It’s impossible to be a wrestling fan to any extent and not dream of playing the star inside the ring. Attending an event live only magnifies that urge – your senses get assaulted by the roar of the crowd, the reverberation of the entrance music, the interplay between the wrestlers and the audience. Even in my mid-thirties, long after deciding not to pursue wrestling as a career, I still feel those visceral sensations whenever I attend any show. It doesn’t matter if it’s a WWE house show main event between two elite-level stars, or a comedy match at a rec center with two guys that have a combined five moves (three of them clunky) between them, my thought remains the same: “Man, I’d still love to do that.”
I knew that feeling would bloom once more when I took two of my closest friends to a card in Williamstown, NJ on Saturday night. The promotion, Hardcore Hustle Organization (H2O), is run by latter-day deathmatch deity ‘Bulldozer’ Matt Tremont, and tends to boast a roster filled with Combat Zone Wrestling familiars, be they current talent, ex-talent, or local hopefuls that take part in the company’s Dojo Wars workshop. The venue is a converted warehouse that casts a certain underground flair, as though Tyler Durden might have to hash out scheduling conflicts with a rave organizer over who gets the building on what night.
The venue was immaterial, though. Converted warehouse, Madison Square Garden, or otherwise, the wrestling within still evokes those feelings of yearning to be in on the action.
Once we arrived, we and the other fans in attendance were informed that there would be a raffle in which five lucky winners would get to play a part in an intergender Lumberjack Match, in which said lumberjacks would be wielding leather and rawhide belts for whipping purposes. Forget being the randomly-selected patron that gets to shoot a half-court shot at intermission of an NBA game; that’s mere child’s play. This was an opportunity to blister the skin of a professional wrestler without (presumably) the fear of reprisal.
I ended up spending five bucks on 16 raffle tickets (Check out this price guide: $1 for one ticket, $5 for a sheet of tickets the length of one of your arms, $10 for your full wingspan, and a whopping $25 for wingspan and height). Clearly, I need to thank the lord above for not leaving me hopelessly gator-armed.
As the night wore on, I’d kinda forgotten the raffle, and instead immersed myself in the action (a guy being thrown through a wooden door that’s propped against the turnbuckles tends to gain your focus). And besides, I saw guys buying high volumes of tickets individually, looking like they were being measured for a new suit by the ticket vendor. I figured my odds were slim.
Just before the Lumberjack Match commenced, Tremont took the microphone and walked over to the vendor’s table in order to personally draw the five winners. The sight of a heavyweight brawler with a fire-red warbeard (and enough scar tissue to make Evel Knievel raise an eyebrow) doing a raffle drawing I figured had to be the most surreal image of the night. Then I remembered the poor bastard who flew through the door.
Lo and behold: the second set of numbers read off by Tremont matched one of my 16 tickets. My buddy Patrick was positively giddy, egging me on to step right up. As I walked my arm’s-length ticket roll up to a man that’s spilled blood on several different continents, all I could think was, “I hope I don’t look like an idiot swinging the belt.”
Then I remembered I was wearing my Cultaholic logo shirt (company man, forever and always), and my next thought was: “If me whiffing with the belt somehow goes viral, Adam might make me send the shirt back.”
Then I was calmed by the third thought, which was: “Maybe he’ll just pay me not to wear the shirt in public any more.” And that settled my nerves, because I like money.
Seconds later, I found myself surrounding the ring with more than a dozen wrestlers and the four other randomly-drawn raffle ticket-holders, wielding belts that were taped together at the ends so that they were already in loops. I looked over at Patrick and Demi, who were just shaking their heads and smiling like I was, none of us expecting me to be brandishing a weapon as part of a planned wrestling match. I turned to the wrestler next me, a long-haired kid who goes by the name Charlie Tiger, and politely asked, “How hard do you plan on swinging your belt?”
“Hard,” he answered with an emphatic nod, eyes narrowed like Eastwood before the climactic gunfight.
Well, when in Rome…
Just then, zero hour had arrived. Making his way to the ring first was none other than DJ Hyde, the forever-scowling owner of Combat Zone Wrestling who stands 6’4″ tall and is built like an NFL lineman. As the heel of the match (and the only male involved, as well), it was a safe bet that 100 per cent of the lashing would be on his torso.
