By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
It's a fine Tuesday night in the Zona, and Saddam Hussein's chrome-dome, um, brother-in-law Sheik Samir Hussein is getting his ass beat down by a big-assed Catholic priest in a dog collar known as Father Punishment. The shirtless Sheik had come into the rasslin' ring at The Sets in Tempe, cocky as hell, wearing black britches with a yellow stripe, and waving an Iraqi flag like he was parading 'round Sadr City. For some wack reason, the freaky Sheik is paired with the luscious, blond temptress Karma in a co-ed tag-team bout versus that Judas priest and his brunette bud Adrenelyn, dressed á la early Britney Spears in a short Catholic schoolgirl skirt and white top.
"See, Samir Hussein refuses to tag his partner Karma, because she's a woman and thus beneath him, " Chris McLennan shouts into my ear. "Even though he's in trouble, he won't take any help from a girl."
Chris and her hubby Jim are the unpaid promoters of Impact Zone Wrestling (www.impactzonewrestling.com), which holds its maniacal matches every other Tuesday at The Sets -- a bar, pool hall and game room with all manner of diversions such as foosball, darts and Ms. Pac-Man. Two or three times a month, The Sets turns over one of its barrooms to the IZW. And on this particular night, 80 to 100 sports fans have turned out for the smack-down, each paying $5 a pop: blue-haired grannies, Beavis and Butt-head look-alikes, white-trash hotties, redneck rowdies, jersey-clad college types, foul-mouthed tykes and sometimes whole families. As Chris gives me, the Big Pun of P-town, her color commentary on what transpires, they're all screaming their asses off, spitting insults at the warriors doing battle before them.
"Finish that little faggot off, Father P!" screams a skinny septuagenarian lady nearby where Chris and I have taken ringside seats. "You better do it, or I will!"
"You fight like a little girl, Hussein. Where's your skirt?" yells another of the hot-and-sweaty hoi polloi.
Just then, when it looks like the iron Sheik's about to punk out to the bearded, red-and-black-clothed padre, there's a cry emanating from the back of the crowd near the beginning of the runway, and we hear the thunderous approach of one of the Sheik's buds, a two-ton sumo-size Samoan named Tonga who hops into the ring with amazing agility and opens up a king-size barrel of whoop-ass on the sinister minister, driving him from the stage. Samir's already lost the match, but it's Father Punishment who got spanked this eve.
This is only one of several slammin', butt-kickin' IZW brouhahas that goes down while this Kreme-filled escort to all nighttime entertainment in the PHX is flyin' solo. Where be my sapphic sidekick, the L-word Milla Jovovich? Seems Jett's ailin' this week, busy at home hosting her Aunt Flo. She had a note from her moms and everything. So I let her skip gym, and decided to hit the IZW with my own damn self for company.
I'm in the hizzouse as a guest of the McLennans, who by day run a mail-order bead company called Trash City (www.trashcity.com) out of their home in north Phoenix. On the side, they're involved in promoting a whole host of entertainment activities, from a comedy "slamfest" to producing up-and-coming filmmakers with Trash City Films.
"Trash City is sort of an umbrella company, and IZW is one of our adopted children," Chris tells me. "For IZW, we find them the venue, and we promote them and market them. IZW has its own training center in Phoenix down on University and 44th Street, and some of their wrestlers go on to the WWE. Horshu used to be a wrestler here, and now he's Luther Rains with the WWE. And John Cena was from here, and he's gone on to WWE."
IZW has a base stable of about 20 wrestlers, including such outrageous acts as the Navajo Warrior, the Hawaiian Lion, Cowboy Jack Durango, Lawrence "XXX" Tyler, Outlaw Mike Nox, The Crock, and GQ Gallo. The best of the bunch travel all over the country and to other countries, doing their flying kicks and sleeper holds for fans in places such as Japan, Korea and England. After the Sheik-Father Punishment duel, I run into IZW Commissioner C.C. Starr, a hefty fella with curly hair who's sort of the Captain Lou Albano of Arizona, if you know your rasslin' history.
"For my readers, would you have them regard wrestling more as a sport, a performance, or both?" I ask the Jerri-curled giant.
