Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wussnik






Alexi Ivanov doesn't do much by way of self-defense, not even locking up with Ethan Andrews at the start of the match; instead he chooses to leave his arms stiff at his side. Maybe he wants to get beat up. I get it. There are days I feel the same way.

So Ethan punches him in the chest a few times and slips him into an armbar. The armbar spurs the first sign of emotion from Alexi. He moans and beats the palm of his free hand to the mat. Encouraged, Ethan slaps the Russian rookie's tight abs.

Alexi has entered Rock Hard Wrestling, receiving the four-star treatment. He's fought the hugely popular Eli Black and then fought at Eli's side against fellow Rock Hard megastars Austin Cooper and Jake Jenkins. Now he's in the ring with Ethan, fifteen pounds lighter than he is, a major star in his own right, close in size and similar to him as a man of few words.

"You're the best Mother Russia has to offer?" Ethan wonders aloud, dismayed by the lack of fight in the guy. If we're talking pecs, Rossiya-Matushka does indeed have much to crow about in her boy Alexi. Coins should be minted to celebrate that smooth chest of his. But as competition for Ethan, he's as brittle as Lenin's corpse--and as Round 1 rolls to its conclusion, it looks like Alexi, too, will be remembered in the words "You fell in sacrifice."

Ethan zeros in on Alexi's sculpted pecs as quickly as I did, and he gives them a solid pounding, before letting the rookie drop to his back on the mat to finish the tenderizing process with the heel of his boot. Weirdly, or perhaps a lot gets lost in translation from Russian to English, Alexi pleads to be released so he "can get up and do something." Run away is my first guess. But Ethan obliges, daring him to come at him, only to kick his feet out from under him and flip him over into a Boston crab.

Ethan gleefully taunts the guy, slapping him in the face and saying, "Let me hear some Russian!" I've never seen Ethan so deeply into bully mode, so all this is a bit of a shock for me. I'm beginning to understand what Dostoyevsky meant when he claimed that "the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering." I should buy some Rosetta Stone software and move to Russia. I wouldn't mind meeting a few needs myself, providing all the pecs are this tight and shapely!

Alexi rouses before the end of Round 1, but it's not enough to save the day. Ethan chokes him with his forearm, against the rope, and then with the flat of his boot, and Alexi finally submits. He does even better in Round 2, where he gives as good as he gets in the sass department, at one point, taunting a pretty badly throttled Ethan, "C'mon. For America." Alexi looks good. He sells the pain and shows moments of real spunk when he gets the upper hand. He could use work on his mojo and mat moves, but there's nothing wrong with him that ten more rounds in the ring with Ethan Andrews couldn't fix. And it's Ethan who's revelatory here, arrogant and sadistic in equal part--a side of him I had never seen before.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Union Jacked






First, thanks to Topher for sending the link to this Pro Wrestling Elite show from last year, featuring Noam Dar and Zack Sabre Jr. Topher is absolutely right in stating that "if your good readers have not already discovered this fight, they need to click over immediately." He's also right in singling out the match's fast pace and mat action as outstanding features.

I realize that almost everybody in the world wants to wrestle like an American, and if possible at WWE, but a few also see value in what British pro wrestling has that we Americans do not. I'm not denying the value of the hyperbole and drama of USA-style wrestling. I just would not want it to snuff out British wrestling in the process of absorbing and subsuming the world's wrestling traditions ... like so much petroleum.

Admittedly, the blob-like ingestion is already well under way. Several UK promotions already boast of their "American style" shows. I would hate to see the British lose whatever edge they have left. I should add that, despite my degree in 17th-century British literature, I am not an anglophile. I doubt that I would do well in England at all, lacking the gene for class-based niceties and snarky dismay at all that is "simply not done." (To my knowledge, I don't have a drop of British blood in me, so unlike most of my close gay friends, all of whom regard themselves as cousins to the Queen--except for one who is actually English--, I'm not even the least bit enamored of royalty and aristocracy ... of any kind, British or not. That said, I would pay to see Prince Harry in trunks and in the ring, preferably up against Sabre.)

