Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween


Sunrise, Sunset


Stoney Hooker's not the wet-behind-the-ears kid anymore.  As of three months ago, he's the cruiserweight champion at Champions with Attitude, and he's moved rather quickly in the past couple of years from lithe youth to thick slab of man.

As the years pass, his inchoate "cuteness," part kewpie doll, part high-school jock, has morphed into heroic manliness.  He still looks like sex on a stick, even as, troublingly, his face begins to combine attributes of Don Johnson and the Reverend Billy Graham (much younger versions of both, needless to say, and both of them knockouts in their day--Johnson's porn heat plus Graham's chiseled Book of Judges forehead and jawline).

And Hooker's busier than ever according to his text messages on Facebook, which suggest he might be barhopping in Panama City, Florida, tonight with TJ Mack and Aden Chambers (lock up your daughters!) after a great tag-team brawl in Eufaula, Alabama.  These grueling car trips sound like a lot of fun, but exhausting, as Hooker himself put it this morning, "Sometimes I question my dedication but never my Awesomeness!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Patrick Bentley


He's been around a while, but the first I heard of this Alabama hunk was during my interview last weekend with photographer Blake Arledge, who shared his stunning photo of Patrick Bentley, b. 1983, 5'10", 200#, posing in the ring mid-match.  According to Arledge, the shot has garnered more comments than the photographer's accomplished action shots.  I can understand why and am even tempted to argue that the bodybuilder-wrestler's body in repose is twice the action as many matches at full throttle--but I won't argue that ... I can't ... it would be pure hyperbole to make such a claim and it is, quite frankly, unsupportable.  But I like this man, one, for his Tarzanesque hair and physique (always a sucker for Tarzan, always was, always will be) and, two, for the hard, earthy lines of his face--if I were a painter I'd cast the guy as Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  And still there's something distinctly "American" in his look, his attitude, and his physique.  Sometime in the past year the wavy hair has been cut closer to the skull, but the man is still an eyeful.  


Johnny B-Wire



Independent Dutch wrestler Johnny B-Wire.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Hell


Scott Finkelstein's shots of the opening match of last Saturday's Jersey All Pro Wrestling show in Jersey City are pretty exciting.  Jon Moxley downed Devon Moore in what looks like the kind of grit-and-grunt match I like.  Check them all out, starting here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Photography of William Blake Arledge: Exclusive Interview

Some time back, I asked wrestling photographer William Blake Arledge if he would mind picking out a dozen of his action photos which, he feels, uniquely characterize his style, technique, and interest in pro wrestling.  The idea was that I could post them along with his commentary on the circumstances under which he captured the images--a sort of blog-based self-curated showing.  I also wanted to interview the man about the particular challenges of documenting pro wrestling action.  He generously accepted both invitations.  

Arledge got up-close access to the world of pro-wrestling when his cousin Adam Jaxon partnered up with their mutual friend Ken Magnum to form a tag team, The UnderGround.  Since then Arledge has "been welcomed into the families, locker rooms, promotions and personal lives of the great talent that is professional wrestling today."  Close access to events led to gigs as photographer.  Self-taught in photography, Arledge learned quickly how to time his shots and eventually upgraded his photographic equipment to capture clearer pictures of the action and negotiate his way around and between the bright and dark spots at professional wrestling events.  He "retired" from wrestling photography at the beginning of this year, but there's reason to hope (I hope) he may soon return to ringside with his eye to the viewfinder.

These photos span six years of wrestling photography, in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.  All the comments immediately below the pictures are by Arledge, and I have chosen to leave the images in the order he sent them, rather than rearrange them in chronological order.


2/12/05--American Pro Wrestling in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  "Loaded Gunz" Ken Magnum with bloody nose.  I had had my new Nikon D70 for about two months.  I knew right away this was a great shot.  A look of a fighter with his spoils draped over him.



3/11/06--NWA Anarchy, Cornelia, Georgia.  "The Human Action Figure" Patrick Bentley, pose down during the show.  I probably got more comments from people about this picture than any action shot.


