Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Respect for Wrestling

My disappointment with the majority of wrestling events today stems from their flippancy, the unspoken insinuation that today's wrestlers, promoters, and fans are too hip for all this sweaty grunting and groaning. This latter situation really took off with the decline and fall of kayfabe, as realism gave way to tawdry and over-the-top spectacle. (I also suspect this was partly a reaction against a growing consciousness of the sport's innate eroticism.) Something similar happened to underground wrestling, as sophomoric clowning and ersatz beauty contests superseded honest grappling. Lightweight, non-threatening cuteness came to prevail. My gripe is not so much with "bad" wrestling as with "trivial" wrestling. As I see it, even inept grappling, done with respect and heart, is hotter than mechanical displays of brawn and jokey, leering fluff.

I realize I come off as humorless when I talk like this. Humorlessness is the worst crime in contemporary American culture, taking things too seriously -- or seriously at all. I swear I do have a sense of humor, even if it isn't evident here. But I think lightness and self-consciousness can be taken too far. When nothing is serious, nothing is majestic, marvelous, or transcendent. In a purely tongue-in-cheek world, there is no rapture. Wrestling, to my mind, possesses a certain level of gravitas and mythic importance, the way some of my friends feel about baseball.

Of course, there never really was a "golden" age of wrestling--that's the product of imagination and false memories. And I would not go so far as to say that a sense of the sublime has entirely disappeared. Even the worst offenders like WWE have fleeting moments of majesty worthy of Homer. But I do yearn, with a profound but sentimental nostalgia, for the nights of black trunks, sawdust, local heroes, and ethnic surnames, when professional wrestling was real for most fans (even if only through "willing suspension of disbelief") and when it touched on deep and troubling dreams and desires--and when gay wrestling fans looked back to the ancient Greeks for inspiration, or at least to adolescent rites of roughhouse that cemented friendships and determined one's ranking in the hierarchy of the pack. Glimmers of all this remain, of course ... thankfully.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Movie Monday: The Transporter

The Transporter (dir. Louis Leterrier and Cory Yuen, 2002) with Jason Statham as Frank Martin and Jean-Marie Paris as Big Thug

The oil fight is by itself the best reason to see The Transporter, a dizzying mix of whirling camerawork, flash edits, and comic twists. The whole movie is a succession of improbable car chases, so this wildly improbable but insanely entertaining brawl caps it all off terrifically. It is the fight that precedes the final showdown with the top bad guys, but this is the most memorable scene in the movie.

Statham plays a highly paid no-questions-asked delivery man, who accidentally uncovers a human trafficking operation. Towards the end of the movie, a team of henchmen holds him captive in a dockside warehouse. While attempting an escape, a shirtless Statham is intercepted by a character identified only as Big Thug in the credits. They fight. More henchmen show up to gang up on the hero, who overturns an oil container, turning the warehouse floor into a giant Slip 'N Slide.

It's all hand-to-hand combat, played for laughs with (I think) an intentional erotic subtext. Statham holds his own until backup thugs show up with semiautomatic firearms. The hero uses Big Thug as a shield, and the two crash through a window into murky waters below. The henchmen toss an oil barrel into the water and shoot it. It explodes, leaving Statham trapped underwater, the surface in flames.

In what is almost definitely a knowing wink to certain fans, Statham survives by locking lips with the thug, inhaling the residual oxygen in the dead man's lungs. With the billowing conflagration overhead, the lifesaving tactic looks like a passionate kiss.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A World of Hurt

Eli Black vs Austin Tyler, Match 513 (UCW)

I don't think I have ever--ever--seen Eli Black in as much pain as UCW's new stun gun Austin Tyler puts him through in Match 513. It hurts just to watch. At one point late in the match, Eli exclaims "Ow!" with so much intensity and genuine shock it sounds like a howl. I have never seen anybody, at UCW or any other wrestling venue, in as much pain as Eli and Austin recklessly lob back and forth over the course of this 30-minute shocker.

The setup is right out of one of my semiweekly chat-room fight fantasies--only this is the real living-breathing deal. These two guys, with so much knowhow in malicious battery, dispense with pretend-combat and shoot for a Ragnarök endgame, instead. I already knew Austin is miles of impressive and the new big deal at UCW, but I had no idea it was in him to put up this big of a fight against the redoubtable Eli Black!

There is nothing friendly and sporting about this contest, at least not in the ordinary senses of the words. All restraints tossed aside, this fight is like a drumroll of heart punches delivered in galloping succession. It's sexy and macho as goddamn fuck. The final minutes are as close to a life-and-death struggle I ever want to witness outside of Shark Week. Rest assured this match does not end in a draw or DQ. But it is not yet over between these two--that much is almost certain. Match 513 is the opening salvo of all-out war.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A New Day

Evan Turner vs Isaac Bolt, Las Vegas Debut (Movimus)

Movimus is full of surprises. A new setting, two new wrestlers with competition backgrounds, ready to make names for themselves--or just to kick some ass for the sheer hell of it. Both guys are so well matched in size and mat experience that it's almost impossible to predict a winner. It's the company's first new match of 2017, and it reveals a side of Movimus Wrestling we haven't seen before yet preserves MW's commitment to real submission contests and quality high-definition video.

