WHEN THE KING of ultraviolent wrestling suffered severed arteries during a match, he wanted to keep fighting while blood shot from his armpit like a small geyser.
"Just wrap it," Nick "F'n" Gage told the people screaming "Call 9-1-1."
Gage, a berserker whose brutal brand of wrestling has made him a legend in the Philadelphia-based Combat Zone Wrestling, has been set on fire, hit with chairs, tables and worse, and has seen his blood spilled all around the world.
The only thing that could stop Gage was Gage, also known as Nicholas W. Wilson, the South Jersey native who created the character in 1999. Last month, Wilson, 30, may have sidelined his alter ego for years when he allegedly walked into a Collingswood Bank and handed a teller a note demanding money.
"Gage" was supposed to stir things up at a CZW event held in South Philly last night, but Wilson was in the Camden County Jail on $150,000 bail for robbery charges.
Speaking publicly about his arrest for the first time, Wilson told the Daily News that he's ready to do his time, get clean from drug addictions that have plagued him for years, and eventually get back to what he does best, kicking ass.
"I'm tough, that's just the way it is. I was built that way," Wilson, wearing a red prison jumpsuit, said yesterday morning in jail. "I'll be back. The king of ultraviolent wrestling will be back."
The same professional-wrestling community that identified his surveillance photo after the robbery and contacted police now appears to be rallying around him, hoping he makes that comeback. "Free Nick Gage" shirts already are being sold, and Facebook fans from all over the world have offered messages of support on his page.
"Keep your spirits up and put this behind you," one fan wrote.
Wilson, who grew up in National Park, Gloucester County, but had been living in Camden recently, said that he and his ultraviolent alter ego are different people.
Nick Wilson claims that he's an animal-lover and a sports junkie, and is devoted to his girlfriend, Sondra, who was arrested on outstanding warrants when they both arrived at the Collingswood police station on Dec. 31.
"I'm basically a good guy," he said. "I'm actually pretty cool and mellow."
The one opponent he can't pin, he said, is addiction. Prescription painkillers have been a problem for Wilson for as long as he's been wrestling, but he insists his addictions weren't a result of a decade's worth of punishment in the ring.
"I've just had some tough times in my life," he said. "Wrestling had nothing to do with it. I don't blame it for my drug use."
He lost both of his parentsto cancer, but the death of his mother in 2007 deepened his addictions.
"She was my best friend. She was the person I confided in," he said.
Despite not having a place to live recently, Wilson said he made 'OK' money wrestling and hasn't had another job in at least six years.
"I guess I didn't have enough for what I needed," he said.
Police allege that Wilson walked into the PNC Bank on Haddon Avenue on Dec. 22 and handed the teller a note that allegedly threatened a shooting if she didn't hand over money. Wilson made off with $3,000.
He said he went to Atlantic City and played roulette with his girlfriend, but declined to elaborate.
"I wasn't exactly laying low," he said.
Surveillance cameras at the bank captured a particularly clear close-up of Wilson, and the photos became the buzz on Internet wrestling forums, including the CZW. Police said the wrestling community came forward to identify Wilson and he surrendered on Dec. 31.
"The wrestling community was absolutely instrumental in this case," Collingswood police Lt. Glenn Prince said.
Wilson said he wasn't angry that the wrestling fans helped identify him.
"I was eventually going to get caught," he said.
Wilson started wrestling professionally right out of high school, when he and his brother, Chris, attended a wrestling school that eventually became the CZW.
Gage became its biggest star, a poster boy for the anarchy the league portrayed.
"I take a lot of pride in being the toughest dude in that company," he said.
The CZW was featured prominently in the film "The Wrestler," in which Mickey Rourke plays a washed-up champion who pops painkillers and steroids while getting staples popped into his chest during ultraviolent matches. Wilson said he was the first wrestler to use a staple gun in the CZW, but turned down a chance to be in the film, which he thought was "crap."
Gage became the league's first heavyweight champion and has won and lost multiple belts since he started in 1999. He's wrestled opponents in Germany and Japan, where he once lived, and is a CZW Hall of Fame inductee. Gage's draw, some in the wrestling community said, is that he pushes the boundaries, always looking for bigger, badder and bloodier ways to hurt his opponents and entertain the rabid CZW crowds.
"He is an intense individual. He really put his ass on the line a few times," said Derek Sabato, a South Jersey native who once refereed CZW matches and who claims that Gage injured him when he took things too far during a match.
In one YouTube video, Gage slams an opponent into a blazing folding table and catches on fire. In the infamous "Nick Gage armpit incident" video from 2009, Gage was already covered in blood before he was thrown out of a ring lined with fluorescent light tubes. One of them sliced arteries under his armpit.
While people jammed towels in his armpit to stop the bleeding, Gage groaned in pain but wanted to re-enter the ring. Wilson said he would have gotten back into the ring had he been allowed.
"I would have died in the ring probably," he said.
Instead, he was airlifted to a hospital, where he flatlined on an operating table from blood loss.
"He was back wrestling the next week, too," said D.J. Hyde, owner of CZW.
Hyde and other CZW wrestlers said they weren't aware of Wilson's drug use, even during all the hours they've spent with him on the road and in other countries.
"He was obviously having a hard time with something," Hyde said. "I just wish I would have known and could have helped."
On Dec. 11, Gage lost his CWZ Ultraviolent Underground Champion title to Yuko Miyamoto of Japan during CZW's Cage of Death XII match at the Asylum Arena on South Ritner Street.
Gage wasn't scheduled to wrestle at last night's show, but Hyde said he would have made an improv appearance to cause chaos.
"I'm sure he'll be back someday," Hyde said. "He's been here since day one."
Wilson said he's using a public defender and hasn't heard much about the hearing scheduled for next week. He's working on getting into an addiction program at the jail and is not too worried about the long haul ahead.
"Like I said, I'm tough. I'm mind-strong," he said. "Tell everyone I'll be fine."