This was initially posted on Wrestling With Words on July 29, 2017
I usually have a hard time explaining to friends, acquaintances, and strangers what it is that I love about professional wrestling. Usually it’s a foreign concept to them. If they have any preconceived notions of what wrestling is, usually they are outdated, vague, and not altogether comprehensive. “Oily, roided-out musclemen screaming at each other in the language of jingoism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia? What’s there to like?”
They’re not totally wrong, as that description sadly does encompass all too much of professional wrestling, even in 2017. Even the non-WWE wrestling that I spend the majority of my time with tends to disappoint or disgust me in all sorts of ways. So what is it that I like, then? What is it that brings me back time and again? What is it that leads me to spend all this money on tickets and DVDs and streaming services?
When I think back to my early days in wrestling, I think of Wikipedia. In the first weeks of 2008, Wikipedia was huge. The year prior it had passed the milestone of two million articles, making it the largest encyclopedia in human history. Every one of my teachers urged their classes not to use it, fearing that hollow and deceptive philosophy which is found on the internet. Their fears were ignored. Information wants to be free, after all, and we wanted to reap the benefits.
For someone who knew exactly one other wrestling fan in the world, Wikipedia served as my first and foremost wrestling teacher in those days. It was on its pages that I learned what a Dusty finish was, learned about the broader differences between lucha libre and catch wrestling, learned the names of Jumbo Tsuruta and Eddie Kingston.
You can learn a lot by just typing “pro wrestling” into Wikipedia’s search bar. All sorts of wonderful things come up. I remember, quite vividly, what I found one day typing those words into a forbidden teacher. I found Pro Wrestling Guerrilla.
The logo is what hit me first. I’d always loved animals. It was around this time in my life that I slowly made the decision not to go to college for psychology and religion but rather zoology. Becoming a wrestling fan was but one way in which I was growing and changing as a person in my teens. Where I had once been able to recite vast stretches of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae, I now would speak at great length about how chinchilla fur was thick enough to suffocate fleas and the many advantages of the cloaca.
The name, however, is what really drew me in. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, evoking warfare and subterfuge, tactics and resistance. I won’t deign to suggest that the name washed over me as a chill running up my spine; the public library in which I sat was cold enough already. Still, there was something in that name, and in the names of its creators: Excalibur, Scott Lost, Top Gun Talwar, Joey Ryan, Disco Machine, Super Dragon. Without knowing who they were or what they were about, this motley crew of names spoke to me on some deeper level I couldn’t understand. They were inviting.
Soon I found out just what it was those six men were about. They were about whatever they wanted to be. Through Wikipedia and other online avenues, I quickly learned PWG’s history and methodology. I was immediately drawn to this rejection of conventional habits and formulas in this profession that I knew very little about. I was enticed by the mixture of comedy and violence found in the PWG ring, often hand-in-hand. I liked the fact that everyone, from the wrestlers to the fans to the referees to the commentators, was having fun. That’s all I was looking for in professional wrestling. I wanted to have a good time.
In those early weeks of 2008, you could quite easily find footage from all over the world if you knew where to look, and I like to fancy myself a fast learner. It wasn’t long before I found PWG footage on some forgotten corner of YouTube or LiveLeak. I can’t tell you what the first show I saw was. I can take educated guesses, trying to triangulate factors such as relevance, popularity, and availability. What I can tell you, though, is that today is 10th anniversary of Giant-Size Annual #4, and its top three matches are a doozy.
Chris Benoit was in the first wrestling match I ever saw, and I think that messed me up in a lot of ways. It certainly flavored the way I viewed wrestling and moreover what I considered good wrestling. In those early weeks of 2008, I valued reality in my fake sport hinged on anything but that. I wanted something grounded that I could latch onto, something that I could sink my teeth into. When you get hit enough times, sometimes the only thing you want to watch is someone else getting hit. That’s how it was for me.
These men, Bryan Danielson and Necro Butcher, gave me reality in spades. They threw real punches, one out of fear for his life and the other out of fear of his own failure. They made real movements around the ring, one born out of a technical, athletic background and the other born out of daily living, barefoot and pissed. They had real emotions. They were real people, the sorts of people I spent every day of my life with.
