Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Five Hot Spots

Kyle O'Reilly, 6'0", 185#

 Artemis Spencer, 6'0", 189#

On March 6, 2010, Kyle O'Reilly fought and beat Artemis Spencer in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Spencer, from "parts unknown," was the former NWA Canadian Junior Heavyweight Champion; he had relinquished the title nine months before this match.  O'Reilly, 23, a proud son of Canada, who had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, made his triumphant return to Vancouver with this match.  I dissect the match below in order to analyze the dramatic structure of a typical catch wrestling event.  However, this match is more than just typical; despite the limitations of the video, the match itself is pretty damn great.

If you ask me, and, I know, you didn't, the first "hot spot" of any pro wrestling match is when the opponents enter the ring.  The two fighters approach each other accompanied by not only the frenetic noise of their entry themes and flashing montage of signature moves, but also the catcalls of the crowd and the buzz of adrenaline filling the air.  Each man is already worked up, psyched up, ready to brawl, his body twitching with the anticipation of being set loose on another man.  It's the same thrill that we all felt in middle school when the bully and the jock faced off behind the gymnatorium--especially if we were either the bully or the jock.  It's a primal moment, when two guys put everything on the line, confident in their masculinity and itching to measure their tough against another man's.

The ref pats them down, in turn, as if they might be carrying weapons concealed in their pecs and biceps--and, of course, in a sense, they are.  Months of conditioning and training churning under the surface, the fighters pace like panthers in a cage.  Their skin adjusts to the heat of the bright lights and the pressure of a hundred eyes taking in every curve of their bodies, measuring man against man and placing their bets, even if only in their heads.

The second "hot spot" is when the bodies come together, after the bell sounds, either in the classic collar and elbow or, as in this fight, with guns blazing as the two collide in the center of the ring.  If I ruled the world, and, I know, I don't, we'd dispense with all the talk and grandstanding that only delay this moment.  We'd have a bit more faith in the inherent drama of two half-naked men pitting themselves against each other before the watchful gaze of others, realizing all the shit talk in the world can't improve on this simple unadorned conflict.  

In the best matches (in my humble opinion) it is the moves of the first five minutes of the fight that determine who the heel is and who the face is.  Personally I'm not usually a fan of a lot of trumped-up narrative baggage being dragged to the ring; it's good enough for me that the wrestler's heart and integrity, or lack thereof, become apparent in the wordless play of events between the ring ropes.  Audiences do a pretty good job of figuring out who to cheer and who to jeer without its being spoonfed to them.

The third "hot spot" is, after the high flying antics and fancy jujitsu wind down, that point when the fighters hit the mat, and chess-like wrestling strategies and long sweaty clinches replace the pyrotechnics that opened the match.  Leglocks, headlocks, armbars, chickenwings, grapevines, crabs, claws, chokes, near pins, and figure-fours, we're talking about.  Body slides on body, the two entwine, and each man tries to squeeze a submission out of the other.  Wrestling doesn't get more basic than this--without this, it's not wrestling.  

I also count body slams as belonging to this section of the fight--in a perfect world, a steady succession of slams, followed by the torturous twisting and pulling of limbs and neck.  Here, now that the sides have been drawn in the previous act, the fighters can speak at last, hurling insults, cursing, groaning, pleading with the ref, shouting down the big mouths in the crowd, proclaiming their confidence that they're giving the opponent the licking he deserves.

At the end of this hot spot, constituting a separate, fourth "hot spot," the wrestlers discover each other's weaknesses, perhaps even bring them about by relentlessly targeting an opponent's shoulder or leg or back or head.  The two take turns wearing the other guy down.  The audience picks up on the chinks in each fighter's armor, cheers when the face takes advantage of the heel's overconfidence and boos when the heel attacks the face's sprained ankle.  Or whatever.  Here each fighter calls on the ref to hear his opponent's submission, only to be disappointed when the man pulls a counter-move out of nowhere or resorts to underhanded tactics to reverse the course of the match.  Thus the tension builds.

In the final "hot spot," the fighters have worn each other down to nubs.  They become desperate.  Their bodies gleam under the lights like quivering jelly.  They shake the cobwebs out of their head, they stomp their boot on the mat, they grope their way blindly to the other man's prostrate body.  Things are in slow motion at this point.  They're at the point of having to call up their hidden reserves.  Both of them are on the edge of total physical exhaustion.  Surges of adrenaline are brief, but deadlier now than before because the bodies are ravaged.  Now is the time to use one's energy economically, save up something for the kill, be watchful for fleeting, never-to-be-repeated opportunities for attack.

The tension accelerates.  But the speed never quite equals the frenzy of the fight's second act.  Heel and face alike turn brutal.  "Time to nut up and kill this guy if you can," they seem to tell themselves.  The fighters are slower to recoup from their opponent's attack.  They respect each other more now, and, in all likelihood, they hate each other more now, too.  The body slams are louder, accompanied by dramatic explosions of sweat as flesh and bone impact the mat.  The crowd gets restless, even a little hysterical.  The fighters glower and pull out their heretofore concealed bags of tricks.  If the face has tried to fight a clean fight up to now, he begins to toy with the idea of fighting fire with fire.  Whatever injustices occurred in the first half of this fight, the time has now come for payback.  The time has come to climb to the top rope.  No more fancy moves, just audacious lunges, as dangerous to oneself as to the other guy.  Impatiently, the ref starts counting down more quickly, but still gets only a two count.

The endgame comes quick and unexpected.  It's a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.  It's a sudden reversal.  Whoever looked like he was winning two minutes earlier ends up getting pinned or stretched out so raw that he taps out, screaming.  In a lesser match, the resolution may just be a matter of the time running out--or a fighter getting a little too careless or bold or headstrong and the ref disqualifying him.  But if there is a decisive win, always the most satisfying ending, it's the winner's entrance song we hear at the end, as the loser skulks out under the bottom rope and disappears into the dark, and the winner raises his trembling arms to the air above his head and looks defiantly out over the heads of the crowd.

(via phenixpayne)

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