3/25/05--NWA Wildside, Cornelia, Georgia.  Rick Michaels' fireball.  Possibly at the top of my favorite pics, this was my first show outside of my home area (upstate South Carolina/Western North Carolina).   Thanks to “Hot Shot” Shane Austin and Michaels, I traveled to Georgia to the “Church of Southern Wrestling.”  In the next month, NWA Wildside became NWA Anarchy, under new ownership, where I continued to shoot.


5/7/05--Carolina Championship Wrestling, Gaffney, South Carolina.  Dusty Rhodes versus Terry Funk--one of the first times I got to shoot legends (to me) of wrestling.


5/10/07--Champions With Attitude, Columbia, South Carolina.   TJ Mack on top of Derek Ryze.  I like this one because I think it's a great shot of TJ's rubbery face.  Plus it has a sort of "bird of prey" look to it.   TJ was getting ready to fall back into a Mexican Surfboard to set up for his and his brother's "Death From Above" finish.


5/30/09--NWA Charlotte, North Carolina.  Andy Douglas over Josh Magnum,  Both guys were sporting new looks here.  NWA Charlotte was a great promotion, and it died before its time.


6/16/07--NWA Anarchy.  Caleb Konley punched by Brodie Ray Chase.  I like the darkness of this shot and the look on Caleb's face.  It expresses pain and regret and draws empathy from the viewer.


7/13/07--Peterson Memorial Cup, Night 1, Orlando, Florida.  Nooie Lee slung with great ease by Erick Stevens.


8/9/08--Charlotte, North Carolina.  Ricky Steamboat and son, Richie, at Richie's "debut" in the Queen City.  I think a great shot of the past and the future.


12/29/07--NWA Anarchy, "Season's Beatings."   Slim J on top of Patrick Bentley.  This was the final match in a series between these two.  It took place in a cage and got pretty bloody.  I was amazed when I got good shots for cage matches--it takes skill!   I never got to be inside the cage, always outside that awful chicken wire type stuff.  This also shows off Slim J's physique fairly well too.


12/30/06--NWA Anarchy, Helen, Georgia.  AJ Styles versus Jeremy Vain.  My favorite shot of Styles that I've taken.  A great pose by Styles too.


10/13/04--American Pro Wrestling, Spartanburg Fair, Spartanburg, South Carolina.  AJ Frost (blue singlet) and Nick Fury cross body in air.  These guys were two of the best at APW.  They just never broke out.  It took me a couple of months, but I finally got my timing down with my first camera--a Sony Mavica.  Seeing this I knew I needed a better camera, and by the end of the year I had the Nikon D70.


Joe:  Thank you, Blake.  These photos are awesome by the way.  So tell me, how, if at all, does knowing a wrestler personally, as you do Ken Magnum, for instance, affect the way you see him as the subject of a photograph?

Blake:  It never really put any pressure on me if I knew them personally.  There were only a few that I did get to know beyond the casual show friendship.  For them, I always tried to make the best of their matches.  Sometimes I would be told to look out for a certain hold or listen for a certain cue and try to be in a spot to get something special.  Those that I had a personal bond with would always listen when I expressed what I thought made better pictures too.  I think it certainly helped the relationship between myself and the wrestler.  The wrestlers that were very aware of my presence made my job easy.  They would apply certain holds in my direction--mug for the camera--talk to me during matches.

Joe:  What’s your personal checklist of traits that make for a perfect body in wrestling?

Blake:  I don't think there is a perfect body for wrestling.  Wrestling is full of so many personalities, gimmicks, men, women, midgets ....  It's obvious when a wrestler thinks about their look.  Of course, many fans want to see the perfect, chiseled, tanned gym body on a man, or the blonde-haired, tall, buxom female.  On the opposite [end of the scale], some folks want to see what looks like a fighter, a scrapper, a man who cares less about his appearance and more on just beating the crap out of his opponent--or the women, who, while dressed appropriately, don't fit the bill of a "diva"--and rip phone books in half.  Fans have, in their heads, what the "perfect body" is--and there is a wrestler out there somewhere who fits that [image].  Also, not to pick on anyone in particular, but, as ... advice for any wrestlers who read this, the camera can highlight any unique aspects of your body, so be prepared for that to be seen--if you forget to shave, that will be picked up ... pimples, stretch marks, claw marks, whatever, will be noticeable.

