Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thicker Than Water








I don't like bloody matches. I can tolerate the sight of blood when injury occurs accidentally in the course of rough play, but I have no heart for barbed wire, lightbulbs, thumbtacks, and razors in pro wrestling. Maybe I'm more squeamish than I think. (I think I'm not squeamish because I like horror movies, sometimes forgetting that in horror movies we're assured that no sexy coeds were harmed in the making of the film.)

My main reason for my distaste for bloody wrestling is aesthetic: blood draws attention away from the physiques and the moves in wrestling, which are the key points of attraction for me. Blood paints them over. It's a distraction, like pyrotechnics or an out-of-ring brawl between feuding managers. Sweat and oil, however, accentuate these qualities. 

The Adam Cole versus Kyle O'Reilly clash in New York City nine days ago ended in a bloody mess. It was a Ring of Honor-sanctioned hybrid rules match, which means that it was infused with a heavy dose of jujitsu and MMA-style chops and kicks. It's a style I can appreciate, I like it better than relentless high-flying acrobatics and long diatribes at the microphone, but I prefer mat wrestling holds and sustained body contact. A matter of personal taste.

I haven't seen the climactic Cole-v-O'Reilly match except in still pictures so far, like these by photographer Scott Finkelstein. From the accounts of those who have seen it, it sounds like it was a disappointment, two young wrestlers pretending they're in a Japanese remake of Fight Club. The setup was terrific and very promising. Kyle and Adam disbanded Future Shock in January. In March, Kyle turned on his former tagteam partner when Adam pinned Kyle's mentor and new tag partner Davey Richards. Later that month, Kyle avenged the loss by pinning Adam with the exact same pinning move. 

Then envy set in. Adam was being touted as an up-and-comer in singles competition. Kyle couldn't accept that a guy he had beaten was gathering all the accolades. He was further outraged that Adam did not use a lot of MMA moves in wrestling, so he arranged the hybrid rules match as a way to show his ex-partner up. Already a student of MMA techniques, Adam agreed to the match. I don't think the fight was meant to be bloody, but in a slugfest these things happen, and Kyle tore a gash in Adam's upper lip. Still, Adam beat Kyle, a satisfying and just outcome, punishing Kyle for his arrogance and disrespectful treatment of his ex-partner. (Then, this past Friday, he went on to beat Roderick Strong to become the new ROH TV champ.)

However, Adam's blood visually contradicts the poetic justice of the match's outcome, blurring the message a bit. This is realistic. The exacter of justice often pays a high price for giving the bad guy what he deserves. This happens in Greek tragedy, and it happens in modern warfare. The thing is, I don't think pro wrestling is supposed to be realistic in that way--no more than kabuki theater, no more than grand opera. It is supposed to be compelling, sure, but within the confines of set aesthetic conventions. The violence of wrestling is the violence of heroic manhood in the context of athletics, not the street, not the slasher film, not Tom-and-Jerry cartoons. 

It is, more particularly, for me, the eroticized violence of fantasy. It's the violent role-play of bondage and discipline, in which cocky guys are cocky precisely because they want to attract the attention of other cocky guys who can put them in their places and teach them some manners, or, conversely, reinforce their larger-than-life egos (products of fantasy, too, hence "larger than [real] life") by providing submissive chests to plant their victorious boots upon. 

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