Mat Rats

ANYBODY WANT to see some wholesale violence?"

As a man who usually pays retail for his violence, I was understandably intrigued by this offer, especially since it was coming from Section 8, the dean of Tucson wrestling.

A longtime fan of televised wrestling bouts, Section 8, a.k.a. Ron Sutherland III, has been running local wrestling contests for the last 13 years, including a memorable string of shows at Greyhound Park and one "barbed-wire match" on Congress Street. Among the stars in his stable: Big Dog, Little Nasty Boy, Mini Azteca, Black Mamba and the charmingly nostalgic Ku Klux Klansman. The matches are perhaps the best ultra-violent, race-baiting, obscene, homo-erotic children's show on earth.

For example, at a recent event, Section 8 loudly announced: "If you ain't hardcore, you ain't shit!" After asking the audience for a moment of silence for a wrestler who couldn't make that evening's performance, as he had been "assaulted by some punk-ass bitch," Section 8 raised his hands, revealing his shaved underarms, and asked the other wrestlers to tone down their language a little, as there were "lotsa little kids here."

Children actually seem to comprise the core audience for these shows -- children wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the pro-water-conservation slogan "Suck It," children wearing Mexican wrestling masks, children running around in the dust with little parental supervision. Children, in short, who were in heaven.

And, of course, children have much to learn from these events. For example, for children raised in the rather racially homogenous town of Tucson, much could be gathered by the interactions between wrestler Black Mamba's crew of African-American fighters, and the Ku Klux Klansman's crew of Anglo wrestlers, who carry signs that read "Black Crime" and "White On!" It seems that they had an antipathy for each other, but, instead of taking out their aggressions through violent debating and the use of postmodern literary theory to "deconstruct" their opponents, they chose to settle things like gentlemen, by rubbing their sweaty bodies together in front of a jeering crowd.

Race relations are not the only area of social guidance that local pro-wrestling offers to its pre-pubescent crowd. There are also very important lessons on gender roles. For example, at a recent match at eastside tavern Wee Went Wongs, the losing wrestler was forced to wear a dress. Who could imagine a greater punishment? To reinforce this notion, the wrestlers hurl insults like " girl" or "girly-man" or "lady." I think the young girls in the crowd learn quickly that they embody something gravely insulting, and they are no doubt bettered by the knowledge.

But don't go thinking that everything about the local pro-wrestling scene will conflict with your deeply ingrained and dogmatic notions of political correctness. No, one of the major villains on the scene here is blond-haired, boy-next-door American Knight, who enters the ring to the jeers of the largely Mexican and Mexican-American crowds. Not one to stand for such ill treatment of the American flag, which Knight wears in the form of tiny, spandex jockey shorts, he was quick to shout back, "You're all a bunch of communists! Why don't you go to Yugoslavia and kill some babies!"

The dialogue is one of the best parts of any local wrestling match. When one wrestler's forehead is split open in a gruesome gash, the other notes that "Bleedin's for pussies!" When the Ku Klux Klansman tells Black Mamba that he should be "scrubbin' floors for white folk," Mamba is quick to retort that he needn't scrub floors as he has "a white maid who does what I tell her to...if you know what I mean!" To emphasize "what he means," Mamba then points in the direction of his pubis. It's your basic Evil Vs. Evil match. As a sensitive male-feminist friend of mine said, "I'm upset that the Black Mamba group is being racially discriminated against, but I can't really support them."

Then the Klansman offered his opponent $50 in food stamps and a bus pass to the next match....

OF COURSE, great local pro-wrestling is more than just a battle of words and wits. There are also the costumes.

While big-time pro-wrestling, such as one sees in the ranks of the culturally elite World Wrestling Federation and NWO, relies on professional make-up and custom-made costumes, the local scene applies a little more self-reliance and creativity. Black Mamba's wrestlers, for example, dress like early-'90s movie versions of black gang members. Section 8's costume is essentially a pair of jeans, a sleeveless T-shirt, and some sloppily applied black-face around the eyes that evokes a sort of sinister Batman mask, except where it's been smeared onto his nostrils.

Section 8's "extreme" wrestlers often make no pretense of actual "wrestling," instead settling for hitting the other guy on the head with a metal tray, a trash-can lid, or whatever else happens to be handy. In some matches, tables full of "weapons" are brought into the ring. The "weapons" are, of course, essentially harmless, but there's good campy fun in watching somebody get hit with a plastic baby bathtub. (Oh yeah, that's gotta hurt!)

