Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, or Macho Man? Outside Trimeat, a Philly cheese-steak shop not far from the UCW homebase, the wrestlers are debating who’s the best all-round pro wrestler: In the ring, out of the ring, for moves, for personality, for career professionalism. The point is not to gain consensus, but to identify their individual role models in a sport they all love. It’s Day 1 of my visit to the Philadelphia home of UCW-Wrestling, and so far we’ve got Axel, Twisted Torment, Joker, Angel Estrada, and BodySlam in the house. The UCW champ Corporal Punishment and Eli Black are expected tomorrow. Aron is slated to shoot a match on Sunday morning before I head back home. (In all, I saw eight matches in 48 hours. I took pictures during the matches, but I'm not publishing them ... not yet, anyway, and I'm keeping match descriptions to a minimum, saving the surprise for everybody until the time UCW releases them. What I am sharing are my personal experiences and thoughts that were squeezed delightfully in between those matches.)
Flash back four hours, and my cab pulls to the curb in front of BodySlam's house. Axel comes running out to pay the fare. About three months ago Axel moved from Milwaukee (UCW's birthplace) to Philadelphia to help BodySlam manage the business, a young company whose recent growth in sales and outreach has made it too much for just one man to operate. Inside the house I meet Twisted Torment and his girlfriend and get a tour of the facilities, mainly the fight space. The space is pretty much what I had imagined it to be, a refurbished garage, detached from the house, sweltering in the summer heat, made barely habitable by an electric fan and a portable air-conditioner that has to be turned off during shooting. Too noisy. For close to an hour and a half we talk about Axel's and Torment's experiences in wrestling, at UCW and other promotions. At first the two young wrestlers shyly avoid eye contact with me, but as we get past the preliminaries and start talking about wrestling, they seem much more comfortable and at ease. I am particularly struck by their enthusiasm for what they do, despite the disapproval of their family members and friends. Some friends, no doubt thinking they're being generous, assume that they do what they do merely for the money. Not so. These guys have a passion for wrestling. Watching it, doing it, talking about it.
In the kitchen, Torment shows me some laminated patches of promo pictures his girlfriend had hand-sewn to fabric. Seeing how much I admire the photos, he offers me one of my choice. The one I pick shows Torment posed in front of a wall with the word "REVOLT" spray-painted across it. (Later, he agrees to autograph it for me.) I like it because it captures the wrestler's attitude and spirit, and I like the homestyle stitching that attaches it to a swatch of blue denim. Then we head to the mall in Torment's girlfriend's car, shopping for black wristbands for Torment and pink shoestrings to lace them up (an homage to the Hardy Boys). By the time we get back, BodySlam is home from work, along with Joker and Angel Estrada, freshly in from Milwaukee. BodySlam's presence enlivens everyone. The wrestlers vie for his attention. He is clearly the godfather of this family of roughnecks. He teases and cajoles them and keeps everything on schedule. The plan is to eat an early supper and then shoot two matches this evening.
At the shooting, I sit on the concrete floor, despite the availability of proper seating, mainly because I want to see the action as larger than life. The intensity of the fights is startling. Occasionally the match has to be stopped due to a glitch in the shooting or to make sure nobody got hurt during a particularly violent spot in the action. The wrestlers have a "safety word" to warn their opponent when the punches, chokes, and so forth have crossed the line to the danger zone. I won't tell you the word, but I will say you hear it OFTEN in various UCW videos. Joker gamely endures two grueling matches in a row, one against Angel, whose UCW appearances have been all too brief, and the other against Torment, whom Joker calls "Twisted Sister." At one point Angel throws Joker to the wall headfirst and Joker bounces back, a smudge of blood on his forehead. The camera stops, and BodySlam asks Joker if he needs first aid for the wound. It's not a deep scrape, and Joker wants to go on with the blood for its dramatic effect. In the next match, Torment brains Joker with a metal chair. The camera stops again. This time a knot is visibly rising on Joker's head. He seems fine, though, but he needs a few minutes to shake the cobwebs out before he's ready to fight some more.
I find out that Angel and Joker have fought each other on numerous occasions in small shows in the Milwaukee area. They know each other so well, they tell me, that they are endlessly seeking new ways to complicate their wrestling scenarios and make the bumps a little stiffer and more challenging for them. Of course, safety is a huge concern, not just for BodySlam, who insists on it, but in the wrestlers' consideration of each other. (At one point, Joker kicked a steel chair off the mat. It hit me ever so slightly, and the guy was mortified, apologizing about three times till he saw that I had not been hurt at all.) Joker and Torment have just met, so they have no history to build on, so they improvise the match, after establishing some guidelines between themselves about what can and cannot be done.
When the guys are not wrestling, they are talking about wrestling. That and girls they have fucked. The specific correlation between near-constant physical contact with other sweaty dudes and pussy is a subject I will leave to qualified psychoanalysts. I will just say that it does appear to corroborate my position that wrestling is closely tied to sex, probably for everyone. (It was for the ancient Greeks, to be sure, their word for "wrestle" also serving as slang for "fuck.") Certainly, the guys, straight or gay, have no illusions about the role sex plays in selling this weekend’s matches--or in making an impression on me. In appraising each other’s performance, they include feedback on the “queer spots”—moments of bare-assedness, ball torture, and various holds that resemble sexual penetration that would appeal to their fans. I’m happy to report that these analyses are pragmatic and reasonably respectful of their audience’s kinks. Feedback on all aspects of their matches is something they take seriously. Their critiques are astute, with attention to details I did not notice and a specialized lingo way, way, way over my head. (The failure of their attempts to educate me through accelerated training in wrestle-ese was impolitely noted--which, given the circumstances, is so much better than if they had been polite about it.)
Post-match, BodySlam downloads the digitally recorded match. The guys want to see the part where Torment clocks Joker with the chair ... again and again and again. They can't get enough of it. I'm writing this blog entry, or at least starting a first draft. Past midnight, I go to sleep on BodySlam's sofa bed, to the sound of Joker, Axel, and Angel upstairs still laughing and Ralphie May doing his best Sam Kinison on TV. (To be continued.)
|Axel and Twisted|
|Angel and Joker|
|BodySlam, Axel, Joker, Angel, and Twisted at Trimeat|
|The 12" Philly cheese steak at Trimeat|
|Twisted, Angel, and Joker talking wrestlers and wrestling outside Trimeat|
|Angel, Joker, and Twisted still talking wrestlers and wrestling outside the mat room|
|BodySlam, Joker, Angel, and Axel review footage of Joker getting hit on the head with a folding chair|