It’s 2:45 PM on a Saturday afternoon, and I’m watching a bulky wrestler with full-body tattoos and a mohawk lug a metal filing cabinet (with “NO COPS” spray-painted on the side) toward the ring with the intent of throwing some poor fellow-grappler onto it.
Why am I watching this, you may be justifiably asking? Because it’s the CZW Tournament of Death, that’s why, I answer (justifiably).
I attended last year’s TOD on business, covering Jimmy Havoc’s appearance (and eventual victory) for Fighting Spirit Magazine. This time, I’m merely a spectator, merrily indulging the core insanity of Combat Zone Wrestling’s wildest stars and distinguished guest performers, as they rip flesh and spill blood at an outdoor hockey rink about 40 minutes from my southern New Jersey home.
CZW does have its share of detractors, but you’ll hardly find me among them. Since I first attended one of their earlier shows in the late-nineties at age 15, I’ve had this underlined affinity for my local indy. One of those reasons is that no matter what show of theirs I go to, quite simply, something interesting always happens.
The 2018 Tournament of Death was no exception to this rule. I know this, because the following four items are utterly truthful:
1. The event quite possibly set the record for most broken fluorescent light bulb tubes in a three-hour stretch (conservative estimate: somewhere between 65 and 800). In fact, I’d venture that I’ve never seen so many lighting tubes in one place in my entire life, broken or not. Throughout the afternoon, the tubes were busted over the heads of tournament entrants, splashed onto competitors’ torsos, and one was even braced against a combatant’s head, then shattered by a Detonation Kick.
I’m sure that when George E. Inman built the first fluorescent lamp in 1934, he smiled proudly to himself as he fantasized about smashing the concoction over the head of some rival lamp developer in a sleeveless black shirt. If he knew that hundreds of onlookers would be chanting “CEE-ZEE-DUB!” at him after doing so, he certainly would not have hesitated.
But the idea of loose lightbulb tubes being swung like Donatello’s trusty bo? Mere child’s play compared to one especially-beautiful contraption: a trampoline with the surface removed, replaced with strands of barbed wire, and a few light bulb tubes suspended within. You just know this concept was dreamed up by the world’s most demented backyard wrestler (“This thing’s too safe. Tell ya what, help me slide these springs out, I’ve got an idea…”). Needless to say, the two wrestlers who tumbled off of a scaffold and through the barb-o-line didn’t make it to the finals.
— Jocay 🇪🇨 (@Jocay19) June 9, 2018
2. One particular entrant was apt to enjoy the carnage. In what would be his first appearance stateside for any reason, Welsh wrestler Drew Parker shone brightly in his quarter-final match against deathmatch veteran Rickey Shane Page, rightly earning thunderous chants of, “Please come back!”. During the course of their slugfest, Page forced Parker to walk on his hands through broken glass, right before Parker was dragged on his back across the shardy canvas. By the time the melee was over, the youngster looked like he’d barely survived a fight with an industrial-sized paper shredder.
But Parker, even hours after his match had ended, remained upbeat and chipper as he chatted amiably with adoring fans. Mind you, his happy fraternizing with the CZW faithful occurred while was still covered head to toe in his own coagulated blood. His demeanour was that of someone excitedly sharing anecdotes about a recent road trip, and yet he looked like a french fry dipped in ketchup (a french fry with magnificent hair, I should note). I couldn’t help but notice pieces of glass were still stuck in his hands.
“Yeah, that was from when Rickey made me walk across it on my hands,” Parker said, with all of the boyish enthusiasm of somebody showing off their new car to an envious neighbour.
3. Parker was certainly zesty, even if Mother Nature wasn’t looking to be. Checking my weather app every day in the preceding week, I couldn’t help but be wary of the pesky cloud-and-lightning bolt symbol continuously positioned next to the word “Saturday”. Sure enough, blackish-gray clouds came rolling over the battleground around bell time, and began spritzing down rain during the five-way opener.
Here’s a contrast in threshold: a few dozen people hurriedly began trekking toward their cars to grab umbrellas in order to combat the trickles, while a professional wrestler was in the midst of getting Powerbombed onto a cluster of light tubes thicker than your average lamppost. Thankfully, the rain stopped soon after, though it does make me wonder if a show bearing the name Tournament of Death would have been called off due to inclement weather (“Guys, pack up the barbed wire and other implements of torture; it’s just not safe enough out here for us to be getting our sadism on.”).
4. So who got it the worst? Was it Parker, caked in blood from scalp to sole? Was it Conor Claxton and Kit Osborne, the two poor souls that discovered a trampoline more pain-inducing than the one Homer acquired from Krusty the Clown? How about Mance Warner, getting thrown head-first by eventual winner Jimmy Lloyd into a board bearing razor blades?
For me, it was the drunken fan that took his own share of bumps throughout the afternoon. You see, owner DJ Hyde has called Tournament of Death “The Woodstock of Deathmatches” due to the free-spirited sort of picnic atmosphere, and the event has been quite tolerant of those who want to “indulge” freely. I did see a few inebriated fans require help to their vehicles, kicking around Natty Light cans as they tried to find their footing. It goes without saying that if any of them had to take the scaffold fall onto the barb-o-line, they would have probably somehow wound up landing in a neighbouring county.
But one particularly-pickled fellow stood out above the fray. This poor bastard stumbled over the rink’s bordering wall while leaving to go piss in the woods – there were port-o-johns on site, but I don’t think he was aware of that fact (or the fact that he was at a wrestling show, come to think of it). He later topped himself by falling backward off of a cooler that he was standing on, demonstrating all the grace of a medical cadaver on a pogo stick. Nobody who saw the young man teeter backwards like the world’s sweatiest domino will ever forget his descent. Hopefully, somebody will describe it to him later, since he won’t remember it.
So there you have it – shredded skin, broken glass everywhere, the brief threat of lightning, and oblivious drunks not knowing their own limits being betrayed by gravity.
I had a blast. Can’t wait to go next year.