Category Archives: Wrestling

A superhero for a new generation of wrestling fans

Pro wrestling boomed around the turn of the millennium, when Trish Adora was in elementary school. Her memories of the era are of a smoky ring and a team of female dancers; screams, curses and fans throwing chairs; and women tearing off each others’ evening gowns.

“It was interesting trying to process that as a kid,” she recalls.

Despite the chaos and controversy, the young Adora was drawn to wrestling by the larger-than-life pageantry, the characters and the showmanship. Specifically, she remembers things clicking when she saw female wrestlers including Jacqueline, a WWE Hall of Famer who was the company’s first African American women’s champion.

“She was very strong, and just seeing a Black woman being taken seriously and being strong and still beautiful — and not being stripped of that femininity — was so important for me to see. I couldn’t even believe it,” says Adora, who was born Patrice McNair, raised in Southeast D.C. and still lives in Anacostia.

“When everybody was picking their favorites, you gravitate to somebody that looks like you, and I finally had somebody that looked like me,” she says. “I had my superhero.”

These days, Adora, 32, is becoming a superhero for a new generation of wrestling fans, making waves in the independent wrestling scene and quickly becoming a performer to watch. Perhaps most impressively, she’s done it as a Black woman in an industry that has often been tough on women and talent of color, during a pandemic that threatened the industry’s very existence.

“There is a reason for everything,” Adora says. “I just don’t view much as an accident as far as my wrestling career.”

Read more in the Washington Post

Why Rick Rubin Understands Politics Better than a Top Democrat

“Towards the end of Rick Rubin’s recent appearance on WTF with Marc Maron, the cryptic conversation ended up in one of the super-producer’s favorite rhetorical cul-de-sacs: professional wrestling.”

RIYL Mag

Professional wrestling and ballroom culture have more in common than you might think

Photo by Marvin Joseph

Outlandish, skin-tight costumes. Cut-to-the-bone insults. Hair extensions flying through the air. Death-defying body slams. This is “Paris Is Bumping.”

The event, the brainchild of a 25-year-old wrestler named Billy Dixon, takes its name from the iconic 1990 drag-ball documentary “Paris Is Burning” and professional-wrestling lingo for a fall to the mat. It brings together two forms of performance art that are more similar than you’d think: wrestling, with its over-the-top characters and narratives, and ballroom, the underground culture made mainstream by Madonna’s “Vogue” and FX’s “Pose.”

Filmed in September andreleased on the Internet in October, “Paris Is Bumping” featured a handful of wrestlers who had convened for matches at a tiny bar in Valley Lee, in Southern Maryland. It’s a low-ceilinged dive with harsh halogen lights and wood-paneled walls. Staged with no audience because of the pandemic — except for a bartender and a few barflys — it seemed as if fights broke out spontaneously between wrestlers.

Like everything since the outset of the pandemic, Dixon’s exposition had to change plans. Not only is it impossible to have a wrestling match while the opponents are socially distanced, but the form itself — where the audience’s cheers and boos helps determine the action — is particularly unsuited to empty venues.

For independent performers and promoters like Dixon who often barely break even, these pressures are even more acute. Without a governing body, independent organizations and performers have had to determine what is safe and appropriate for themselves. Events have faced the pandemic with different strategies, whether filming shows without fans or socially distancing attendees in large spaces, such as a high school football stadium.

As a performer, Dixon — who is billed as weighing in at 300 pounds and typically comes to the ring in a pink T-shirt and grafitti-covered overalls — spaces his bookings two weeks apart to allow for self-quarantining between matches, and wrestles only with performers he trusts to take covid precautions seriously. But it is a balancing act: Because he lacks attachment to any pro organizations, he must treat his wrestling character like a small business.

“I don’t want to work, but I have to remain relevant,” he told me, adding that he has been in the business for five years.

After the pandemic scuttled Dixon’s plans for a live, ticketed event in the D.C. area, he regrouped: “I may not be able to keep the promise of a live event, but I could do something cool and different and still kinda exciting.”