Joe:  What’s your biggest challenge as a photographer of wrestling action?  Lighting? Speed of the action?  Objects and people blocking the view?  

Blake:  Every show I did presented some type of difficulty.  Insufficient lighting was very prominent.  Matches with more people always present a problem, because you have so much going on.  Technical difficulties, at times--battery runs out, flash won't work.  Refs who seem to follow me around the ring, just to stand in my way ... or was I following them?  Remembering to keep moving around the ring--if you stand for too long, you are blocking someone's view, and I always tried to remember that [since] those folks paid for their seats, they deserve to see the show.

Joe:  To what extent do wrestlers’ characters—their ring personalities—mirror their attitudes and manner of speaking in ordinary life outside the ring?  Do you find the differences, if any, intriguing, and do you ever try to capture wrestlers’ true (non-kayfabe) personalities on camera?

Blake:  I have found, with a few exceptions, that wrestlers are usually the complete opposite of what we see in the ring.  There's a great Oscar Wilde quote that I think fits pro wrestling:  "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."  For my photos I usually [focused on] the characters.  I do have a gallery on my site of photos away from the ring, but for the most part it was all "professional."  I still think there should be an element of mystery involved in a lot of it.  There are some wrestlers who were "on" all the time--and while that was fun in a lot of situations, it could be very trying in others--because you have this "character" to deal with.

Joe:  [Laughs.]  Given the rapid turns of events in a typical match, is it even possible to “compose” a shot? Or is the art of wrestling photography mainly a matter of shooting wildly and then sifting through the shots to find the ones that “look” interestingly composed?
    Blake:  I've said that a good wrestling photographer can compose a match.  I try to tell the story of the match through the photos.  Shooting wildly and then panning for that nugget of gold pays off sometimes, but there is no art to that.  I firmly believe you have to be a wrestling fan to be a good wrestling photographer.  You have to become part of the action in your mind, so that you are foreseeing what is next.  If Mr X gets thrown into a corner, and you see Mr Y backing to one side, you should know where you need to be to get either (A) Mr X's reaction or (B) Mr Y launching a signature move.  I was always exhausted after shooting full shows, namely because I'm out of shape, but also because I would move so much and stand at awkward positions to keep my eyes on the wrestlers, the ref, the fans, the floor, the curtain.  Also, something that surprised a lot of folks was I don't really get to "watch" the match.  I have the best seat in the house, but when you are thinking in shots, you are working.  You're not sitting in a weak, plastic armory chair with a soda and a hot dog with your friends.  I have been told, "Oh, well, they tell you every move they're going to do, so you know where to be."  That is true in some instances, but not all the time.  Because I am a fan of wrestling, I can follow the pacing and psychology of matches.  When you understand that, you just naturally know where to go.

    Joe:  How important are “looks” and “styling” to the success of pro wrestlers—as compared to skills and showmanship?  I’m talking about gear, of course, but also how they wear their hair, whether they sport tattoos, their photogenicity, too?

    Blake:  I think every bit counts towards successfully "selling" a character.  In my opinion, though, if you don't have the basic, fundamental aspects of professional wrestling, then all the glitz, glamour, and ink in the world won't help you.  Does that mean I think you have to be a great wrestling technician?  Not exactly.  There are plenty of famous wrestlers who can't wrestle at all--but they understand how to hold a crowd and keep them interested.  Walking out in a pair of denim overalls, work boots, white T-shirt, unshaven and no charisma will not grab a crowd.  And usually will not get any pictures by me.

