Monday, April 30, 2012

I Get Weak in the Knees






Maybe it's because I'm a child of the Cold War that for the last year I've been wanting to hear Ivan Gromov utter the words "I will break you." Usually I'm the worst at coming up with ideas for fantasy matches, but I think this one could be a winner. I would redo Rocky IV, casting Ivan as Drago, growling his murderous threat to moonfaced all-American Steven Walters. It would be a close, sweaty match. The two stand within an inch of each other in height, carry within thirteen pounds in weight. These brawny men are built to withstand earthquakes and tornadoes. Gromov is the bigger of the two, but I bet Walters could put up a good fight. Each looks like he was born behind a plough and weaned on bear's milk. A battle between the two ex-superpowers to settle old scores could be a hell of a show.




Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hardest Working Man in Wrestling






Cameron Mathews, 26, 5'11", 189#, is everywhere--and he's looking better than ever. The ubiquitous star of underground wrestling (Thunder's Arena, BG East, Cyberfights, and Can-Am) also works shows above ground for independent promotions as well, mostly on the East Coast, with credits that include big ones like Ring of Honor, NWA on Fire, and TNA Impact. The center shots above show him in an NWA on Fire show two weeks ago, wrestling Julian Starr. He's been wrestling professionally since he was fifteen. Though the spelling of his name varies (Mathews/Matthews) and he sometimes goes by "Champ," his self-presentation remains the same from venue to venue. He's also got his own website, worth checking out.

The shots below (by Paparazzo) give us Cam in a match for Northeast Championship Wrestling back in November, giving Jonny Firestorm (as we know him) what for. 

I'm a Cam Fan, going way back, more so now than ever before.




Get Your Gimp On









"Gimp" refers to the rubber masks used in S/M that feature zippers on eye- and mouth-holes. Think Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994):
"Bring out the gimp."
"Gimp's sleeping."
"Well, I guess you're gonna have to go wake him up now, won't you?"
PUMP Photography presents gawdy and frenetic new shots of the godless, reckless chaos of this month's Lucha Britannia, the UK catch-cabaret that may well be the Cirque du Soleil of sado-erotic polymorphous perversity. I would love love love to see this show live.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Methodical Sadism








Here is a tag-team match so wonderful you can find it in three different places. At BG Enterprise and Can-Am you can find it as part of two different disks: Arena 25 and Best of Arena 1, and at BG East it's the final match of Tag Team Torture 5. It should be available everywhere, required viewing for gay wrestling fans.

I did not always appreciate tag-team matches as I do today. I preferred the intimacy of singles matches. Still do, actually, but I have opened up. Of course I always enjoyed watching the Von Erichs in team action, but even then I mentally reedited the match and cobbled together a singles match. That all changed when Bard at neverland suggested that "all tag team matches should include the overt storyline of teams of lovers fighting one another." How this connection escaped me for all these years I can hardly imagine.

The teams here are Kids Leopard, 5'8", 155#, and Vicious, 6'1", 170#, East Coast heels invading the West Coast lair of BG Enterprise, probably sometime before the amicable split between East and West, and two bodies beautiful, Johnny Olson, 5'8", 150#, and Davey DeAngelo (aka Clayton Titus), 5'11", 182#, in peak condition.

The catalog descriptions tell the story better than I can, first Can-Am's, then BGE's, proving that, no matter the adjacent ocean, good wrestling action inspires colorful prose:
If you dangle the right kind of hot bodied, young rookie "baby-face" meat in front of Kids Leopard & Vicious, they will go to the lengths of the world to batter, bully, beat up, trash, buffalo and otherwise have a great deal of fun the "Kid Leopard way." The baby-faces, wearing matching orange trunks and white boots, enter the ring first, stretch their muscles with a towel between them. With earnest faces and glowing optimism they are confident of victory. They cannot believe that with their strength, muscled bodies, great endurance, and hold knowledge that they can possibly lose to these "kids"! Enter Kids Leopard & Vicious. An all-knowing smirk comes over KL's face. He's looking at these "baby faces" like they are sharkmeat [I think Can-Am means "shark bait"]. (Neither of the rookies knows it just yet, but they are.)
The Kids can hardly contain their glee, all but licking their lips at the sight. Davey gets the best of Vicious in a test of strength, then tags Johnny, who nails a flying headscissors. Watch those thick thighs flare and that bubble butt bounce! For a moment a glimmer of hope--until Vicious earns his name, slamming Johnny face first into the mat with stunning violence. Davey tries to save the day, but gets stretched over the ropes and gut punched, then "bitch tossed" all around the ring by his hair! All hell breaks loose: Leopard stomps Davey in the background, Vicious racks Johnny in the fore. Trading places, Vicious tramples Davey's rippled gut and works his long legs, while Leopard simply beats the holy hell out of humpy young Johnny: face-first slams into the mat, grinding knuckle gouges to the eyes, a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it slingshot into the turnbuckles before a running bulldog headlock that has the muscleboy victim humping the mat in spasms! Methodical sadism--sublime!

