A community of New Yorkers with a love of controlled and costume combat have come together. It’s like WWF and the 1980s all over again.
Jake Gomez is a special-education teacher is Downtown Brooklyn at his day job, but at night he’s part of New York’s underground wrestling scene and releases the superhero inside of himself. The scene is at gyms, nightclubs, and social clubs and filled with performers, referees, managers, and fans who love wrestling and seeing it live.
Promotional company Five Borough Wrestling lives up to their name, bringing wrestling to the five boroughs for over four years. They host many events each month at community centers in Brooklyn. Many of the wrestlers show up hours before the main event to network. They book a wide variety of wrestlers from beefy to towering to sinewy to short with beards, man buns, and goatees. Some even show up with blunt axes.
The D.I.Y. aspect is very obvious at these events. When all the ring apparatus arrives in a truck before the doors open, the wrestlers unload wooden beams and foam pads. The metal skeleton is then assembled in the center of a basketball court. A church office complete with a crucifix becomes the locker room with wrestlers working on their moves and changing into their costumes.
The wrestlers/performers are excited, supportive and border on being nerds. For example, Cajun Crawdad is a 27-year-old wrestler from New Jersey who works in a gelato shop during the day. He sports a crustacean outfit with seaweed and antennae finished off with a red and orange mask. His tag team partner is a hermit crab. Pyro Pulse and the Iceberg Joe are brothers from Staten Island who wrestle together under the name The Elements. They sport customer leather luchador masks (aka Mexican Wrestling Masks).
While the wrestlers ready themselves for action, the fans mill about outside with hot dogs, beers and folding chairs. Tickets are extremely affordable with front-row tickets going for $30 and general admission seats selling for $20. There’s a sense of adventure in the air when the wrestlers enter the ring to theme music. Once they’re in the ring, they’re body slamming their competitors into the canvas, careening them off the ropes, and locked in submission holds.
Professional wrestling is no joke—WWE wrestlers are killing it financially. But many wrestlers need their full-time jobs to get by, so underground wrestling is their ticket to be able to wrestle with a decent sized crowd and temporarily shapeshift into their costumes and alternative identities. Plus, they can act out teasing people in the audience. The referees are performers, too—they pretend to be impartial or blind to all the antics in the ring. It’s the best seat in the house for the action, too.
During intermission, attendees can shop for merchandise, like tees and autographed photos. The merch is a good way for wrestlers to make some extra cash, as some make as little as $20 the whole night. Anthony Greene who wrestles under the pseudonym “Retrosexual Anthony Greene” has a folding table where he sells stickers and sunglasses, as well as $5 fake mustaches. Some of the wrestlers also get sponsors—Greene is sponsored by Zubaz, makers of zebra-striped clothing.
Many attendees are regulars on the circuit and know all the signature moves and celebration rituals of the wrestlers. They are drawn to the characters and creativity. And they even get to pose for pics with the wrestlers in between the matches.
Although underground wrestling is a male-dominated sport, more women are stepping into the ring, like Kristen Stadtlander, a 23-year-old from Long Island who wears alien makeup. They must go harder at the sport to prove they’re good, if not better than the guys.
After the show, wrestlers chill with the fans, while the ring is taken down and reloaded into the truck. It’s a great night for all and wrestlers and fans look forward to the next underground wrestling event.
This article originally appeared in the New York Times online edition at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/18/style/wrestling-underground-new-york.html