    Joe:  I love the way wrestlers sell each other’s holds and moves.  Josh Magnum, for instance, and Caleb Konley, in your photographs.  In your experience, which wrestlers have stood out as especially gifted in selling the pain—and in working an opponent over?

    Blake:  There are several who are really good at selling.  Unfortunately, they are outweighed by those who cannot or will not do it.  I've seen many who don't realize that what is happening to them is actually supposed to hurt.  Many who believe they cannot be hurt.  And a few who, because of a certain number of years under their belts, absolutely refuse.  A couple of the pictures I chose show how important selling is.  For the people who can only see these matches through my pictures, selling is vital.  The look on a wrestler's face can express hatred, pain, suffering, joy, indifference--a wide range [of reactions].  A visitor to my site can feel the emotion behind a match when a wrestler is good at selling it.

    Joe:  In general, what’s the talk like in the locker rooms?  Any funny stories we should know about?

    Blake:  It's locker room talk and that's all I can say.  [Laughs.]

    Joe:  Okay then.  Changing gears.  I liked the picture of father and son, the Steamboats.  How are the traditions of pro wrestling handed down from one generation of wrestlers to the next?  Or do you feel that pro wrestling reinvents itself with every new generation of wrestlers?

    Blake:  I have found that when someone who is respected in the wrestling community speaks to "the boys," they will listen.  From guys like Ricky Morton, Johnny Weaver, Bill Eadie, Steve Corino, when they talk about a match, guys pay attention, as do I.  Having respect and knowledge of what came before benefits wrestlers and wrestling photographers too.

    Joe:  Bloody matches.  For you are they a turn-on or a turn-off?
      Blake:  I love shooting bloody matches.  I could have a gallery of just those.  I'm not a fan of hardcore matches [that happen] for no reason--they are pointless and wasteful--but even in those, if a lot of blood starts flowing, you'll see me take more pictures.  The bloodiest match I ever shot was in Statesville, North Carolina.  A cage match between Jake Manning and Bobby Houston.  There was so much of it that, as I walked around the ring, I could smell that coppery blood odor.  It was everywhere.  I even got blood on my camera.

      Joe:  What makes for the best photograph?  High-flying daredevilry?  Or a long sweaty intense hold?

      Blake:  The best wrestling photograph is one that elicits an emotional response from the viewer immediately and every subsequent viewing thereafter.  Very simple.  There is a good way to shoot entrances, a good way to shoot aerial moves, a good way to shoot finishers, and on and on.  I always enjoyed hearing from the visitors to my site who complimented my work.  Yes, it's an ego thing.  And without patting myself too much on the back, I think over the years I have captured a few moments where someone will always say, "Man, that's a great picture."

      Joe:  Finish this sentence:  The most successful pro wrestlers are the ones who …

      Blake:  ... eat, sleep, breathe, respect, train for, study, learn ... WRESTLING.  Oh, and don't piss off wrestling photographers.  They have plenty of pictures they don't use.


            Sunday, October 24, 2010

            Steve Simpson


            During the part of the 1980s when I did not have a boyfriend who liked to wrestle--somewhere north of the 90 percent mark for the decade--my goto guy for wrestling fantasies was, of course, "Golden Warrior" Kevin Von Erich, but my next best bet was South African light heavyweight Steve Simpson.

            Sporting curly hair perched somewhere between Roger Daltry's mane in Tommy (1975) and Glenn Close's aint-I-a-crazy-bitch? hairdo in Fatal Attraction (1987), Simpson was my number-one choice for jungle-boy wrestling fantasies between 1986 and 1987.

            This was back in the days when wrestlers commonly wrestled each other to the mat for slow, grinding headlocks and scissorholds.  Like Kevin, Steve knew his way around a tight turnbuckle squeeze, too.

            His long, heavy-lidded joli laid face was not a particular draw for me, but it grew on me.  His tan torso reminded me of my first real-life infatuation, of the previous decade, a straight football player in South Florida, who nevertheless liked to strip down to undies and wrestle about two or three times a week.

