Sunday, September 9, 2012


"Two men who know each other extremely well": emphasis, the wrestling commentator's who said it.

The speaker refers to Ryan Taylor, 6', 185#, and TJ Perkins, 5'10", 172#, in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla's Death to All But Metal, a show captured on video in May of this year in Reseda, California (available in PWG's online store, beautifully packaged in a cardboard slipcase, by the way). It's the second match on the DVD. Both these guys are wrestlers I have written about before, both of them Southern California guys. The match is a straight-edge catch wrestling match, the kind that doesn't draw a lot of attention, except that two strong, young, and locally popular wrestlers fighting each other are always going to attract certain eyes. These matches, early on the card, the ones nobody is supposed to be too excited about, are the ones that tend most to excite me, for one. No over-the-top gimmicks, no "feud" or other dramatic storyline, no props, nothing to stop the presses, just very skillful wrestling by two wrestlers of more or less the same age, simply attired, looking their best.

Even if I choose not to go in a too sexually suggestive direction on this, I am struck by the fact that these two guys know each other well. Their knowledge of each other, strictly as ring performers, no racy insinuation, invests this match with a high level of fluency and grace that is the product, I suspect, of years of wrestling each other. This is the sort of match that might be criticized as boring, actually, too purely technical, a match conceived more probably impromptu by the two wrestlers as they move from hold to hold than in advance by a promoter or through calculation of what the ticket-buyers expect to see. I get the sense that wrestlers who "know each other extremely well" put on a better show, or at least one likely to interest me more, because they are putting on the show that they most enjoy with an opponent whose style and appreciation of wrestling is likely complementary to their own.

Taylor and Perkins like stiff punches. Stiff sidekicks, too. They like the crisp thump of a body hitting the mat quickly. So do I. They like "finger fighting," no doubt to test their tolerance for pain, though I like it because of its intimacy (in all circumstances, including wrestling, the more intimate touching involves the body's extremities). There's apparently something irresistible about pressing Ryan's nostrils, especially in forcing them upwards, perhaps because he's an easy nose-bleeder (though this match is blood free), or perhaps the pressure contorts his face in interesting ways. It's a nose that invites abuse. They also like acrobatics: flips, cartwheels, tumbles, usually ending with a "bang" of some kind against the canvased plywood floor. Because he's a bit bigger and a bit coarser and more obviously violent, Ryan gets singled out as the bad guy, even though, like TJ, he's simply trying to win the match without extraordinarily bending the rules of fair play. The action gets faster as the match progresses, like the quickening tempo of the Hungarian Rhapsody, ending with something spectacular off the top ropes and a legit three-count pin. 

The next match is another favorite: PWG world champion Kevin Steen, 5'11", 260#, versus Brian Cage, 6', 225#. Steen has been the moody loose cannon of independent wrestling since his vicious breakup with partner El Generico. Cage is the typical shiny beefcake wrestler, except that he once sported Wolverine chops (now refined and muted) and, even apart from his spectacular physique, he is interesting to watch at work in the ring. Fanboys love Kevin because he represents the badass rebel who cares for nobody but himself--a self-image most fanboys of any genre favor. The crowd clearly prefers Kevin, though at first they seem to like Brian, too. Brian, however, does not stand a chance against Kevin. Kevin stops the show when he asks Brian, after several poses and feats of strength, "Will you be my personal trainer?" and forthwith kicks Cage in the ribs and traps him in a side headlock. PWG gives us a more family-friendly version of Steen than we find elsewhere, and it's interesting to see him use comic trickery instead of the darkly anarchistic persona he displays at Ring of Honor. In the end, though, I have to admit that  Cage's fantasy physique is my focal point from beginning to end, especially in a gut-wrenching out-of-ring beatdown that draws blood. In the climactic demolition, Kevin identifies then smashes every beautiful muscle in Brian's body with the obsession for name and detail of a fetishist. In the end Steen wins, retaining his championship, no surprise to anyone, but, in the spirit of sportsmanship, he credits Cage's considerable abilities, calling him "a fucking machine" and "one of my hardest opponents ever," singling out his "45-pack of abs" for special praise.