Dishonorable










The angle of this Ring of Honor match from four weeks ago is whether Lance Storm, 43, 6', 238#, can teach cocky upstart Mike Bennett, 26, 6', 222#, the meaning of "honor." Christ, I hope not. Pretty in pink, with the bluest eyes and whitest teeth in wrestling, Bennett may not know the rulebook, but he and girlfriend Maria Kanellis give loads and loads of spectacle.

I do like this storyline:  The noble veteran with the crowd in his back pocket (except for a barely-heard Bennett contingent, where I would be sitting, no doubt about it) plays by the rules of honor. He has paid his dues and deserves our respect. Bennett, on the other hand, is happy to cut corners to save himself the little extra effort it might take him to gain a clean and honorable win. He disrespects Lance from the beginning. Maria interferes on his behalf; at one point Mike cravenly hides behind her. When the resilient Lance keeps coming back after Mike has dealt him his worst, he pleads with the veteran to "die, die, die." The crowd shouts encouragement to Lance. They, the better part of them, want to see Bennett squashed like a bug.

For me, the key moment in this fight is when Lance gets Mike in a half leglock. Mike, on his hands and one knee, his back swayed provocatively as Lance rests his middle-aged butt on his youthful bubble, struggles, struggles oh so desperately, to get to the ropes, Maria urging him forward every inch of the way, to get to the ropes to grab hold of just one of them so as to get the ref to force the break. It's the sort of delicious moment, ripe with drama, that I love in pro wrestling.

Lance works Mike's leg exactly the way I would love to work that leg. Mike is nearly crippled. His hamstrings throbbing with sharp, jagged pain. Lance won't let go, even though the effort to hold on to this young buck is exhausting. He wants to give pretty Mike a taste of what by-the-rules scientific wrestling can accomplish. He wants to teach the suntanned punk some manners. He wants to give the crowd the squashed bug they're clamoring for.

I don't care how bad Mike is, I'm in his corner. The man is beautiful in his wickedness. It's fun to see him pushed up against such a paragon of wrestling virtue as Storm. You can watch the whole show for yourself right here. As for me, my balls are already tingling at the announcement (just published on the ROH site) that in three weeks in Richmond, Virginia, in the show for which I've got front-row seats, with two friendly lesbians at my side, my man Mike is scheduled for a grudge match against former ROH champ Eddie Edwards. Damn, the anticipation is killing me already. (Must remember to wear dark and baggy pants.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Global Gimmickry






I am not one who is especially sensitive to ethnic sensibilities. My German father's favorite TV show was Hogan's Heroes, a comedy which never once showed a German character in a positive light. Admittedly, my father might be accused of over-non-reacting. He grew up in a German town in the Midwest, did not learn English till he entered the first grade, and faced plenty of blowback (bricks through windows) for being of 100% German descent in the years following the Great War--and preceding WW2. At age 22, he enlisted in the US Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor and reenlisted in the Air Force after the war. Patriotism, or was it overcompensation? (Both, I think.) I think I was in junior high school before I knew that my last name was German, and the one time my father ever made a decision concerning my education was to positively forbid me from studying German as my foreign language in eighth grade.

I grew up on military bases where young GIs teased each other based on ethnic stereotypes, while evidently feeling nothing but brotherly affection for each other. Among my friends now who grew up in multicultural neighborhoods, there's very little thin skin to be found, and much of their humor derives from playing off the stereotypes of their assigned group. Of them all, I'm probably the least comfortable with ethnic and racial stereotyping, even for the sake of comedy, but I'm Jackie Mason compared to some of my other left-leaning friends. From Hans Schmidt to Berlin (aka Alex Wright), pro wrestling has portrayed Germans as the bad guys--sneaky, cowardly, vain, slightly dim. Obviously, actual history supports the charge of villainy. I know that. I'm never drawn to these heels (though, as you must know by now, I am enamored of heels in general), but they don't make me flinch either.

Over the years pro wrestling has flagrantly stereotyped Native Americans, Asians, Polynesians, French Canadians, Scots, Irish, Italians, and Arabs. Some of the stereotypes are positive (Samoans, for instance), some negative (Germans and Russians). Most stretch out at various points in between, but with a definite disregard for political correctness in costuming or character traits. Amazingly, two of the most ghettoized groups in history (blacks and Jews) have come through without much fanfare or reproach, though recent years have seen growing ethnicentricities (to coin a word) here as well: e.g. "Israeli Icon" Noam Dar (in the UK) and "Barack O'Jamma" Sugar Dunkerton (in the USA). Or, less innocuously, Kurt Angle's publicized opinions of "the black people" in 2005.