"You can only have so much of that kind of wrestling," says George Crawford, a gymnasium owner who runs the ambitiously named World Wrestling Association. While he's run wrestling matches in Sierra Vista, Sells and Nogales, Sonora, he's only recently staged "wrestling under the stars" in Tucson, at the Quarter-Circle Three Hay and Feed store. He hopes to soon move the WWA into the Tucson Convention Center or a local hotel.

"Professional wrestling is just so damn big I couldn't miss the boat," says Crawford, who has been generous enough to give Section 8's bunch a bout or two on his bills.

Some of Crawford's crew wear traditional Mexican wrestling masks, an affair that covers the entire head, with stitched openings for mouth and eyes, and laces up the back. One of the great moments in a match with a Mexican wrestler is when his opponent has him in a headlock, and attempts to unmask him as the crowd screams in approval or horror.

The best aspect of the Mexican wrestlers is their athleticism. These guys tumble about the ring like circus acrobatics, performing some truly dazzling stunts, like leaping off the ropes, grabbing their opponent, flipping through the air, flipping backwards, then landing back on the ropes. You really have to see this.

But they're not above theatrics. One of the Mexican villain wrestlers, Guero Cota, upon being booed by the children in the audience, rushed out of the ring screaming at the offending fans. The kids scattered from their seats and ran off into the dusty darkness, laughing and shrieking. Still, it's Guero Cota's ability to combine this with genuine athletic skill that makes him so much fun to watch.

But Crawford doesn't rely on the mainstream wrestlers alone. He has a secret weapon to boost attendance: "I use midgets and women. That's what draws the crowd."

Now, pretty much any time I hear the words "women and midgets," I'm there. Women plus midgets equals high-brow fun.

The women and midgets in Crawford's shows are also good acrobats, but the little guys have an additional trick: midget wrestling involves a lot of ass-biting.

Generally, the midgets (this seems to be the preferred term amongst the wrestlers, with the politically correct "little people" getting no play, and only a few references to the medically correct "dwarves") do a lot of flying about the ring, but their best moments come when they bite the asses of big people. Whether it's the referee or a full-size wrestler who has stumbled into the ring, when you see a tall fellow, you can be pretty sure his ass is gonna get bit.

Crawford's shows have already had a big impact on the local scene. Section 8 has asked Crawford to become "president" of his league. Crawford is promising to clean up the language and make these shows a little more "kid-friendly," says Section 8, whose matches have always had an extreme edge.

Crawford is enthusiastic about his new alliance with Section 8. "Hopefully, we'll be able to give them some credibility," he says. And nothing spells credibility like midgets and women.

THE ASS-BITING, the sweaty male bodies rubbing together, the spandex costumes -- it all raises a fairly obvious question. As if to answer it, one of the most common moves in wrestling involves grabbing a prone opponent by the ankles, spreading his legs, and diving face first into his crotch. It's kind of like a prison shower scene, and makes Tucson wrestling a good substitute for the less socially acceptable forms of gay porn.

Section 8 tried to clear this matter up by noting that, while local wrestling may be a bad influence on children, there are "lots of bad influences, like that movie Tootsie that shows homosexuality." Huh?

Section 8 seems truly dedicated to the sport, and he's extremely accessible. While some of the wrestlers sell autographed photos of themselves, Section 8 gives them away. He runs a school for young pro-wrestler wannabes which gives kids some organized violence to keep them away from the distressingly disorganized violence of the streets, and he demands that the kids maintain good grades and good behavior at home. And, while Section 8's crew does most of the potty-mouth talking, he has vowed to start cleaning things up to accommodate the new, younger audience they've begun to attract. "From now on, the worst word you're gonna hear," he tells us, "is 'ass.' " That makes sense: you can't say "ass-biting midget" without the word "ass."

In my trek through the world of local pro-wrestling, I learned several important lessons:

1.) Racism is bad, but sexism is OK.

2.) You're allowed to act gay, as long as you're beating the snot out of someone while you do it.

3.) Midgets will bite your ass.

But more importantly, I was well entertained. This is not snotty, ballet-fan type entertainment, or, as Section 8 puts it, "There are no Ferrari guys here." But there are lots of friendly local folks who enjoy a dramatic expression of violence and hatred. And, in a world plagued by tragedies like Columbine and Kosovo, it's nice to find someplace where violence and hatred are fun again.

The World Wrestling Association's next match is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 10, at the Quarter-Circle Three Hay and Feed, 829 W. 29th St. Regular "extreme" bouts are staged, sans ass-biting midgets, on the first Tuesday of every month at Wee Went Wongs, 4844 E. 22nd St.

Jim Nintzel assisted in the reporting of this story.

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