Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gentlemen's Contest

Arguably the classic era of British pro wrestling extends to the present day, though the relatively rule-free American style has largely eclipsed it (for us Americans anyway).  By North American (and here I include Mexican) and Asian standards, British rules wrestling is a quiet, plodding, unassuming event, a considerably more corporeal game than chess, but no less cerebral, even academic.  The rules seem strange to us, summarized on Wikipedia as a formula of "five minute rounds (three minutes for title matches), two public warnings for rule breaking before a disqualification, 'knockouts' (countouts) and disqualifications counting as automatic two falls in best of three falls matches (which were predominant), and no follow-up moves allowed on a grounded opponent."  God damn it to hell, is this rasslin or Mah Jong?

Eye-gouging, hair-pulling, and kicking were not just illegal tactics, but ones that instantly identified the active party as a heel of the lowest order, eliciting hisses and boos from the crowd.  By contrast, in the new school wrestling of 2010, these now "morally ambiguous" tactics elicit cheers, provided the guy on the receiving end is detestably cowardly, effeminate, Muslim, or ugly.  I'm on record as liking some hair-pulling now and then.  But I've grown to like the more civil style of wrestling, too, certainly over the archly melodramatic and high-flying spectacles that giant arena wrestling has become in the USA and, now, Europe (and here I include the United Kingdom).  It contains its own drama, the three falls roughly corresponding to a three-act play, and while there's hardly any microphone-thumping outbursts, there is plenty of grunting and groaning, which I prefer.  And I hardly need to add that I like long strenuous holds over the rope jumping and staple-gunning of contemporary wrestling shows.

In its favor, the golden age of British wrestling featured wrestlers who actually knew how to wrestle, the aforementioned exhausting struggle of muscle on (sweaty, hairy) muscle, and fetching cornermen to ogle during the breaks between rounds.  The breaks in the match actually give the audience time to feast its eyes on the physiques of the contestants and to savor their exhaustion and frustration, something non-stop, "extreme" wrestling deliberately denies us, even though the physiques are usually more noteworthy now--a prohibition based on, as I have suggested elsewhere, fear of the feminizing implications of the male-male gaze, if not outright homophobia.

In this six-round match from 1976, posting courtesy of tellumyort on YouTube, we see a veteran champ built like a tractor, in the person of Mike Marino, 5'11", 209#, up against tall, strapping newcomer Lee Bronson, 6'2", 213#.  Both men wrestle scientifically and assertively, but remain gentlemen throughout:  they congratulate each other when bested by an effective hold, and in the end the loser is first to applaud the winner's triumph.  How is this sexy?  Well, for one thing, this approach emphasizes the comradely nature of old-fashioned sportsmanship.  Two buddies amiably, even affectionately grappling has always been a huge turn-on for me, both in the doing and the watching of, so a purely scientific match between two mutually respectful opponents is just the same thing in a larger, more public venue.  Plus there is the well established appeal of the "straight edge," the manly, earnest innocence of fair play, clean living, and a square fight.  Then, too, there's the long, strenuous, grunting holds--did I mention them already?  And, yes, those two adorable cornermen too.

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