The ring

BAY WRESTLING: Pro wrestling comes alive again in one of its oldest, most devoted homes — the Bay Area
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Lucha Vavoom!
Photo by Luke Thomas

a&eletters@sfbg.com

COVER STORY Going to the DNA Lounge during the middle of the day is a strange proposition. But on a Saturday afternoon in late June, the San Francisco bar is filled with a hundred or so people, including, strangely enough, Kris Kristofferson, whose son Jody is trying out a different kind of public career. There's a smattering of people hanging out on the balcony level, but most of us are pressed against metal guard rails that surround a ring set up in the center of the dance floor. Professional wrestling has, ahem, put a stranglehold on venue, and it's the middle of the show.

A newcomer with a spiny bi-hawk and spiked shoulder pad named Nate Graves — a muscle-bound cross between a Mad Max 2: Road Warrior extra and the guy from Prodigy — is set to fight "the Mexican Werewolf," El Chupacabra, a local favorite who wrestles in multicolored face paint and prosthetic fangs. Even when entering the ring, both wrestlers' movements tell a story; the newcomer is stiff and deliberate, a menacing behemoth, while the significantly smaller El Chupacabra darts around in unpredictable bursts.

The bell rings, and the two exchange some preliminary holds and throws before drubbing one another with loud, theatrical strikes. I'm sandwiched between a stylish young woman in her early 20s, noticeably buzzed, and an average looking dude in a Giants shirt. They spend most of the fight leaning over me to hassle each other. The young woman really has it out for Chupy. As the newcomer hoists our protagonist into the air, she screams for the larger man to "drop him on his fucking head."

Wrestling's harshest critics tend to view it as a theater of violent, regressive, antisocial posturing. But a decidedly gleeful atmosphere permeates the venue. El Chupacabra wriggles out of the precarious position, and the two adversaries call for an impromptu toast in the spirit of the nameless unifying energy that takes hold during a wrestling event.

FOUND IN THE FOG

Fog City Wrestling is a year-old promotion based out of San Francisco. Relatively unknown in the grand scheme of indie wrestling — most of the larger promotions are based on the East Coast — FCW has nevertheless carved out a comfortable niche in the Bay Area, already home to several smaller federations. The promotion may be relatively new, but professional wrestling in San Francisco has a lengthy — if often ignored — history. Fans who grew up in the era of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) CEO Vince McMahon Jr.'s homogenized "sports entertainment" empire may be surprised to learn that Northern California as a whole was once home to one of the hottest wrestling promotions in the country.

Throughout the pre-WWE (then the World Wide Wrestling Federation) 1960s and 1970s, promoter Roy Shire's Big Time Wrestling, a Bay Area extension of the once powerful National Wrestling Alliance, regularly showcased some of wrestling's big-name stars and future legends, such as local hero Pat Patterson, Superstar Billy Graham, and Rocky Johnson, whose son Dwayne briefly dabbled in the sport of kings as The Rock. Though Shire's mini-empire extended all the way to Sacramento, the Bay Area was the promotion's home base. Selling out the Cow Palace on a regular basis, Big Time Wrestling exemplified a halcyon period when pro wrestling was vibrant, gritty, and regional.

Big Time Wrestling owed part of its success to the territorial wrestling industry it existed in, a system where local feds dominated the markets of their particular region. In contrast to the major performers of today, most wrestlers weren't beholden to a specific promoter, leaving them free to travel the country.

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