some of the dried blood from his nose and flicked it at them. Clearly angered by such comments, Louis has no patience for people who disrespect the sport he loves.

Louis' father left the relationship with his mother when he was born and he has not figured in his life at all, “He don’t come around for nothing. He’s that kind of a guy,” Louis says with some bitterness. However, fortunately for Louis, he had his grandfather to turn to as a role model and he remains hugely grateful for that. Ultimately, it was his grandfather who told him it was time to learn how to defend himself. 

Louis is still more comfortable using sign language but he also writes a lot to get his message across. He has no intention of letting language stop him from chasing his dream. “I love showing people what my abilities are and that I have no limits,” he says determinedly.

Ambitious for himself and for other deaf people in respect of life achievements, Louis created the Deaf Wrestling Alliance in 2010, the year he made his wrestling debut. It is aimed at Deaf and Hard of Hearing people who enjoy professional wrestling. The Alliance travels to events and expositions aiming to, “inspire deaf people all around the world and USA to learn about wrestling,” Louis explained. Ultimately he wants a deaf wrestler to make it onto the WWE.

Being deaf and achieving success in mainstream sport is not unheard of with body-builder Shelley Beattie, boxer James Burke and former major league outfielder Curtis Pride amongst America's most well-known deaf pro athletes of all-time, along with the hugely successful Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno. Similarly, in the UK we have seen professional football players such as Jimmy Case and Rodney Marsh, and there is a fine crop of young athletes such as cyclist Tom Smith, who are looking to make their mark in mainstream sport.

Understandably, Louis' favourite is a mixed martial arts fighter Matt Hamill. The movie, 'The Hammer' details his struggle to become a national champion wrestler in college (a title he attained three times) while growing up deaf. In the living room of his home, Louis shows off a movie poster of the film, inscribed with a message from Hamill himself, “To Silent Warrior, awesome job in fighting!!! Keep up training!”

In addition to his personal goals, Louis wants to inspire deaf children in the same way that Matt Hamill has inspired him. In that respect, recent magazine articles about him and the increased exposure have been very welcome. Using sign language his grandmother jokes with him that he will soon be a movie star!

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Stars

11th December 2013