Saturday night’s all right—for fighting

Saturday nights are not supposed to be spent like this: I’m lying on a cold concrete floor, hands around my head, feigning pain from a forearm shot to the face.

Life’s a drag: Teen sensation El Chupa Rosa takes down Aaron Vaughn with an arm drag. Photos by Jonathan Welch.

Just seconds ago, a 6-foot-3-inch, 350-pound behemoth who answers to the name “Big Daddy Z” leveled me with a shot that sent me flying, the back of my head ramming into the hard plywood of the entrance ramp. I lie motionless for a second to hear the reaction from the onlookers, and this barbaric act results in cheers from the crowd. Moments later, I’m carried away.

On any normal night in any normal place, this scene would have resulted in threats of litigation and a visit to the hospital. But I voluntarily entered the ring to experience what a Saturday night at the House of Pain would be like. And, along with a bump on my head, what I found was professional wrestling—theater at its base level.

As it turns out, the forearm shots and the flying across the cold concrete floor are all part of what keeps a small but fast-growing legion of loyal fans returning week in and week out to the House of Pain, the home base of Hendersonville’s own High Velocity Wrestling. According to “Viper,” HVW’s resident badass and leader (known outside of the ring as Gary Benfield), it’s all part of a recipe to keep fans coming back.

And you think your job is tough: For wrestler Ethan Case (center, on floor), a day at the office can be a pain in the back.

“The basic formula for a wrestling match is broken down into four parts,” Viper explains. “The first part is called the ‘shine,’ and that’s where the good guy comes in and gets a couple of moves in and gets the crowd going. Then there’s the ‘heat,’ where the bad guy will start really beating up the good guy and working on him. After that, there’s the ‘comeback,’ which is where the good guy comes back and gets the crowd going. From there, you can go back into more heat or go to the ‘finish,’ which is the ending of the match … and whoever wins the match does it there.”

In the world of HVW, there are good guys (called “baby faces” or “faces,” in wrestling jargon) and bad guys (“heels”), and there are cheers and jeers (“pops”) from the crowd. There is drama and pain, and to most fans, “wrasslin’” is as Southern as sweet tea. And, despite all the theatrics, it’s as real to the performers as the forearm was to this writer’s head.

“It’s theater, it’s entertainment, it’s choreographed entertainment,” says Tim “Smit Dawg” Smith, a heel referee for HVW. “All ‘choreographed’ means is that we know what’s going to happen when we get out there. But we call a lot of [the moves] in the ring.”

The matches themselves are an extremely physical dance, of sorts: Wrestlers are thrown off the ropes and hit perfectly executed moves. Sure, they still loudly stomp the floor as their punches land on their opponents’ jaws, and they still contort their faces into masks of anguish to sell each chokehold as a thing of unimaginable pain. But it doesn’t diminish the morality tales being performed before nearly 100 people each week.

To some, the idea of theater might summon an image of audience members dressed to the nines, watching thought-provoking tales and having a cultural experience. At HVW, the crowd is more than likely to be wearing jeans, but the performance is every bit as theatrical.

“Honestly, I’d have to say at least 75 percent of it is theater,” says Viper. “That’s what we are there for … putting on a show. It’s a physical show, and it’s telling a story from start to finish, so at least that much of it is theater.”

But others have a different way of describing what goes on at an HVW event.

“Some people call [wrestling] a man’s soap opera,” says “Synn,” whose kind eyes and soft smile betray no hint of the demonic madman who stalks the ring.

“The worst addiction I’ve ever had”

Learning the ropes: Head trainer (and HVW Champion) Randy Wayne “runs the ropes” while Aaron Vaughn and El Chupa Rosa look on.

For the past five years, this has been HVW’s existence. Every Saturday, audiences pile into the House of Pain, a former auto garage, to witness the action. For the most part, the shows go off as planned: There are live in-ring interviews with wrestlers, stories being told in and out of the ring, and a family-friendly atmosphere (as family-friendly as two grown men bashing each other’s heads in can be, at least).

At the center of it all is Viper, who not only is one of HVW’s biggest stars, but is also head booker for company, or “promotion” in wrestling slang. As booker, Viper (when not defeating his opponents with his trademark “Viper Bomb”) decides who wrestles when and where, and what kind of popcorn the concession stand stocks.

Viper says he started HVW to be a different kind of organization, one whose members are not only co-workers but form a fraternity of sorts. In a business traditionally backed by untrustworthy characters and filled with performers who regularly face serious injury for little or no money, Viper sees the HVW as less about ticket sales and more about having a tight-knit community.

“People said that HVW couldn’t make it, because we were all young guys that didn’t know what they were doing,” says Viper. “But I just worked hard and set out to prove everyone wrong.”

Even the heels agree with Viper’s sentiments.

