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Prayers, hymns and body slams: Wrestling academy goes to church

'I never thought that at this stage in my life I would have keys to a church,' says the owner of the Cross Body Studios wrestling school

Churches are usually reserved for prayers and places of worship. But a Cambridge church is hosting a group of a very different kind these days.

As you walk in the back doors of Knox Preston Presbyterian Church at 132 Argyle St. N, all you can hear is metal music and what sounds like someone hitting a very large drum. 

Behind the chapel where the pastor is gives his Sunday sermon, is a pro wrestling academy called Cross Body Wrestling Studios. 

Pro wrestler and coach Ben Ortmanns stands in the ring and directs his students in a warm-up exercise.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Ortmanns yells with a motivational fire. 

The students are training to either become pro wrestlers themselves or just picking up a fun hobby in their spare time. 

Ortmanns has been in the wrestling business for over 20 years when he first went to a wrestling school in Cambridge in the late 90s. 

“There wasn't really anything else that I've ever wanted to do. I never really saw a plan B, I wanted to be Hulk Hogan when I was a kid and that was pretty much the only thing I ever thought was possible for me,” said Ortmanns. 

The students at Cross Body range from teenagers to middle-aged men who are looking for a fun pastime to help them get in shape. 

Nilo Reyes is a machine operator in a factory and has been coming to Cross Body Studios for over four years. When he is in the ring you can see the fire in his eyes and his character really comes to life.

“When I’m out there I can be Nilo, but at 11,” said Reyes. “I’ve always loved wrestling and now I can be like my heroes.”

Reyes hasn’t been in a show just yet, but hopes he can get in the ring and show people what he can really do. 

From flips, hip tosses and jumping off the ropes, these students get to learn all of the moves their favorite pro wrestlers have been doing for years. 

After doing work with professional wrestling organizations like Impact wrestling and the WWE, Ortmanns has the experience to successfully plan shows and train his own fighters.

He bounced around to a few different schools before landing his first show in 2002. 

“It was amazing to get up there for the first time, from then on it was go go go,” said Ortmanns. 

His journey from pro wrestler to teacher and owner of his own studio has been quite the roller coaster. 

After working non stop, tossing his body off the ropes and being slammed relentlessly into the mat, his body started to give up on him, so he decided to quit wrestling and settle down.

One day he was watching a mixed martial arts show on TV and felt like he needed to get back to his roots and decided to take that leap off the top ropes. He started his MMA training journey and continued for several years.

He was offered a spot on a friend's wrestling show and he knew this was his opportunity to get back into the wrestling world. 

“I was already getting the itch and I could tell this was the time to get back in the ring,” said Ortmanns.

After the show he was approached by an MMA gym in Kitchener called Fear the Fighter, they wanted Ortmanns to teach a class on wrestling. 

“I think that is every wrestler's dream, having their own wrestling gym,” said Ortmanns.

It was the beginning of what would become Cross Body Studios. They worked out of the gym in Kitchener for almost eight years before finding the spot in Cambridge. They have been at the church for only a few months and are finding it to be an unlikely, but amazing, partnership. 

“It’s weird how this came about, I just got a call from my business partner and he said, we have a meeting at a church today,” said Ortmanns. “I never expected this nice pastor to let these two (Mongolian)-looking dudes rent a room in his church.”

Now Ortmanns has come full circle, being able to train students in the city he had his first wrestling class has been a dream come true. 

“It’s amazing to see these students come in here, some have aspirations to become tv wrestlers while others are just doing this to get in shape,” said Ortmanns. 

Students from Cross Body have gone on to become champions in their own leagues and make a name for themselves in the independent and mainstream wrestling scene. 

Ortmanns wants to create a new space for fighters, like the one he saw growing up, with the Hulk Hogan and Ric Flairs of the world. 

“It’s amazing that we can build this in a place like Cambridge, it’s such a fresh city and we can follow the line of amazing wrestlers who we love and admire,” said Ortmanns. 

The next step for Cross Body Studios is to eventually move into their own studio and have a place where they can have larger shows and continue to build a new scene for the next generation of wrestlers. 

For now, the room in the church behind where the pastor preaches and the choir sings will do, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I never thought that at this stage in my life I would have keys to a church. That still makes me laugh every time I think about it, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Ortmanns.