Movimus has opened a new base in Las Vegas, with an all new and separate production team. The goal is to attract and sign the best competitors East and West. In this 24-minute download, Evan, in black, 5'7", 143#, takes on Isaac, in white 5'8", 146#. Both are well prepared and eager to fight, yet from the start Evan appears to have the edge over Isaac in raw strength and perhaps training, or so it seems after Evan speedily wins the first fall. But painting Isaac as the underdog would ignore the guy's resilience and strong will--and there are four falls in all.

I gather from the online match description that Movimus would prefer the final count to remain a secret, so my lips are sealed. I will say that the contest is hardly one-sided. Both grapplers make the other tap out at one point or another. The question remains whether the video ends in a dead heat or one of these guys comes out on top. Neither wrestler is willing to give an inch, each has to work hard to gain any ground on the other, and in the end both are so wrung out that they can barely stand up. Good stuff!

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Good Hard Look

HC Dyer vs Chris Tyler, LCW Mayhem (Leicester Championship Wrestling)

To my taste, this May 2016 match takes far too long to heat up. Too much exposition and choreography at the outset. But when it does fire up, there are flashes of brilliance as Dyer (in black, 5'11", 213#) and Tyler (in silver, 5'10", 200#) provide me with a good hard look at their strongly contrasting but equally stunning physiques and some extra tight muscle-to-muscle exchanges, still obviously choreographed ... but wow. Shimmying babyface Tyler grabs my attention right off, but as the fight wears on and the sweat starts pouring, I'm impressed with Dyer, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Boys Next Door Settle a Score

Chad Daniels vs Tanner Hill, Total Knockout: Only One Man Exits the Ring (Rock Hard Wrestling)

The title and subtitle say it all. Daniels vs Hill ends with a hard knockout, and only one of these wrestlers walks away on his own two feet. Chad has seven Rock Hard matches under his belt, and Tanner has six. Each is disconcertingly handsome: blond, statuesque Chad, lifeguard and collegiate wrestler, has always been fiercely competitive, and gym-bunny Tanner is eager to kiss his dues-paying days goodbye. It was only a matter of time before their paths would cross. The 26-minute match runs a full three rounds, which means each man triumphs at least once, requiring a third-round tie-breaker.

"You think you can take on Chad?" Chad asks in third person as he crawls through the ropes. "Absolutely," Tanner replies with conviction, going so far as to refer to the RHW fight space as "my gym." That's about it for the introductory chitchat, as the two are in a rush to lock up and prove themselves the better man. Tanner starts strong, heaving the taller wrestler up on one shoulder and slamming him to the mat. Then he backs him into a corner and pummels his gut. His propensity for chuckling while making Daniels grunt and squirm may indicate his heel ambitions. Often heralded for his abs, Hill mostly impresses me with his legs, strong and shapely like a tennis pro's, providing a tight fit for Chad's midsection in a prolonged body-scissors.

Though it takes him five minutes to warm up, Chad turns tables like a deejay. When he does at last strike back, he aims to cripple, with a punishing stomp to Tanner's kneecap. It looks like Tanner is not the only babyface aspiring to heel status. A hobbled Tanner thrashes about in pain, prompting Chad to swoop back in and trample the other kneecap. The old rule about not kicking a man while he's down does not apply to the vicious series of throwdowns that follows. These two are gleefully predatory in their assaults on each other. As the first fall nears, Chad works every joint in his opponent's body and damn near snaps the man's spine with a reckless over-the-shoulder backbreaker.

By the second fall, Chad has broke into a shimmering sweat, some of it cold after the wringers he and Tanner put each other through against the ropes. The give and take lasts through all three rounds, but the boys take their time with it, neither one in a hurry to relinquish his grip on the other. By the end of Round Three, you'll be forgiven if you think this fight could end in a draw, but like a thunderbolt a strong right hook puts the stopper in it, leaving the loser flat on his back, seeing stars under his eyelids, arms and legs splayed like a swatted fly.

This is one of Rock Hard's strongest matches yet, with the two pretty boy-next-door types apparently dead set on ending each other's career. It's not the best wrestling I've ever seen, but it is damn compelling. Daniels and Hill have incredible chemistry. If you're already familiar with the Rock Hard product, you will find the fine technical quality you'd expect in this video--and the animosity that gradually mounts between the two adversaries, especially after the halfway point, kept me riveted to the end.


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