Workin' Men: Rik Luxury lays a rear chin-lock on Bulldog Brian Raymond at a recent SPW match.
Supreme Pro Wrestling: punk rock in spandex?
By Gabe Meline
Arriving late to a Supreme Pro Wrestling match does have its peculiar rewards. Heard in the parking lot of a community auditorium in Sacramento, the sounds of the wrestlers competing inside a building over a hundred yards away are like repeated, celestial slams of thunder exploding into the calm night air over a distant hum of crowd noise. It sounds so brutally mechanical. It sounds like a house collapsing on a pile of loose steel. It sounds like it really, really hurts.
I make my way inside in time for the announcement of the next match, as the lights go dark and the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" fills the air. From behind a black curtain, a spry, nimble man in a Mexican wrestling mask and a Motörhead T-shirt emerges. He prances around the ring in a circle, his hand to his ear, exciting the crowd's adulation: "Fla-co! Fla-co! Fla-co!" He is El Flaco Loco, and he is the crowd favorite against the Italian, Vennis DeMarco, who appears none too happy with his opponent's vivacious display of superiority.
Not that anyone can match Flaco's intimidating tactics: in the course of three short minutes, he flirts with girls in the crowd, grabs DeMarco in the crotch and riles the crowd into chants of "He's a vir-gin!" Five minutes into the match, Flaco has DeMarco against the corner ring post, dramatically pummeling his opponent while the crowd counts along to each wallop: "One! Two!"
El Flaco Loco then suddenly stops his clobbering and waves his hands to halt the chant.
"No!" he cries. "In Spanish!" The pummeling continues: "¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tres!"
But the tides of change are sudden and cruel in the ring, and soon DeMarco has the upper hand. Flaco isn't doing well. He's hanging off the ropes, and eventually crumbles into a pile on the ground outside of the ring, and DeMarco grabs the microphone. "What do you think of your Flaco now?" he sternly asks the crowd.
This is Supreme Pro Wrestling (SPW), a world of good guys and bad guys, an arena where fans ride a wild roller coaster of far-fetched hopes for what almost always turn out to be inevitable victories. In the end, El Flaco Loco winds up taking the win by knocking DeMarco's sequin-studded manager off the ropes onto the ground, and in the same swift move, pinning DeMarco with ease. Amazing.
For those who first became aware of wrestling through World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation), routinely shown on Saturday mornings in the mid-'80s just after The Smurfs, the vision of pro wrestling is probably best defined by Hulk Hogan, a bug-eyed, impish, cartoon character who wore a bandana to hide his baldness. Those coming into the sport in the late '90s probably think of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock and those glitzy World Championship Wrestling pay-per-view cable TV specials dominated by pyrotechnics and lame sound bites.
But before the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling—before, essentially, big money moved in and altered the sport in the way that big money alters everything it touches—wrestling was a regional pastime with true heart and soul, monitored by the National Wrestling Alliance. A union-like organization that kept regional promoters in check, the Alliance managed to secure the dignity of pro wrestling for about 40 years until Vince McMahon, promoter of Madison Square Garden, and Ted Turner, mogul of television broadcasting, seceded to found the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling, respectively.
As these big-money wrestling enterprises continue to bloat, hopelessly out of touch with the very kids whose wallets they target, an underground movement has gained momentum by suggesting that maybe it's time to get back to the basics. From its first match in 1999, Supreme Pro Wrestling has embraced the ideal of featuring regional stars, regular title bouts and, most importantly, an equal chance for everyone to get involved. In many ways, it is exactly like community theater—everybody pitches in, does his best and puts on a hell of a show.
In many other ways, independent wrestling is also exactly like punk rock, which is why the March 4 PunkSlam slated for the Phoenix Theater is such a naturally apropos pairing.
"You don't know anything about punk rock if all you do is watch MTV," says an exhausted El Flaco Loco after the wrestling match is over. "The real good stuff is underground, and it's like that with wrestling. The great wrestlers, the ones who put on amazing shows, who really entertain a crowd, they're the ones that 95 percent of the viewing public have never heard of. It's just like punk bands, but in spandex."
