It was Saturday afternoon in the arena at El Gran Mercado, and the young woman next to me was maniacally snapping photos and cheering on her father, a bald, tattooed, grizzly pro wrestler named Hatchet Jack. He was in the wrestling ring with five other guys, competing with his partner, Pitbull, for the Real Deal Pro Wrestling Tag Team Championship (they lost).
El Gran Mercado's a swap meet frequented by large families, so it's not unusual to hear kids yelling for their parents. But things like "KILL HIM, DAD!" are more common on Saturdays, when Real Deal Pro Wrestling holds its weekly matches for a measly $1.
It's more than worth it. The show I saw on Saturday cost $2, but that was because it was the "Legends Show," and several veterans of pro wrestling, including Tony Hernandez, Eddie Lopez, and The Lumberjack, were there to be honored and mingle with fans. (Alas, former WWE stars the Honky Tonk Man and Kobo B. Ware were advertised but didn't show). The card included five matches, including a battle royal, and a main event, six-man match featuring current RDPW Champion Outrage.
Even if you're not a fan of pro wrestling (and I was, especially in the 1980s Hulk Hogan era), there was enough peripheral entertainment for anyone. Going to a live pro wrestling event -- especially if it's a grassroots, local promotion -- is a cultural experience. In three and a half hours inside the modest concrete arena, I watched men in tights crack each other over the heads with metal folding chairs, drowned in a Marlboro cloud next to a chain-smoking elderly lady, ate some delicious ham, and stepped in the dog poop left by one fan's incessantly yippy chihuahua.
Most of the wrestler's entrance themes were heavy metal songs like "Indestructible" by Disturbed, Rob Zombie's cover of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," and some Rage Against the Machine song. But when the matches started, the music switched to Mexican love ballads. It was a bizarre back-and-forth all afternoon.
The wrestlers, many of whom are new to the business, ran around the arena before matches interacting with fans. If the wrestlers were "faces" (wrestling lingo for "good guys"), they high-fived people and kissed babies. If they were "heels" (bad guys), they yelled "Shut up!" and called people fat. It was amusing.
But the Real Deal Pro Wrestling show was also exciting and engaging. RDPW is owned by David Rose, a.k.a. Mr. Wrestling, who's been in the business more than 50 years. RDPW manager Nick "The Sickness" Wilkinson used to do marketing for Extreme Championship Wrestling in Philadelphia. Big Bill Anderson, who trained such wrestling legends as The Ultimate Warrior and Sting, has trained many of the wrestlers on the RDPW roster, including CC Star, who spent some time working with the WWE in the 1980s. Star now trains a lot of the younger guys in RDPW.
The quality of matches was great, filled with action, and there were very few lulls where it looked like the guys weren't sure what to do next. Some of the wrestlers smacked each others' chests and backs so hard it left red welts, but the blood came during the main event, when Shot Saxon gouged Outrage's forehead with the sharp end of a crowbar.
That moment was as violent as the event got. The rest of the time, it was relatively family-friendly -- even when girls yelled for their dads to kick someone in the nads.
Saturdays, 2 p.m., 2011