What, then, do I think distinguishes the wrestling we see in the Dar-vs-Sabre match from what we typically see in America?

For one thing, the British retained a lot more of "real" mat wrestling in pro-style ring wrestling. I think they made a better fusion of the two. At whatever point American wrestling entertainment removed the veil of kayfabe and the pretense of sport, it also dispensed with too much of wrestling's athleticism and technical know-how. Like many young American wrestlers, Dar and Sabre integrate a lot of Japanese and Brazilian maneuvers, but, unlike most Americans, there's still a good bit of actual grappling of the sort you see at collegiate meets and the Olympics in what they do in the squared circle. The ring, along with the side kicks and cartwheels, makes the mat work more fast paced and lively than much folkstyle wrestling, but the folkstyle elements keep the action more grounded and realistic. Like pro wrestling everywhere forty years ago, you can watch this match and detect real wrestling skills. WWE is virtually wrestling-free.  (I'm of the opinion that MMA has been kicking pro wrestling's ass for the past ten years because MMA has more wrestling in it. It's not just about the blood and scorecard girls.)

Also, British wrestling provides more of what I'm going to call the "drama of pain." Note the way Zack works the fingers of Noam's hand in an effort to weaken him and wring a submission out of him. It's a delicate piece of business you would not likely see in a huge stadium show in the USA, but it is absolutely killer. American wrestlers, or at any rate the gigantic ones, present themselves as impervious to pain. Their run-ins are often like two Macy's parade balloons colliding. For me, taking the pain out of wrestling (and by that I don't mean the blood, glass bulbs, barbed wire, etc., which hardcore wrestlers endure without flinching or moaning, just one more sign of their glacial imperturbability) robs it of its (to speak glowingly) transcendance. Pain, freely expressed, is at the heart of what I think makes pro wrestling dramatic--even spiritual.

Though not in evidence here, British wrestling long retained "rounds" in wrestling: three- and five-minute rounds in best-of-three-falls matches. Though I have objected in the past to lengthy microphone diatribes and posedowns as unnecessary distractions from wrestling action, I am fond of breaks between rounds, when we can see trainers whispering in the ears of their wrestlers and the wrestlers, sweat rolling down their pecs, glaring at their opponent in the opposite corner. The breaks provide opportunities for fans to see the wrestlers in repose (i.e. fill up on eye candy) and to mull over the moves and holds they just witnessed in anticipation of more to come. It also preserves some of the "feel" of an actual sporting event, even if we know the punches are being pulled and the outcome is predestined.

I also think British (and European and Mexican and Japanese) wrestling have more fit but not musclebound wrestlers like Dar and Sabre. We Americans have them too, of course, but in America the focus is always on big guys with slabs of hard muscle or big guys with rolling folds of fat. I happen to like big guys (quite a lot) and hard muscle, but Dar and Sabre have a level of speed and agility I don't often see in the WWE giants. And it's not just the speed and agility. Aesthetically (and, for me, erotically) there's often something special about a fight between two regularly fit guys. And while the British have their big guys too, their cards still showcase lighter weight wrestlers (under 200 pounds), rather than using them mostly as squash fodder or in dark matches. Granted, the weight statistics for many American wrestlers are exaggerated (I'm not yet totally convinced that CM Punk weighs 222 pounds), but light wrestlers like Brian Kendrick are less likely to be up for championship titles as singles competitors than they would be abroad.)

Frankly, I'm more curious about the differences in UK and US wrestling than expert on them. I like wrestling on both sides of the Atlantic--or at least some instances of both. Yet, for me, watching Dar vs Sabre is a refreshing experience, so scientific, so fluid, so much like an athletic contest, so unlike a daytime serial.

