Backyard wrestling is more of a hobby than anything else – a way to have fun pretending to be a professional wrestler.
But when Jon Huber’s cousin asked him to try it out, “yarding” became something more than a game.
It became the first rung of a very tall ladder that would take him from Irondequoit to stardom.
Last month, Huber reached a WWE milestone when he claimed a Wrestlemania tag team title.
Back in his hometown of Webster, Huber reflected on his rise from the rings of Rochester.
At the early stages, Harper would drive to wrestling events around the region with gear, but without a match in hopes a wrestler wouldn’t show.
“That’s how I got my break,” Huber said. “There’s a place in Pennsylvania called Chikara where a guy didn’t show up and I was the only guy there who was a wrestler.”
He’d soon be traveling to events where a match was waiting for him, but even then he couldn’t fathom getting a call from the WWE.
Then it came.
Huber was 32 and more than willing to say yes, but he couldn’t.
“My wife told me she was pregnant and I lost my job, I was a librarian at Frederick Douglas Middle School and so I thought the world was over and they called and said, “Hey, can you come for a trial and I said, ‘No, I have a broken leg,’” Huber remembers.
Six months went by.
“My wife was 8 months pregnant and I was just coming back from Japan and I said, ‘Honey, I’m done, this is it, I’m just going to go get another real job and we’ll make do here,’ and that’s the day (WWE called saying), ‘Hey, can you come for a tryout?’” Huber said.
Luke Harper was born.
Huber brought to the ring a character masked by long black hair, a giant scraggly beard and crazy eyes that reveal a power keg of a personality.
“I think it’s just in there,” Huber said of Harper’s wildness. “I don’t know. If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you when I lose my keys, I look like the red light’s on so, I think it’s just in there somewhere and just has to be drawn out.”
Harper is now followed by a half million people on Twitter and kids buy his figurine at Walmart, yet when he’s not on the road he’s keeping it low key with his wife and two young kids.
His true talent might be his ability to turn it all off and go back to quick-with-a-smile Jon Huber.
“There’s a switch, but then when I get home my son wants to challenge me for my title, which I have to say no, no, no because he’s always winning,” Huber said.
Though there’s a professional pull south, Huber, who graduated from McQuaid Jesuit High School, wants to stay in the Rochester area.
“Rochester is a very special place for me, I love it here. Red Hots are my favorite thing in the world, garbage plates are wonderful, I have to be careful with them though,” he said. “To me, Rochester just has a different feel and you could go to Buffalo or Syracuse and it doesn’t feel the same as it does here … I’ve been here my whole life except for the 2 years we went to Florida and much to my wife’s chagrin I’m going to stay here as long as I can.”
Between matches, Huber, now 38, can often be found in Gold’s Gym in Webster keeping alive a dream he dared to dream because of one person.
“My dad told me when I was 20, he had leukemia and was dying and it was a real rough time and he kind of discovered what life was about in that time that he was sick and he told me. ‘Man, you’ve gotta go out and do what you gotta do, like, if you love it, go do it,’” Huber said.
Moments after Huber took hold of the belt at Wrestlemania, he spotted his wife and oldest son in the crowd of 78,000 people and smiled.
His dad told him to go do it, and he did.