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LOS ANGELES (CAP) - Justin Merkenson, a 14-year-old from Cupertino, Calif., will try to break into the record books by becoming the youngest person ever to wrestle a live lion, he announced at a press conference yesterday flanked by his parents, siblings and other proud relatives.
"It's been my dream since I was 11 to wrestle a fully grown African lion," Merkenson told reporters. "I've been working this whole time toward that goal, and I feel like I'm finally ready to take it on, sort of."
Justin's parents, Larry and Marylou Merkenson, acknowledge they've faced criticism for allowing their son to take on a challenge many see as too dangerous for a boy his age, or any age, really.
"I do grapple with it," concedes Larry Merkenson. "But he's ready for it from the standpoint of animal wrestling ability, and emotionally I believe he's ready to tackle this head-on.
"I've tried to scare him away from it by showing him some ugly stuff that can happen when you get that close to a ferocious jungle predator, but he just gets more encouraged," he said. "He's kind of stupid that way."
Justin notes that he began wrestling small animals, like cats and possums, at age 13, moving up to larger-breed dogs and eventually more aggressive creatures like raccoons and domestic goats.
"The ones with the horns can get pretty nasty," said Justin.
He plans to keep a record of his attempt via a blog called Justin's Lion Wrestling Blog, although he admitted it might be difficult to type while attempting to keep his head out of the lion's massive jaws. "But nobody ever said this would be easy, I don't think," he noted.
Still, opposition to the attempt is mounting. Darlene Fortenski, spokeswoman for Mothers Against Everything (MAE), denounced the idea, calling it "a very bad choice."
"We're all for children following their dreams, if those dreams involve getting into a good college, or achieving your varsity letter in track, or having high self esteem," said Fortenski. "Maybe Justin could consider joining his high school wrestling team and just wrestling other boys his age, instead of wild animals."
And reaction on the Internet has been even more vociferous. One commenter, "WTF123," on the L.A. Times website asked, "Who's going to pay to clean up after that lion rips this kid into little bite-size pieces? I'm guessing not the parents!!!!!"
The next step, says Justin, is to find a lion; both the Oakland Zoo and Ringling Brothers Circus denied use of their lions for Merekenson's attempt to break the record. However, former Las Vegas performers Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn offered to rent him their white tiger, Montecore, with whom they were reunited recently after he was discovered in a used cabinet purchased by a couple from Paradise, Nev.
"What can I say? Times are hard," said Fischbacher. "We've got to pay for Roy's Cream of Wheat somehow."
Justin is slated to get into the ring with a lion, or Montecore, as soon as specifics can be arranged, and his parents remain unapologetic about the plans.
"We're determined to let our son follow his dream. We're a family of adventurers, not accountants," said Larry Merkenson. "Well, actually we are accountants - but we're adventurers inside, except during tax season."
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