Features & Columns

Underground Wrestling Alliance Grows in Popularity

Underground Wrestling Alliance Attracts More Fans
in its 19th Year with Lovably Weird Style
ALT ASSAULT: Underground Wrestling Alliance have grown older but they still can't take themselves too seriously.

Hollywood, reigning champion of the Underground Wrestling Alliance, has morphed from fan favorite to two-timing megalomaniac. Clad in his signature black and blue, gaudy gold title belt buckled around his waist, he storms toward the ring. Clearly, victory has gone to his head.

"I don't need your approval," he rages at the crowd, eliciting hisses and insults. "I won the rumble and I earned my title shot. And then—and then—I was truly reborn. Like a god, I was in control of my own destiny."

Flicking his long black hair over his shoulders, he climbs up on the ropes to crow some more. "I hope you fall!" someone from the audience taunts. Others boo the turncoat hero, the man who betrayed his best friend, Maverick, by slashing off his hair in their prior season-clinching match, stealing the title and turning "heel" (wrestling parlance for villain).

"I beat Maverick, your UGWA champion," Hollywood bellows (pronouncing it "ugg-wuh"), "And you know what? None of you get the glory of seeing me wrestle tonight."

The commissioner—JD Raider, decked out in silver-and-black Raiders gear, naturally—won't let him off that easy. Skip the fight and forfeit the title, he barks at Hollywood, who's already marching off, back turned, snubbing crowd and commissioner.

The next two hours rush by in a blur of flying elbow drops, suplexes, near-three-count pins and a back flip from the top rope. Between, came lesser known, sometimes cringe-worthy moves, like the Shining Ass-tronaut, Human Centipede, Ass-to-Mouth, Small Package and Happy Ending.

"Hey, sweetie," a spry little high-flyer named Jewdas, rocking nothing but booty shorts with a red Christmas bow on the crotch, addresses a female observer seated ringside on a ratty leather couch. "Do you want to play with my bow and arrow?" The audience howls. "That's my penis," he rasps in a pretend whisper.

Upward of 100 people are packed behind an unassuming house, bland and beige, off of McKee Boulevard in San Jose's East Side. I join them, with a couple guests, to watch the UGWA 2015 season opener, a two-hour series of matches with dramatic plot twists. Fifteen years ago, Metro featured the same group in a cover story, back when the only people watching were the actual wrestlers. Today, UGWA has a growing audience and venue, even if it's still usually relegated to a backyard. The most underground of wrestling scenes is slowly becoming marketable entertainment—last year UGWA held two shows at the San Jose Athletic Club.

Underground Wrestling AllianceUnderground Wrestling Alliance

The audience consists of wrestling fans aged teens to 30s and the one-off baby in a carseat, gutter punks and San Jose Bike Party cyclists. Behind a burgundy sheet leading to the back of the house, wrestlers in various states of undress prep for their bouts while, outside, expectant fans stake out a seat before the show. Smoke wafts through the air while some people stand around clutching six-packs of IPA and Dos Equis. It's BYOE: Bring Your Own Everything.

Nineteen years ago, Anthony Trevino founded UGWA as a way to emulate what he saw on TV. It was bloody, explicit, politically incorrect—before what he calls the wholesale Disney-fication of pro wrestling. He was 12, a die-hard fan who spent most of his afternoons convincing buddies to tussle outside of family and friends' homes, public parks and churchyards in the East Side.

"We've come a long way in terms of production quality," says Trevino, who at 31 has turned a childhood pastime into, ostensibly, the longest-running backyard fight club in Silicon Valley. "Used to be just a bunch of kids rolling around on the lawn. Now, we have real fans."

"Our early fights were more like self-esteem boosters," he continues. "We wanted to win, until we understood that we're putting on a play, basically, like a dramatized stunt show."

Early UGWA held some of the same cast of misfits: the high-flying Trevino as Slash, hulking Daniel Sanchez as Tank and perpetually camera-carrying Jose Portillo as Ironman, among others.

"Most of my wrestlers were a lot bigger than me," says Trevino, 5-foot-6 and slight. "But we worked with anyone who wanted to wrestle with us. We recruited the school bully and all of a sudden we were friends. We realized we were both wrestling fans. We made the peace through fighting."

Fueled by an edgier WWE and the popularity of Jackass-style stunts, backyard wrestling across the nation boomed, recorded on home video and uploaded to YouTube. Widely circulated Best of Backyard Wrestling compilations and a later documentary called The Backyard shows bouts fought with barbed wire and folding chairs, flaming Nerf bats and fireworks. But the fad waned. Wannabe wrestlers aged. Many nursed injuries, went to school, started families and careers. Trevino swore off the ring after damaging his neck in a move called the Fisherman Buster.

Underground Wrestling AllianceUnderground Wrestling Alliance

UGWA, however, has fought on.

Trevino recruited new fighters into the fold. Portillo continued filming the bouts, eventually compiling enough footage to make a soon-to-release, feature-length documentary. In 2006, they found a legit wrestling ring, fixed it up and set it in Trevino's backyard.

Equipped with a ring and a de facto training facility—Trevino rents the house mostly to other wrestlers—the UGWA faithful began courting a wider audience. Initially, he relied on bikini-clad girls to draw a crowd with oil wrestling and lingerie pillow fights before rolling out the main event. That's where King Patrick, or KP for short, got his start, volunteering to don a two-piece bathing suit and writhe around with oiled-up women in a kiddie pool. He's now UGWA's resident gender-bending mind melt.

"From there, it was all word of mouth," boasts Maverick, known to the rest of the world as Alberto Palomino, a 29-year-old builder of cubicles by day and underground people's champ by night. "The wrestlers started developing their own following. People started learning our storylines and rooting for their favorites. They got into it."

A few wrestlers went on to fight in paid leagues, he says, though they could never talk about their roots because backyarders are often looked down upon by the rest of the wrestling industry. Trevino has no qualms about admitting his place in the food chain—below ground, reviled by pay-to-play schools and salary earning fighters. He says his league is the last of the underground.

"We don't care about becoming big stars," says Paul Holguin, 29, whose mild-mannered demeanor belies his menacing alter ego, Hollywood. " We want to keep the whole underground thing. But we want to become known."

In the early days, Trevino and his cadre of yarders dreamed of going pro. Now, the aspiration is to secure a regular venue. Something roomy enough for a ring and a throng of several hundred onlookers, something high enough for the lights and the high-flying leaps and drops from the top ropes.

"Because WWE is so watered down and creatively stagnant, wrestling fans want other options," Trevino says. "San Jose can be known for that, for giving wrestling fans what they want, something more raw."