Thriv­ing indy wrestling scene de­liv­ers ex­cit­ing con­tem­po­rary theatre

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Clem Bas­tow

On Satur­day night as I sat with around 70,000 of my clos­est friends at WWE’s Su­per Show­down at the MCG and watched as The Un­der­taker pulled out Old School for one last time, I heard Lu­cille Bre­mer’s voice ring­ing in my ears. “We don’t have to come here on a train or stay in a ho­tel,” Bre­mer says, gaz­ing at the Palace Of Elec­tric­ity as the ev­er­green 1944 mu­si­cal Meet Me In St Louis draws to a close. “It’s right in our own home town.”

Though WWE and its de­vel­op­men­tal arm, NXT, have done plenty of live “house shows” in Aus­tralia be­fore, there was an ex­tra fris­son about Su­per Show­down be­ing a real, live pay-per­view that ev­ery­one else in the world could see. Even through binoc­u­lars from the top of the South­ern Stand, see­ing Char­lotte Flair’s moon­sault in real life still gave me goose­bumps.

Not for noth­ing does WWE re­fer to WrestleMa­nia as “the grand­est stage of them all”, and while Su­per Show­down might not have reached ‘Ma­nia at­ten­dance heights, there’s very lit­tle that can com­pare to the gob­s­mack­ing spec­ta­cle of a WWE show. At the ‘G, wit­ness­ing that largesse in full swing was an ex­pe­ri­ence I imag­ine not un­like Lou­i­si­ana Pur­chase Ex­po­si­tion at­ten­dees felt see­ing an X-ray ma­chine in 1904 –baf­fled, a lit­tle scared, ul­ti­mately thrilled – but my own ex­cite­ment was due in no small part to Su­per Show­down hav­ing capped off a huge 24 hours in lo­cal wrestling.

“Soap opera” is a term com­monly used to de­scribe pro wrestling, and per­haps it’s ap­pro­pri­ate in the con­text of WWE’s long-run­ning Raw and Smack­Down TV shows, but it’s al­ways struck me as an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion. The true ap­peal of pro wrestling is not the soap­i­ness of the sto­ry­lines, but the in­ten­sity and art­ful­ness of the theatre of it all – and nowhere is that the­atri­cal­ity in a health­ier state than Aus­tralian indy wrestling.

If we ac­cept that Mel­bourne re­ally is Aus­tralia’s cul­tural cap­i­tal, then it makes sense that the “sports en­ter­tain­ers” of the city and its sur­rounds are cur­rently re­spon­si­ble for some of the coun­try’s most ex­cit­ing con­tem­po­rary theatre in the round.

On Fri­day night, Mel­bourne City Wrestling’s “New Hori­zons” un­folded at the ven­er­a­ble Thorn­bury Theatre. The crowd might have been just 1% of the WWE Su­per Show­down at­ten­dance, but in that room 700 peo­ple felt like 70,000. The roar that went up when Rob­bie Ea­gles – an­nounced over the week­end as the new­est mem­ber of New Ja­pan Pro Wrestling sta­ble Bul­let Club – got “Mr Juicy” Gino Gam­bino in a sub­mis­sion hold was deaf­en­ing.

The night was an em­bar­rass­ment of wrestling riches, from a grav­ity-de­fy­ing grudge match be­tween Slex and Adam Brooks to a three-way be­tween JXT, Can­ber­ran fit­ness mae­stro Mikey Brod­er­ick, and NZ soc­cer hooli­gan Mar­cus Kool that was as hi­lar­i­ous as it was breath­tak­ing. Hell, you know the scene is in a good place when even the open­ing match fea­tures some of the coun­try’s best, with Perth’s Damian Slater and Mar­cius Pitt (The Un­touch­ables) fac­ing off against im­prob­a­bly ta­lented broth­ers Tome amp; Ste­vie Filip (The Nat­u­ral Clas­sics).

As if that wasn’t enough, a full house rocked up to the Cor­ner Ho­tel at mid­day on Satur­day for WrestleRock’s “WrestleBrunch” (the lack of point sand­wiches was noted by this cor­re­spon­dent) for a sec­ond help­ing.

If New Hori­zons show­cased the lo­cal scene at its most spec­tac­u­lar, WrestleBrunch of­fered some­thing a lit­tle looser, with the card in­dulging in the sort of ap­peal­ing idio­syn­cra­sies that are of­ten shed on the jour­ney to the big leagues.

While I love wrestling’s high-fly­ing mo­ments of der­ring do, I live for its more trans­gres­sive qual­i­ties, so see­ing un­hinged “body guy” Alan Payne un­leash a gen­der­fluid gim­mick, com­plete with ex­pertly ap­plied false eye­lashes, as he taught male strip­per creep “The Player” Jake Lindo a les­son in in­formed con­sent was a dream match I didn’t even know I wanted. (The Cor­ner crowd was, per­haps, a lit­tle more per­plexed, a bit like Wayne and Garth dis­cussing Bugs Bunny in drag.)

From cruis­er­weight-es­que daz­zle to ex­per­i­men­tal stip­u­la­tions, the week­end was a stun­ning show­case of some of the coun­try’s finest wrestling tal­ent, as ever laced with the bit­ter­sweet knowl­edge that Aus­tralia can only hold such tal­ents for so long. Ev­ery time the for­mi­da­ble Kellyanne heads over­seas, I hold my breath; it can’t be too long un­til some­one snaps her up for great­ness. Adam Brooks, Ea­gles and Jonah Rock have been mak­ing waves in Cal­i­for­nian pro­mo­tion PWG. As an Aus­tralian indy wrestling fan, you’re only ever a few great matches away from a farewell bout and a heart­felt “you de­serve it” chant.

Who can blame them? It’s a time­honoured jour­ney, and one that of­ten holds un­told wrestling glo­ries. Ade­laide’s Demi Ben­nett, who wres­tles for WWE as Rhea Ri­p­ley, re­cently be­came the inau­gu­ral NXT UK Women’s Cham­pion, the first Aus­tralian fe­male wrestler to hold a WWE belt. And on Satur­day night, Buddy Mur­phy – for­merly well known to MCW fans as Matt Silva – took the cruis­er­weight cham­pi­onship in front of a 70,000-strong home­town crowd, mak­ing him the first Aus­tralian “main ros­ter” ti­tle-holder in his­tory.

My wrestling pals tell me I came to the fan­dom “back­wards”; most peo­ple get into WWE and then dis­cover there’s a lo­cal pro­mo­tion in the scout hall down the road. I, on the other hand, fell in love with the lo­cal indies and never looked back. It was nice to plug in to the “big league” brand of sports en­ter­tain­ment and all its py­rotech­nic largesse for one night, but as soon as I got home, I booked tick­ets for events in Thorn­bury, Sun­bury, and Bur­wood East. Let them come to us with their fire­works and their Ti­tanTrons: we’ve got ev­ery­thing we need here in our own home town.

And as I pinned my Brooksy 8x10 glossy por­trait to the wall, I heard Judy Gar­land’s bell-like tones in my ears: “Right here where we live. Right here in St Louis!”

Adam Brooks aims a fly­ing kick at Slex at the Thorn­bury Theatre in Mel­bourne. Pho­to­graph:Owen Jones/Dig­i­tal Beard Pho­tog­ra­phy

Kellyanne (fac­ing cam­era, do­ing the power­bomb) and Avary at MCW New Hori­zons inMel­bourne. Pho­to­graph: Owen Jones/Dig­i­talBeard Pho­tog­ra­phy

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