“Wrestling is the worst addiction I’ve ever had,” says Devin “Ethan Case” Poole, who performs as the goose-stepping, trash-talking, Clockwork Orange-inspired heel who wrestles for HVW as part of a group called The Revolution. “There are people [in professional wrestling] who are going to help you, but there are a lot of corrupt, backstabbing people.”

And yet, HVW has a different feel. Even though there are significant differences in ages and backgrounds, these wrestlers seem to have found a kinship through their weekly ritual of pain, sweat and slams. After practice, many of them can be found sitting around a table at a nearby Mexican restaurant, watching the Latin American version of pro-wrestling, lucha libre, with wide-eyed excitement. They’re wrestlers, sure, but they’re also fans.

“Keep wrestling or keep bitching”

The Gospel according to Mario: Mayor Mario Hogg lays down the law to heel manager Brett Wolverton.

Watch any televised wrestling show, such as those presented by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and you’ll see the kind of polished, refined product that only a multimillion-dollar company can provide: slick graphics, ESPN-style editing, custom-designed wardrobes and bodies by under personal trainers in the finest gyms money can buy.

In contrast, the wrestlers who work in HVW aren’t well-paid professional athletes. In fact, they do it for free. Much like the musicians in any number of local bands, these larger-than-life characters are real people with day jobs. Only instead of breaking a guitar string here and there, they break bones.

“I hate when people say that wrestling is fake,” complains Case, who, although he isn’t yet old enough to buy beer, is already a four-year veteran of the ring wars. “I’m 19 years old, and it takes me 45 minutes to get out of bed in the morning because of my back and my knees. You can keep wrestling or keep bitching. That’s how I was trained, so you just learn to deal with it.”

While the wrestlers do everything they can to prevent injury to themselves and their opponents, a broken bone or a concussion is not uncommon. In fact, the amount of sheer torture the performers put themselves through is mind-boggling.

“I’ve had two spurs and a tendon cut out of my left knee and two surgeries on my meniscus on my right knee,” says “Cyanyde,” a masked marauder known for doing anything to win a match—including harrowing moves that put his body in danger.

But Smith, the referee, says that worrying about injury will only hinder the performance. And most of these wrestlers would prefer injury to a lame match.

“People talk about taking precautions, but I could walk out the door and break my neck,” Smith reasons. “You can’t worry about that. I want to look good and be professional, and I want to do a good job.”

Mob rule at its finest

The art of the splash: Aaron Vaughn practices a “splash” on a padded target, as an HVW trainer and a young fan look on.

A few years ago, a video from a wrestling-fan convention swept the Internet by storm. Shot during a wrestling Q-and-A session, a fan named David Wills stood up to thank the old-timers for all of the punishment and abuse they put themselves through in an effort to entertain their fans. In the middle of his speech, Wills broke down in tears and sobbed, “It’s still real to me, damn it!”

This is what most people picture as a professional-wrestling fan.

But “doing a good job” for the fans is something that every wrestler worries about, because in the world of professional wrestling, the audience is everything. A good booker can plan the best match out there, good wrestlers can perform the most death-defying moves that exist, but ultimately it’s the crowd that decides what works and what doesn’t. The fans—almost all of whom are “in on” the choreographed nature of professional wrestling—have to be entertained.

“What you don’t want is people doing this,” says Smith, sitting on his hands in the manner of a person politely waiting. “You want people to come up there and get around that ring and hate your guts, and hate you.”

A normal Saturday-night crowd is proof of this idea. Smith’s entrance, complete with the requisite jawing at the crowd around ringside as befits a bad-guy referee, leaves even the most cynical fan out for blood. Meanwhile, Viper’s entrance causes even the most seemingly docile old man in a trucker hat to rise to his feet to cheer on his hero in combat.

Agony of de-feet: Randy Wayne applies a “figure-four leg lock” to HVW champ Gary “Viper” Benfield in a training session.

These are the critics, the peanut gallery, HVW’s adoring public. This interactive quality is what makes wrestling so engaging. Sure, the story lines aren’t on par with, say, the rambling Dave Eggers tomes that hipsters have grown to love (and who hasn’t wanted to yell at Eggers to stop with the asides and get on with the story?), but they have a certain logic and craft—even art—of their own. Wrestling is mob rule at its finest, with the wishes of Joe Six Pack dictating how and why the narrative changes.

“It’s a rush when you get boos or pops from the crowd,” says Synn. “When you get something out of [the audience], you know you’re doing your job.”

According to the performers of HVW, the boundary between reality and theatrics goes out the window.

“All I have to do is to walk out of that curtain and they hate me,” boasts Smith. “They freakin’ hate me! It gives me the rush of a lifetime to walk out there and get in someone’s face. It gives me a headache I’m rushing so badly.”