Another championship match follows: the eccentric and untoppable Super Smash Brothers challenge the PWG tag champions, the Young Bucks. You might think the handsome Bucks are the draw for me here, but in fact it's Stupefied, aka Player Dos of SSB. Although the well-built Canadian wrestler usually plays second banana to masked wrestler Player Uno, he's spectacular in his own right, sturdily built and fearless, the performer of the team's most astounding maneuvers. The action spins out of the ring almost immediately, where the Bucks gain a brief advantage. But the tide turns quickly. The fight disperses into the crowd, all four wrestlers raising havoc, working all points in the room. Chairs collapse, beers get tossed, and the fans chant "This is awesome!" (Less than five minutes into the match!) Only when the action returns to the ring can we clearly see the goofy genius that is SSB, whose choreographed spots have the timing and surprise element of Buster Keaton's silent comedies. More often than not, all four men are in the ring together, delivering plenty of double-teaming, hair-pulling, and close calls. And in the end, after a frenzied and convoluted Rube Goldberg setup, it is Stupefied who pins Matt Jackson (I think) in a split-second macho-sexy cross-body pin, winning the belts for him and Uno.

It's the main event that convinced me to buy this DVD. El Generico, 5'11", 196#, takes on Ricochet, 5'10", 178#, in a grudge match. Though very different from each other, both these wrestlers resonate with me. Hairy-chested, masked Generico has the goof factor, which is always, at best, hit or miss with me, but Generico falls squarely in the "hit" column, like the Super Smash Bros. Godlike Ricochet is hot all over and an amazing wrestling aerialist, a specialty that is also hit or miss with me; still, in my book Ricochet can do no wrong. Bitter enemies for the last two and a half years (according to the commentary), these two contrast very satisfyingly in the ring. Sneaky Ricochet is physical perfection, zero body fat, and grace in motion. Generico is burlier, with ginger chest hair (his pretense of being Mexican is "ironic"). Their long-running feud assures us that they too know each other extremely well.

Both are noted for their speed and durability. The commentators tell us that the feud started over Generico's jealousy of Ricochet, seeing in him a younger hotshot who could outmaneuver him and perform stunts that Generico was getting too old to match. It's a youth versus age conflict, which I only too well understand. (Earlier this week I watched a favorite young wrestler take on an "old" competitor, washed up and put out to dry, according to the young star. What stings is the realization that I'm old enough to be the old guy's father. Ouch.)

Though the two wrestlers are steeped in gimmickry and the match is the culmination of a feud, the struggle between Ricochet and Generico is, in most respects, as pure and technical as the early Taylor-vs-Perkins contest. Even without the history between them, there is plenty of drama just between these two in this ring here and now. Like the first match I described, this one seems to be the direct product of the personalities of the men involved and their years of fighting each other time and again. The familiarity and trust that come of that kind of history give this match a polish I suspect it would not ordinarily have if the two were just meeting. (Which is not to suggest that wrestlers who have never fought each other before will be bad or inept, just that there would probably be a certain poorly defined something that would be missing.)

I'm being romantic, I know, but it is the romance of wrestling that is the subject of this blog. The way a good fight is a bonding experience between males is not, I think, just initiatory, a one-shot "meet cute" that jumpstarts years of frictionless bliss together. A good adversary over the long haul can be as valuable as a good lover. I'm not talking bitter enemies, though role-playing as "enemies" may and probably often will be a factor in the friendship.  Fighting or even just gentle ribbing shapes most men's relationships with other men, and their competition and oneupmanship cause their personalities to rub off on each other to a certain extent, to make each reach his personal best. I'm sure that there are plenty of exceptions. But in general, women choose friends who will mirror them, echoing and reinforcing their complaints and viewpoints, while men choose friends that bring out another side of themselves, one they cannot find through individual effort or without the friction of competition.

Of course, this is me reading a whole lot of Oprah into what is meant only to be rowdy fun. PWG's Death to All but Metal is a terrific set of matches, featuring some of my favorite indy wrestlers. Four of the matches are especially powerful for me, in large part for the personalities and bodies involved in them. The show's greatness lies in having so many hot wrestlers in one place at one time. It's well photographed, with multiple camera angles, and beautifully edited together. At $14.99 (plus shipping and handling), the DVD is perfect for the kinkster on a tight budget.

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