Rite of Passage






I like the way Aaron Travers bares his teeth when he's tormenting Jason Kane. He not only flashes his pearly whites but he bites his lower lip. The go-go dancer has a good feel for the mannerisms of a bully, enjoying a little too much his opponent's shudders and groans. But potential is not achievement, and his inexperience eventually makes him easy pickings for the more experienced (but still only nineteen) Jason, the actual heel in this match. 

Both wrestlers have gangling limbs, pretty much the opposite of the traditional wrestler's build, and I would peg them for platform divers before I'd ever picture them as grapplers. But I'm particularly impressed by Jason's broad shoulders, pronounced lats, and biceps. Has he always had them? I don't remember their looking quite this impressive in his previous matches against Ethan Andrews and Eli Black. In this match he's got a good three inches and thirty pounds over his opponent, and despite having a face that would look right at home at Hogwarts, he devotes every ounce of muscle to pounding Aaron into mincemeat and seems to relish the newfound role of aggressor. 

Not that Aaron seems to mind. "Fuck you," he growls at his tormenter. "Do it harder." The kid's definitely game for pain. He's got a stubborn streak, defiantly saying no when Jason asks him if he's had enough. I see in him the makings of a good heel someday. With blue, compelling eyes and dark blond hair, angular jawline and cheekbones, and a blunt, narrow forehead, from some angles he looks like a young Peter Cetera, from others, a more stoic Jake Shears. The boxlike head and conspicuous choppers will be wasted unless Rock Hard Wrestling decides to groom him for all-out heeldom. I don't particularly want to see Aaron in a Gestapo uniform, but he looks like he could pull off the look.

This is a fairly quick match. The moves and holds are limited in number but well timed and impressively sold, especially considering Aaron's inexperience (which, according to the catalog description, is total). It's a classic initiation rite, and Jason demonstrates unexpected grit as the initiator. Both have screen presence, with Jason displaying more charisma than I've seen in any of his previous bouts.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cratos









Gotta love the wrestler names at Thunder's Arena: Big Sexy, Z-Man, BamBam, Jack McHawk, and on and on. Like drag names and Southern barbecue, pro wrestling monikers are a folklore unto themselves. Mr Mike once told me that every name at the Arena tells a tale, and they become more erudite with each new wave of talent. Take Cratos, pictured at top, one of the newest crop of faces at the Arena. He's named for the winged spirit of strength who, along with his siblings Bia (force), Nike (victory), and Zelos (rivalry), served in the Greek god Zeus' elite commando squad, performing important duties of divine justice, such as binding the titan Prometheus to a rock after he stole fire from heaven. In Rough and Ready 28, Cratos keeps arrogant Lance Romance (the name I would have claimed for my own had it not been already taken) tightly bound for stepping on him (literally stepping on him) while Cratos was doing pushups.

Cratos is more than the name, of course. He's a ruggedly handsome, 5'9", 200# side of beef who has adapted the noisy nose-breathing of bodybuilding competition to the task of underscoring the strain of submission wrestling while tying Romance into knots. I've written before on the effect of the aural components of wrestling on me. The forced and forceful breathing of men struggling against each other in hand-to-hand combat delivers tons of erotic clout. Add to that Cratos' tendency to hiss his trash talk through his gritted teeth, and you have captured my full attention. His physique would be only half as hypnotizing with the sound muted.

Both Cratos and Lance are still a little wooden in their movements between wrestling spots, but I chalk that up to inexperience in being in front of the camera in skintight shiny trunks barely larger than some bandaids. The fight is hugely entertaining, though, carried largely on Cratos' broad and rippling shoulders. Romance's cavalier contempt for the hotheaded (and hot-bodied) Cratos triggers the battle, which pauses about the halfway point to allow Cratos to pose, glistening like a mirror, before dishing up more righteous anger on Lance, who (thankfully) is a slow learner in the manners and gym etiquette department. But rest assured that in the end Cratos teaches him a timely lesson in respect.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ground Balls







In UCW's just-released second outdoor video [218], Axel offers to train new kid Michael Hannigan to make sure that the ass-kicking Twisted Torment gave Mike at the beginning of the month is a one time thing. After working out in the open air, Axel shows the recruit the classic pro and submission moves: Boston crab, figure-four leglock, Irish whip, suplex, and camel clutch. 

