Toward the eastern edge of Portland, among dilapidated commercial buildings and car repair shops, lies a small, discreet warehouse. Inside, a dozen rows of mismatched chairs surround a wrestling ring that snugly fits where stacked cardboard boxes and a forklift used to be. Metal music blares as Wage Reichten enters the ring to a chorus of jeers from a crowd of 50. Wage is a pile of muscles trying to escape a small piece of spandex. Climbingthe corner turnbuckles of the ring, he gives a horrific scream as the duct-tape wrapped ropes shake beneath his weight. A young man yells from the crowd: “You look like a shaved vagina from the 1980s.”
Toward the eastern edge of Portland, among dilapidated commercial buildings and car repair shops, lies a small, discreet warehouse. Inside, a dozen rows of mismatched chairs surround a wrestling ring that snugly fits where stacked cardboard boxes and a forklift used to be.
Metal music blares as Wage Reichten enters the ring to a chorus of jeers from a crowd of 50. Wage is a pile of muscles trying to escape a small piece of spandex. Climbingthe corner turnbuckles of the ring, he gives a horrific scream as the duct-tape wrapped ropes shake beneath his weight.
A young man yells from the crowd: “You look like a shaved vagina from the 1980s.”
Wage seems unphased.
Since he is legitimately scary as shit, and seems miffed about something, I will neither confirm nor deny his resemblance to any lady parts. Wage is also the number-one contender for the Northwest Wrestling Alliance (NWWA) Heavyweight Title.
More metal booms-this time it is “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. I recognize this from my obscene obsessed-fan-of-wrestling days in junior high. It is the entrance theme of the former ECW/WWE/WCW star Sandman. Sure enough, the man who stumbles to ring bears Sandman’s trademark accoutrements: a cigarette dangling from his lips, an ECW T-shirt and a large wooden stick.
Sandman enters the ring, and for the next 15 minutes Wage pummels him. I sit near the back. Most of the crowd in the Fight Factory (NWWA’s permanent place of wrestling) seems apathetic to the slaughter. Most are emotionless observers, though there are a few-like the guy quoted above-who display more passion for the event than seems necessary.
Back in the ring, Wage is choking his opponent with rope. “Is this your hero?” he screams.
Well, no. The chokee isn’t really Sandman; he’s only a faded imposter of the hardcore legend. An audience member vibrates with rage anyway.
The real match involving Sandman will happen this Sunday when Wage Reichten and the Salem-trained Wade Hess take on Sandman and NWWA’s current champ, J-Sin Sullivan, in a tag-team “Singapore Death Match” at the Hawthorne Theatre. This will be the biggest match not only for the three Portland wrestlers, but also for NWWA, an organization that is less than a year old.
Is Portland wrestling back?The NWWA is the latest professional wrestling league in Portland, a city with a long history of the spandexed warriors. Everyone over 30 I spoke with at the Fight Factory fondly remembers the heyday of “Portland Wrestling,” an affiliation that showcased such legends as Ric Flair and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
The burgeoning NWWA hopes to revert Portland’s wrestling scene to its glory days.
Kevin Brandt, a Portland wrestling fan since the ’60s and the commissioner of the NWWA, spoke with me during intermission about the changes in local wrestling.
“Things are a lot more physical, and [the NWWA is] taking it to the limit,” he said. And he knows better than anyone. Moments before, Brandt had his head smashed in during a mid-bout dispute.
The Sandman, an out-of-shape, beer-swilling brawler, is known for shouldering a “Singapore Cane,” a wooden sword made from splints of bamboo. He employs this instrument of pain by bludgeoning opponents’ heads until blood floods down their foreheads. This is what Brandt is referring to when he talks about the “limit.”
This is Hardcore (capital H!) wrestling. The NWWA is embracing it, and hoping to take the form even further.
I believe in you, your asshole is realOutside the Fight Factory, a man and his young son approach a gaunt guy smoking a cigarette.
“Can my son get your autograph?”
The smoker scoffs and asks how much money they have on them. The father gives a nervous laugh.
The smoker is Derek Drexyl, former morning radio host and current manager of The Illuminati, the wrestling group Wage and Wade are part of.
Drexyl (who ignites the chant “Dyke Haircut” whenever he enters the ring) finally takes the man’s sharpie and the quarter piece of scrap paper and writes in large black letters “You Suck,” quickly signing his name below. He hands the paper back to the man, who shrugs and shows his kid the insult, and they walk away as Drexyl laughs, talking with Wage about the bad-mannered exchange.
You can tell who the “good” and “bad” wrestlers are as soon as they enter the arena. In wrestling slang, the good guys are called “faces” and the bad “heels.” Wrestlers usually jump back and forth between the two. (J-Sin Sullivan was a heel before his feud started with The Illuminati. Now he is a face. Oh, the trials of man.)
Drexyl and The Illuminati are the heels of NWWA, but Drexyl more closely aligns himself with a different part of the anatomy: the asshole.
When I sat down with The Illuminati after Saturday’s show–in what became the most intimidating roundtable discussion I have ever been through–they told me they don’t mind playing the bad guys, because that is who they really are.
When I referred to the wrestler’s in-ring personas as “characters,” all four members of The Illuminati objected. Wage explained: “This is not a stretch for us to be who we are. We present our personality.”
That personality includes spitting (fake) on fans, insulting the crowd’s level of income and cheating to win. So Drexyl’s response to the fan who wanted his autograph? That’s just how he is.
While The Illuminati went on about being assholes, my mind wandered. I thought about an article on pro wrestling that I wrote for my junior high’s newspaper. Among the grammatical errors, non-sequiturs and half-thought-out diatribes sat this quote: “Many people would agree with me–fake is better than real.”
But it seems like my adolescent postulate contradicts the definition of “real” espoused by all the pro wrestlers I spoke with. They claim it is real because wrestling requires skill and matches are often very painful. But if you suggest wrestling is scripted, as I did to J-Sin, he will quickly request you sign a waiver and get into the ring with him. I declined.
Whether it’s fake or real, The Illuminati promises a hell of a show on Sunday. Wade and Wage told me about how hungry they are as young wrestlers, and how they were looking forward to making a name for themselves against Sandman.
“That’s going to make the difference on June 1,” Wage said. “We are real people.”