ATLANTA — A few blocks but a million miles from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to Sunday’s Super Bowl, a man is shouting into a microphone declaring that what is about to go down on this Thursday night is “the most important sporting event in Atlanta this week.”
It’s dark inside the Wild Pitch Underground bar, a dive on a mostly abandoned block on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta which the corporate crowd and their clinking champagne glasses that come to the Super Bowl each year will never threaten to find.
A band called “Gutter Candy” just finished warming up the room of about 60 fans here for a four-match pro wrestling card that will be staged on the floor of the bar – as well as on the bar, through some tables and even in the men’s room.
“No ring. No rules.”
Within a couple minutes a four-way bout begins, with the wrestlers routinely spilling into the rowdy, phone-recording crowd who shout and joke and mostly laugh at the fun. It’s completely nuts. Completely.
It includes a wrestler named “Effy” attempting his signature move (putting a condom over one hand and then trying to jam it in an opponents mouth to suffocate him). It eventually peaked when another wrestler named Casanova Valentine brought out the “Garden Weasel” yard tool and, to the chants of “Weasel! Weasel!”, impaled another fighter with it.
Then he took a slug of a Heineken.
It stands to reason that there is no lower form of live entertainment in this country that is legal. This is legal, right?
Apparently it is, because McAloon Productions put the event on, just the latest in what is loosely called “No Ring Bar Wrestling” that has begun springing up around the country the last few years. It’s apparently especially popular in New York where Valentine is considered the “Godfather” of the Brooklyn No Ring Scene.
Adding to the legitimacy is that an outlet called FITE broadcast it via pay-per-view, so someone was watching this at home.
Plus, the main event, if you will, featured Ken Shamrock against Tom “Filthy” Lawlor, a couple of old MMA stars with excellent name recognition in combat sports. Shamrock competed in UFC 1 and at the age of 54 retains an impressive physique – here’s guessing no ring bar wrestling doesn’t do a lot of testing for performance enhancing drugs.
This isn’t a real fight, it’s scripted wrestling, although without any mats, padding or much space it doesn’t mean no one gets banged up. A wooden bar is a wooden bar. It’ll leave a mark. “It’s tight in there,” Shamrock said.
— Rob (@HeyyImRob37) February 1, 2019
These men – and women, since if there is one thing you can say about no ring bar wrestling is that is non-discriminatory – get knocked around, dirty on the floor and routinely pour beer and drinks on each other. No antic is too wild. One participant, Priscilla Kelly, is now famous for a particular finishing move from a previous show.
“There’s been a lot of reaction,” she said after, which is an understatement.
No matter what happens the wrestlers also aren’t above stopping a match to chug beer or even challenge each other to shots of Fireball, all to the chants of the crowd. Whatever entertains.
What is this? Who knows? Just understand that political correctness or general standards of proper behavior do not live here.
“Well, I just saw Ken Shamrock dunk a guy’s head in a toilet,’” said T.J. McAloon, the 38-year-old from Austin, Texas who put on the show. “Yep, that happened.”
— All Ego Ethan Page (@OfficialEGO) February 1, 2019
McAloon loves wrestling and promotes numerous traditional shows around the country. He considers wrestlers to be “artists.” He’s staging a regular card at a bigger venue (that can fit a ring) in the suburbs Friday, but on Thursday he gathered all the wrestlers on this card at the bar and offered inspiration.
“This whole venue is yours to play with, be an artist, go create something,” he said. “You have no restraints.”
Lacking restraints, Shamrock took the fight into the men’s room and sent Lawlor head first into the drink. Few in the crowd saw it because everyone couldn’t fit in the bathroom, after all. But cell phone video and cameras for FITE TV was good enough. It was quickly buzzing around social media.
Besides, you can’t really complain about your view or your seat at no-ring bar wrestling since at any point someone could come crashing into you.
That intimacy is the key the entire thing. Forget ringside seats. Everyone is a participant of sorts; you have to keep moving or you can get slammed. All the trash talk and comedy bits can be heard by all. The crowd can even shout their own insults.
It’s just patently absurd. Every last glorious moment of it.
Both before and after the card the wrestlers basically hang out in the bar drinking with the fans. Some try to hock T-shirts. Tickets were $50 but how anyone is making much money on this is a mystery.
“We aren’t signing billion-dollar contracts,” McAloon conceded with a laugh. “But this is something that I love. I love the business and the sport of pro wrestling and I love having big dumb ideas like bringing this to the Super Bowl.”
Somewhere else in Atlanta Thursday night, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was no doubt feasting on the finest of food and drink, surrounded by corporate titans and billionaire owners as the biggest sports and entertainment event in America rolled on.
Down here at the bar, across town and on the other end of the spectrum of professional sports, T.J. McAloon was doing his thing.
He, and the crowd he drew out for the fights, were having no less fun.
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