What brings the subject up for me is the emergence of sombrero-wearing "Colombian" wrestler Fabiano Rolento at Ohio Valley Wrestling earlier this week (see photos above). The man is stacked, but Fabiano is not Colombian, or even Mexican. Until recently, the wrestler was known as Omar Akbar. As one online commentator described his debut, Rolento
danced around, and then cut a funny promo, using a funny accent. I can't even call it a babyface, or a heel, promo, though he was super cocky, it was more just funny. Rolento is very proud of his sublime buttocks, and has a picture of his face on his trunks. This was a far cry from the dark, angry, and brooding Omar Akbar, and I thought Rolento showed some personality here, though nobody in the arena, including me, and the OVW staff, knew what to make of it. The character is Colombian. I think it's funny that there are fake Mexicans in pro wrestling, since there are so many real Mexicans everywhere.
Not to mention so very many real Mexican wrestlers.

In his now-classic essay "The World of Wrestling," French semiotician Roland Barthes alluded to the importance of politics in American pro wrestling: "a sort of mythological fight between Good and Evil (of a quasi-political nature, the 'bad' wrestler always being supposed to be a Red" [i.e. a communist]. America's sordid history in the treatment of ethnic minorities no doubt has a great impact on how certain minorities get portrayed in pro wrestling--somewhat guiltily in the case of Native Americans and African Americans, I would say. Likewise, the nation's history of foreign policy. It hardly seems accidental that the character "The Iron Sheik" (an Iranian-born wrestler) and his infamous "camel clutch" rose to prominence during the 1970s oil crisis, caused by the OAPEC's Arab Oil Embargo. (On the left side of the political spectrum, the late Reagan-and-Dynasty-era rise of "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase might be seen as a manifestation of the escalating "class war," especially in his run-ins with "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, purportedly the son of a plumber.)

The ethnic and economic politics of American pro wrestling cannot be simply described--and I don't want to give the impression that I'm offering a thorough (or even orderly) investigation here. On one hand, America's past "enemies"--Germans, Japanese, Arabs--have been treated as "bad guys," unsurprisingly. But blacks were "integrated" into pro wrestling well in advance of their integration into America's public school system--and fans accepted (or came to accept) the equal standing of black and white wrestlers fairly early in the game. However, Arab (and Iranian) heels (expressly identified as Muslim--in the ring and in life) proliferated in regional wrestling shows while America was involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2009 documentary short "Team Taliban" depicts a devout Muslim wrestler who plays a "terrorist" in the wrestling ring--the only way (for now) that he can bring together his ethnic identity and his love of wrestling. American-born Persian Shawn Daivari has many American admirers, even though his character still spews anti-American sentiments to build heat. But these gimmicks run in cycles. In time, US fans eventually came to embrace even the Iron Sheik. The emergence of Fabiano Rolento puzzles me. Might it suggest that the post-9/11 paranoid fear that Arabs disguised as Latin American immigrants would cross the borders freely has indeed come "true"? ... at least, as kayfabricated in the squared circle.

I should also point out (again) pro wrestling's response to the LGBT movement and its own history of homophobia. At one point, I was fairly thin-skinned about gay stereotypes in pro wrestling--and the ease with which insults like "faggot" and "fairy" got thrown around even in gay underground wrestling. I'm somewhat less thin-skinned now.  Sure, it would be nice for there to be more variety in the ways Hollywood and pro wrestling choose to portray "my people," but the world has more serious matters to deal with than the number of bleach blond wrestlers who sashay about in pink unitards and feather boas. On top of that, fan response has changed wrestlers like OVW's gay-inflected Paredyse from heels to crowd favorites. And in just the past year Mike Bennett and other wrestlers have gone on the line in opposing anti-LGBT hate. I don't feel that I have as much to complain about these days (though, yes, we have a long ways yet to go).

American pro wrestling seems to present a funhouse mirror image of America, its ethnocentrism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, militarism, hype, and class warfare. Distorted and laugh-inducing, and never meant to be taken too seriously, the image is still recognizably US.

(Photos by Charles Parrish)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ka-Pow!




I'm intrigued by boxing, but it's awfully scary to me too. I doubt I would ever care to watch a real boxing match--but, then, I don't know. Maybe. I do and I don't feel a connection to it. But then some of the things that fascinate me most in life strike me simultaneously as beautiful and repellent. Let me start with some stories, loosely connected, but which seem formative of my feelings on the subject of the so-called "sweet science." Don't worry. I'll keep them short.

