“You want to laugh,” Christina Rhee says, “but you can’t.”
It’s Saturday night at the New Mexico National Guard Armory on Wyoming just south of Lomas. Mosh Pit Mike is part of a “scramble,” the main event featuring six wrestlers. “We want blood! We want blood!” chant many of the 200 spectators, including several small fries.
Mosh Pit Mike is the lone local in the ring. Only he’s not in the ring much. He’s chasing guys around the arena, sending spectators scurrying for cover. “There’s a storyline here,” Rhee says, trying to be helpful.
Mosh Pit Mike, from Albuquerque all his life, is edging toward stardom. At age 31, he wrestles in shows throughout the West. He’s waiting for a call from the big leagues, maybe WWE.
Professional wrestlers who live in Albuquerque and want to earn any real money have to travel to Arizona or West Texas. There are three or four websites in Arizona devoted to the sport. Amarillo has three arenas, one called Wrestleplex.
Professional wrestling in Albuquerque once had a busy home in Tingley Coliseum and before that, the Civic Auditorium. Those days are gone. The sport now plays the armory, where a hand-printed sign out front says “Live Pro Wrestling.” More than anything, the sign is to inform passersby that a death has not occurred.
It was love at first bite.
All right, not really. But Mosh has been noshed in the ring. “The Manimal,” Mosh says. “Bites me every time we wrestle. He’s like a caveman.”
“He really is,” Rhee says.
The two are explaining the intricacies of the activity that drew them together. They are sitting in the living room of Mosh’s rental house, a half-mile from the armory. Rhee is braiding his hair for a photo shoot.
Right before Thanksgiving 2007, Christina Rhee, then 18, first glimpsed Mosh Pit Mike, who in daylight hours is Adam Montoya. She was in the stands at Tingley, and he was in the ring. Well, most of the time.
A friend asked her to go. “I had never watched wrestling before.”
“She wasn’t into it,” Mosh says.
Mosh plays the villain. “People love to hate him,” says Rhee. “We were in Walmart shopping and this boy says, ‘Hey, you’re the guy in orange.’”
Orange is Mosh’s color. In the ring he looks like a humongous pumpkin.
“It gets weird sometimes,” he says. He means when the line between wrestling and the real world blurs. “Used to be in the old days, you were always a bad guy—in the ring or out. I can’t do that.”
“I don’t let him be called Mosh or Moshie at home,” Rhee says. “He’s Adam at home. I mean, you have to have some boundaries.”
After that 2007 show, Rhee’s friend led her backstage. “She wanted me to meet Mike. It’s funny. In the stands I was rooting against him. I mean, he was the bad guy.”
“I’ve always been the bad guy,” Mosh says. “I grew up idolizing the juggalo life. I broke a guy’s arm once. I body slammed him on the concrete apron. He was ticking me off. He didn’t protect himself.”
Backstage at Tingley the two could not find words.
“I was intimidated,” Rhee remembers.
She didn’t know a headlock from a door lock. At Albuquerque High, she played soccer. Now here she was in this surreal place where people dressed like it was Halloween and kicked each other in the nuts.
They stared at the floor, both of them. Rhee, soft-spoken, slender, 5-foot-4. Mosh, 6-foot-3, a heavyweight wrestler at Valley High School. In the ring he’s crude, a growling lout.
“I like to push people’s buttons,” he says. “I’ll call to parents, ‘Hey, I’ll fight that baby you’re holding.’ I am such an asshole. I surprise myself sometimes with what I say.”
Out of the ring, he’s shy as a bunny rabbit. A bunny rabbit the size of a Frigidaire.
Rhee’s friend took a photo of them together that night. They resemble a couple at a mid-school dance. Magic, one of Mosh’s wrestling buddies, is in the photo too. He’s flipping off the camera.
Romance? Back where the rodeos queue up?
“Yeah, there was a spark,” Mosh admits.
“I did feel something,” says Rhee. “Like, you know, he could be a part of my life. Maybe as a friend or something.”
What sealed the deal that night was a little boy, about 4 or 5 years old. He came backstage wanting to meet Mosh.
“Usually they don’t let kids back there,” Mosh says.
“I was impressed,” Rhee says. “These are real people, I thought. He was the cutest little boy in the world, and he comes up to this big mean guy who gets down on the floor and talks to him.”
Jump ahead several months. Mosh is in the ring with Mad Man Pondo. Mad Man thinks Mosh Pit Mike is a bleep. Mosh can’t do anything. He is flat on his back on the canvas. Mad Man takes a cinder block and sets it over Mosh’s crotch.
“It was a death match,” says Rhee.
“Guys use kendo sticks, baseball bats, barbed wire,” says Mosh.
Soon as Mad Man had the cinderblock in place, he whips out … a freakin sledgehammer. He was about to break the cinderblock on top of Mosh’s privates.
Mad Man turns to Rhee and says, “You weren’t going to have kids, were you?”
Mosh was mush.
For their first date, he picked Rhee up from the UNM dorms. They went to IHOP for burgers.
It wasn’t long before Rhee wanted to understand his world. Really demystify it. “I told Adam I wanted to wrestle.” He liked the idea. “I thought it was a way to spend more time with her.” He got his pals Hobo Hank and Thunder to work with her, teach her moves. “She has potential,” they told him.
He gave her a name—Tina Ray, which is how she pronounces Rhee. Names are important in pro wrestling, second only to medical insurance. Tina Ray wore pink sweat pants and a tight workout shirt. Any hotter and she’d melt snakes.
Close to 95 percent of professional wrestlers are male. “You have to be agile and strong,” Rhee says. “It’s difficult.” She found out just how difficult in a baptism courtesy of Philthy Phil.
Phil, bless him, introduced her to the sidewalk slam. “I was sore all the next day,” she says. “My neck and back really hurt. In a lot of those rings, there’s no cushion.”
“None at all,” Mosh says.
Her brother David came to that show, and he loved it, Rhee says. “My parents didn’t go. They were supportive, but I don’t think they wanted to see their baby girl get thrown around.” She stuck with it. For a time she had a female partner, Lillith Blood, who worked with her. Wrestling seemed less daunting.
Then Mosh broke her nose.
It happened in Amarillo. During a seven-wrestler melee, a choreographed move was reveresed. “I caught her nose with my elbow, instead my forearm,” Mosh says. “It was a clusterfuck.”
Later, Rhee found out he had planned the whole thing, a career-ender.
“She still gets mad,” says Mosh.
Somehow, they stayed together. Rhee goes to his shows when she can. She waitresses a couple of nights a week at the Owl Café. The rest of the time she studies for a nursing degree.
What do her parents say? “Adam will come to my house, and he’ll have cuts and bruises on his face. They’ll laugh and ask, ‘Well, did you win?’ ”
Richard Montoya, Adam’s father, could not be more proud of My Son the Pro Wrestler. Mosh’s mom is happy, but she won’t come to shows. “The blood,” Montoya says.
It’s not like wrestling is all Mosh can do. “Adam went to New Mexico State,” Montoya says. “Got a degree in business in four years. He’s a smart kid.” When Mosh isn’t wrestling, he is partners with his dad in Montoya Investigative Services.
Montoya, 66, retired from APD as deputy chief. He and his son handle mostly insurance fraud. Once in a while they take a domestic case but not often. Hard to find shrubs big enough for Mosh to hide behind.
Until his break comes, Mosh hangs on to his P.I. job. At this point, he can’t earn a living just wrestling. “I might be able to survive. But I’d be eating ramen noodles and sleeping in my car.”
“You don’t want to sleep in your car,” says Rhee.
“No, I don’t,” says Mosh.
Anyway, there’s not room.