This is a story for all those who are interested in athletic competition. It is for those who understand that dedication and looking out for yourself are the key ingredients to success. This is a story for men and women, children and elderly patrons who insist that everyone stands during the national anthem and "God Bless America," if they're both being sung. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I bring you the action at South Broadway Athletic Club.
First of all, wrestling is not a game; it's a sport, and a professional sport at that. Some people might say that the wrestlers at South Broadway are a touch out of shape. But let's ask honestly who would possibly be seen in some of those outfits. If you were really out of shape, would you even touch spandex? Take "Sensational" Brian Brunnell. In last month's match, not only was he willing to wear a tie-dyed body suit, he was willing to wear one that was at least one size too small. This, my friends, is what the strong men wear. It is for men with a beefy physique and a confidence that this writer, as a spirited member of the audience, can only admire.
Some people say that South Broadway wrestling is not a contact sport. I guess their point is that the punches aren't really landing, that it's all just one big monster show with the wrestlers hoping to dupe the more dull-witted in the audience. This can't be further from the truth. I am certifiably one of the most dull-witted members there, and I can clearly see that these punches are real. The body slams are real. And when someone gets hit by a chair, and the chair gets bent to a point of no longer being useful, I'd say that's when I know that these guys are dealing with pain and punishment, brutality and the cowering edge of a dangerous profession.
This isn't to say that everything's above board. Last month especially, the audience was treated to what I would consider the shadier side of the sport. I'm talking about Mr. Bibbs begging Scott Brunnell for mercy and then pulling the proffered hand down to the mat. I'm talking about "Wild Child" Billy Diamond using a misplaced championship belt as a club to knock someone out. I'm talking about Steve Sharp calling his brother on the cell phone so they could both try to treat Ron Powers to a beating. It seems there's always a conspicuous evil lurking just beneath the surface.
It makes me think of Maniac Mad Max who swears to hear voices while he's in the ring. He points to them at the ceiling or at the other corner. Perhaps there is something he sees or hears that is beyond our comprehension. Perhaps this is what wrestling is about: that unseen, unknown quantity that waits for all of us around the corner, in the alley, under the bed. I don't pretend to understand what that is, but it seems to make sense. It explains the presence of a wrestler named the Amish Warrior. It explains why Tony Casta came out and started to berate Ron Powers for switching from the White Hat to the Black Hat. Ron was brought back to South Broadway wrestling to bring order, but then he turned and brought only chaos.
But this evil lurking notion may be what some people call a crude hypothesis. Wrestling is wrestling, and there's not much that needs to be said beyond that. Every month men and women shove, bite, and swing metal objects at each other. Is it for the spectacle? Certainly. Is it to win, in some cases, the title of Champion? Undeniably. Is there really anything that matters beyond this? I would posit the struggle I see in the ring has grander implications. There is a force animating these men and women and it resides beyond the bounds of the ring, but I dare not fancy a guess where it sits. I can say if Maniac Mad Max were to translate what it is saying, it would be, God Bless America and Let Freedom Ring.
Kent Shaw, a poet and writer, lives in St. Louis.