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August 6, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Lords of the Ring

Pro Wrestling: “It’s all fake”.
I detest this statement and the people that make it. Not only is it reductive, it’s a downright insult to the individuals who intermix literal blood, sweat, and tears in the name of their passion and the entertainment of the public.
Is it pretentious to tackle the idea of pro wrestling with such seriousness from the get-go? Not at all. For a wrestler, nothing about their passion is pretentious.

Athletes donning colourful tights, talking trash, and beating on each other in the ring might border on bat-shit crazy, but pro-wrestling is a self-aware art. Basking in its own insanity, a match evokes extreme emotional responses — murderous silence in one instance morphs into obscene laughter in the next.
I admit that as a kid, the notion of wrestling not being “real” had deterred me from openly being an avid viewer. That was until I was exposed to NZWPW — New Zealand Wide Pro Wrestling — a pro wrestling league in Wellington’s own backyard.
I use the term backyard in reference to the actual backyard in which the league’s wrestlers train. They meet twice a week to practice grapples, bumps, submission holds, and every other essential tool of the wrestling trade. Martin “Sumo” Stirling, a member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame and a former New Zealand sumo champion, promotes the league and hosts trainings at his own residence in Wainuiomata.
Walking down Martin’s driveway into his backyard for the first time and being greeted by a proper two tonne fucking wrestling ring, I realised that NZWPW was actually the real deal and that I had no idea how it had managed to remain so low-key despite its larger than life appearance.
The league is comprised of a close knit community of wrestling enthusiasts. Martin built the ring himself through his experience in the industry, and today each wrestler pitches in to maintain, dismantle, assemble, and transport it to shows. Everyone does their part both inside and outside of the ring. They trust each other with high stake maneuvers and dangerous stunts and cooperate to manage its promotional and administrative aspects. It’s easy to throw around the word “family” when describing the relationship between NZWPW wrestlers, but watching the ease, comfort, and friendliness of interactions and banter between them really solidifies this idea. It’s clear that as the curtains roll on their matches, a sense of camaraderie and shared love for the thrill of wrestling unites these individuals even beyond the ring. Unlike utterances from Hulk Hogan, macho exclamations of “BROTHER!!” seem genuine when used by NZWPW’s own.
NZWPW wrestling shows have been held every month since its conception in the early 2000s. They take place at community venues not dissimilar to exclusive underground fight clubs or poetry slams, except they are wholesome fun for the whole family.
I am not exaggerating. The viewing demographic of NZWPW is a completely varied clusterfuck, ranging from middle aged dudes sipping kombucha and Woodstock, to nans snapping pics for the gram, and kids at a heavy metal Dora the Explorer concert. It’s pretty clear that the mutual connection between these people is the love they share for the spectacle.
Wrestling is a sport of extremity. From the opening match to the stunning headliner, the ante is progressively upped. Watching the showmanship and intensity of the athleticism on display is like being strapped to an airborne warhead. You see a barrage of moves and outcomes you never anticipate, that sometimes feel like your jaw has physically been removed from your face. Despite the dangers that obviously arise when stunts go awry and piledrivers cause actual concussions, these wrestlers live for the thrill. They love the adrenaline and excitement of pushing their physical limits and performing insane stunts. It seems ridiculous at times but shit, it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
The matches themselves bring forward memories of trading card showdowns or the Tekken Tag tournaments we held as kids, gathered around a mate’s PS2. Pro wrestling takes the best parts of traditional Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling and mashes them up with imaginative storylines and backstories.

Stories like the vicious rivalry between “Ben Mana”, the modern Māori warrior, and the tough-as-nails titan, “Axl”. For over a decade these wrestlers have butted heads in the ring for the glory of securing the NZWPW belt and the status of New Zealand wrestling “legend”. Their careers have dealt with themes of racism, colonialism, and hatred through the surrogate of their wrestling personas. I never thought I would witness a bald-headed Pākehā wrestler throw a musket and blanket at a Māori wrestling icon and yet, they went there.These storylines elicit powerful reactions, and they’re interesting as hell.

With such a diverse range of personas like Axl, Mana, Lucy Flawless, Cam Owens the III, and the Spartan Sam Black, it is no wonder NZWPW and the wider New Zealand wrestling scene has such a loyal following. If the thought of pro-wrestling still conjures the word “FAKE” in your mind, then you haven’t seen what I have. I watched Shane “The Shooter” Sinclair take a dive off the top rope. The dive was targeted at three other wrestlers outside the ring less than a metre from the crowd. By sheer miscalculation and positioning Shane’s knee struck Axl in the jaw splitting his bottom lip. All four wrestlers collapsed on top of each other. There was clearly a great degree of real pain inflicted to all four of them. However, as a viewer in the crowd, I was hard-pressed to tell the difference between that botched maneuver and the other stunts that had been performed earlier that night.

Despite these injuries, the wrestlers finished the match and incorporated the injuries into the movements and actions. I watched as they rose from the ground and continued to chop, grapple, and clothesline each other. I cheered as Shane successfully pinned Axl with a gripping three count. I realised the pain and discomfort as Axl was in as he caught the blood gushing from his bottom lip. He played it off, raised his arm in triumph, and savoured the admiration of “his” audience.
Some would consider these wrestlers reckless and the entire sport violent. It is a viable interpretation of the whole sport. There’s no denying though, that these wrestlers give their all for their passion of pro wrestling, and this includes putting their bodies on the line. Whether it is for the adrenaline gained from the action, or for the respect and admiration of the audience, there is a whole community of people dedicated to performing and watching the spectacle of pro-wrestling, and fuck if it isn’t a hell of a thing.

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