Saturday, August 25, 2012

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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