On March 22nd, 2019 I was just sitting around the house twiddling my thumbs and minding my own business when a message came in from a friend:
“Last minute heads up…” it read, “I’ve started going to a monthly minor league “professional” wrestling event…”
And just like that he had my undivided attention.
“Anyway, there’s one tonight in Little Italy, I suspect you might be into it.”
He suspected quite correctly.
Despite (or possibly due to) growing up in a virtual hotbed of pro wrestling, I never really got into the “sport” (Moncton was a regular stop on the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling circuit and fan or not, everyone of my era would be familiar with wrestling names like Steve Petitpas, Leo Burke, Bobby Bass, Rudy Kay & Bobby Kay, Rick Valentine, and of course The Cuban Assassin. Even if you didn’t go see it live, with only two channels on the television you were bound to see some local wrestling on TV. My uncle was a pretty big fan). I suppose I liked boxing too much and as a result found wrestling a bit disrespectful, but really, I think I was just too young to appreciate the parody of pro wrestling and the blatant entertainment value that comes with said parody.
However, my value and interest in spectacle had me interested in attending a local night of wresting since I had first heard of it a few years before, but there was just no way I was able to spread this interest to m’lady, who steadfastly refused to join me at such an event (roller derby falls into precisely the same category).
So I was thrilled for the invite. I pounded a beer or two, wolfed down an early supper and hopped a bus down to Preston Street.
I was surprised to discover that St. Anthony’s Hall was an impressively nice, spacious room with fancy chandeliers dangling from the ceiling and I was especially surprised to find the room was packed to the rafters with about 500 wrestling and/or spectacle fans, all of them juiced for a raucous night at the fights. I found my friend and his posse standing in front of the bar just as the first bout was getting started.
The match pitted a mixed-gender tag-team against a single fighter, which seemed like an odd mismatch to me, but I was soon reminded that things like rules, fairness, and decorum are simply not a part of pro wrestling. Indeed, the referee is only there to serve one purpose, and that’s to almost count the fight out over and over, continually prolonging the spectacle by leading the audience just up to the end of the fight before pulling back and allowing the action to get even bigger.
Actually, it was the ref that made me see how much…shall we call it “burlesque”? is a part of pro wrestling. I was expecting an athletic ballet but soon realized that what they were presenting was more akin to a synchronized striptease. Of course the fact that most of the guys are stacked and either underdressed or overly costumed only adds to the comparison, and highlights the obvious yet unspoken homo-erotic undertones (overtones?) of the whole industry, though that can only be inferred; it’s not like the crowd was full of rainbows and unicorns or anything.
But that said, the crowd was very enthusiastic, and everyone really seemed quite friendly. People had signs and whiteboards, the C4 (Capital City Championship Combat) crew had a line of burly security dudes pretending to hold back a crowd of blood-thirsty thrill-seeking superfans while a group of drunk, smiling brahs pretended to be blood-thirsty thrill-seeking superfans and allowed themselves to be (barely) held back by the security dudes. It was clearly an extension of the crowd-wide suspension of disbelief that is required for the whole pro wrestling spectacle to work.
I suppose I should mention the wrestlers themselves: man, were they athletes! I couldn’t believe it! Third-rope double-flips were the norm. The wrestlers spent almost as much time flinging themselves and each other over the ropes entirely and fighting outside the ring as they did in the ring, and folding chairs were being thrown almost as often as punches.
Did I say punches? I should say “slaps”. I don’t know when wrestlers decided en masse to replace fake punches with chest-slapping, but they do. Obviously a slap to the chest doesn’t hurt – or at least not as much as the grimaces would lead one to believe – but the percussive effect is clearly more important than any visual illusion. As a matter of fact, sound was everything. I don’t know what the stage…err…I mean “ring”…actually no, I’m going to go ahead and call it a stage…I don’t know what the stage was made of, but it might as well have been a 12’x12’ snare drum, as bouncy and loud as it was. Every body slam was amplified to sound like a train wreck, every slap/punch was punctuated with a loud foot slam onto the tarmac, and oh, the yelling!
And you know, speaking of “suspension of disbelief”, the whole throwing someone into the ropes only to have them bounce uncontrollably back at you is the biggest, most obvious lie in the entertainment industry, right above “We’re going to take a five-minute set break and be right back with more music.” I mean, for that ubiquitous move to work everyone in the room has to give up on even a rudimentary understanding of basic physics (and the move always works).
Also firmly under the “suspension of disbelief” heading is the acceptance that a guy like Puf (who weighs in at about 475lbs or so, and wears it not so well in his pink and teal caped set of tights) could stand toe-to-toe with any of the buff, six-packed strongmen, but there he was up on the stage getting thrown around by a 140lb petite girl who not only withstood getting steamrolled by the tiny giant but ended up pinning the big man to the floor (which seemed impossible to me…Puf’s shoulders couldn’t even touch the canvas).
But in the topsy-turvy, upside-down world of pro wrestling, would it come as a surprise to anyone that Puf was the hands-down crowd favourite of the night? Can anyone look at a masked, obese, pink-tighted showboat who called himself Puf and really believe that he was an athlete?
No, Puf was an entertainer, no more and no less, and really, an encapsulator of what we were all there for. And with masked trios, four-way tag-team matches, loud rock and roll, screaming machismo, cartoon-like refereeing, and endless $6 beers it turns out that local C4 wrestling is a whale-sized pile of sweaty, mythical entertainment. Any vague whiff of “sport” in the whole ordeal is betrayed by the fact that nobody ever seems to care who wins a bout, least of all the wrestlers.
No, pro wrestling is for fun only, and in that regard it excels. And it’s cheap fun too, only $20 (plus beers). It was especially cheap for me as I forgot to pay my friend back for the ticket. Maybe we can wrestle for it.