Oxford Mail
February 2000


Blood, sweat and cheers
American-style wrestling is inflaming British audiences. Amanda Castleman witnesses the sequins, snarls and obscenities as the big men have a go

 


Big Time American-style wrestling is a spectacle that confirms every vicious, redneck stereotype possible. Suddenly the stage of the Apollo Theatre – usually populated by Shakespearean lisps – is home to beefy men in spandex pants.

They snarl, they howl, they body slam. And the crowd just loves it. In fact, the angelic pixie beside us doesn't even breathe between six- and four-letter obscenities. This is not family entertainment as we know it.

Yet "sport entertainment" is big business across the pond – the World Wrestling Federation projects sales of $340 million (211m) this year. The enthusiasm, bizarrely, seems infectious. British television now imports cartoon mayhem, and a 26-date live tour promises "explosive action".

"Wrestling has always been very popular here for the last 50 years. Now the American market has come in bringing more razz-a-matazz, more characters," explains wrestling promoter Brian Dixon.

Ah, men in tights locked in brutal embrace – just the thing for the kiddies. They are here in droves, howling for blood like a demented boys' choir. Lasses too, and in true Spice style, they cheer loudest whenever a groin was stomped – which is often.

"It's like pantomime," my friend Dan Taylor whispers, observing a man with a Stars-and-Stripes leotard, peroxide mullet and beer gut. "No, no, it's like Morris dancing with all that stamping."

The thumping, we hypothesize, is to mask the dainty swish of pulled punches. But not all the violence is insincere – some of those finely-choreographed bodyslams just have to smart. And when German villan Karl Kramer's head is smashed into the ornamental gilt carvings around the stage, well, I flinch.

My delicacy can't be feminine, as 56.3 per cent of American TV audiences are women. They claim to be drawn by the plots, a bit like reading Playboy, then?

Yet the soap opera element – combined with athleticism, good, evil, emotional catharsis and glamour, of a sort – do win huge audiences for the WWF. The fever pitch is so great that an amateur league has blossomed in American Universities. The Oxford Union should try that for a real event shocker.

I'd be centre stage, hollering "you stink!" and "chicken, chicken", the insults of choice. Leave the obscenities to the real experts – the kindergartners.

Reprinted with permission of the Oxford Mail

Ah, men in tights
locked in brutal
embrace - just the
thing for the kiddies.
They were there in
droves, howling for
blood like a demented
boys' choir.


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