Friday, August 07, 2009

Fighting the good fight

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of features about a professional fighter here in Northeast Ohio. At the time, "B" was a no-holds barred cage fighter with the "King of the Cage" circuit. He enjoyed quite a bit of success in the cage. When he got a bit older, the fights dried up and he took advantage of his massive stature by doing professional fighting in Japan where they love big American wrestlers.

B was one of the most fascinating men I'd ever met.

I never regarded what he did as violent. He was an athlete. When I watched his workouts, he was honing his craft just like I do here at the keyboard. "I'm a fighter," he'd tell me. "I'll fight anybody anytime."

Despite the size of guys like B and their might, they're really vulnerable. The promoters take hella advantage of them. The injuries are chronic and cumulative. They're has-beens by their mid-thirties or--on the outside--forty. B told me everyone in the business is on steroids, which takes it's own toll.

The cage fighters were the toughest men I'd ever encountered. In an effort to build his pain resistance, B used to stand still while other guys would just pound on him. "The guy who can take the hardest punches wins the fight," he'd say. But there was a solid camaraderie among the fighters, particularly the cage fighters. They'd beat each other bloody, then slug down beers together. I guess that's why it never struck me as violent. They weren't fighting with malice.

Watching these guys spar and train was unbelievable. B use to do resistance training by pulling against huge rubber bands attached to a wall. He'd hop up and down on steps with the lightness of a ping pong ball. And he was so big! It was as though he defied gravity. And watching the sparring men intertwined and pushing against each other was stunning to me: so intimate and so masculine at once. It all played out against a background of uber-hard rock music, grunts, and the sound of flesh squeaking across sweaty mats. I was working for very conservative papers at the time and couldn't really include that sort of thing in my writings, but it was incredibly dramatic to me.

For the professional matches in Japan, B would tell me that the "performers" would meet at the venue hours before the match and practice the choreographed moves. Make no mistake, professional wrestling matches are 100% staged. B would always call them "performances" and said the trick jumps and showy acrobatics made the fake fights much more dangerous than the real cage fights from earlier in his career.

Hence, I really liked "The Wrestler" because it gave an honest depiction of life after fame in that profession. So many of those guys end up destitute and deluded. I hope my buddy B fairs better than Rourke's character "The Ram" and finds himself a training gig or something else to get him through the later years of his life. Those fans forget you so so so fast.

Not me. I'll never forget B.

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(S)wine said...

well Aronofsky is a great young director. i liked this film as well, although i had trepidations about seeing yet another story about the downfall of man, but Rourke was good. young Rourke, the Rourke of Diner, Pope of Greenwich Village, Barfly, was even better but still. i liked the film, as well. as Marty Scorsese did with LaMotta in Raging Bull, Aronofsky kept it honest and brutal. Rourke's character was definitely more likeable than LaMOtta, but...good stuff. Good stuff.

Slowly but Surly said...

My favorite quote: "Are you cool with staples?" Great film