Easy! Easy! National Community Wrestling Alliance vs Exposed
Inside the narrow, feeble, nicotine poisoned chest of every overgrown child of the 1980s, there beats the savage heart of an enormous, greased-up wrestler trying to get out…
Certainly a goodly chunk of my own childhood was spent mashing the joypad of a Super Nintendo, salivating as my 16 bit spandex avatar yet again dispatched Player 2 to the canvas with an impeccably timed People's Elbow. Oh, heady days. This, supplemented by wrestling action figures, lampshades, bedsheets and the daily playground ‘Royal Rumble’ made an indelible impression upon me – and, as I discover to my cost today, burdened me with an hilariously misplaced delusion of physical adequacy.
"Yeah, hi… so you brought trainers, right?"
Andy Hogg and I share a first name and, well, that's about it. Co-founder of the Dronfield based National Community Wrestling Alliance, he's been pile-driving and lariatting his way around these isles for some 15 years now, simultaneously working hard behind the scenes promoting the sport and introducing young people to the physical, mental and social benefits of a good old fashioned grapple.
Bearing in mind his level of seriousness and professionalism, you'll understand my mortification as I turn up to his weekly training session 20 minutes late, inappropriately attired and (dear reader, I confess) still absolutely sh*tfaced from the night before.
"Um, no," I gingerly kick my natty brown loafers into a corner and join the warm-up; around 15 or so mostly large, mostly sweaty guys (I'd cunningly missed the traditional run around the carpark by mere seconds) are following Hogg around the gym in crocodile formation performing various stretches and lunges. As the crocodile doubles back on itself everyone gets a chance to size me up for the first time – glassy eyed and pallid in plaid shirt and skinny jeans, accessorized with cowboy belt and odd socks quite transparently stolen from my girlfriend’s dressing table, I sense they are yet to perceive me as much of a threat. "They'll see. They'll ALL see…" I mutter under my breath as we pause for a sip of water on the floor. So… to the ring already?
"Nope. Twenty push-ups". Such an entreaty would surely strike fear into the hearts of lesser wastrels, but I'm actually rather good at push-ups. Proper ones, too. I think there must be some kind of optimum ratio of lameness to feebleness, whereby if ones upper body weighs as much as, say, a packet of super noodles, then one is as apt to fail lifting it a foot off the ground as one would be unable to flush a toilet or uncap a biro. Gratifyingly the burlier, scarier hulks around me seem to bear my theory out, as they sweat and pant their enormous red faces back and forth to the mat, and thus my confidence swells…
"Ok, sit-up time". Once again, and not to blow my own trumpet, I'm a bit of a don at these. Purely in the interests of looking good in my XXS limited edition Japanese Lady Gaga t-shirt, you understand, I make a point of knocking off at least 200 sit-ups a week; nothing too keen, just stripped to my boxers on the sitting room rug while Family Guy's on or whevs.
Anticipating nothing but admiration from Andy Hogg for my chiseled abs, I am dismayed to hear a snigger ripple around the room as from my rear jeans pocket cascades twelve quid in change, 3 lighters, a cracked iPhone and a depleted pouch of Golden Virginia tobacco. Not a strong look. "Technically, this can be classed as athletics", someone helpfully pipes up.
Having at least broken the ice now, I'm curious to find out what the live shows are like. Being a very down to earth lot I can't imagine anything like the kind of full-on camp histrionics of The Rock vs Yokozuna, but at the same time I recognize in their eyes the gleam of true boyhood fandom. "Most of us have characters and costumes, all of that. It just makes it fun, more of a spectacle" says Hogg. "I go by the alias of Notorious P.I.G. Or, if you will, Snoop Hoggy-Hogg." See what he did there?! So, is it all made up? "Sort of, I suppose. At the beginning of the bout we decide who's going to win. There's this idea which goes back a long way in wrestling of the 'good' guys vs the 'bad' guys. Obviously the crowd want the good guy to win, but as a wrestler you definitely prefer to be the bad guy! Anyway, it's loosely choreographed, I suppose you could say, around a repertoire of moves we practice until they're perfect".
After some twenty more minutes of push-ups, sit-ups and stretches it's finally time – huzzah! – to drag the big crash mat into the middle of the room and drill the repertoire. This is immense fun, as I get to by turns throw and be thrown, grip and be gripped, lunge and be lunged at. "You find really it's all about knowing where the bends are in the body, and using the momentum of your opponent to make it look like you've sent him flying."
A knot of my fellow revellers from the night before have assembled at a discreet distance (but well within mocking range), overjoyed at the sight of my limp form being slammed with queasy regularity into the dirt. "Done right, it's an art form". Most of the moves take several attempts on my part, and once or twice I land a little off-kilter causing the nerves in my lower back to shriek in agony, much to everyone's droll amusement and sarcastic applause. "I used to wrestle too" offers Danielle, the charming young administrator and photographer of the group, on hand with a wet flannel should things take a turn for the fractured. "Yeah, I used to compete with the guys and everything. This one time I broke a finger. Carried on, naturally."
Though for my part I had actually managed to pull off a handful of semi-respectable manoeuvres (admittedly only on the leaner and younger of my co-pugilists), now that the going was getting tough it felt very much like the time to get going. Forced to admit once and for all that I'm more Wogan than Hogan, more WTF than WWF, it's time to stand aside and let the guys show me what this sport is really all about. After 5 minutes conferring in a huddle to, I guess, choreograph the bout, two tag teams emerge with one nominated 'referee'. Then it's to the ring, and one of the daftest, most brilliant and thoroughly entertaining spectacles I've ever witnessed unfolds before me. To really understand what's going on you have to, I think, appreciate men. Superficially crude, boorish and rough and tumble, for sure, give men enough time and enough like-minded souls to play with and you'll get something not far off watching a bunch of 5 year olds after a sherbet binge.
Such theatrics; all the holds and suplexes and a dozen other moves I'd just practiced combined with superlatively hammy acting and caricatured bad guy/good guy posturing. They were so immersed in their own world that I almost felt bad when it was time for me to squeeze my already stiff limbs meekly between the ropes for a strictly non-competitive set of final photos.
"I'll pin you; just make sure you land on this bit" says gentle natured man-mountain Mikey Rose, indicating a patch of canvas maybe three feet from the centre. "It's known as a sweet spot. If you don't know what you're doing you can land on the metal frame underneath, and trust me, nobody wants that". Very unsportingly I decide, as he approaches, to sneakily put my training into action. In my head, at least, he would be startled by a ninja-quick right handed clothesline out of nowhere; then I'd lift all 14 stone (at least) of him over my head, whirl his sorry ass round like a helicopter and drive his sweaty knackers BAM! straight into the turnbuckle. My sporting destiny fulfilled.
Alas, it was not to be, as the big man effortlessly brushes off my pathetic swinging right arm and knocks me down like so much human Jenga. Humiliatingly tapping me out – with his own SPARE ARM – I'm forced to concede defeat.
NCWA regularly rassle at The Library Theatre, Sheffield. Visit their Facebook Page for more -aaaaaAAAAarrrgh (*Exposed is picked up and thrown across the room and into a pile of metal chairs)!