First story: Wisconsin, in the late 1950s. My uncle fitted me and my cousin (my age) with boxing gloves. We were both pre-school age. My uncle and his friends circled around us, forming a ring, and cheered my cousin and me as we duked it out. Shirtless in shorts, I was scared, but not of my cousin, not of the threat of pain, but of not playing the game right somehow, of disappointing the adults. My cousin and I punched softly since we were like only four or five years old at the time. The men made wisecracks I didn't understand. That's all I remember.

Second story: I had a boyfriend in the 1970s, a 6'2" blond Italian who had a Michelangelesque body, somewhat underdeveloped legs, but a gorgeous torso. He was, unlike me, an athlete: football and basketball. Swimming, too. We wrestled all the time, often twice a night. He taught me how to Indian wrestle, using our legs (I had strong, muscular legs, my best feature back then). But he had always wanted to try his hand at boxing. One night he found an amateur boxer who was willing to put on gloves and step back behind the apartment complex where we lived to go a few rounds. This boxer held nothing back and messed up my pretty boyfriend. I felt genuine concern, but, seriously, the discoloration and slight swelling made him look hotter than usual. I had the bad taste to tell him so, but I think he appreciated the point I was trying to make.

Third story: In the late 1980s I taught English Composition to the soon-to-be world light heavyweight boxing champ Roy Jones Jr. It was the year before he went to Korea to fight in the Seoul Olympics, where he was a silver medalist. I encouraged him to write every essay in ENG 100 on the subject he loved: boxing. His papers were decent, a bit better than his classmates', informative and impassioned--the young man had a boner for the sport of boxing. After he turned pro, he returned to the Florida junior college where I was teaching, and he stopped by and said hello to his old English teacher. Big, proud day in my life.

I'm pretty sure the first catalog description I ever wrote for BG East was Jayden Mayne's first match. Later, BGE bossman Kid Leopard asked me what I thought of him. I told him I was impressed. Jayden looked good and had a fighting spirit. I liked what I saw. The Kid told me I hadn't seen anything yet. Mayne was training hard, and Leopard predicted he'd be a man to watch. Just recently I watched Mayne put on some gloves to go up against Attila Dynasty, another young favorite of mine, in Gloved Gladiators 4, part of a series I hadn't really followed, but whose premise intrigued me: boxing matches that turn into wrestling matches, with gloves and trunks being shed in the process.

These matches run a little more slowly than most of BGE's releases. The emphasis is on the sensuality of pounding another man with fists couched in padded gloves. The fighters punch and then allow a few seconds to let the impact settle in, as if waiting for an echo of the pain to come wafting back. When the gloves come off, the punches gain resonance. When the two fighters have taken as much as they can take, they get down on the mat to wrestle. The wrestling action is two parts real collegiate-style wrestling to one part typical pro-wrestling fakery, to, rough estimate, another two parts the slow grind of sado-erotic roughhouse. It works, but you need to ease into it. Catch its rhythm and feel its distinctive buzz.

Dynasty and Mayne are exceptionally hot in their match. Mayne looks tough, sexy, and Irish--which, in my lexicon, is a redundant statement. My experience of the Irish is that they like to fight and they like to express their sexuality through sparring, both verbal and physical. I generalize, of course. I can only speak of the Irish I have known. Facing Jayden, Attila is super-cool, suave and cocky at the same time. He's a good match for the smoldering Irishman. In Bout 2 of Gloved Gladiators 4, Skrapper proves to be even sexier than he's been in previous matches, which were plenty sexy in their own right. He has sultry bedroom eyes and a knack for working his body around an opponent's. He and his opponent, Billy Lodi, have been schooled at the feet--or rather "at the boots"--of Kid Vicious, so they know how to blend the cruel with the teasing.

There's probably not a lot in these matches for hardcore fans of boxing, but both capture the erotic undercurrents of the sport very effectively for me. They tone down the brutality of the sport, yet the punches (though clearly pulled) still do make a definite impact. I can't tell how skilled these guys might be in a real match. Skrapper vs Lodi goes further than Mayne vs Dynasty, into nudity, into frottage. But Mayne vs Dynasty offers a slightly greater sense of boxing's dangerous side. Both matches are rich in fantasy detail. The competition is playful, yet strong enough to suggest that these are men who understand the dynamics of fighting--not just goofy and amateurish playacting. It's a great little disk, different from a lot of other things I own, but similar in the important ways. I like it a lot, and it has fanned my interest in other BGE boxing-related titles.



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