            Simpson was welcomed to the WCCW with a great deal of hoopla, but the promotion went belly up at the decade's end.  I heard somewhere that, after a trip back to South Africa, Simpson wound up back in Texas, where he runs a chain of mattress stores with his brother.

            (All caps from recent YouTube posts by sportjockma.)

            Saturday, October 23, 2010

            Carnivore


            BG East must be feeling the fire in its belly again because for the last year (especially) it has been churning out newly energized product, with tighter, edge-of-your-seat scenarios, press-stopping performances by veteran members of the roster, and hot new talent who assure us that somebody pretty and dangerous will always be ready to jump into the ring or onto the mats for a good greasy tussle.

            Its latest output is a second Wrestler Spotlight featuring Donnie Drake.  I've liked Drake for a while now--big, good-natured, toothy goof that he was at the beginning and, now, especially, Drake the Carnivore.  I suspect his match with Rio Garza is going to be the one match in this release that gets the most buzz.  It features the much-talked-about Garza, one of those wrestlers Bard at neverland rightly singled out a couple of months ago as alarmingly over-exposed on multiple fronts in the homoerotic wrestling market.  But, even more newsworthy, I think, is Drake's new body.  Unlike the first two matches, against Jobe Zander and Paul Hudson, shot some time back, the third match debuts the new tighter, tatted-up Donnie Drake with what looks like Tyson Dux's old haircut.  The pirate tattoos on the back of his calves and the shiny new abdominals are definitely worth a look, but I'm mostly blown away by the way Drake raises the bar on baditude and aggressiveness here.

            At first glance, "Donnie" is hardly the name for the bad-ass Drake is shaping into.  Maybe it's just a matter of time before Drake emerges as "Draco," "Deathstar Drake," or simply "Drake."  But I kind of like the way the diminutive "Donnie" suckers us in for the kill.  It has punk appeal.  The grownup version of the kid who bullied us in sixth grade.  The match with Garza is a fugue on the theme of gut punishing, and it's a wet dream for fans of gut punching and claw holds.  But it's the new mean sheen on Drake that keeps the action fresh and interesting.

            I've said before that I like "mean" in a fighter.  I have said before also that the allure of "mean" does not translate for me to an acceptance of real-world evil, which is by and large vapid, bloated, and cold, not at all the wittily devious and sexily arrogant villainy of fantasy.  And though I like my real-life friends and lovers to be compassionate, generous, with lovable, idiosyncratic vulnerabilities, I do like them to have a strong mean streak too, especially in the sack.   A man (or a woman) without some steel in the bones and the capacity to produce a good sneer and bare some teeth is not worth my time and attention.  So you can imagine, then, with what delight I welcome the new dark side of Donnie Drake, a man equally gifted in aw-shucks nice and grab-yer-nads nasty.


            Thursday, October 21, 2010

            Varsity



            New Jersey native Marc Corino, 5'10", 189#, wrestles for Independent Wrestling Federation--a graduate of the IWF Training School, going pro last year.  With Austin Williams, he is one half of the IWF tag-team champs, The First Team.  Just looking at these pictures, you can smell the "young" on this kid, which, for me at my age, is a bit more bittersweet than seductive, though still plenty enough hot.  (Photos above, by Michelle Valentino, photos below, by Scott Finkelstein)


            Wednesday, October 20, 2010

            Tony LaPointe



            Jobber Tony LaPointe did not even have to say to leather daddy Dana Smith "I could fight you all night" for me to fall in love with him, but he did, and I did.  LaPointe appears in exactly one BG East product, Submissions 3, in 1992, and it's one of those one-shot epiphanies (of which BGE has plenty) that fill me with yearning for the matches that never were (LaPointe vs Kid Vicious would have been sweet, for instance), not to mention regret for the lost opportunity of a chance run-in with the guy when I was still young enough to do something about it.

