I was somewhat dubious when Bard recently suggested that Thunder's Arena is taking a more sensuous turn, but now I'm inclined to agree. (At this point it's probably axiomatic that Bard and I will eventually see eye to eye on just about everything, except perhaps the sexiness of beer guts and anchormen.) I would attribute the turn to a number of factors, but chief among them, in my opinion, is Braden Charron, 5'8", 155#. Braden not only brings an uninhibited sensuality to his first rush of matches at his new home, but shines brighter than he ever has before. Clearly, Braden and Thunder's make a neat fit. And I would go so far as to posit, risking hyperbole (as usual), that the company's history may one day be remembered in two major epochs: "Before Charron" and "After Charron." At any rate, it sure looks like Braden is determined to leave a mythically proportioned imprint on the Arena--and test the limits of its PG-13 sensibility.
As evidence I offer two recently viewed matches. First, in his latest, Mat Rats 29, Braden is already breaking in new talent, as he takes on rookie babyface Ken, who has plenty of selling points of his own. For the most part, this match is a classic beatdown, with Braden flexing and grinding Ken down to pulp. But the segment that really caught my imagination is towards the middle of the match, when Ken clutches Braden in a figure-four headlock (as recently noted, one of my favorite holds), smashing Braden's face up against his crotch. The hold is nice enough on its own, but what grabs me is the way Braden sells it, writhing, thrusting, and twisting, throwing every inch of himself into it, from head to the tips of his curled toes. And his yellow string bikini, which he appears to have stuffed with a roll of silver dollars, slips and crinkles with every body spasm, most attractively. It's an image branded on my mind now, and I'm sure I'm going to find some use for it in some future fevered fantasy or such.
No Holds Barred 25, an earlier release, finds Braden in a bedroom match against the equally luscious Batar. This match is more loaded with innuendo than a Restoration comedy, as Batar threatens to shove a squirt gun up Braden's butt and Braden wriggles his cock, this time in a pink polka-dotted string bikini, right in Batar's face. It's basically a regular Arena-style match, frat fun and frolic, with tons of oneupmanship. But played out on a kingsize bed with a wine-colored duvet, the hijinks take on a decidedly erotic heat.
Using a mattress as a wrestling mat heated up No Holds Barred 16, too, about a year ago, with Uno waking Eric Fury up on the wrong side of the bed, so the bedroom angle is not new to the Arena. In fact, Thunder's fun-and-games style has packed a lot of heat for a while now, not all of it subliminal; Braden's arrival is mostly good timing, I guess. For years Big Sexy has played to his gay fans, happy for the attention lavished upon his godlike physique and fearless in his embrace of the homoerotic dimension of wrestling: I think specifically of the moment in the Auditions Video Series when Pee Wee asked Sexy to bearhug him, just because he wanted to know what it would feel like, and Sexy gamely accommodated him, and on many occasions Sexy has not been shy about acknowledging the beauty, even the sexiness, of other men's bodies. There's also Impact's narcissistic self-fondling at the beginning of Battlespace 34, the only time I can think of when a prologue was perhaps a bit hotter than the match. (Bear in mind that I'm not usually a fan of prologues at all.)
I doubt it's in the game plan for Thunder's ever to go triple-X, and I'm not even remotely interested in its taking that particular tack. We already have Naked Kombat and a number of other venues for that sort of depraved fun. Thunder's needs to stay true to itself, but being true to itself means recognizing, as a wise man once put it, "their gay audience (aka, their audience)." (I do buy that Thunder's and UCW and even BG East have female admirers, but I dare say these are females who enjoy Randy Blue, as well.) Everything has to grow and everything has to stay true to itself. It's a struggle to maintain a balance between these two necessities. But stop growing and you stop being alive, and lose your integrity and you lose your identity too. As Braden and other stars of the Arena give us a glimpse of the company's "O" face, it's no less important for Thunder's to remain true to its vision of itself and its mission, to decide which boundaries to preserve, to consider the sensitivities of both its talent and its customers, and, perhaps above all, to keep it fun.