Getting Raw - Part 2
Sean Balfour / January 19, 2013 - 6:10pm
An Evening at Deathproof Fight Club
I’m a WWE Guy. Oh wait, I mentioned that already. The main thing I look for when I watch WWE programming is a good story. When it’s time for the pay per view event, and if all goes according to plan, the month long story will culminate in an unbelievable display of athletic aggression, technical wonder and jaw dropping “Holy Shit!” moments. When I go to watch a WWE TV taping in person, I understand that I am there to witness one chapter of an ongoing story that is being told, and I may not see the finality right then and there. But the glitz and glamour of the production is a spectacle in its own. Attending a live PPV is probably as exciting as it comes; not only do I get to participate in a worldwide television production, but I get to witness (hopefully) the payoff for the stories that you’ve been following all month. A Live house show gives me a chance to see PPV calibre matches, which although not directly effecting the progression of the story, serve almost as if you are witnessing a big time rock band give a sneak peak of their next hit song. They all have their appeal.
So how invested could I possibly get watching a cast of characters try to tell me several stories from beginning to end in one evening? Maybe I would have to accept the fact that tonight wasn’t going to be about storytelling, and that it was going to be about a unique and intimate physical display that with any luck will leave me entertained and intrigued.
The story begins.
It was 5:30 pm as I anxiously arrived to the Rockpile nightclub in Etobicoke for a show called Deathproof: Back by Popular demand. The information I had was that the doors opened at 7pm, but I had no idea exactly when the show was going to start. I have attended a concert or two (especially at a bar or nightclub) where the doors open 2 or 3 hours before the show even begins, seemingly in an attempt to sell as much booze as possible and push the event until closing time. Having run a few comedy shows in my day I am quite aware that start times can vary, so my friend Adam and myself arrived super early with the intentions of popping in and asking when bell time was. I am terrible with names and faces, which is why I was equipped with a pen and paper to aid me in jotting down the matches, the competitors, and any other basic info. I was not so equipped for my early pre-dinner check in however, so I cannot recall who it was that very kindly greeted Adam and I as we approached the main entrance. He welcomed us, and held the door open. We walked in to a well-lit bar, clad with novelty mug shots of celebrities and durable yet warn-in chairs and tables. The atmosphere was comfortable and inviting and, lacking only George Wendt on the adjacent side, was completely welcoming. Another guy introduced himself as I turned the corner, however I was again inattentive as my eyes were drawn to catch up to what my ears could hear. That subtle squeak of a plastic coated rope against flesh and the crisp snap of a stretched springboard canvas confirmed that the stage is set. A wrestling ring is intriguing to look at; whether you’re a visual artist, a theatrical guru, or a professional wrestler, the ring provides a blank piece of canvas and simultaneously an empty stage – and the possibilities are endless. This ring was not empty however, and it quickly became apparent that we just walked in on rehearsal. But why was everyone greeting us with such a warm welcome? Wouldn’t a magician be super protective and alert the second he noticed an outsider walk in while practicing an illusion? My deduction was that being 6’5’’ tall and 220 lbs while wearing a winter coat which hides how ridiculously out of shape I am, as well as being accompanied by an energetic, athletic, and wiry cruiserweight- they must have thought we were on the show! Don’t think my mind didn’t start racing as to how I could possibly integrate myself into the show without them noticing; one dream at a time now. Next I noticed Jewells; a familiar face. I said hello, and she informed me that the show would be starting at 7:30. Just enough time to grab dinner, forget about the man behind the curtain, and come back for the fresh patron experience.
This is a story about an adventure into the unknown, which at this point in the evening had nothing to do with wrestling. My gluten intolerant vegan friend (Adam) and I settled on a close by Swiss Chalet to pass the time. He was aware of a safe veggie stir fry that he could order and I was fine eating anything as long as it once had a face. The server had no idea why the nutrition guide indicated gluten in their stir fry, but we were able to decipher on our own that it was probably just in the sauce. No sauce it is, we decided. However she couldn’t guarantee that Adams dish would be completely vegan, as she indicated that they use the pans for chicken and shrimp stir fry’s as well. We kindly asked that they perhaps use a clean pan to prepare his dish, and well they were at it maybe they would just go ahead and use a clean pan for mine. I couldn’t help but thinking I was going to hold Deathproof responsible for the complete ineptitude of what at that moment I perceived to be all of Etobicoke (I can say that because I was born there!)