Mike pulls his shirt off, feeling a little antsy over every reminder of his humiliating beatdown at the state park. He insists on Axel's taking his shirt off too. You get the sense he's angling for something a little rougher than the slow-motion 1-2-3's of the standard wrestling maneuvers. The similarities between Mike's and Axel's bodies are striking, too. I'm kinda hoping they'll fight.

Along with the classic moves, Axel introduces some of the tactics that belong to the UCW house style, particularly the low blows that dominate nearly every match. "It's not UCW till you get your balls grabbed," Axel explains, before demonstrating the reverse atomic drop. The knee to the groin stuns Mike, but Axel promises that, after a few matches in the garage studio, wrestlers' nuts stop even registering the pain. Still, after Mike's turn at racking Axel's nuts, the best Axel can do is croak out "Good, good" between his clenched teeth.

Now, juices in full roll, Mike's feeling even more aggressive and ready for a match. He reminds Axel that he wasn't, after all, totally helpless against Twisted Torment, that he did break out a few effective moves against the short-tempered punk. "I'm not gonna hold back," Axel warns him. "I don't want you to," Mike replies.

The final 19 minutes of this video is the boys' bout in the grass. Axel, with the experience and a more sinewy build, takes an early lead, taking Michael down to the ground in a side headlock. But as he promised, Mike is not a total novice at schoolyard brawling. He pinches Axel's shaggy haircut tight between his thighs until Axel thrusts free and comes back at him, driving his foot high up on the inside of Mike's thigh. The horseplay escalates to a slugfest. While holding fast to his promise not to hold back, Axel continues to compliment Mike when the new guy comes back at him with a particularly effective counter. He even apologizes while slugging Mike back down to the ground. (Swell guy, that Axel.)

Mike keeps wanting to play rougher and rougher, as much from a need to redeem himself with fans after his shocking initiation at Twisted's hands as from a naturally high level of testosterone and competitiveness. He proves adept at all the moves Axel demonstrated, but just as he starts to feel good and cocky about his progress, Axel decides to show him a few tricks he did not teach him before.

If this second outdoor match lacks the drama and intensity of the first, part of the explanation lies with the fact that there's no real heel in this contest--and the wrestlers, though playing rough, are still clearly playing. The stakes aren't high between these two ... not yet, anyway. Also, the wide open field on which the contest takes place does not offer the obstacles the fighters played off in the park--trees, shrubs, utility sheds, picnic tables. Mike can hurl Axel into a chain-link fence, and vice versa, but that's about it. The fight lacks the speed and vehemence of the earlier one, no doubt because, fisticuffs or no, it remains essentially a training session, but, I should add, a training session that ends with a knock-yer-lights-out finisher.

Being a huge fan of friendly roughhouse, I don't mind the overall easygoingness of this contest. And the roughhouse is indeed rough, even though there's no bad blood between Axel and Michael (... not yet, anyway). Temperamentally they're both fairly even-tempered young men. I like seeing Mike itching to fight--fight Axel, fight anybody. The kid's got a little killer inside him that's scratching to come out. At the side of a big brother figure like Axel, it would be fun to watch Mike poised against a teaming of, say, Aron and maybe Joey Cantrell. And after seeing his natural ability and quick study of standard wrestling holds, I wouldn't be too quick to put money on Twisted Torment if he and Mike ever cross treelined paths again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Everything Is Permitted










Want to see a fantastic 44-minute wrestling show for free? It's right here, the first four matches of Beyond Wrestling's "Swamp Sessions," no charge. Enjoy. You can thank me for it later. I should warn you, it's not for everyone. But see for yourself. Don't take my word for it.

