“Everything in wrestling is methodical,” co-owner of Riot City Wrestling (RCW) Chris Basso tells me as we watch seven Herculean men roll around the gym’s ring late on a Wednesday night.
It’s expert night at RCW, and I’ve been invited to observe the professional wrestlers train as part of my immersive (and painful) exploration into the independent professional wresting community in South Australia.
Chris’ use of the term “methodical” comes as a surprise to me, as one wrestler loudly burps before falling into a military roll and “chopping” – a loud-sounding smack with no physical damage – his opponent.
“Within the ‘business’ of the match, there may be things we do to foreshadow what’s to come,” Chris says.
“Like writing in a weakness so they can be defeated.”
He says there’s more to a match than athleticism; it’s “calculated”, and everything happens for a reason.
An example: say Brock Lesnar – a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) wrestler who looks like Hellboy and is colloquially called “The Beast Incarnate” or simply “The Beast” – needs to lose a certain match to a smaller character.
To do this, the monster needs a flaw.
So a “promotion” – a wrestling club – or network would ask competing wrestlers to attack, strike, punch, kick or bite a certain part of Lesnar’s body in previous matches. If they continuously pummelled, say, his neck, Lesnar would have to wear a cast, giving him that reason to lose.
“Clever, right?” says Chris, before vaulting away.
Wrestlers like Cadie Tré, Dean Brady and Matt Hayter work through sequences under the direction of Chris who hangs on the ropes, yelling instructions.
The air is thick with sweat and testosterone. Although the men expel bodily gases without shame and lumber around while they wait for their turn, each tuck jump is tight and each strike hits its target.
When its the wrestlers turn to give their “promo” – a monologue or interview before or during a match – they look at the empty gym, full of lacklustre stage equipment and chairs, with a twinkle in their eye. It’s like they’re staring down an Adelaide Oval crowd to give a blockbuster performance.
While watching the pros I rub my neck. It ached from the previous night’s training and felt like it was full of hot cement.
Training for me started with Cadie Tré, real name Lachie Watts, commanding us to do a round-robin of crunches and tuck-jumps. Lachie’s covered in tattoos, has a mini mohawk and wears plugs to stretch his ears. He shouts at us with a voice that sounds like it would have been heard in the footy changing room for years.
Surprisingly, he also asks the room to share what “good thing” happened to us in the week.
A towering pile of muscle, Jack Styles, says he received a promotion at work. Another guy boasts he was given a free KFC meal for lunch. I say I survived try-outs, and was clapped on the back.
We’re then partnered-up to do “lock-ups”, where both players lock one of their hands around the corresponding partner’s neck and the other around the elbow crease.
This is a micro-move but contains mountains of meaning: maybe the “heel” – villain – yanks the hero’s ponytail from behind signalling he’s a bad guy, or the hero slams the heel into the turnbuckles with his strength, showing he’s not taking garbage from anyone.
I partnered a younger guy I’d never seen before. He asked with disdain: “I’m with the girl?” There were only a couple of times I felt to be the only female in a room full of men. This was one of them.
Two wrestlers locked up in the ring. Then one assigned the “face” – a hero – flew a punch at his opponent, but missed. Dean Brady, another gargantuan wrestler, offered some sage advice: “If you’re the face and you swing a punch, make sure you land it.”
“If you miss it, the crowd will never forgive you.”
“Also, as a general rule, the heel should always give the first blow.”
Bumps, military rolls, and chops filled the next three hours, and I was invited into “run the ropes” – bounce off the the ring’s boundaries – for the first time. I pulled the elastic barriers down down and lumbered in. South Australian wrestler Stephen Miller shouted “wipe your feet!”, which I learnt was a practical thing – it was to clear my shoes from trapped debris – and also a move drenched in respect – it was then I pledged my undying devotion to the Wrasslin’ Gods.
One wrestler, Jarrad Gosling, showed up late to training but had a good reason. He was clutching in giant hands his first custom-made wrestling leotard. He put on the red, revealing strip of spandex, which barely covered 20 per cent of his pale muscles. Lachie videoed Jarrad as he completed intricate athletic sequences, but Jarrad kept pulling down his leotard around his thighs uncomfortably.
Jarrad went over to Dean Brady, and the pair hung back into the corner turnbuckles whispering to each other. I heard the words “shave”, “wax” and “chest” mentioned in close succession.
At that moment I asked Dean the most pressing question on my and any fan’s lips: “How do you keep the leotard from riding into your butt when you wrestle?” Brady gave me a Stone Cold gaze and said all leotards are built with a special band of elastic in the thighs. “It grips the leotard to the body,” he says.
“But you want a leotard that fits.”
I asked Jarrad if he had ever thought about nipple tape. He thought about it for a minute.
“Could do,” he says.
We were then asked to give our best “promo” performance. I did my Fallen Angel schtick – “when doves cry and angels fall, you know trouble’s coming,” etcetera etcetera. I charged around the four corners of the ring with walloping hands, and I crashed a knee into the ground before looking up towards the ceiling, like God was about to burst through the roof. The huge wrestlers looked at me from the mats with bored expressions.
“Is that it?” Lachie says.
“We’ll work on it.”
The final part of Running the Ropes will come next week, as this reporter asks where the wrestlers go from South Australia and whether they want to take on the world.
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