I stood on the side of the ring nearest the entrance way, so Hyde was only three feet away from me as he surveyed the 20 or so armed belligerents around ringside. By this time, there was enough adrenaline flowing through me to power three neighbouring countries, but I was even more supercharged when Hyde spotted me. He did a double-take when he saw my face, smirking with a little amusement as he said: “You won the raffle?”
I should note that through my writing career (particularly with my four-plus years with Fighting Spirit Magazine), DJ and I were quite familiar with one another. I’ve interviewed the wrestler/promoter/trainer at length, be it for a full feature, or simply quoting him in other articles, such as Tremont’s long-anticipated war against Atsushi Onita a year ago, or Jimmy Havoc’s participation in CZW’s Tournament of Death.
Put simply, we’ve met.
Hyde’s opponent in the match was 48-year-old semi-retired Amy Lee, a rather lively character when it comes to the unrestrained coarseness of her promos. Basically, she makes George Carlin and Sam Kinison look like youth pastors. During her and Hyde’s pre-match insult-fest, I believe she threatened to sodomize Hyde’s skull with enough malicious force to impregnate his brain.
The very idea of that made all of our belts go limp.
Then the match started. In fairness, it wasn’t exactly a match, but rather a spectacle – a spectacle that would deliver exactly what anybody happily watching it would be hoping to see. Early on, Lee was knocked to the floor, but damned if any of us even raised our belts toward her. What she’d threatened to do to Hyde didn’t exactly sound pleasant, just as it didn’t sound fun when Sgt. Hartman threatened to do it to Private Pyle if he didn’t stop smiling. Valuing our precious eyeballs, we stood down.
Then it was Hyde’s turn to tumble through the ropes, the brawny heavyweight falling in close proximity to my feet. As he got to his knees, myself and several other nearby wrestlers looked at each other for some kind of cue. For what felt like an eternity, we all kinda just froze. Here was my chance to physically participate in a wrestling match, and now time was standing still.
Part of me was thinking: “This is kinda silly. And I’ve never in my life whipped anyone with a belt. What am I even doing holding this thing? And besides, DJ’s been very gracious toward me with his time whenever I’ve requested it.”
Then came the devil on the other shoulder: “Hey Justin, remember when you would go to DJ’s CZW shows in the dead of winter, and you’d have to stand outside the building in the will-call ticket line, shivering your ass off?”
I hear they teach that sort of emotional recall in the acting classes at the NXT Performance Center. Suffice to say, there went those second thoughts as I joined Tiger, as well as the other wrestlers and raffle winners (who came running around the sides of the ring like it was a castle raid) in whipping DJ Hyde’s hide. By my recollection, I got off three decent shots to his upper back. Others struck him much harder than I, but I still got my licks in.
“Holy s**t, that was fun,” I thought. The other lumberjacks and I were laughing our giddy heads off at getting to take part in such a bizarre spectacle, while Hyde slithered back into the ring with Amy Lee, where he apparently, and oddly, deemed it safer.
Hyde took only two more spills to the floor, but I wouldn’t get any more whacks at his back. Amy Lee finished him off moments later with a pedigree of sorts, and that was that for my participation. Still, it was three more strikes on a wrestler than I figured I’d be afforded when I drove into the parking lot on Saturday night.
Man, it felt weird simply returning to my seat, as casual as though I’d just come back from the concession table. I realize fully that I was simply a peripheral, mostly non-descript part of a match witnessed by about 150 people, but that doesn’t make the experience any less cool for me personally.
For me, it’s just a reminder of what can happen when you choose to take part. Had Patrick and Demi turned down my Saturday morning offer to attend the H2O show with me that night, I probably wouldn’t have gone, either. What was meant to just be a night out among friends who don’t see each other enough led to a moment that none of us will ever forget, and will likely bore our other friends with in story form for years to come.
And the fact that the rush has yet to wear off, even as I wind down this article in Sunday morning’s wee hours, tells me that maybe, just maybe, I should consider that wrestling dream again. The chance to indulge all of those sensory delights could be mine if I just take a walk down that road.
Actually, knowing my luck, I’d probably end up laying on some concrete floor, getting whipped for show by some jerk in a Cultaholic shirt. Worse, it’d probably be Ross, lashing me while bitching about my inability to proofread.