Now more than ever, Beyond Wrestling reminds me of the old days of wrestling. It's that fresh. Contradiction in terms? Maybe. But it's the wrestlers' energy and intensity that remind me of the old days--I'm thinking "pre-1980," thereabouts. These guys look and act like they're inventing wrestling with each new match. It's as if televised wrestling did not exist before 2009.

The wrestlers offer a fusion of NWA-heyday grunt-n-sweat, aerial derring-do (actually not so much of this in these matches--and truthfully I don't miss it), sideshow characters, MMA, and early 21st-century backyard wrestling. Over the years BW has attracted badasses like Dave Cole and Chris Dickinson, novelty acts like Johnny Cockstrong and Mr. Touchdown (aka Mark Angel), and adroit technicians like Anthony Stone and Drew Gulak. The show here teems with irreverence, good sportsmanship, bad attitudes, and devotion to the traditions of pro wrestling. Again with the contradictions! (I can't stop myself.) And Denver Colorado's commentary gushes and educates, hyping the importance of each player who enters the ring and cluing us in to the nuances of his style and favorite moves, with glimpses into career highlights, too.

The show starts off with a tag team match: Sugar Dunkerton and Aaron Epic facing J.T. Dunn and Mark Shurman. Then Mr. Touchdown, at his surliest, looking 100% Ivan Drago now, goes after little Johnny Miyagi before tearing into (literally "tearing") the ref. Hell, once you beat up the ref--and an audience full of pro wrestlers lifts not one finger to aid and assist--you're in a world of chaos, anarchy, and disorder: "Nothing is true; all is permitted" (Hassan i Sabbah, by way of Friedrich Nietzsche and William S. Burroughs). Picking up on this theme, the third match gives us the debut of Rory Mondo against the weirdly alien machismo of Biff Busick. You might expect the more experienced Biff to initiate the newcomer with a few cuffs and a little ritualistic humiliation. But Mondo has other plans. Tying things up at the end in my personal favorite match of the four, BW's resident trainer Brian Fury goes after Jaka (formerly known as Johnny Mangue). This is a stout-bellied wrestler match--pushing all my nostalgia buttons--firing my temporal lobe back to the old Dory Funk and Jack Brisco matches that saturated my earliest pro wrestling fantasies. But it's Funk and Brisco inflected by UFC.

For me, Beyond Wrestling is to independent wrestling what UCW-Wrestling is to underground wrestling. A brassy upstart that hasn't yet discovered a rut to fall into, but seems endlessly fascinated by its talent's potential and the immense volume of stuff that hasn't been tried out yet by most wrestling promotions. Luckily it hits more times than it misses. Beyond Wrestling neither spreads itself too thin in aimless experimentalism nor plods through the familiar paces that now define "pro wrestling." It thrives on the unexpected as well as its talent's conflicting personal styles and erratic career trajectories, which is why it won't be for everyone. It offers a workshop approach to pro wrestling, where anything is worth trying once, so long as you're willing to sell the experiment with vigor and heart. 

Nailbiter









Universal champion Timothy Thatcher, 6'3", 231#,  faces tattooed challenger Adam Thornstowe, 5'9", 207#, at the 34:34 mark in this video of yesterday's All Pro Wrestling Gym Wars. This match could fill a chapter in a coffee-table book about what I love about pro wrestling. We've got two strong, well-matched competitors in what is basically the opposite of a squash match, locked together in a high-stakes struggle, not an extensive storyline beyond the individual skirmish, heated but sportsmanly combat. The two fighters are totally focused on each other, eyes probing the other man's body for the next point of attack. Then there are the physiques. Thatcher comes close to fulfilling an ideal of mine: hairy chest, trim waist, powerful shoulders and back, sinewy thighs. And Thornstowe, new to me, is his equal on every point but the chest fur. The action is strenuous and continuous, loads of mat work, loads of sharp, raw, and thrilling punches, and a couple of explosive turns on the concrete outside the ropes. All of this topped with a swift, clean finish that establishes one man as the master of the other.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Durm