The way the story goes, Necro thought he had been booked against Danielson as revenge for some previous mistake or accident perpetrated against Super Dragon. He didn’t know whether or not Danielson was going to try to shoot on him, but he came prepared all the same. The opening moments of the match see Danielson struggle, quite convincingly, to apply an armbar to an unwilling Necro Butcher before simply resigning to a knee drop right on the temple. Necro scurries away and slams both hands on the mat in frustration. I don’t know if the story about Super Dragon’s revenge is strictly true or not. On some level, it doesn’t matter. The whispering and the mystery is only another layer to this match.
Necro, a simple man from the plains of Texas and the mountains of West Virginia, fights back the only way he knows how. He applies headbutts and body blows against the educated efforts of his opponent. Danielson, though, can hang with the best of them. When Necro’s forehead begins to bleed from his own headbutts, Danielson digs his fingers into the man’s wound. Blood is soon streaked across the side of the ring as Danielson presses his boot into Necro’s mouth. “Best in the world!” he declares. He calls it like he sees it.
On the floor, with the cold concrete beneath his feet, Necro finds himself. A familiar sight, he begins lobbing folding chairs at his opponent, and soon Danielson is bleeding. Before long he reaches into the pocket of his ratty jean shorts, pulling out a crumpled-up plastic shopping bag. He unfurls it and wraps it around Danielson’s head, suffocating him. It’s a tremendous act of violence even in such a controlled setting, something real and disturbing. It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me want to look away. But I can’t. My eyes are fixed.
Still, it is not the Necro Butcher’s lot in life to remain on top, especially against the likes of the American Dragon. Quickly Danielson bests Necro at his own game, slamming him onto a pile of chairs, smashing them down against his body. Back in the ring, Necro has to fight his way free of Danielson’s signature Cattle Mutilation hold by smashing his head against his opponent’s head, by twisting at his nose. He swings wildly, forcing Danielson to flee from corner to corner, covering his body as best he can. Danielson, though, is nothing if not opportunistic. He waits for his opening and strikes, circling behind Necro and muscling him up for a German suplex. He then flips the Butcher over, spreading open the meaty part of his neck and chest before driving his elbow again and again and again and again into the side of Necro’s face until finally the referee stops the match.
Lots of things can change in ten years. Today, all four of these men, Kevin Steen, El Generico, Roderick Strong, and PAC, are in WWE. Two of them have slimmed down quite a lot. The other two have put on considerable amounts of mass. None of them have teamed regularly for years.
Still, some things never change. Steen and Generico are uneasy partners, rivals forced together once again by circumstance, by opportunity. PAC and Strong are lightning quick, well-oiled machines designed only to hurt. Steen utilizes his size advantage and mean streak to stay on top. Generico, the perpetual underdog even as PWG World Champion, does what he can to stay alive and stay on Steen’s good side.
Steenerico, the more experienced team with years of history together, quickly overcome the haphazard duo of Roddy and PAC, isolating the small British youngster. PAC is not without his resources, however: he is arguably the greatest highflier in the world. He is able to reverse Generico’s quebradora into a hurricanrana, later flattening Steen with a shooting star kneedrop to the back of his head.
Here the match picks up in a big way. Roddy and PAC apply their explosiveness, stringing together mindblowing combos of moves to keep the challengers off their feet. A nutty corkscrew 450 senton from PAC can’t put away Steen, nor can a flurry of backbreakers from Strong. Even the double team maneuver of Roddy tossing PAC over his head into a tight hurricanrana on Generico can’t find them the victory.
I love tag team matches. If I had to pick between watching only singles matches or tag team matches for the rest of my life, I’d take tag team matches in a heartbeat. There’s something to the structure and how it offers a space within which to construct countless possibilities, combinations far more intricate than can be found in a singles matchup. The building blocks are often the same, but what they combine to create can be anything under the sun.
I also love the team aspect of tags and all that it entails. I love the underlying emotions inherent in siding with another person in a competition, allowing yourself to win or lose by their efforts as well as your own. I love how it can breed camaraderie and friendship as well as tension and contempt. I love the bond and understanding required of good tag team strategies. I love the tenderness of saving one’s partner from an attacker.
After Steen saves his partner, his rival, this person to whom he is inexorably linked, from certain defeat at the hand of PAC’s hurricanrana, he tosses Roddy out of the ring, urging Generico to incapacitate him with a dive. Then, together, they finish off PAC with a devastating combination of a package piledriver and a brainbuster, back-to-back, winning the PWG World Tag Team Championships for the first time. Together.