7:05 pm. Perfect timing to head back to the Rockpile, grab a table while digesting our meals (and whatever else was in the pan) and grab a drink. To Adam, a semi frequent attendee of Indy wrestling, it was no surprise that the 80 or so seats were already taken, with 40 more or so standing. I may be off on the numbers, I didn’t take a head count. But the place was full and crowd was buzzing. I didn’t feel like standing for the whole show, so I took the initiative and found one spare seat that was available, and wedged another chair from across the bar beside it. Adam pointed out a girl wearing a blue top, short, stout, feisty, and the center of attention to those within earshot (so all of us). He told me that she has been to other shows that he has gone to, as he tried to explain the ins and outs of the Indy wrestling subculture. He shared a brand new tidbit of Information as he returned from the bathroom; a burly fellow wearing a blue leotard and possibly a Star of David belt had settled in at the urinal next to him and announced, “Now you’re going to learn a big secret about the business” as he revealed that in order to use the facilities, a wrestler must completely remove ones leotard. Adam ensured me that this was the point when he washed up and left.
7:30 pm. The show began, on time. I was impressed. To the right of the ring, which although 4 sided only had a one sided seating access, was a large stage. A DJ controlling the entrance themes and ring bell SFX introduced the host of the shows first segment, “So you think you can Deathproof”. This was treated as a pre-show, and featured 3 contestants that would have a chance to do a mike spot and work 5 minutes with the fight clubs top stars in order to earn a spot on the main card. The booking of this was bloody brilliant, although I cannot hold the execution in equally high regard. The segment introduced us to 3 of the 4 competitors in the main event. The heels were established as a big bully who wants to hurt people whilst talking down to them; and his partner, a Caucasian dude with an impressive physic wearing a karate outfit and sporting an Asian accent so over-the-top that he makes Tensai look like Mr. Fuji. Needless to say I loved everything about this team. But I couldn’t be too scared of a team named “Shake and Bake”- if anything it just made me a little hungry. The other judge was a face painted brute that looked like an ECW original. He was called Warhead; and it became quickly apparent that he was not only a sentimental favorite amongst the Etobicoke faithful, but he was also the booker. They proceeded to bring out the contestants, one at a time. First was JK47, a guy I knew! He’s a friend of Jewells and by god he’s been to my Wrestlemania party! At 150 lbs soaking wet, he was someone I remembered to be very quiet and reserved, which played right into his hand when he boisterously taunted the crowd, and channelled the heel personas of Owen Hart or a young Chris Jericho. He was the snivelling little runt that antagonizes his opponents, and gets the last shot in before running away. After an impressive ring in, and a solid promo, he proceeded to bump for 5 minutes straight as the big man Steve Brown tossed him around like Vince McMahon throws around gimmick ideas relating to bodily functions. Next up was a super charismatic yet completely stereotypical character named Mr. Saki. He came out to Gangnam Style and won the crowd over instantly as he contended the legitimacy of the aforementioned faux Asian, one Logan Savage. He too was beat down for 5 minutes but this time with a Singapore cane. Finally a quiet baby face named Shane Saber was put over by the booker himself as someone that could be the breakout star of 2013. But then of course old Warhead took to physically welcoming him in with a beat down culminating in a (from what I remember) razors edge maneuver right through a wooded sign that I can only assume someone’s girlfriend stayed up all night painting. All three contestants were commended for toughing out 5 minutes with main event talent, and they were booked in a three way dance to determine who would become a permanent member of the fight club. As I said this booking was ingenious because it immediately set up a meaningful match on the card, it established some of the major players, and it established an unwritten brotherhood that is the fight club; something that was to be a major factor in their story telling throughout the show. The execution of this segment was misleading however because although it was apparent that the performers were having fun, there was a major emphasis on breaking kayfabe during it. Much like watching Tough Enough, the judges would mention inside terms such as “do a mike spot” or “Make sure you give him a shine.” This gave me the impression early on that all the matches were going to be tongue and cheek references to wrestling, but would have no attempt in capturing your belief. It also felt as though the transitions from one performer to the next, their promos, and their matches were shall we say, loosely planned out. This for me resulted in a bit of a slow pace out of the gate. However, none of these feelings overtook the fact that I looked around at a happy bar of Etobicoke faithful, getting their drink on, vocally asserting themselves into the show, and having a laugh with the performers. It wasn’t 30 minutes of cable television that they were eating up (like HHH and his pals have done many a time) so it was fine. I thought this was how it was going to be before I came, and I felt like I knew the narrative of how the evening would progress…boy was I wrong!
8pm. The actual show begins, much to my confusion. From there it became apparent that I was previously witnessing a special experimental pre show, and they were about to show me that Deathproof had a lot more to offer. The show began with a very solid match between Eze Cairnie and Tomer Shalom that was an eclectic display of technical wrestling, audience plunder, and comedy delivered by Shalom’s facials as he was slammed onto someone’s table and even shared a beer mid match with a fan after being knocked into their lap. Adam and I were cheering for him right away because he was the bathroom guy with the singlet, so we had a history. His manager was supposedly a Rabi, and had the loyalty and stature that would have made Jericho’s Ralphus jealous. The match exceeded the time limit and despite tapping out just one second too late, the beloved Shalom stole a victory by winning Deathproof’s tie breaking contest – Karaoke. If there was one part of the whole show that I could parallel to WWE, it was this segment. But alas, at a live venue amongst 100 fans about to be bludgeoned with hard-core physicality…some light comedy served as a surprising and energetic start to the show.
