Wrestlepalooza at First Avenue, 1/12/13
There were five bouts in all. Each wrestler had his theme; the North Star Express wore North Star jerseys and breezers, Sheik Ariya Daivari divebombed from the turnbuckles with a small prayer mat under his knees, Arik Cannon sported a mohawk and pounded the Pabsts that were thrown to him by the crowd. You didn't have to look too closely to see in these personae a curious commentary on us, on what we do and what we think when we're not watching wrestling.
Take Sheik Ariya Daivari in his keffiyeh. Or Queenie Von Curves and her pasties. Were the demeanor of the whole event a little more serious and a little less self-aware, these props might seem outmoded, incorrect, racist, sexist, appallingly white-male. But this is vaudeville, a travesty of our fears and desires. Sheik Ariya Daivari isn't a heel because he's an Arab; he's a heel because he's a shitty jerk who cracks Arik Cannon across the head with a garbage can WHEN HE ISN'T EVEN LOOKING. Queenie von Curves and her pastie-twirl? Its innocence makes it good.
Of everything that went down at First Avenue on Saturday night, the final match was the most brazen. Pete Huge, the heel to beat all heels, whose swagger was so obnoxious that I booed and meant it, fought El Chivas Blanco, a petit luchador in drag. He wore a pink micro miniskirt and bunny ears, and he traipsed around the stage in a mincing caricature of a femmy gay man.
|Photo by Stacy Schwartz|
For a moment, I feared that the whole night, which had won me over with its good nature, would collapse into a morass of all the cro-magnon bullshit that bothers other sports, pro wrestling included. My fears deepened as the fight progressed. Rather than fight Pete Huge, Chivas Blanco terrorized him with little sex assaults; miming sodomy, burying his head in Pete's crotch, scampering to the turnbuckle, pouting and presenting his ass to Huge in a display of homoerotic submission. Huge's response was predictable; he registered mortification, outrage, disgust. Then he started beating the shit out of Chivas Blanco. It wasn't even wrestling; it looked like a ground-and-pound. Punches, soccer kicks to the head, back stomps. It looked like an honest to God queer beating.
Then, something wonderful happened. Chivas Blanco began to fight back. The momentum began to swing, bit by bit. The crowd, who was behind Blanco the whole way, began to rise, chanting "WE VOTED NO! WE VOTED NO!" Blanco's faggy demeanor persisted. But now he had the whip in his hand. Huge wasn't too worried. But it wasn't a cakewalk anymore. Huge had been brawling; Blanco was now wrestling, and he was outclassing Huge in every respect.
Ring walk-ons are old hat in wrestling, but Saturday night's crescendo was a true mob. One by one, the night's combatants ran down the catwalk and began an ungainly Royal Rumble. Stage hands discreetly brought a 20-foot ladder to the catwalk. And then there was Blanco, climbing to that forbidden top rung. His sudden dominance of the match, and of the whole evening, was utter and total. He towered over his colleagues in his pink miniskirt; beneath him, they sparred and sweated and begged him for mercy. But Blanco was not to be pacified. His wrath could not be extinguished. He was terrifying and magnificent. When he made his dive on the maelstrom of greased, brawling men below, everyone, heel and face alike, collapsed beneath him.
A lot happened at First Avenue on Saturday night. Most of it was scripted. The rest was improvised by the combatants. All of it was a fix, a rig. But fake? No, not that. Fake is a pejorative. It suggests deceit, and there can be no deceit if the victim is in on the ruse. Saying I didn't get a lump in my throat when Chivas Blanco climbed that 20-foot ladder, pinned Pete Huge, and won his match? THAT'S deceit.
Critic's Bias: Impartial toward wrestling, susceptible to earnestness.
The Crowd: A little bit rollerderby, a little bit tattoo parlor. And...
Overheard in the Crowd: "They don't think it's real, Carolyn, they're just getting into it."