Meanwhile, amid planning for events during the pandemic, the pro wrestling world — from the independents in the United States and the United Kingdom to major organizations such as World Wrestling Entertainment or All Elite Wrestling— has faced its own #MeToo moment, dubbed #SpeakingOut, as people have publicized allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by members of the industry.

Dixon counts himself among the survivors. He tweeted in June that he had been sexually assaulted by the owner of a wrestling school he went to during his first month of training, saying that he had been “agonizing” over this incident for five years.

(The alleged abuser issued a denial via his now-deleted social media accounts, and shortly thereafter closed his company and his wrestling school.)

As in the #MeToo movement, much of the conversation in the #SpeakingOut movement centered on white women as the survivors of abuse, excluding Black women and members of the LGBT community. In many ways, “Paris Is Bumping” is Dixon’s way of addressing that deficiency.

“I really have always have been out and public and vocal about my experience as a Black, gay wrestler,” he told me. “When it came to Pride shows, it was really frustrating to see how it was white-centered. … We’re not celebrating everyone, [and] that made me uncomfortable.”

“Paris Is Bumping” continues the work Dixon did previously booking a March event hosted by the defunct D.C. organization Prime Time Wrestling, which he says included more than 20 Black and/or queer talents in pro wrestling.

By embedding ballroom culture into a pro wrestling event, “Paris Is Bumping” goes even further.

“Professional wrestling is so stuck in the same circle; it doesn’t have any room to grow and be different, and I’m tired of waiting for it to be cool again,” Dixon says. Ballroom and pro wrestling have so much in common — the physicality, the heightened emotions, the fan interaction, the outrageousnous — that the fusion makes perfect sense, to Dixon and his cast of performers from both worlds.

He describes the experience as intoxicating:“Let’s get drunk on the queer imagination.”

Upstart AEW is taking WWE head on — with a focus on diversity and inclusion

Along with having significant financial backing and a cable TV show, AEW also is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to present pro wrestling differently, with a focus on diversity and inclusion in the ring, in the front office and in the audience. And while AEW is loaded with ex-WWE stars and indie darlings, it’s also making a significant bet on a relative unknown like Rose, who is not only a Native American of Oneida heritage, but the first openly transgender wrestler signed to a major U.S. promotion.

Read more in The Washington Post.

The women wrestlers of WWE have created a movement. Is it built to last?

“When World Wrestling Entertainment star Sasha Banks started watching wrestling as a child, her favorite wrestler was Eddie Guerrero, one of the most charismatic, creative and technically gifted wrestlers of all time. Her options for a favorite female wrestler were more limited.

“At that time, there were great, athletic women that would have matches that would be two or three minutes long. Or bikini contests,” she recalls. “As a little girl, at 10 years old, to tell your mom you want to be in the WWE . . . she doesn’t really want to support that dream you have.”

Read more in The Washington Post.

Trump Breaks Kayfabe

“At this point in the Trump era, it’s hard to imagine the president outdoing himself on Twitter, where he recently boasted that his “use of social media is not Presidential – it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.” But on Sunday—in his latest volley against the news media—he may have done it, posting a crudely edited video in which he clotheslined a figure whose face was covered by a superimposed CNN logo, and then pummeled it senseless.”

Read more at Slate.

Rich Swann’s journey from Rosedale to the WWE

“Rich Swann’s first memory of pro wrestling is a vivid one: he was 5 years old and watching “Power Rangers” when his older brother came home from basketball and turned the TV to “Monday Night Raw,” the flagship program of the WWE—then WWF. “There’s Bret Hart with the jacket, the awesome pink lights, the epic music, he gives his sunglasses to the kid,” Swann, who grew up in Rosedale’s Park East Apartments, recalls wistfully. “I was mesmerized.”

Read more in the Baltimore City Paper.

Mat Men

In less than two years, NOVA Pro has become the D.C. area’s preeminent indie pro wrestling organization.

It’s Friday night in the middle of February, and the Annandale Volunteer Fire Department is electric. There’s the scent of fried food and the sound of butt rock in the air. A couple hundred people are seated around a deep blue wrestling ring, surrounded by wrestlers hawking merchandise off card tables. Promptly at 8 p.m., the rowdy crowd is treated to three hours of everything from a half-ton tag team to a pair of female Hot Topic devotees. The crowd eats it up, chanting, cheering, booing, and throwing streamers overhead. This is pro wrestling, in all its carnivalesque grandeur. This is NOVA Pro Wrestling.

