Thursday, May 3, 2012

39 Minutes and 33 Seconds










Hard determination. Guts and adrenaline. The main event of Ring of Honor's tenth anniversary show two months ago, which I just watched on DVD last night, packs the kind of erotically charged drama even the gay underground wrestling scene could learn a thing or two from. It helps, of course, that all four wrestlers are smoking hot, but the real charge comes from the tension of mixing two pairs of ex-partners to face off against their recent exes in the squared circle. Superb as these Scott Finkelstein still shots are, they cannot hold a candle to the heat generated by the video. I can only imagine what experiencing the live show in New York must have been like! The climactic match on Young Wolves Rising is boner-inducing, from the initial face-off till the final breathtaking second.

The key moment in the match for me, the one that convinced me these guys are really onto something special, is about midway, when Davey Richards has got Adam Cole alone in the ring. Cole is in peril, and it's pretty clear to all that Richards has squeezed him breathless and is moments away from submitting the longhaired Florida boy. Adam's new partner (and Davey's ex) Eddie Edwards attempts a save. He attacks Richards but fails, through repeated efforts, to break Davey's fast hold on Adam. So, in retaliation, Eddie goes after Kyle O'Reilly, Davey's partner (and Adam's ex). Unable to detach Adam from Davey, Eddie appears to reason that the best strategy is to race Davey to a submission and break Kyle before Davey can totally destroy Adam. The erotic potency of this moment is amplified when the former American Wolves have their respective victims in single leg crabs, and they turn to face each other, glaring, eyeball to eyeball, at their former partner, seeing who can make his ex's new guy scream the loudest.

The exchanges between the exes, alone in the ring together, are as you might expect them to be: volcanic. Shortly after the scene described above, Adam and Kyle get some alone time in the squared circle, toe to toe. Their spat is especially vicious, supercharged by youth and resentment. Ringside commentators call this a "hockey fight" in the ring. The face punches come fast and hard, the wrestlers' arms like firing pistons, back muscles coiling and uncoiling, and bright with sweat. These boys mean to smash each other to oblivion! The Davey-vs-Eddie pas de deux are just as exciting, but slower, aggressiveness slightly tempered by history and mutual respect, clearly the work of veterans who don't have as much to prove to fans or to themselves, the more poignant when one considers these two men's years together.

At one point, Davey punishes Adam against the corner ropes while Eddie pounds Kyle in the opposite corner, and, as the commentators observe, the two men glare holes into each other while doing so. They take their rage out on the smaller, younger new partners, who are just lucky, we are repeatedly told, to be part of a main event this early in their careers. I don't mean to imply that Davey and Eddie are over the hill, at 29 and 28, respectively. But they have over twice the ring experience of Kyle and Adam, at 25 and 22, and wrestler years, somewhat less than dog years, tend to stretch out.

Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

So there's something compelling about the analogy between tag partners and lovers, and it's nowhere so apparent as in this match. The wrestlers are at their personal bests, and the action in this fight is so intense that I expected it to end with a disqualification or all four men knocked out cold in the ring. I expected to be let down, WWE style. But the upshot of this brawl is almost the best part of it. In the end, in a stunning upset, Cole pins Richards for the three count. Everyone is amazed: the fans, the commentators, the fighters, none more so than Adam. In a gracious sportsmanlike gesture, Davey, who is, after all, ROH's world champion, offers his hand to Adam, acknowledging a good fight and impressive prospects for the youngest man in the ring. With a bit more reluctance, he offers his hand to Eddie, his partner for years, the man he had taken the championship title from and the man who, through tears, had buckled it around his waist. Eddie and Davey shake hands, out of respect and good sportsmanship, if no longer out of friendship. But Kyle, adding a new notch to his heel turn, refuses to shake either of his opponents' hands, stating flatly he will not shake the hand of any man he does not respect. Clearly, there's some kink in this relationship that he and Adam will need to work out at a later date.

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