Lifelong fan makes ring debut

This weekend professional wrestling makes a triumphant return to Tauranga after an absence of more than 20 years. Kiwi Pro Wrestling takes around 20 semi-professional and amateur wrestlers around the country. Reporter Sam Boyer took to the ring yesterday to find out what it's all about.

There's a lot to think about while a man's kicking you two-footed in the chest. But not a lot of time to think about it.

Keep your chin out the way, puff out your chest to take the hit, fly backwards and try not to whiplash your head on the canvas.

It's painful stuff for the kickee. Meanwhile the kicker's rounding off his move with a backflip. While I lie stunned on the floor, head swimming, catching my breath, he's doing a little dance and hamming it up for the spectators.

The world of wrestling is a curious and painful place.

I got a heel to the chin from the flying backflip kick. I was clotheslined. I was shoulder slammed. I was leaped upon from the top rope.

They did things to me, things I didn't know humans did to other humans. Things like the Boston crab and the crippler cross-face. Hours after a knife-edge chop I still had the mark of a red hand clawing across my chest.

I probably wasn't prepared for just how much it would hurt. From a mere hour's punishment, I learned a lot about wrestling.

I did my best to look the part. I'd bought a silly mask. And trying on singlets in a crowded Glassons, searching for one that was suitably tight, was an early contender for my 2012 most embarrassing moment.

But wrestling is more than just the ludicrous outfits. There's more to it than simply pulling on your girlfriend's leggings.

I'll admit my interest in professional wrestling has waned since the halcyon days of WWF in the late 80s and early 90s, where the Ultimate Warrior ruled supreme and Hulk Hogan still had hair. The days of Ravishing Rick Rude, Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, and Bret the Hitman Hart. A time when New Zealand's very own tag team, the Bushwhackers, once held centre-stage on our screens.

But I was once a devotee. I wrote a letter to the Hart Foundation tag team that my mum never sent. It's still on the wall in my childhood home, my tribute to New Zealand's declining wrestling popularity a faded 6-year-old's depiction of two men in pink lycra.

Grown males wearing tights, long flowing hair, shaven chests and fake tan. It's hard to see what it was that captured New Zealand's hearts in those days. But wrestling was huge here then. And overseas it still is.

Yesterday I got in the ring with Marc Perry, a 24-year-old lad from Birmingham with 10 years' wrestling experience. Like his peers, he's as much actor as athlete.

Around the time I learned to question wrestling's legitimacy, to cringe at its pageantry, my interest in the pursuit began to wane. Getting in the ring with these guys, though, it all came flooding back. The excitement, the expectation. The drama. What Perry called "sports entertainment".

"I do like to think of it as a sport," he said. "You've got to be athletic, you've got to be trained, you've got to practise. You can't just do the moves, you've got to entertain. If you go in there and you half-arse it, people are going to know."

Even when the guys are warming up, they're calling to their imaginary audience, baying for their attention and adulation.

It may be cheesy but it's entertaining. It's like a play, only Hamlet's tanned and shirtless, and MacBeth's wearing speedos.

Tonight, Queen Elizabeth Youth Centre, doors open 6.45pm. Adults $15, 10-16 $10, under 10s $5.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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