I'm not expecting a call from Pro Wrestling Illustrated for my wrestling photography skills. Blake Arledge need lose no sleep tonight, because there is no way I'll steal his gigs anytime soon. Something inside told me yesterday to charge my camera battery in preparation for this afternoon's "Durm Mania!" show in Durham, my adopted hometown of now 14 years. Somehow I managed to ignore that still quiet voice.  As a result, I had to rely on my none-too-up-to-date smart phone to capture the main event, pitting GOUGE wrestling stars Jaheem the Dream (big as a house) and musclehunk Mike West (substituting for local rap artist TOON, who was injured earlier in the show) against tag team champions Mickey Gambino and "Handsome" Frank Stalletto. (TOON and a mysterious masked man, who I'm pretty sure was Jimmy Jack Funk, Jr., in rare heel mode, cheered on from ringside and, of course, interfered when circumstances presented themselves.)

The show was a collaboration between GOUGE, based in nearby Raleigh, and Durham's own Luchadoras (masked lady wrestlers with a heavy mexicano flavor), along with the local NAACP, to register voters for November's big election. The house (Motorco--a trendy bar and music club within walking distance of where I live) was packed--all ages, races, native languages, and lifestyle choices. My friend Barbara met me there--her first live wrestling show. (She loved it.) The bad guys insulted Durham, full well knowing how intensely Durhamites love their city, calling it "nasty" (when everyone who lives here knows it's "dirty Durham"--get it right, assholes).

Some of the pictures look like primitive infrared photography. Others look like they were shot from a tilt-a-whirl. If I thought any of you would believe me, I would pretend they are intentionally expressionistic. All of them are brightly backlit by an open window facing the elevated seats where most of the fans were. 

Since they don't tell a story, as most good wrestling shots do, I might as well fill you in on it. It's a tag title match, originally slated for Jaheem and TOON to take on the champs. But earlier in the show, when TOON was talking about his desire to move from rap to the ropes, Gambino, Stalletto, and a slew of their evil cohorts attacked him and mercilessly beat him. Jaheem and Mike West came to the rescue, but too late. Jaheem sought a volunteer from the audience to fill in for his wounded partner and found none (he mainly canvased among female fans who weighed no more than 90 pounds), finally settling on West, tan, modestly affable, and stacked like Hercules.

A wigger rap battle between Jaheem and the champs' unscrupulous manager, The Grogfather, (in which duel Grog and his men rapped the lyrics to The Beverly Hillbillies) ended with an easy win for the Dream, who involved the audience in his rhythmic diatribe against Gambino and Stalletto. Most of the actual wrestling battle featured West alone versus the two heels. It was give and take, with the bad guys fighting unfairly and viciously. For reasons of his own (and out of narrative necessity), Mike did not tag Jaheem in for the longest time. Twice, "Handsome" Frank directed particularly cross words at me, much of it lost to my ears in the din: something about "he-men" and my perhaps excessive hooting (and drooling) over Mike (I've a sneaking suspicion Stalletto is acquainted with this blog), and then later when somebody referred to Gambino as "a lady," Frank leaned over the ropes and said, again directly to me, "He must mean you!" When at last Mike did tag out, the champs and Grogfather, along with other sinister and illegal cohorts, ganged up on Jaheem, dragging him to the ring apron. West stepped in to assist his partner and was attacked from behind by Stalletto. West actually pinned Stalletto to a five count (the crowd counted), but (of course) the ref was distracted by the mayhem at ringside. When the ref turned back to the in-ring action, Stalletto reversed and got the pinfall, thus retaining the belts. But when everybody had left the ring but Mickey Gambino, the four ladies of the Luchadoras rushed in, brandishing a makeshift pro-Durham sign, and held Mickey down for TOON to deliver a well-deserved punch or two.

