Friday, August 10, 2012

Twisted by Nature










For years UCW-Wrestling made good on its promise to provide "anything goes" wrestling by following a fairly simple formula: blue tarps, a mat, perilously low-hanging crossbeams, skinny roughnecks, gut-punching, ball-slapping, and asphyxiation. For the past year or so, UCW boss BodySlam (Michael Tovar) and new boss Axel have mulled over ideas for taking the company in new directions, to broaden UCW's universe while remaining true to its punk spirit. Its latest release [#214] is exciting on so many levels I can barely settle myself down to write this post, and, frankly, had I heard about some of these innovations before seeing the finished product, I probably would have had some grave doubts about them. No doubts now! Number 214 moves UCW action to the great outdoors, among trees and picnic tables, it adds a narrative thread to the combat, and it introduces an exciting new talent in Mike Hannigan. It's a (well) "breath of fresh air," and a risky departure for the company that pays off in spades.

The scene is one of Pennsylvania's lush state parks. Twisted Torment crosses paths with Hannigan, a square-looking regular guy who nevertheless looks like he might have a bit of fight in him. (Perhaps we should take the kneepads under his cargo shorts and his taped wrists as clues.) Twisted must sense that potential in Mike because when Mike asks him for directions, Twisted can't resist mouthing off, just testing whether he can get a rise out of the guy. He can. Mike calls him on being the "smart ass" he is, and the two trade some sharp insults before going their separate ways. Not ready to leave it at that, though, Twisted turns back and rushes Mike from behind and attacks, bashing the straight-arrow vacationer's forehead against a tree. Then he dogs the guy back behind a utility building to kick some serious shit.

Amazingly, Twisted looks even more badass in the sunshine than he does in studio lighting. Perhaps it's the shock of seeing the tattooed anarchist amid nature, specifically the tame, good-clean-fun-for-the-whole-family nature of a state-sponsored campsite. It's also exciting for me to see him wail on a clean-cut suburbanite like Mike. He tears into the dude, stripping off his T-shirt in the process, and he clips him with stiff, honest punches you can hear over the background noise of birds tweeting and wind rustling through the pines. The fighters don't get as close to naked as they would back at the studio, but the change in scenery adds a new element to UCW's house style, namely a real-world setting that makes the action more real, more urgent, and more compelling.

Twisted works Mike but good. He nearly chokes him clean out, until suddenly tapping into his inner beast Mike rams his elbow to Twisted's skinny ribs and turns the tables on him. The brush with Twisted's untempered aggression brings out the tough in Mike, and he gives the metalhead punk a taste of his own medicine. This is the added narrative element that the change in setting brings to the battle. We see Mike transformed from timidly polite nice guy to asskicker. And the drama plays out on the much bigger stage of the woods. The riot is unrestricted by walls and ceiling, and the camera pulls in tight so we can savor every grunt and groan.

This is one of UCW's best fights ever. I have loved and still do love the claustrophobic dogfights at the studio, but taking the mayhem to the country amplifies the company's pull-no-punches approach to underground wrestling. Twisted Torment shines in this new environment, and Mike Hannigan is so well-matched against him that it may be hours before my balls stop buzzing.

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