From there on it was smooth sailing as the show continued a steady pace, featuring some more creative technical displays by the three competing Deathproof candidates, as well as an entertaining albeit lengthy wrestling lesson by a guy called Psycho Mike, which involved him altering classic wrestling holds in order to make them more sexually explicit. He invited the ladies (My very own Jewells Malone along with Jodi Demilo and Kaitlin Diamond) to demonstrate alongside him. The girls eventually became so offended that they challenged Mike to find a partner and compete in a match. Mike executed his specialty moves during the match, which for me was one of the most creative ways I have ever seen to execute a comedy spot. His partner, a reluctant heel by the name of GFY, eventually turned on Mike and fed him to the girls to get their revenge, but not before announcing “Me and you, next show!” So not only do I know who the up and comers are, who the major players are, and who to cheer for; but I now have just received a payoff for an angle that I just watched while simultaneously progressing the story to entice me to come back next time! WWE, are you taking notes?
The show was probably stolen by a mid-card match featuring Jesse Amato taking on Justin Sane. This was billed as a guy with a barbed wire chair vs. a guy with a barbed wire bat. They fought all the way through the bar, to the point where I couldn’t imagine them being within the scope of the Rockpile’s safety standards. Much of the match I missed because I was seated at my otherwise advantageous chair, but based on crowd reaction and the limited view, they went all out. Sane took a nasty hardway gash down his back, and Amato did color in the more traditional sense. By the end, a victorious Amato was praised by the fans and awarded a title shot at an upcoming event.
Periodically throughout the show a jacked up monster of a man would run in and power bomb one of the Deathproof players. He had a message from a guy named Rip Impact, whom was booked for the show and either legitimately no showed or was written out for the story. My best deduction was that Rip was a member of a rival company; and this beast of a man, named Rage (I didn’t get the rest of the name) was there to discredit the whole show and its performers. By the time the main event came around the show had been running for 3 hours. The second last match was an otherwise decent outing between Buck Gunderson and Boris Bashnov. It was an underdog story that saw the baby face (buck) overcome the power offence of his larger Russian opponent. This matches placement on the card hurt it I feel, as the show’s momentum had seemed to of already hit its peak.
Having said all that, it was a spirited night fueled by an enthusiastic crowd led by that feisty chick in the blue shirt, which added to the enjoyment. I was a little disappointed that the main event was upon me and I had only witnessed Jewells stand in the corner as the other girls had their match with Phsyco mike. Regardless, I was actually excited to see the main event stars…the same guys that I had never heard of 3 hours ago- the booking was that good. Much to my surprise, Jewells was to fill in as Warheads tag team partner! The two teams competed in what was billed as a “Cluster fuck” tag match where “No weapon would be spared”. The match delivered on both promises; as it was equally a delightful spot fest that saw man on women violence and solid steel chairs being rendered unusable from drop toe holds and power bombs, as well a loosely cathartic expelling of the evenings built up tension that allowed every left over table to be destroyed. Warhead took what looked like the stiffest bump off the top rope through a table on the outside, but his wounds weren’t the only as was pointed out to me after the show from Jewells, whom sported a fat lip and glazed over expression…all in a day’s work. The match ended with the mega heel intruder (Rage) attempting to lay out the entire main event, only to get his comeuppance after Jewells delivered a low blow and the two teams worked together to power-bomb him through a table and end the show.
I entitled my article “Getting More Raw” because I thought that I would be witnessing a wrestling event that was stripped down to the bare essentials of in ring competition, with little else to offer. It turns out that I witnessed an event that was able to tell me a good story, regardless of limitations. This is the point in the experiment where I request further analysis, apply for a government grant, and spend the near future checking out more Indy shows to see if they all have more surprising things to offer. Deathproof is a unique brand, tapping into a genre that may have been beaten to near death by countless recreations of ECW. But they do not use the gimmicks or plunder as a crutch, and they do not cut corners when it comes to making the viewer invest in what they are watching. My search has pointed me in numerous directions which are all indicating a thriving industry that I didn’t really know existed. I will be back at the Rockpile soon; their next show is March 3rd. If you are reading this then that means you are a pretty serious wrestling fan; and if you are like me and have had reservations about seeking live alternative independent wrestling then I encourage you to just go for it. There are no less than a dozen active promotions in Toronto alone.
It turns out that Warhead announced that the upcoming event Involving Amato is actually the “Hardcore Road trip”, which features some of the key players from the original ECW brand. Amato seemingly is the first name confirmed for their inaugural title match, and he will share the bill with Warhead taking on Balls Mahoney in which in Warheads words, “I’m totally going to lose” – how can you not love this guy?