Naturally, having just suffered some verbal abuse over my fanaticism for Mike West, I asked Barbara to take a photo of me with him at ringside. The picture is a bit of a blur, but at the very least I got some hero sweat on the palm of my hand, shirtsleeve, and collar. Following the match, I splurged on a couple of burgers at King's Sandwich Shop, a 70-year-old roadside institution with burgers that remind me of what burgers used to taste like when I was a kid. Then I taxied a couple of my gay friends to the airport, and they were (as usual) mildly and tolerantly appalled at my taste for grunt-and-groan rasslin (long may it thrive). So it goes.

Big and Small








Three of my favorite underground wrestling sites have recently released big man versus small man matches, no doubt in answer to many fans' requests. UCW-Wrestling features a championship challenge, tattooed punk Twisted Torment taking on champ Corporal Punishment for a second time (having a few weeks ago failed to budge the guy in a three-man elimination fight, with Angel Estrada, who refs this match). Thunder's Arena has released Rough & Ready 27, in which Z-Man faces the company's latest strongman, humongous mega-heel Luger. And pushing the bar a little bit higher, BG East presents Tag Team Torture 14, featuring not one but two musclebound Goliaths, Eddy Rey and Kieran Dunne, determined to squash pushy Canadian cross-trainer Blaine Janus.

My preference, as some of you know, is for evenly matched battles, but I understand the appeal of big-vs-small and even sometimes enjoy it. The recent spike in production of this kind of match makes me a little curious about what forces might be behind it. Could the catalyst be the election season here in the USA, where small donors are competing with Super PACs for ownership of political parties and the nation? Could it be a veiled reference to independent wrestling's 30-year struggle with the corporate giant WWE/WWF? Or is it simply the enduring appeal of the David-and-Goliath story, perhaps only made more poignant in a world where individuals and minorities are routinely set up against billionaire chicken magnates and offshore investors and where massive social and ecological disasters seem to loom on the horizon? Or maybe our society has become so decadently foppish and effete that we secretly crave a big brute daddy who will goosestep in and give us brats the hiding we deserve.  But I would not want to suggest I can read a wrestling company's politics by its videos. Not every wrestling match can be read as allegory.

But every wrestling match is a story of sorts, and big-vs-small poses some narrative challenges, mostly plausibility. In every pro-style match we fans are asked to suspend our disbelief to some extent, just as we do when watching horror and action films, or, for that matter, Glee. In art and entertainment, we have to accept the conventions of the genre--that there's an "invisible fourth wall" in live theater, that characters sing all their lines in opera, that violin music plays in the background when beloved movie characters suffer and die. Still, we want verisimilitude, that quality of lifelikeness that we expect even in fantasy. Low blows can be a great equalizer in big-vs-small contests--but then two can play that game since small guys have nutsacks too. Sometimes the small guy is such a tremendous athlete with such a wide array of holds and moves in his arsenal that it's not difficult to believe that he could triumph over a less fit, less capable opponent, regardless of the man's mass and weight. Sometimes accident plays a role in the triumph of weak over strong, or outside interference, sometimes the strong man's overweening self-confidence. Then, of course, sometimes we get the brute reality that big guys can and often do pulverize their smaller, often prettier challengers. Increasingly, this is the only scenario we jaded 21st-century spectators accept.

Whether he wins or loses, a small guy who steps on the mat with a much bigger guy is expressing a large amount of optimism, not to mention carbon steel cojones. So more than anything I like to believe that the popularity of big-vs-small matches stems from a hardy sense of optimism, respect for the underdog who braves overwhelming odds, hope that the little man can prove himself the equal of the big man, however unlikely that may seem, determination never to give up, even when the odds are overwhelmingly against us.

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