The rules governing sport are less familiar to me than the archetypes and storylines governing pro wrestling entertainment, whose models are as old as Mesopotamia, steeped in mythology and religious ritual. Sport, however, is scientific--a matter of diet, training, psychological readiness, and strategy. It is more real, yet because of the rules and the weeks and months of preparation, and the usual reduction over time to mere statistics, it's not entirely real in the same way that the locker-room blowups in high school were real (and scarily exciting), even though, years later, you may not recall who won or lost those shower-stall fights.
Some of that scary excitement permeates Freestyle Combat League's new release, in which Eli Black fights a quietly confident and somewhat heavier tough guy named Charlie. The absence of a referee gives the match a feeling of spontaneity, lessening our awareness that the guys are playing according to set rules. The Q&A sessions between rounds provide subjective points of view, through which we delve into Eli's and Charlie's feelings and motivations. These closeup "talking head" shots give the event a strong sense of the personal element--as sports broadcasting attempts to do on TV. In the absence of narrative and myth, the interest factor hangs on who will win and how. For that reason, I will be more scrupulous than usual about not spoiling the ending. I won't even drop hints.
Because what we're watching is a real athletic contest, governed by rules not archetypes, we don't get the more overt homoerotic elements we find in most underground wrestling sites. The gear is somewhat skimpy, but nothing Dennis Hallman would feel uncomfortable in. We can't use cuteness as the defining predictor of who probably will win and who probably will lose. We mustn't expect either competitor to grab the other man's balls. In the interviews, Charlie and Eli project a certain level of aggressive attitude that is as close to sexually stimulating as the video is ever going to get. The homoerotic subtext of this baby will have to be 89 percent in your imagination--as it is when you watch Olympic wrestling, or platform diving, or men's gymnastics.
Pro wrestling differs from most sports in that, because of its rehearsed spots, flashy touches of stage business that raise the entertainment factor in the show, it is rewatchable, even after you know the final scores. (Conventional sports can have something like spots, too, but unplanned and therefore not always to be expected, and almost never anything warranting a desire to rewatch the entire event.) I can still watch NWA matches I remember from the 1970s with great enjoyment, perhaps all the richer for the passage of time. In fact, the repetition is appropriate to the ritualistic aspects of wrestling gimmicks and angles.
Real sports, however, are best watched live--and usually only once, except for 10-second clips and replays of truly remarkable "spots." In the future, perhaps, FCL should consider live cable events, in addition to the recorded video format, thus bringing the contest's spontaneity to the foreground and strengthening the sense of momentousness--that what you are watching now is being watched by thousands of others this very instant, that if you blink, you might miss the moment everybody else will be talking about for the next twenty years.
That said, Eli and Charlie are fit and good-looking young men. Skilled and well trained, too. The tight clenches are hot, despite an awareness that they are maneuvering for a stronger, tighter control of their opponent, not canoodling. The aggression (as much play-acting here as you find in pro wrestling) is pretty exciting too. As usual, Eli is the mouthy one. Charlie has a steely and rather expressionless manner of speaking that strikes me as no-nonsense and hugely attractive. He likes his chances against Eli because he recognizes he has the advantage in size and power. Eli likes his chances because he dismisses his opposition out of hand. Eli has the cockier attitude, Charlie, the more serious.
For me the most compelling thing about this match is its air of stoicism. The bare brick walls. The artless monotone of the grapplers' voices. The matter-of-fact acceptance of pain and injury. Very manly stuff. Very Spartacus. Serious philosophical shit.