The lineup this weekend features six wrestling matches in the ring, staggered against three bands on stage. It's a perfect setup for SPW's tag-team the Rejected or for the self-proclaimed "punk soul brotha" Virgil Rotten, but it might prove unsettling for other SPW wrestlers—heavyweight champion "Old School" Oliver John, for example. Lettered in both track and football in high school, John is a true-blue super-buff jock who will be defending his title belt on completely alien turf.
All wrestling, however, stems from the same rough-hewn nature that requires soul in order to succeed. Conceptual quality, extreme gymnastic ability and outright showmanship are key elements to SPW's approach, but intense passion fuels a memorable match just as surely as it drives a simple three-chord hardcore song to greatness. "At this level, none of us are paying the bills with what we do," admits Flaco Loco. "We put up with the pain, the bruises, the scrapes, the bumps and everything else because of a passion for the art."
Some may balk to hear professional wrestling called art, but sitting five rows from the ring while a 200-pound man launches into a high-flying half-gainer off the ropes is a transformative, jaw-dropping experience. The talent, technique and personal flair demanded undeniably make wrestling as much an art form as, say, ballet; it's simply a little less smooth, and a lot more painful.
Just how does a professional wrestler deal with the pain? "During the matches and immediately after the matches, the adrenaline really takes care of a lot of that," says El Flaco Loco. "As you get older, though"—Flaco is 36—"the next day, it does hurt."
There are ways to minimize the bite of wrestling's bark, taught in the SPW's open-admission wrestling school, where most of the performers spend time learning the ropes before flying into the ring. Twenty-four-year-old Bonzai Bruce was an amateur wrestler in high school until he enrolled in the SPW classes, and now he is a key attraction for the troupe.
"This way, it's a little more work," says Bruce, comparing amateur wrestling to pro wrestling, "because you have to work together to put on a good match." And since being a pro wrestler is not about fanning the flame so much as selling the sizzle, "sometimes," Bruce acknowledges, "you have to lay off the intensity."
Onstage earlier in the evening, Bonzai Bruce wound up pinned in a tag-team grudge match, but he says that the roster maintains a professional level of teamwork behind the scenes. "It's a lot different than other locker rooms you see in different places, where people stay in cliques," he observes. "Over here, we actually cherish the value of how we all treat each other like brothers. We're like family."
Sir Samurai agrees. "It is just like a family—sometimes your brother ticks you off." Earlier, the 32-year-old Samurai was pounded in a surprise defeat by a newcomer named El Chupacabra. "But for the most part, you can work everything out. We all respect each other, and we respect what we go through in the match."
In the seats, too, there is a sense of unity among a disparate, varied group of people. Well-dressed, middle-aged English teachers root alongside teenaged rockabilly rebels. High school jocks rise up to cheer the action with Mexican families and grizzled rockers in Led Zeppelin T-shirts. Mohawked parents holding newborn babies mingle with peroxide-blonde sorority girls in heels and cleavage.
"I feel completely comfortable bringing my kids here," says a conservative-looking father, making his way to the parking lot to load his five- and seven-year-olds into the family minivan. "They love it. It's better than letting them watch TV."
Later, as the referee for the night sweeps up the popcorn, and as the stage crew disassembles the now-quiet wrestling ring, Sir Samurai looks around the auditorium and smiles. "Generally," he remarks, "you're hard-pressed to find somebody who comes and checks out a show who doesn't leave going, 'Wow, that was fun.'"
PunkSlam, with six bouts of wrestling by the stars of Supreme Pro Wrestling and featuring the live music of Ashtray, Teenage Harlets and Furlong, is this Friday, March 4, at the Phoenix Theater, 201 Washington St., Petaluma. Bell time is 8pm. $10. 707.762.3565. www.supremeprowrestling.com.
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