Playing Through

Both pro wrestlers and their fans are looking for the same thing: acceptance

Jacob Ladder and his son, Sterling
Jacob Ladder and his son, Sterling (Photo by Thomas Hackett)

A few years ago, I spent a lot of time hanging out with professional wrestlers – at first with a sense of derision but ultimately in admiration. Don't get me wrong: I still always thought most pro wrestlers were drug-addled narcissists captive to pathological delusions, but for all that I rather liked them.

Liked their unabashed enthusiasm. Liked their high tolerance of one another's foibles and failings. Despite all the taunting in the ring, professional wrestlers may be the least judgmental people on the planet. They're also the least cynical. They may not believe in personal hygiene or basic social etiquette, but they believe in the importance of making perfect spectacles of themselves, whether in front of the WWE multitudes or a few fish-head fans in some dreary suburban rec center.

"Wrestling has taken a dramatic change since its peak 10 years ago," says Darin Childs, owner of Anarchy Championship Wrestling, which last Sunday at Emo's staged its 50th show in two years. Referring to the dozens of professional wrestling deaths, usually by suicide or drug overdose, he adds: "We've learned that we have to respect and love each other, 'cause let's face it: We're all a bunch of misfits who basically had no where else to go. Here, we've found a lot of acceptance from the fans – fans who are looking for that acceptance themselves. They want something they can believe in and belong to. That's what this is all about. As selfish and evil as people can be, to succeed, wrestling has got to be a loving environment."

Hanging out backstage at Emo's, I would say Childs has created that environment. I saw none of the insecure assholishness you see at most indie shows, and the game and spirited crowd of about 100 could feel it, too – the love, the respect.

"It's always been a scummy business," says Arik Cannon, who works the independent scene all over the country, flying from Minneapolis to San Francisco to Milwaukee to Austin in the last two days. "What people don't know is how much the guys really just love wrestling. For most of them, there's no money in it at all. It's the starving artist thing. We do it because we can't imagine doing anything else."

No doubt, most of the guys working for the ACW have ridiculous fantasies of somehow launching themselves into the stratosphere of celebrity, à la the Rock. It is safe to say that will never happen. They lack the camp charisma, the holy-shit physicality. Some of them shouldn't stand shirtless in front of a mirror, let alone a bunch of paying customers. But, you know, whatever. They don't seem to know that. And in pro wrestling, it's the fantasy that counts, never the reality. "It's the best drug in the world," Scott "Mr. Showtime" Summers tells me. "I've done everything, partywise. But getting out in front of a bunch of people, entertaining them, I don't care how many that is, whether it's 30 or 3,000, is the best high there is."

Please write Mr. Hackett at playingthrough@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Darin Childs, Anarchy Championship Wrestling, Scott "Mr. Showtime" Summers, Arik Cannon

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