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Mike Orlando's dreams inch closer to reality at WWE tryout

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Editor's note: Thomas Gerbasi previously profiled independent wrestler Mike Orlando for the first time in a piece last August.

By Thomas Gerbasi for F4WOnline.com

When the bell rings at the World Famous Elks Lodge in Queens tonight, a lot of the attention will be on the return of Shelton Benjamin, but just as many will be watching the man he is sharing the ring with, Mike Orlando.

The “Green Machine” has come a long way in a short time, with a recent WWE tryout raising his profile significantly, but against Benjamin, he’s keeping his mind on business, as difficult as that might be for anyone else battling the longtime WWE star.

“I had his action figure, I watched him as a kid, and I need to impress him and need to have a great match with him,” Orlando said. “It’s like I’m meeting Santa on Christmas and Santa’s showing me all his secrets on how to become the best Santa Claus. I look at it as a learning experience, not like a ‘I can’t wait to say I wrestled so and so.’ I can’t wait to wrestle Shelton and learn everything he knows that I don’t know right now so I can transfer it into my wrestling.”

At 25, Orlando has already put in over five years on the indie circuit, and while the aches and pains are there and the road trips don’t get any easier, he’s starting to make moves in a tough business, and in the process, he’s using every chance he gets to further his ring education. So while WrestleMania is entertainment for fans, for Orlando, it’s homework.

“I look at it as competition,” he said. “And it’s a constant fight with yourself. The kid in me was excited to see the Hardy Boys at WrestleMania, but at the same time, it’s the same Hardy Boys I spent a week with when I went to Shannon Moore’s house, and the nostalgia kinda goes away and you realize they’re doing exactly what we’re doing, but they’re making a lot more money while doing it. So it’s really hard to be a fan and know that, ‘Damn, I need to be him.’”

Giving up some of that fresh-faced fandom is a small price to pay, and Orlando is willing to pay it, simply because this is what he wants to do for a living.

“I’m totally cool with that because this is my full-time job now and I need this to be business,” he said. “Because if it’s not and I just have the fan in me all the time, I’m not gonna pay my rent and my landlord’s not gonna be like, ‘Oh yeah, no problem, at least you get to do what you love.’”

He laughs, and if you look at his schedule, it’s clear that he’s got the love to go along with the drive to make it. The Benjamin match is his first of the weekend, with three more to follow from Queens to Hazleton, Pennsylvania. That’s a typical weekend, but then again, that’s the case for most indie wrestlers. So what does someone have to do to separate themselves from the pack?

That’s the dilemma, but Orlando had his chance when he was invited to Florida’s WWE Performance Center in February. But he didn’t begin his quest to impress when he made it to the tryout. He started long before the trip south, even setting his alarm for the middle of the night in order to make an interesting initial impression.

“I would set alarms at three in the morning, knowing that Canyon Ceman and all these people get into the office at that time because people who have worked there told me that,” he said. “So I said I’m going to send him an email the second he walks through that door, so when he’s sitting there, the first thing that pops up on his email is my name.”

It worked.

“When I went down to the Performance Center, I finally met Canyon and I said, ‘My name is,’ and he said ‘Mike Orlando, I know.’”

As for the tryout itself, the brash and confident Orlando admits that he did need a minute to let everything sink in once he walked through the doors.

“I was probably the closest to passing out that I’ve been in my life,” he laughs. “I was in awe. I was touching everything. The turnbuckle had the WWE logo and I went over and squeezed it to make sure it was real. But once I actually got yelled at for the first time, which didn’t take very long because that’s my personality, I was like ‘Okay, now I’m in trouble, already getting yelled at by Matt Bloom.’ Then once that hit and the drills started and the weight room started, the fan went out the door and it was, ‘Mike, keep breathing, don’t fall.’ It was the hardest three days of my life. It was beyond intense.”

But he did make a positive impact, one that he hopes will eventually lead to a WWE contract, and he was willing to do whatever it took to set himself apart. And whether it was his unique first day attire, using his existing mat experience, or slimming down while working with Joe DeFranco, the New Jersey native was going all in.

“I couldn’t have done, in my eyes, better at that tryout than I did,” he said. “That sounds a little conceited, but I know I killed it. I was shredded for it and really ready to take on that tryout. This life is too short for me to sit back and wonder if I would have done something differently when I was there or if I would have changed something. So I was gonna do it right the first time and make sure it’s everything I wanted it to be.”

Putting top talent in a gym and finding a star is an intriguing prospect for an outsider. For someone in that room, it’s almost like being a top gun in high school sports and then going to college and finding out that you’re now one of a team full of top guns. Orlando, a former college football lineman, knows that example well.

“You’re no longer a standout, you’re blending in,” he said. “But finding a way to stand out has always been one of my strengths while everybody else blended in. Everyone else came in with their shorts and shirt. I came in there with my wrestling gear and I had no care in the world. And a lot of them weren’t wrestlers. They were professional athletes and actors, so a lot of them didn’t understand the basics of what wrestling really was. They’re all with the same goal as me and the only thing I’m thinking is, ‘How do I beat them?’”

Pro wrestling isn’t an easy business. No one knows that better than Mike Orlando. But at the moment, he’s one step closer to his dream gig, and every time he steps between the ropes, he’s looking to impress because he never knows who’s watching.

“My drive has gone through the world right now,” he said. “I’m confident, they (the WWE) seem really confident in me and they seem to be watching everything I’m doing, and I’m more driven than I’ve ever been in my life.”