School of Hard Knocks

Five-foot-eight Hooper matriculates at Thunder's Arena's School of Hard Knocks, first in his debut against the looming hotness of Austin Wolf and burly sourpuss Bulldog and, now in Mat Rats 27, against bear god Xavier. The little guy can't even get his arms around Xavier's cast-iron shoulders to apply a nelson on him! But Hooper earns quality points for ballsiness (and some extra credit for being cute as a bunny's cowlick), and on behalf of all us fans, Xavier vicariously twists the newcomer into knots with a great deal of grim satisfaction.

The idea of an initiatory gauntlet is not original to the Arena, or to pro wrestling, or even to frat houses. The ancients paired boys with seasoned warriors to learn how to fight and hunt. (The Greeks threw in pederasty to boot, in the belief that an injection of man-juice would put some hair on the kid's chest and enhance his strength, cunning, courage, and virility.) Some primitive societies even today subject their youth to rites of passage--some involving fighting or comparable ordeals--to test their mettle for manhood. In more advanced cultures like ours, boys have to test themselves against each other, back behind the bleachers after school or in organized sports.

Un-PC as it is to think this way, my opinion is that a man isn't fully a man unless he's been in a fight at least once in his life. (Admittedly, I have nothing to back this up with, except a hunch and prejudice for roughhouse.) Frankly, I think pushing and shoving is a great form of conflict resolution--and a whole lot quicker than "talking it out" or "finding your safe place." Not that I have anything against spiritual and pacific means of consciousness-raising, but I'd say a punch in the mouth served nicely as an "awakening" to "enlightenment" at one point in my life. In my late teens, pals and I used to push and shove (and take an occasional jab) to loose our pent-up aggression and physicalize our gripes with one another--and none of us were exactly inarticulate louts.

There's a definite risk here in romanticizing violence. But recognizing violence as one part of our animal nature and ritualizing it seems like a healthy alternative to street gangs and even war as initiations to manhood. I'm not talking Hunger Games religio-socio-economic lunacy. But in the same way civilization gradually channeled rape into marriage (and the most primitive marriages were rape, by today's standards), athletics, especially wrestling, boxing, and other combat sports, became civilized outlets for male territoriality, will to power, and aggression.

MR27 touches on all the buttons for fans of squash jobs, while maintaining the easygoing tone that Thunder's fosters. My preference is, as I have said before, for well-matched, grunting opposition, but I'm rapidly developing a sweet tooth for lighter fare (jobbers, twinks, doughboys with babydoll dimples, et cetera), either due to my advancing years or increased exposure to the wrestling tastes of others. After one or two bumps from his bigger, brawnier elders at the Arena, Hooper should be primed and ready for an evener contest against Archer, Tak, or Lewk. I hope so, anyway.


  1. I'm glad you're expanding your definition of entertaining wrestling. I've certainly noticed the evolution in your writing and enjoyed it. But, if I may offer a quibble...

    I don't think jobber scenes necessarily constitute "lighter fare" than a competitive match. The guy "taking it" is often working as hard as the guy dishing it out. He's jumping and flipping and twisting and taking bumps, grunting, groaning, maybe even begging, tensing his body to make his muscles ripple as if they're on the verge of shutting down, gritting his teeth and emoting on a level the aggressor isn't. Some of my favorite matches are squashes where you can tell the jobber is working just as hard as the heel: Jake Jenkins vs. Jonny, Z-man vs. Maximus/Johnny Bravo/Kyle Stevens, Troy Baker vs Shane McCall, Rio Garza vs. Mike Pitt and Bulldog Barzini, Brad Rochelle vs. Psycho/Dom Zaccarro/The Enforcer. In fact, I think Brad is one of the true legends of the underground precisely because he always worked harder than he had to considering his looks.

    Jobbers don't get the respect they deserve. I think it's because no matter what we know about booking (the guys who are in the best shape and most conventionally good looking are booked to lose 99% of the time, no matter how much wrestling experience they have), we assume the winner is the better man. Hell, one of the biggest "jobbers" of all time on the gay circuit was a freakin' military trained mma and martial arts beast who would have annihilated every single guy he faced, in a controlled cage setting or a dark alley. We tend not to see it because social conditioning overrides logical awareness.

    That's why I like the jobber fantasy: it takes everyday assumptions about masculinity and turns them around. In a nutshell, basically anybody can look like a stud when he's kicking butt, but it takes a real man to be a jobber.


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