Saturday, August 31, 2013


Yesterday Seamus Heaney died in Dublin at age 74. He was a great poet and translator, and although I don't usually commemorate the deaths of favorite writers on this blog, I will in this case because one of my favorite of his poems deals with wrestling. "Antaeus" (1966) depicts the giant Antaeus, son of the sea-god Poseidon and mother earth Gaea. Hercules defeated and killed him in a wrestling match. According to Ovid, Antaeus could not be defeated so long as a part of his body touched the earth (his mother), so Hercules held him up off the ground and crushed him in his mighty arms.

     When I lie on the ground
I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.
In fights I arrange a fall on the ring
     To rub myself with sand. 
     That is operative
As an elixir. I cannot be weaned
Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins.
    Down here in my cave 
    Girdered with root and rock
I am cradled in the dark that wombed me
And nurtured in every artery
    Like a small hillock. 
     Let each new hero come
Seeking his golden apples and Atlas:
He must wrestle with me before he pass
     Into that realm of fame 
     Among sky-born and royal.
He may well throw me and renew my birth
But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth,
     My elevation, my fall.
The screen shots are from Hercules the Avenger (1965), which puts a slight spin on the myth. In a misty cavern, while a whole city collapses over their heads, Antaeus (stuntman Giovanni Cianfriglia), son of the earth, wrestles Hercules (Reg Park), son of the sky god Jove. In the film, Antaeus impersonates Hercules, doing much harm in his name, complicit in the kidnapping and torture of Hercules' (hunky) son, played by Luigi Barbini (who appeared in several Pasolini films). In the film, Hercules wins by holding Antaeus aloft in a choke hold, thus strangling him.

In younger days, I strongly identified with Antaeus because of his enthusiasm for wrestling (albeit a fatal enthusiasm, in his case) and because he dwelled in the desert in Libya (I was born in Tripoli, Libya, on a U.S. Air Force base).

So long, Seamus Heaney. I will remember you.

Andrew and Drew

Here's a nifty long hair versus short hair match at Beyond Wrestling, featuring Drew Gulak, heir to the Young Jack Brisco Mystique, against the recently unmasked Chiva Kid, Andrew Everett. (For the record, it's also catch technician versus high flyer, and North versus South.) What's the special appeal of the contrasting hair styles for me? There's masculinity, there's femininity--there's order, there's disorder. There's also, for someone of my age, memory of the overlap of two strong styles of American masculinity--the scruffy deadpan masculinity of 1960s TV westerns and the preening flashy masculinity of 1960s rock-n-roll.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Juicy Chunks of Beef

Movimus calls its latest release a "battle of the beef." Both wrestlers weigh in on either side of the 200-pound mark. Brock Hammer, 6'2", 215#, has the size and experience advantage, as well as a seemingly unscalable ego. Right off the bat, Brock lets Travis Carter, 5'8", 190#, know that he's doing the rookie a favor just by stepping on the mat with him. Carter is a tough enough cookie, though. It's a fifteen-minute first round, so neither grappler rolls over and plays dead for the other, and by the end both these guys are sweating buckets. 

In a break in the action at its intensest, late in the match, the two separate, and Brock reels as if about to lose consciousness and slips to one knee. Yet the fight continues with no time-out. It's a standout moment, illustrating the contest's intensity and Brock's durability--he's not all talk, after all. As predicted, Brock dominates Travis for most of the match. He taunts his adversary for being out of shape, for having no hair on his chest and belly, for having no tan. Out of frustration, Travis starts grabbing Brock's thick, stylishly cut hair by the fistful, and for a few seconds it looks like we may have a male catfight on our hands.

Skinny-boy wrestlers have speed and acrobatics, but I like when slamming a man to the mat is a seismic occurrence. Brock and Travis give me what I crave--agonized groans and earth tremors, sweaty clenches, live burials under dense, flexing, and flailing man-bodies.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Like a Trojan

Thanks to some idle time earlier this summer and the inspiration of the blog Peplum, I've been catching up on old sword-and-sandal movies I missed in my youth. The Trojan Horse (1961) stars Steve Reeves as Aeneas of Troy a couple of years after making a splash as Hercules. As I expected, it takes some liberties with the ancient accounts I'm familiar with, but arguably no more than we find in 2004's Troy

One embellishment not to be found in Homer or Virgil is a "friendly" contest between Aeneas and the Greek warrior Ajax (played by Mimmo Palmara) at the funeral games for Achilles' friend Patroclus in the film's first thirty minutes. Knocked off his horse in the equestrian event, Aeneas wipes the blood off his lip and hops right back on to finish the race. Then in a sandy circle, he and Ajax compete in hand-to-hand combat. Steve survives a bearhug, a claw hold, and a bodyscissors, to reverse and straddle Ajax in a schoolboy pin before raising him in a gorilla press and tossing him out of the arena. Victorious, Aeneas laments discovering that among his enemies are men more honorable than some of his fellow citizens (namely a particularly slippery Prince Paris).

Wrestling, of course, gets a mention in Virgil's account of Aeneas' post-war adventures, namely in the "Blissful Groves," the paradise reserved for heroes in the afterlife. There the great warriors, poets, and inventors of the ancient world live in eternal woman-free happiness, spending their hours in manly pursuits:
Some are at exercise
On the grassy wrestling ground, some contend
On the yellow sand, others tread a dance
And chant a choral song. (Aeneid Book 6, translation Stanley Lombardo)
I would have gladly traded all the CGE embellishments of Troy for an uncanonical wrestling match between Eric Bana and Brad Pitt (or Eric Bana and anybody). This early film, made for a tiny fraction of Troy's $175 million, is "not too abysmal," but in the capture shots above we're pretty much looking at all the footage we get of Steve's torso. (Damn those cuirasses!)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hand-to-Hand Combat

Beyond Wrestling is a veritable laboratory of wrestling moves and gimmicks, and any pro wrestler worth his salt, whether strutting bigger than God on the WWE titantron or struggling before crowds of eight in a regional promotion, should be studying this company's output like it's Sun Tzu's frigging Art of War. The level of experimentation, sheer artistry, and innovation that are by now commonplace at Beyond Wrestling is outstanding. 

This incredible match (free in its entirety on YouTube) between Jonathan Gresham, 5'4", 161#, and Biff Busick, 6'1", 194#, proves my point. It's an odd pairing all right, but this is physical wrestling the way I like it: hand to hand, forehead to forehead, chest to chest, two brawny bodies twisted and rolling into a writhing knot, grunting, groaning, sweating, roaring. Of the two, Busick's more my type of wrestler, but there's no ignoring a powder-keg like Gresham. This is a very engaging give-and-take contest.


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