"The basis of it is always sport," intones the Commish. "It's very intense physically. And these guys don't have an off-season. A lot of them work 48 weeks out of the year to make a living, and every night, their bodies are taking a pounding. But you have to be an entertainer, too, and get butts on seats. We try to entertain, while giving folks the solid wrestling you had in the '50s, '60s and '70s."
Speaking of entertainment, nearby, toweling off after his match, is Sheik Samir Hussein, so I ask the Commish's leave to question this bug-eyed, Arabic fish out of water.
"Are you really related to Saddam?" I ask the Sheik.
"Yes, he is my older stepbrother," says the Sheik with a heavy (and likely fake) accent. "He just doesn't know it."
"Are you disappointed with the current situation in your homeland?"
"I wouldn't say 'disappointed,' because the war is not over. Iraq will win. You people underestimate us. That's why it will be a great honor for me to win the championship belt here and take it back to my home country and put it in my palace. I am here to disgrace all of you Americans."
The Sheik retires to his dressing room to count some of the gold he looted when his stepbrother fell from power, so I decide to chat with one of his competitors, the enchanting-yet-viperous Adrenelyn, now in a dark shawl that makes her look like Morticia Addams' cousin, with her dark hair and pale skin. To be sure who she is, I ask if she's changed outfits.
"You are correct, Mr. Kreme Jeans," she responds. "I was an evil Catholic schoolgirl in the ring, right down to my kneepads."
"How long have you been wrestling?"
"With IZW, it's been less than a year," Adrenelyn relates. "But I've been doing backyard wrestling for more than two years now. I wrestle guys, girls, inanimate objects, you name it."
"What I wouldn't give to be pinned by you, Adrenelyn," I smirk. "Is it more fun to kick a guy's ass?"
"Oh, it's always more fun to kick a guy's ass," she says, laughing. "But they like to put me in with other girls, for some reason. I guess people like girl-on-girl action a lot more."
If Jett were here, she'd have to roll her tongue up from off the floor! See, the J-grrl is the queen of girl-on-girl wrestling of another kind. I thank this Glorious Lady of Pain and move on to two of the stars of IZW, The Crock and the Navajo Warrior. The Crock appears before me in a flowing white robe, like he just stepped out of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. He ain't carrying the Bible, though; rather, it's The Book of the Crock, which he sometimes uses to pop his enemies upside the head. In the other hand is a staff topped with a human skull.
"So is The Crock like The Rock?" I wonder as we belly up to a bar so I can order a vodka-Red Bull.
"My hair used to be shorter, and I was tanner and bigger, so I did that whole shtick, but that little bastard [The Rock] ripped me off! I was first. I was the instigator and the innovator. But now, you might say, I'm more of a spiritual enforcer. Father Punishment and Adrenelyn are in my camp. You could call them my minions."
"Does The Crock get lots of bitches?" I inquire.
"Oh, man, The Crock is married to the Good Book," he says, slapping his tome. "This is the only lovin' The Crock will ever need, unless your mom isn't busy. Because I'll bring the Lord to your mother!"
"Do you preach free love, Crock?"
"Free love? More like free Willy," he says, laughing.
The Navajo Warrior is a little more subdued than The Crock. The handsome, muscular gent is awaiting his call to the main event, where he and the Hawaiian Lion will square off against two beefy white boys, Derrick Neikirk and Outlaw Mike Nox, a favorite of the ladies. True to his name, the Navajo Warrior is half Navajo, and like the other wrestlers, declines to state his real name. In fact, the Navajo Warrior founded the IZW in 2000, and has been wrestling for the WWE and other outlets for the past 12 years.
"As a kid, I always wanted to be a cartoon character," he explains. "I wanted to be Superman, Spiderman and Batman. Then I saw wrestling, and these were real people who were as close to comic book heroes as you could find in real life. My grandfather used to take me to the old Veterans' Coliseum to watch the AWA and the WWF when they came to town. Just watching guys like Chief Jay Strongbow and Hulk Hogan inspired me."
"What do most people not understand about what you do in the ring?"
"There's a lot of bodily damage that can take place," he says, as he's being given his cue. "It's like being a stunt man, or even a pro football player. We're taking more hits in a 20-minute match than they are in an entire football game. In the last year, I've broken my right leg, torn ligaments in my left knee. But you've got to keep going. If we don't work, we don't get paid. And if we don't get paid, we don't put food on the table." -- As told to Stephen Lemons