            I used to own this number on VHS videotape, I am almost certain of it, but it was stolen or lost or something over the course of the last dozen years or so.  Now classics like this one are coming out on DVD, I am delighted to report.  Coincidentally this one wound up as an extra disk in a recent shipment--so thank you, Jonny (or Steve, or whoever), even if it happened to be by mistake (but no way you're getting it back now, no way).

            The Smith-LaPointe showdown is the second best of the four matches here.  The last match (Dick the Prick beating up on a very cocky and very game TNT, who, as you might expect, gives Dick a dose of his own medicine) is the best, the reason I originally bought the tape, because at the time the Prick matched my image of the ideal fighting man, about which I will have more to say, possibly, in a future post.   The opening match is an unintentionally funny bout between Vicious and blank-faced Lukas-Haas-lookalike Cody Collier (pretty, but you can sort of see him counting out the moves, if you know what I mean).  The match after that reminds me how great a heel Cruze was back in the day.

            But back to LaPointe, it is the third chapter that features his mat match with uber-daddy Dana Smith--for LaPointe both a debut and, sadly, a swan song.  I told you that he tells Smith that he could fight all night long, but did I mention that he says this after four (of six) submissions to Smith?  And, friends, let me tell you that had I been Smith I would have held the hairy muscle boy to his boast, beating him down again and again and again and again, until the sun rose the next day.

            Tony's tough accent would fit nicely in The Departed or, more recently, The Town (both excellent movies, by the way).  As you can see for yourself, his upper body is beautifully proportioned, with a virile growth of dark hair covering his pecs and riding his washboard abs down to the waistband of his tri-colored trunks.  He chews gum as he wrestles.  Big deal if the hair on his head is thinning (so was mine back then, when I still had hair to thin).  Even before I went follicle-deficient, I was attracted to balding men, a sucker for the word "male" in male pattern baldness.

            I was mostly drawn to him because something about his face reminds me of servicemen I worshipped as a kid growing up on and around Air Force bases in Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Japan.  (In face and physique, Tony mostly reminds me of Mr. Farinola, my hotheaded homeroom teacher in eighth grade at a school for us military brats--who made my heart patter once when he slammed a wise-ass classmate of mine up against the bulletin board.  Damn the man was hot--and the fact that he loved James Bond novels and movies made me a fan for life.)

            I can picture LaPointe as a cop up in north Boston, a sort of grimly determined but unimaginative by-the-book policeman, engaged to a devout Irish Catholic--all the time starting things he can't finish.  I can see him as the type who jokingly stirs up a fracas with one, two, or more of the guys at the gym.  Then, once the action gets heated, he's the first to lose his cool and make it personal and real, throwing a few wild punches.  After getting his ass kicked six or seven times, he joins the guys for a couple of makeup rounds of Schlitz at a nearby dive, from where he calls his girlfriend to tell her not to wait up for him because he's drunk and going to spend the night on somebody's couch.   What happens next is anybody's guess--and frankly I suspect he will forget all about it in a day or two.  Yeah, I have known two or three guys like this--and right or wrong it's the vibe I get off this guy, too.  And it's not an unattractive vibe, the way I see it.


            Chavo


            Chavo Guerrero Jr. turns 40 today.  He was one of my favorite mainstream television wrestlers for a while there in the 1990s.  Later, connections to steroids, Chris Benoit, and his uncle Eddie Guererro later made him seem a doomed and haunted figure, but the man still wrestles.

            In his heyday, as a good guy or as a villain, Chavo's macho self-confidence and volatility kept me watching World Championship Wrestling--back when it was owned by Ted Turner, post-Jim Crockett, pre-Vince McMahon.

            Unlike some of his close contemporaries at WCW--Billy Kidman, Evan Karagias, Alex Wright, and Buff Bagwell--Guerrero exuded smoldering intensity and built most of his persona and story through his actions in the ring, rather than through costumes and monologues at the microphone--two qualities that made him, for me at least, hotter than they were, even though admittedly they had handsomer faces and harder bodies.  The dark fire in this guy's eyes just eggs you on to fight him.


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