On a Friday earlier this month, during his seven-hour shift at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley, Michael Korklan — soft-spoken reference librarian — spent his time the way he usually does.
He taught a morning research class to a group of about 20 students. He sat at the reference desk and answered students’ questions. In the afternoon, he met with the president of the college’s honors organization — which he oversees — to talk about goals for the next semester.
When the day was over, the 29-year-old gathered his things and headed home. Another day in the books.
Not much more than 24 hours later, the same librarian would stand atop a turnbuckle post wearing little more than tattoos and spandex shorts. As a rowdy crowd clapped and chanted his name, he prepared to unleash a moonsault on “Showtime” Bradley Charles.
Call him the world’s toughest librarian. He leads a double life.
Weekdays, he’s mild-mannered and eager to help with student inquiries at the reference desk. But on the weekends, he’s “Rock ’N Roll” Mike Sydal — a bare-chested, air guitar-playing David to the dozen or so Goliaths who also make up Metro Pro Wrestling.
Fans love him. Along with his persona, Rock ’N Roll’s size — he is among the smallest wrestlers competing in Metro Pro Wrestling — makes him something of a favorite. In wrestling parlance, he’s considered a babyface, or a good guy.
“When Mike (beat) me, they just went nuts,” says Showtime Bradley Charles, who Rock ’N Roll pinned to win the Kansas championship in December. “There was a point in time in the last show in which I was out there in the opening segment, and all I had to do was say Mike Sydal’s name and everyone in the crowd started chanting ‘Rock ’N Roll.’”
Rock ’N Roll grew up with professional wrestling. He was raised just outside St. Louis, and his family didn’t have cable, so every Monday he’d scurry off to a friend’s house to watch “Monday Night Raw.” In high school, Rock ’N Roll, his brother and some friends built a makeshift wrestling ring out of wood and old tires they got for free at a nearby gas station. He loved it.
Like most childhood interests, however, wrestling eventually gave way to more practical endeavors. He attended the University of Missouri-Columbia, graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in education and spent the next summer teaching high school world studies in Chicago.
But after re-enrolling at Mizzou for a master’s degree in library science, he began to consider the idea of wrestling. His brother, Matt, had taken up the sport a few years before and had emerged as an up-and-coming cager who would go on to star in World Wrestling Entertainment as Evan Bourne.
Rock ’N Roll started showing up at smaller events, learning the ropes from his brother and some local wrestlers. When promoters realized he could grapple a little (and do a flip), they hired him for other shows, too.
He performs nearly every weekend now at venues all over the country, much to the excitement of his colleagues at the library.
At first, Rock ’N Roll was hesitant to share his after-hours exploits. Any ideas he might have fostered about keeping it a secret were quickly squashed, however, when he went in for a meeting with his new boss shortly after being hired.
He arrived sporting a pair of black eyes and a nose that was stationed considerably to one side — a result of a three-fourths layout back flip gone wrong — and he was forced to spill the beans.
Now, faculty and students alike pepper him with questions about his side job. Students see him at the college’s rec center and recognize him from TV. Even the school’s dean has pulled up YouTube to see the library’s most high-profile employee in action.
There are pitfalls to moonlighting as a professional wrestler.
Unlike his brother, he still has to work for opportunities. He’s not high enough in the ranks yet, so he pays travel expenses out of his own pocket.
Rock ’N Roll regularly comes to work bruised and broken. Since he began wrestling, he has torn a bicep and had a hernia. Broken a nose, broken a wrist. He has perforated an eardrum, and once, in Philadelphia, he was knocked out, had a seizure and woke up in the hospital.
“The guy (I was wrestling) felt really bad about it,” Rock ’N Roll explains. “He spent all night in the hospital with me.”
But so far the bevy of injuries hasn’t deterred him from his after-hours passion. And while he finds his work at the library rewarding and enjoyable in its own way, there is a kind of adrenaline rush from wrestling that the day job just doesn’t provide.
“I don’t know that libraries excite him quite that way,” says Gloria Maxwell, the library director at Penn Valley and the one who hired him five years ago. “I know he’s really dedicated to his profession, and thoroughly enjoys it when he’s here doing it.
“But he really lives for those moments; (wrestling’s) really what brings him that great joy.”
A little before 7 p.m. on the first Saturday in February, a crowd begins streaming into the Turner Recreation Center in Kansas City, Kan.
It’s a big night for Rock ’N Roll. He’ll be defending his Kansas championship, which he won two months earlier in a hard-fought bout against Showtime Bradley Charles.
As he prepares for his match, he goes through some warm-ups. He does some yoga and sets up a video camera near the ring so he can watch his bout later that night and analyze his performance.
At around 8:30 p.m., after Miss Natural has punched Commissioner Girthy in the groin, after Dan Walsh has edged out all comers to win the battle royale and after the ponytailed Jimmy Rockwell has succombed to a number of blows from Lawrence’s Tyler Cook, announcer Don Diablo hops into the ring and announces the night’s next bout, a three-way battle between Rock ’N Roll, former titleholder Showtime Bradley Charles and “The Fittest Wrestler on Earth” Mark Sterling.
As Rock ’N Roll emerges, fans seem to feed off his persona.
The crowd, typically fickle with its affirmations, begins to cheer. Even the belligerent older man who has spent the past 90 minutes peppering the wrestlers with insults in varying degrees of obscenity — “You’re an asshole!” “Mess with someone your own size!” — seems to relax a bit when Rock ’N Roll makes his way toward the ring.
As he makes his entrance, Rock ’N Roll plays the air guitar and swings his blond hair. He bounces around a little and acknowledges the crowd.
Then, a few moments later, he promptly proceeds to get the bejeesus knocked out of him.
Showtime Bradley Charles and Mark Sterling, it turns out, have formed an alliance of sorts, and for much of the fight’s early stages, they take turns battering Rock ’N Roll in a cacophony of ways. They beat his chest and toss him into turnbuckles and generally make life miserable for their pint-sized opponent.
On multiple occasions, it looks like Rock ’N Roll is down for the count.
Each time, however, he wriggles his way out of a tough situation, regain his composure and stay in contention.
By the end of the match, Mark Sterling has left the ring, leaving just Rock ’N Roll and Showtime Bradley Charles to do battle. In the match’s closing moments, Rock ’N Roll — having delivered a particularly devastating blow to his foe — climbs onto the turnbuckle, rallies the crowd and then goes sailing through the air in a “moonsault.”
He lands perfectly, much to the pleasure of the crowd, ensuring that the Kansas championship title will remain in his possession for at least another month.
Afterward, in a makeshift locker room, the wrestlers shake hands and pat one another on the back while they talk about the match.
“There was a little hiccup on the spear (a wrestling move),” says Sterling, though the three decide that no one in the crowd would have noticed it.
Later that night Rock ’N Roll heads home, watches the video of his fight and prepares for the coming week.
On Monday, he’d be back at the library, Michael Korklan again.