Beauty and the bodyslam: Inside Melbourne’s underground wrestling scene

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Beauty and the bodyslam: Inside Melbourne’s underground wrestling scene

Melbourne wrestling

Wrestling is like a television show, with overarching plots and recurring characters, good guys, and bad guys. But instead of being carefully edited and then downloaded to view on a laptop screen, it happens live in front of an audience that can interact with the show.

Imagine the thrill if, instead of watching an episode of Game of Thrones from your couch, you could react to plot twists and shock deaths with gasps, screams and swearing in real time with a few hundred others. Better yet, the characters in the story reacted to you – you could tell Joffrey to piss off and he could flip you the bird before carrying on with his next nefarious act.

That’s what wrestling is.

Most weekends, the Essendon Ukrainian Hall held events like arts and crafts markets, or children’s fairs.

That is until the second Saturday of every month, when this unassuming venue in Melbourne’s north west played host to one of the most outlandish and misunderstood forms of entertainment around: professional wrestling.

The card tables and homemade soaps make way for a hulking blue and silver wrestling ring and the building transforms into the Melbourne City Wrestling (MCW) arena.

That month, MCW’s Hostile Takeover brought in a crowd of 350 people which resulted in standing room only for late-comers.

Founded in 2010, MCW is one of the largest professional wrestling companies in Australia. Aside from the monthly shows, the company has a training academy in South Melbourne that has produced both Australian stars and select graduates which have gone on to the biggest wrestling company in the world, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

What makes MCW wrestling particularly interesting is its dedicated fan following. The audience is made up of people of all ages and from all walks of life. Everyone seemingly united by the love of something which, if bought up in public, might find you judged or dismissed.

Despite the violence in-ring, the audience is a pleasure to be a part of. The young adults drinking cheap beer are just as at home as the six-year-old boy there with his dad. The camaraderie felt between fans, newcomers, and performers alike is unlike any other crowd we’ve been a part of.

As the lights finally went down, a cheer went up. A quick recap of the storyline blared over the speakers. A rogue team of all around bad guys, TMDK (The Mighty Don’t Kneel) had taken over MCW and were holding all the cards. Could Team MCW – the shining knights of all that is good – step up to remove this villainous team once and for all?

Six matches played out in front of the cheering crowd. The first match was an emotional one between ex-teammates, Emanuelle and Cousin Ali. As Ali smashed his former friend into the ground, gasps echoed through the hall.

An intense tag-team number one contender’s match was one of the most compelling of the night, putting the raw energy of a team who apparently escaped from an asylum, Preston and Payne, against a snake monster with a fluorescent orange mohawk spitting green paint over his opponents.

Mr Juicy, one of the most popular wrestlers in MCW, came out in his signature red-and-white bodysuit, but had his match against Jonah Rock cancelled after receiving a bloody blow to the head rendering him unable to compete. This left the crowd audibly unhappy.

When fans don’t like what’s happening in the ring, they let the wrestlers know, loudly. Similarly, when they enjoy the action, the fans chant their approval. The thing is though, the wrestlers react to the crowd, they interact with single members of the audience. The crowd is essentially just another unpredictable performer in tonight’s entertainment.

If you’re imagining air swings and gentle body slams, you’re in for a shock. More than once we found ourselves legitimately worried for a wrestler’s safety. The pain is real, and slams are monstrous, and more than one “holy fuck”, was drawn from the crowd.

After the show’s main event, in which MCW Heavyweight Champion Elliot Sexton teamed up with fan-favourite Dowie James, TMDK had gotten another one over Team MCW and cracks were beginning to show in the alliance which had been formed to try and stop the evil faction from tearing apart MCW forever.

Could Team MCW regroup and unite to defeat a group intent on destroying them? We’ll have to wait until the second Saturday of next month to find out.

Overall, we’d witnessed a strange but brilliant kind of performance art. There was drama, comedy, anger and compelling stories, and to say it was a unique experience is an understatement. Fans and newcomers alike were hugely entertained. Professional wrestling seems to be the perfect example of the old adage ‘don’t knock it ‘till you try it’.

No one in the MCW audience thought they were watching real fights. They didn’t care.

If what is real is defined by whether or not Krackerjack really stapled Payne’s forehead mid-fight, or whether Payne did really escape from an asylum, then yes, wrestling is as fake as a hipster’s gluten intolerance.

But if you’re saying that the punches that echoed through the Essendon Ukranian Hall as one burly guy hit another across the chest with all his might, or threw him stomach first onto the hard floor with a noise that made my own muscles tense didn’t hurt, or the backflip that one wrestler did off the edge of the ring, onto four men below him was fake; then we’d like to see you jump into the squared circle with these monsters and fake fight them right back.

By Claire Varley and Nathan Quattrucci

Images: Cory Lockwood