Headaches aside, the wrestlers know that performing for the audience and making them feel like they’ve gotten the full price of admission is the most important part. And a major part of the magic of HVW is the connection between audience and performer.

“We’ve had people crying” at ringside, Smith says.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world, to know that people pay money to come see you,” says Brett Michaels, a baby face who plays the role of an exotic dancer turned wrestler (and not to be confused with the front man for Poison). “People work all week—and not a lot of people make a lot of money around here—and they still come and spend their money to come see us.

From the sound of it, audiences are getting their fill of HVW. For three hours, fans are treated to the spectacle of modern-day superheroes and gladiators battling it out for the crowd’s amusement. Throw in a reporter getting nailed in the head, and it’s a fast-paced, high-energy show that leaves crowds breathless when finished. For the audience, it’s a release of the week’s worries and tensions, but for the wrestlers, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

“At least I got to live out my dream”

Walk the talk

by Kent Priestley

Aw, what’s wrong, big feller? Tired of being a glorified schoolhouse bully? Of picking fights with that dude with the wet cough named Dwayne down at the Stone’s Throw Tavern? Ready to haul your bad ass to somewhere where it really matters?

You’re in luck, honcho: On Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1 and 2, the Original Toughman Contest comes to Asheville.

But just so you’ll know what you’re getting into, here are a few people who’ve already said they’ll be there: Vance “The Body Bag” Kirkpatrick from Waynesville, who’s 6-foot-3, weighs 200 pounds and has practiced “armed/unarmed combat” for four years; Christopher “The American Nightmare” Hull of Cullowhee, who weighs 260 pounds and can lift 100 pounds with his middle finger; and Billy “Coleslaw” Cole of Forest City, who’s 280 pounds and wants to fight simply “because he can.”

“It’s just the thrill of their life to get in there and fight in front of friends and family—without going to jail,” explains Original Toughman Contest president Stephen Coppler.

Contestants—perfect strangers, in most cases—will don 16-ounce gloves, headgear and groin protection and pummel each other over the course of three one-minute rounds. “It’s not who can throw a punch,” says Coppler. “It’s about who can take a punch. When your knees buckle, your stomach feels queasy, how do you react? That tells you who a Tough Man is.”

Division winners will take home $1,000 and, perhaps more important, a Tough Man satin jacket. And it’s not just for the boys, either. Toughman also includes the Toughwoman women’s division.

To get a seat at the big event, call 251-5505 for charge-by-phone, or visit www.ticketmaster.com. If you’re a fighter (or even just fancy yourself one), call 1-800-TUFGUYS or visit www.toughmancontest.com to register.

 

“I think that the biggest thing for me is that for a few minutes on Saturday night you can be a different person,” Viper says. “You can hear the kids screaming and the crowd going nuts and saying your name. That’s a pretty cool feeling.”

Often playing to crowds of around 100, HVW is anything but the over-the-top spectacle big-league of professional wrestling. But don’t tell that to their performers. Just to be in the ring, popping the crowd, is a dream come true.

“This is something I wanted to do when I was 18, and I finally got a chance at 33,” says Cyanyde. “I’ll be lucky to get another year out of doing it, but if I end up in a wheelchair in six months, at least I got to live out my dream. [At our last big event] there were 376 people there watching, and it was me living my dream in the ring. I’ll never go to the WWE, but that doesn’t stop me.”

Come Saturday night, Cyanyde will lace up his black boots, put on his Hannibal Lecter-inspired mask and enter the ring under a chorus of boos. Inside that dark room, Viper’s music will hit, and the crowd will roar. The two will face each other in the ring, with Cyanyde on the receiving end of the shine. Then comes the heat, and for a moment, it’ll look like the match is his. And then, just when all seems lost, Viper will rally. He’ll have a comeback, and then, a big finish.

As quickly as it began, it will end: Viper will pin his rival and the crowd will cheer. The recipe still works.

As the crowd cheers, the heel will lie on his back writhing in pain. But under the mask, Cyanyde will be smiling, confident that he’s done a good job.

All is well this Saturday night in Hendersonville. The heels have lost, and the baby faces have won. Sure, it isn’t Shakespeare. But after all, the Bard didn’t know a wristlock from a wristwatch.

[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville … and it’s still real to him, damn it.]


who: High Velocity Wrestling
what: Home-brewed professional wrestling
where: The House of Pain (820 Greenville Highway, Hendersonville)
when: Saturday, Feb. 2. 8 p.m. ($8. For a complete schedule of all HVW events, including the “Redemption” special event, visit www.hvwlive.com or call 674-1378)

SHARE
About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

11 thoughts on “Saturday night’s all right—for fighting

  1. R Bernier

    This wrestling has been filmed by Space Mountain Productions & has been aired on URTV.

    Look for more next week….

    Richard

  2. Jason AND Richard, you are both true artists! Great article — enjoyed reading it — and I look forward to watching Richard’s video.

