Wrestling with the Idea of Wrestling

by Byrrd Adrian, Reverie Hound Contributor

I know who “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is because I love John Carpenter’s film They Live. Ditto Andre the Giant in the classic The Princess Bride. I know who Hulk Hogan is because I haven’t lived under a rock in some time.

But I can’t tell you what Junkyard Dog looks like. The Iron Shiek? Again, couldn’t tell ya. If you ask me who Sting is, you think I’m going to tell you about his professional-wrestling accomplishments? Most likely my response will be around the Tantric proclivities of a rather accomplished bassist.

Professional wrestling took off in the 1980s at a time when I fit snugly into the key demographic for it—young, white male—but the popularity of it all passed me by without so much as another thought—more likely with a snide remark regarding its authenticity. Yes, I remember classmates with their rubber wrestling dolls and the excited lunch-table discussions about the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (back when it was the WWF) telecast the night before. And—Jesus—how I remember these over-excited 12-year-olds trying to copy half-nelsons and body slams on the playground.

In the 1980s, I was more than content with my G.I. Joes and Transformers, which, in hindsight, were fitting proxies for toys of decades past, army men and robots, respectively. The wrestlers’ brightly colored outfits and flips off of ringside ropes did nothing to pull me away from my orthodox toys.

For some reason, professional wrestling has started to work its way into my interests, something that culminated in me actually attending an event last Friday at, of all places, Excalibur nightclub. The turning point came after seeing in December a story in RedEye profiling Resistance Pro, the new local wrestling league under the creative direction of none other than Billy Corgan. I asked my friend Jon, “Hey, did you see this article on this wrestling league?”

“Yes,” he said, and then slowly, “why?”

I don’t think he could gauge my interest in it so I came out and asked if he’d be willing to check it out. Getting past his surprise that I wanted to go, I felt obligated to explain myself a little bit.

My initial interest in wrestling started a couple years ago after reading an interview with Bob Mould, the rock god from Hüsker Dü and the mastermind behind one of the best rock records of all time, Sugar’s Copper Blue, where he described his role in writing scripts for World Championship Wrestling. Whaaaa?

Then there was the wonderful Darren Aronofsky movie with Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler, which helped me to actually put a human face on these performers.

But most of all I realized that I just had never caught the satire behind it. Those who decry wrestling as “fake” see it as some mouth-breather’s wet dream back in the Red States, all the while pointing out the obvious homoeroticism of it all. On the other side, those who love it sometimes miss the brilliant theatrical nuances of it. And is it really homoerotic? Oh, god yes! And the outfits and names—Ricochet, Rhino—are as gaudy as the dolls my classmates used 25 years ago, all of which ably plays into the satirical nature of the gladiator thumping his chest to stand out to the fawning, praising masses.

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People don’t go to Steppenwolf to point out how “fake” an actor’s performance comes across or how “not real” a set looks. Wrestling is about the performance, and Resistance Pro ramped up the theatricality of the event in spades on Friday, illustrating just how satirical this stuff really is. No, these guys aren’t gladiators. They’re not dying out in that ring. But they are playing the gladiator for us. Their sacrifices lie only in the sense that they do take punishment and not one of them would dare step out there if he wasn’t physically prepared—and, boy, are they physically prepared. Some of these guys looked like He-Man dolls. And some of the acrobatics they engage in require an athleticism I haven’t had in…well, ever. From jumping off the top ropes and onto opponents to doing flips out of the ring and onto anyone down there, these are moves that would liquefy my spine or put me in traction for months.

Though these are the moves that elicit the biggest cheers from the audience, which, as you guessed, was predominantly white men in their 20s and 30s, the acrobatics are only half of the action. Without a story behind the moves, the interest wanes. People need to feel engaged in the people doing these things. Is it that we require all of our professional athletes to be interesting? No, but we require our entertainers to be, and the ones that flipped and stomped into the ring on Friday were nothing if not entertaining. The entire night, the story never stopped, though I can’t tell you exactly how or why the opponents in each match were exactly at war with each other. The point was that they made it clear a battle needed to take place right then and there.

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All the while, Billy Corgan watched curiously from his perch on the floor above the ring, his bald head (pictured above, upper left-hand corner) always focused on the action. He brings cache to the league, sure, but this seems to be something he’s passionate about. And why not? Bob Mould found time to hang up the guitar for a time to focus on it. How Resistance Pro continues on, though, probably will revolve around Corgan’s continued involvement.

It’s my understanding that some of the wrestlers who made a name for themselves in the 1980s and ’90s will be brought out for the occasional match, whether as a one-time attraction or an ongoing part of the league. I won’t recognize them, but if it keeps up the momentum, then all the better because I’ve wrestled with the idea of enjoying wrestling, and wrestling won.

The next Resistance Pro event will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 23, 2012 at Excalibur nightclub, 632 North Dearborn, Chicago.

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