My buddy B-Boy looks like he could kick some serious ass. At 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds, he strikes an imposing figure in his baggy Dickies pants and stained T-shirts. His shaved head and scraggly beard add to the intimidation factor, so it's a good thing he's not a bully. In fact, B-Boy is one of the most laid-back, mellow people I know he's never been in a fight, he's never done drugs, and on the rare occasions when he drinks past a buzz, he's always a goofy, grinnin' bear-type drunk, never an asshole-ish "What the fuck are you looking at?" kind of drunk. He's a soft-spoken smartass, often passive to the point of frustration, and the things that manage to excite him are the stuff of wide-eyed kid dreams: Star Wars, Renaissance festivals, and pro wrestling.
His love affair with the latter is the reason we're at The Sets in Tempe on a Tuesday night, seated in the third row for an up-close look at some wrasslin' matches, put on by local organization Impact Zone Wrestling (IZW).
B-Boy's been watching pro wrestling since he was 12 long before the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) became World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and he used to watch all the old school, smaller organizations, too, like National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and American Wrestling Association (AWA), most of which are now MIA. When he was a kid, he says, he loved wrestling because he was a "mark" (someone who believes wrestling is real). But for years, he's been a "smark" (a smart mark). He knows the fights aren't real, but he loves the spectacle.
He's been to some of these Impact Zone Wrestling shows before (they take place every other Tuesday), and, tonight, I think all the simulated violence is giving him a boner. The event is sold out, and the couple hundred people around me are screaming for blood. Pro wrestling is heckler heaven for most people, and B-Boy's no exception. Once he's got some beers in him, my usually calm cohort shouts out some of the more specific requests:
"Rip his balls off!"
"Fuck his pretty face up!"
"Break his spine!"
"I wanna see someone die!"
Of course, B-Boy's smiling the whole time he's hollering, and when he leans in to tell me all about this-or-that wrestler or about IZW (he knows everything, I swear), he blushes a bit. This is in between gleeful screams of "Kick him in the nuts!"
Just like the WWE, the IZW has "character" wrestlers on its roster, and the characters are part of various story lines. B-Boy tells me some of the characters who've appeared here the Honky Tonk Man, Jimmy Snuka, John Cena, and Mike Knox also saw stardom in the WWE. (In fact, the six year-old IZW has become a sort of "farm school" for the WWE; at least six wrestlers from the local organization, which was founded by a Valley grappler called the Navajo Warrior, have signed developmental contracts with the sports entertainment giant).
Wrestlers are heroes or villains (known as "babyfaces" or "heels" in the business), and they can switch places in the time it takes to scream "uncle." Fans cheer or boo them with enthusiasm, and the wrestlers react to the audience's screams.
The big babyface in IZW (for the moment, anyway) is John "Hawaiian Lion" Williams, an über-tanned man with quad muscles the size of dolphins and a bleached-blond buzzcut. Tonight, he'll face IZW champ Peter Goodman in the main event: a 15-minute "Iron Man" match.
B-Boy leans over to me and says, "Fifteen minutes? That's not an iron match. That's more like a copper match."
The first bout of the night pits a luchador (a masked wrestler who the announcer says is "illegally here from Mexico") against Tommy Drake. As Drake body slams his much smaller opponent, B-Boy hollers, "Send him back to Mexico in a body bag!"
When Drake continues pummeling the diminutive dude, B-Boy yells, "Way to beat up a 12-year-old!"
Not about to be outdone, the fans around us scream out their own heckles.
"It's time to do the chicken dance!"
"You're a pansy!"
One of the most entertaining matches of the night is an amateur match featuring the character of Tony Trouser, a skinny white boy wearing a cheesy fake mustache that makes him look like Borat. With thick gold chains hanging off his neck and a silly strut that looks like he's shaking a loaf down his pant leg, Trouser is totally ridiculous. And the audience loves him for it, chanting, "Go Tony! Go Tony!" and jeering, "You are Tony's bitch!" at his opponent (Trouser won the contest).
By the time the main event rolls around, B-Boy's had a couple shots of that Satanic molasses they call Jägermeister, and he is friggin' pumped up. "Trouser mania is running wild!" he screams. "Hey, that Copper Man match is next! Go-Go Power Rangers!"
While the Hawaiian Lion and Goodman go head-to-head in the ring, the girls behind us yell things like "Lion's gonna kill you!" and "Peter Goodman sucks! He's gonna lose!"
B-Boy yells things like "Fart in his face!" and "Kick him in the taint!"
With the audience counting down the final seconds of the match, Lion pins Goodman to take the IZW Championship amidst an explosion of applause. People start to filter out of The Sets, chattering about the battles they just witnessed.
As for me and B-Boy, I think my Hulk Homie needs to mellow back out with some french fries and chicken fingers. Because bulging cultural cheesecake, while tasty, isn't very filling.
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