Fate has a funny way of playing itself out. Initially this show was meant to be headlined by two title matches: Roderick Strong & PAC defending their PWG World Tag Team Championships against the Briscoes and El Generico defending the PWG World Championship against Bryan Danielson. Because the Briscoes were unable to make their flights, the card was switched around, resulting in Danielson taking on Necro Butcher and Generico teaming with Steen to face the tag champs.
Moments after winning the tag titles, Steen and Generico are faced with a bloody Bryan Danielson, bandage wrapped tight around his shaved head, eyes wide and insistent. Urging Steen to the back, Danielson demands the title shot owed to him, slapping Generico across the face when he tries to consult with PWG Commissioner Dino Windwood.
I’m a firm believer in the absurdity of acoustics. Sometimes crowds of tens of thousands pale in comparison to a few hundred gathered in a tiny hall. Sometimes the Tokyo Dome is a thunderous wall of reverberation while other times it is a vacuum of silence. Some of it has to do with architecture and how sound moves throughout a space. Some of it, of course, simply has to do with how interested a crowd is at a particular moment. But some of it, I think, is magic. There’s magic in the air when the bell rings for this impromptu PWG World title match. The 500 strong in attendance are on their feet, an unending torrent of appreciation for what is about to unfold.
Feeling the crowd, Generico unloads a few forearm shots into Danielson’s jaw before turning to bounce off the ropes for momentum. Danielson follows him in and pops off a forearm of his own, taunting Generico with the champ’s own “Ole!” chant. In turn, Danielson goes to bounce off the opposite sets of ropes, and Generico follows him in to send the challenger crashing to the floor with a picture-perfect clothesline. He whirls around on the balls of his feet, the tassels of his mask twirling with him, soaking in the roar of the PWG faithful.
Danielson quickly recovers, catching Generico in a powerbomb as he comes sailing off the top rope, flipping him over and trapping him in a brutal single leg crab. He continues to taunt Generico. “You call yourself a world champ?” he asks. “Come on, champ!” Danielson stands on Generico’s head, leering at the crowd. They don’t care. They cheer for their hero.
When Generico won’t lay down and die, Danielson gets nasty… well, nastier. He yanks back on Generico’s nose in a Romero special. He slaps the man across the face repeatedly. When the champ rallies, he has to fight for every inch of ground he gets with pot shots and quick thinking.
What I love about this matchup is how different these two are, how diametrically opposed they are. Danielson is all about efficiency, no wasted movement, nothing done except the most direct and impactful course of action. Generico, on the other hand, is nothing but a sloppy ball of energy, an erratic underdog, a whirlwind of effort and heart. When Danielson stuffs him down again as he makes a comeback attempt, Generico goes down as if shot with a gun. Danielson follows him down with the same momentum he used to stop the champion.
As the match continues, Generico connects with his biggest moves but can’t put Danielson away. A pair of Helluva Kicks won’t do it. A breathtaking brainbuster won’t do it. Reversing the Cattle Mutilation into a pinfall attempt just can’t get it done either. After the tag match, he doesn’t have it left in him. He has to bring out his biggest bomb: the top-rope brainbuster.
It is ultimately his undoing. Danielson slips free and shoves Generico into the ring post, nearly sending the champ crashing through the ring with a mighty avalanche back suplex. When that fails to get the pinfall, Danielson returns to the Cattle Mutilation. Still Generico fights. He finds the ropes, slipping the toe of his boot onto the bottom cable. When he tries it again after Danielson reapplies the hold, the challenger buries a series of gruesome knees into the man’s head and face. A last effort of resistance, Generico returns the favor, the act that started all of this: he slaps Danielson. Danielson brings him down to the mat with another suplex, flipping Generico onto his stomach. He sinks the point of his elbow into the champ’s temple for good measure before applying the Cattle Mutilation one last time, wrenching back on the man’s arms. Generico has no choice, no respite left. He finally taps.
When my friends ask me why I love professional wrestling, this is what I have in mind. These three matches. This simple, moving drama of characters both outlandish and authentic, this theatre of violence. When my friends ask me why I love professional wrestling, I want to tell them it’s because nothing makes me feel the way these three matches make me feel. Even ten years after I first saw them, these matches leave me breathless. They make me believe in the magic of the moment. That pure, unadulterated magic unlike anything else.