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.


  1. Enjoyed your post. I myself so enjoy Brit Pro Wrestling rather then the USA style. Wrestlers are more evenly matched, the matches are more give and take, lots of moves and countermoves. Best of all its wrestling and not the soap opera that is put on in the USA. I just wish some type of promotion was like that over here. So until that happen and I know it won't, I will enjoy the YouTube matches.


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