Independent pro wrestling (known collectively as the “indies”) is the scrappy, low-budget cousin of World Wrestling Entertainment, the billion-dollar company that made everyone from Hulk Hogan to The Rock to John Cena into stars. Until the rise of WWE in the mid-1980s, a collection of territorial promotions that ran shows out of arenas, civic centers, and armories across the country controlled pro wrestling.

Eventually, WWE became the only game in town. The monopolization of pro wrestling led to a renaissance in the independent wrestling world, the spiritual successor to the territorial era, albeit on a smaller scale: the arenas replaced with VFW halls, the TV deals basically nonexistent. These promotions would become home to a new generation of wrestlers and wrestling fans who loved pro wrestling—not WWE’s homogenized brand of “sports entertainment.”

Two of those fans were Northern Virginia residents Mike King Jr. and his son Mike E. King. Pro wrestling was a family tradition: Big Mike had watched with his father and grandfather, going to wrestling shows at the Baltimore Arena and the Capital Centre in Landover. He started taking Little Mike to indie wrestling shows when his son was 6 years old (earlier if you count the one that he attended at the Capital Centre in utero). Because indie wrestling didn’t really exist in Northern Virginia—the closest shows were in Richmond or the Baltimore area—they would spend nearly every weekend driving up and down the East Coast and as far west as Indiana for their wrestling fix. “Some kids play soccer or baseball on a traveling team,” says Big Mike. “We liked to do wrestling.”

In early 2015, after thousands of miles on the road, the Kings “buckled down” to figure out what it would take to start a “homegrown” wrestling promotion in Northern Virginia. Big Mike wasn’t daunted by the paperwork the task entailed—he’s an office administrator by day—and they got to work, booking the first NOVA Pro show in September 2015 at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.

Little Mike had a vision for NOVA Pro Wrestling that combined all the things he loved about indie wrestling around the country. He wanted the classic pro wrestling storytelling of Southern promotions and the buzz-generating “dream matches” that fill the cards in Northeastern promotions. Every NOVA Pro event—the February show was their tenth—has built on that vision. Helping to execute that vision is Brad Stutts, a veteran of the North Carolina pro wrestling scene. “Wrestling is like a sideshow or a circus,” he explains. “If you don’t like the lion tamers, maybe you’ll like the jugglers, and if you don’t like the jugglers, maybe you’ll like the fire dancers.”

In that spirit, NOVA Pro has certainly tried to deliver something for everyone. They’ve brought in high-flyers and hosses; local upstarts and nationally-known veterans; men and women. In the first year, storylines explored a put-upon wrestler’s battle with his money-loving manager; a tag team bromance that toyed with pro wrestling’s dueling homoeroticism and homophobia; and a blood feud between two men vying to be the face of the franchise.

The latter pitted North Virginia natives Sonjay Dutt and Logan Easton LaRoux against each other. Dutt, a 17-year veteran was the hero, or “babyface,” while LaRoux was the villain, or “heel.” Each successive meeting raised the stakes, a Jenga tower of no-holds-barred and tag team matches that culminated in a steel cage match (at the JCC, optics be damned) last September. It was the highlight of NOVA Pro’s first year and the essence of the promotion: wrestlers at the top of their game, working in their backyards.

The 34-year-old Dutt—“The Original Playa from the Himalaya”—was born in D.C. and has spent almost all of his life in Northern Virginia. His parents emigrated from India in 1979, and the spectacle of pro wrestling was one of the first things his father saw on TV.

“As far back as I can remember, pro wrestling was always on in the house,” he says. “I fell in love with it right off the bat.” Turned off by the rigid structure of high school baseball, he started wrestling with his friends, gaining his first bit of notoriety at 16 when he appeared on The Best of Backyard Wrestling VHS tapes. He started training properly two years later and signed with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (a distant second-place promotion to the WWE) at 21 years old.

