I was in the mood for a little violence.
So, I gassed up the car, grabbed a cup of java and drove to Massillon for an evening of body slams and brawling, courtesy of Main Event Championship Wrestling.
For around 13 years, MCW has offered an alternative to the artificially enhanced, overly polished brand of sports entertainment presented by the domineering World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the considerably smaller Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling. You may not find an action figure of crowd pleaser Larry Lavender alongside those of WWE and TNA personnel at your local Walmart, but you won't be forced to endure a cumbersome 15 minute monologue before seeing your first lock up, either. The company has taken its old-school-meets-new mix of professional wrestling across the state, holding shows in numerous communities, including Dover, Alliance, Canton and Niles, and has expanded its reach into Georgia for the occasional event. It was a blend that attracted me to my first MCW show some years ago, and that same combination has kept me returning for more. Now, with MCW joining its high profile counterparts and fellow Ohio independent promotion, Prime Wrestling, on the TV airwaves, others would experience MCW's peculiar magic, too.
"LIVE PRO WRESTLING" the sign screamed as I pulled into the parking lot of the Firehouse Grille and Pub, located in downtown Massillon. I spied a few crusty biker types emerge from the building, but no familiar faces or truck used to transport that most precious of wrestling-affiliated cargo, the ring. An hour later, fortified with additional coffee, I returned to the venue, surprised at the transformation that had taken place. The building was teeming with students of MCW's training school and hangers on. The ring was fully assembled; the chairs surrounding it were in place. The giant projection screen used to enhance the wrestlers' ring entrances and general atmosphere of the show had been erected. MCW promoter and semi-retired wrestler, Shasta, waddled about the room, issuing instructions to the ring crew and overseeing practically every aspect of the company that he—and his roster of talent—strove to build, from advising wrestlers on how to improve their skills, to marketing the promotion's merchandise. It's that dedication, coupled with Shasta's penchant for the unexpected that, for me, has made any nearby MCW show a must attend event.
My interest in pro wrestling had substantially diminished over the past decade, but MCW seemed to bring out the wide-eyed child within me. I waxed nostalgic for a moment, recalling Saturday evenings spent huddled in front of the TV with my stepfather, cheering on the Rock 'n' Roll Express as they double dropkicked their way to four National Wrestling Alliance world tag team titles and groaning disgustedly as Ric Flair, once again, grabbed a handful of his opponent's trunks to secure a victory.
Shame on you, "Nature Boy."
I thought of our cheerful, sunlit apartment, and of an 8-year-old version of myself plopping onto the living room floor next to my older brother to watch a young Brad Armstrong overcome his foe. It was my very first match, and the beginning of what is commonly referred to within wrestling circles as "The Sickness."
It's an unusual kind of wonderful when something as seemingly mundane as staring at a television screen can leave such an indelible mark upon one's existence.
I wandered into the restaurant housed on the floor below, hoping to sate my rumbling stomach. As I bit into a burger dripping with mushrooms and Swiss cheese, Shasta and squared circle bad boy, Big Hurt, ambled by. "Hi, Denise," he greeted me in his lilting, southern drawl. "How's it goin'?"
Apparently, I was on a first name basis with the MCW higher ups.
Moments later, I returned to the ringside area. Wrestlers trickled into the room, greeting one another with wide grins and handshakes. These weren't the heavily muscled, cartoonish-looking characters found within WWE rings. These men—although obviously fit—didn't have the luxury of time or six figure salaries to invest in hours of arm curls and bench presses at the area's trendiest gym. They were weekend warriors, wrestling whenever their schedule—and bodies—allowed. They came from all walks of life. There were a school teacher and an accountant; a day laborer and a strip mall-style, big box store employee. They had children to rear and bills to pay, yet somehow, for some reason, they managed to piece the unlikely career of professional wrestler into their agenda.
I spotted crowd favorite, Justin Mane, and MCW's heavyweight champion, Jebediah. A knot of wrestling enthusiasts clustered around the recently retired Wilbur Whitlock. I ducked my head and tried to suppress a smile. Leaving the wrestling game behind was a rarity. For anyone who has ever laced up a pair of wrestling boots, the squared circle is like beer to an alcoholic: one little taste and you're off the wagon.
Shasta continued to circulate around the room and I wondered, as I often had, how a man of his girth could move so quickly. Referee David Young paged through a nearly pristine 1961 issue of "Wrestling Revue" magazine. The conversation drifted to the unexpected passing of Arizona wrestling legend "Macho Man" John Ringer, who used the moniker before it became synonymous with 1980s ring icon, Randy Savage.
There will be no interviews for me today, no corralling "Superstar" Bill Martel into a semi-quiet corner and gleaning the details of his background, or quizzing MCW's tag team titleholders, the Painkillers, about their ring experiences. There are promotional videos to film and a sound system to repair; face paint to apply and nerves to soothe.
The door is flung open, and wrestling fanatics flood the room, racing to claim the chairs with the best vantage point. They needn't have worried—there isn't a bad seat in the building. There's a certain buzz in the air, a palpable feeling that something exciting is about to occur. It's not unlike attending a performance of the New York Philharmonic or a Tony Award-winning musical. The attendees may not be dressed in top dollar finery—this is strictly a T-shirt and jeans-wearing crowd—but the sensation of being in the presence of something special remains the same.
Opening bell time arrives, and manager Minka Murder, surrounded by her charges, Big Hurt, MCW Elite Champion Ethan Wright and the aforementioned Jebediah—collectively known as Murder Inc.—saunter into the ring. The crowd, fueled by alcohol, intense hatred or both, showers them with jeers and profanities. I marvel at how someone as diminutive as the white-blond haired Minka can shriek so loudly.
For nearly three hours, thoughts of family difficulties, my ridiculously high electric bill and the persistent backache that refused to subside melt away. I was a kid again, watching "Georgia Championship Wrestling" with my brother and discussing the merits of the Road Warriors versus Demolition with my stepfather. It's a pair of innocuous moments that I hadn't thought of in some time…and ones that I hope to revisit when "MCW Riot Television" debuts in October 2012, on WIVN TV 29 in New Philadelphia and Coshocton; Time Warner Cable channel 4 in Tuscarawas, Holmes and Carroll counties, as well as on Tuff TV station 29.2 in Tuscarawas County. Check your local listings, or log onto MCW's website at http://www.mcwpro.com for times, additional stations or, if you subscribe to a satellite provider, each episode, too.
Despite the pain and adversity that I've experienced as an adult, I wouldn't trade it away. There's nothing quite like the freedom of being on one's own; of grabbing life with both hands and molding the person you choose to become.
Then again, being a kid can be a pretty good thing.
Published: September 7, 2012