  3. Big Daddy

    Well All I have to say is this Guy VIPER,just let all of his secrets to his business out of the bag.
    Do you think KFC would release the recipe to the 11 herbs and spices. I don’t think So.. Way to go.

  4. Big Daddy: In what way? That’s the same basic formula that professional wrestling has always used. It’s hardly a secret.

    I remember talking with my friends about the flow of the matches when I was a kid — and that was before the (then) WWF came out and openly admitted that pro-wrestling was an entertainment rather than a sport. We knew it wasn’t “real,” and we knew it had a format. I’d be surprised if most wrestling fans felt too terribly different about it.

    I think the only people who would be greatly surprised at this information would be people who aren’t particularly familiar with wrestling, and didn’t realize that there was an underlying structure to the way the matches work. And, even then, I doubt they’d be greatly surprised by this information.

  5. big Daddy

    Dear Steve if that is your opinion. Then why not have David Copperfield, or Lance Burton tell all their secrets. They won’t, because they are in the magic business. We kind of know how they do it. We really know it is NOT MAGIC just slight of hand. But in a way we want to be fooled. Sure you and your friends knew wrestling wasn’t real. But you weren’t really sure how they did it. I just think if you are REALLY in the wrestling business, that part of it should be keeping your mouth closed on how it’s done. Let fans guess if they want to. BUT DO THEY REALLY KNOW HOW IT”S DONE. Vince McMahon himself once said “sure it’s entertainment, it’s a lot like magic, but do you think we are going to tell you how we do our magic, I don’t think so.” Who could argue with the Man who makes the most money in the wrestling business in the world. Just my opinion

  6. Joy

    I go to HVW every Saturday night and let me tell you, theres nothing better than sitting there watching people beat the s#&$ out of each other!!

  7. [b]Big Daddy:[/b] Plenty of magicians are open about the nature of their acts, and there’s a whole industry of books and guides (some written by very famous magicians) explaining the basics of a magic performance. When you think about it, Penn & Teller have made a career out of pulling back the veil, and I’ve never thought their show suffered much from it.

    So, revealing a little about how HVW works — information that’s already in the mainstream thanks to things like the [i]Beyond the Mat[/i] documentary and Mick “Mankind” Foley’s best-selling book [i]Have a Nice Day[/i] (not to mention all the behind the scenes stuff the WWE has put out) — hardly seems all that shocking.

    It’s not like he’s spilled out their story lines for the next two months or anything, or given out the results of every forthcoming match. He just said that there’s a basic formula behind it all.

  8. Tom Williams

    Wow, i would like to say as a professional wrestler myself and a wrestling promoter myself, this is the worst thing you can do in the business, it is not the writer of the articles fault, this is soley on Viper and HVW, when we train we take oaths to “protect”the business. These jokes just gave away every secret and every part of the business that is not supposed to be witnessed or seen by the “fan” Public. I really thought that Gary had more respect for the business than to completly give away everything to his fan, so basically you are just telling the fan that you want to come pay money to see your show, that its all fake. This interview with these guys has discusted me and i have no respect for these guys any longer. I hope every pro wrestler around will get on here and read this and they can be discusted right along with me. Thank you for your time!

  9. [b]Tom Williams:[/b] Thanks for dropping by and leaving your thoughts. How do you feel about the mainstream works [i]Beyond the Mat[/i] and Mick “Mankind” Foley’s [i]Have a Nice Day[/i] that I mentioned in the earlier response?

    Both of these happily broke “kayfabe” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kayfabe), and the impact on the business side of things seemed to be quite positive.

  10. I cant help but enjoy the ongoing debates over Writin about Rasslin juxtaposed with the ongoing verbal challenge-match between The Stompers and the Huggers.

    The similarities in the 2 on-going debates are numerous. The Stompers have all the theatrical buffoonery of your classic Rassler. They make a bunch of rash statements to provoke emotions just like the classic bad guys (dare I say it…”heels”) of thering.

    They dont mind being hated as long as they evoke a response from the audience. In fact they “live for” the jeers and boos they elicit by making such outlandishly irrational statements.As long as people are talking about them they feel they are accomplishing something.

    Even Jim Crockett himself couldn’t concoct more classic characters than Chad “The Hammer” Nesbitt and Don “The Mouth” Yelton.
    Add in the overused storyline of the family split between Chad and Martin and you’ve got a classic wrestling scenario.

    Ahh…brings back memories of the numerous Saturdays I sat glued to the TV to watch Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling….

    For those of you not fortunate enough to have watched the weekly drama of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in it’s hey-day I encourage you to visit:
    http://www.midatlanticgateway.com/Lobby.htm

    Is it true that Mr Yelton was actually Brute Bernard or Skull Murphy in a previous life?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.