Since then, Dutt has wrestled hundreds of matches around the world, including many in the indies that the Kings patronized, and their connection goes way back: One of Dutt’s first matches was at the very first indie show Little Mike attended. Dutt had been friends with the Kings for years when they reached out about starting a local promotion, and it wasn’t a hard sell. “There’s something appealing about growing something locally,” Dutt says. He offered to help however he could.

That meant anchoring NOVA Pro shows with LaRoux, a 27-year-old who calls Fairfax County home. Like Dutt, LaRoux has been wrestling since his teens, driving the miles and putting in the work (often at “real shitholes”) that it takes to break into the wrestling business. It really started to click a few years ago as he developed the Logan Easton LaRoux character, the self-described “Champion of the One Percent,” who is billed as coming from “a gated community located within a gated community that is surrounded by yet another gated community in Great Falls.”

At first, LaRoux was a little hesitant about NOVA Pro. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he admits, “because the reality of Virginia independent wrestling can be fat guys in t-shirts doing scoop slams.” Thankfully, NOVA Pro isn’t like other Virginia indies, and LaRoux embraced the opportunity to work with Dutt. “I think he’s by far the most underrated wrestler working today,” LaRoux says about Dutt, who he calls “the godfather of NOVA Pro.” Dutt is proud of the year-long feud as well, saying, “it has created a star in Logan.”

But if a star is born in Northern Virginia, is it bright enough to be seen in the pro wrestling world at-large? Years ago, the answer would probably have been no: Guys like Dutt and LaRoux—who are billed generously at 5’8” and 5’11”, respectively—were rarely regarded as WWE prospects.

That has started to change. In the 2000s, the WWE started poaching some of the indie stars that the Kings had followed around the country. Since then, the indies have been a pipeline of talent for the WWE, and in recent years, the hiring of wrestlers who didn’t fit the typical mold—men and women not traditionally tall, taut, or telegenic enough— increased to a fever pitch.

Dutt is at peace with the fact that—despite the successes of his 17-year career and the changing landscape—he had never received a tryout with the WWE. “Life is just about timing,” he says. “But anything can happen.” And he’s right: he recently spent a few weeks at the WWE’s Orlando Performance Center, helping to train recruits and produce events.

It’s unclear if that will be the extent of his work with the WWE. All he can do is keep performing. “Other than the bumps and bruises, I feel like a million bucks,” he says. His full-time schedule still includes dates with NOVA Pro, ones that present him a unique opportunity: the chance to have his children see him work. The first match his six-year-old daughter saw was a no-holds-barred match with LaRoux that included some steel chair shots. “I told her ‘daddy is out there with friends, we’re having fun, don’t worry,’ and that’s all I needed to say,” Dutt explains. “She was fine—she loved it.”

The then-five-year-old was a natural, getting in LaRoux’s face and cheering for her father. She was also at the match in February … as was Dutt’s 12-week-old son. “My daughter really wanted to come and my son is too young to be with a sitter yet, so my mom brought him,” Dutt says. “He did amazing. I’m surprised that nothing really freaked him out!”

Time will tell if his son enjoys watching wrestling as much as his sister, but Dutt has an idea how that might turn out: when the time is right, “he might want to get in and fight, too.”

Originally published in the Washington City Paper.

Heel in Chief

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“Linda McMahon, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Small Business Administration, will carry several distinctions should she be confirmed. McMahon, the former president and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, who has also appeared at pro wrestling events as a fictionalized version of herself, will be the first Cabinet-level official who has received the Stone Cold Stunner from Steve Austin. She will be the first to have been Tombstone Piledriven by the Demon Kane. And she will be the first to have kicked WWE announcer Jim Ross in the crotch.”

Read more at Slate.

What Donald Trump learned about politics from pro wrestling

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“Trump might not have been playing by the rules of politics, but he won the game. So how did he do it? Those looking to his career as a developer or reality TV host came up short in predicting Trump’s survival and eventual victory, because those are only part of the story. The most important lessons Donald Trump ever learned were in a pro wrestling ring.”

Read more in the Washington Post.