Alongside the guitar riffs and dub sets typical of Ori, on Friday afternoon really big men in really little outfits will go at it in the Quad. Here, Ranald Clouston introduces New Zealand’s professional wrestling scene and gives you an idea of what you can expect to see.
The idea of indigenous New Zealand professional wrestling may seem a little unlikely. After all, the only wrestling most of us have seen has been as quintessentially American as you can get – the endless hype and braggadocio, the flag-waving heroes like Hulk Hogan and Hacksaw Jim Duggan who lead the crowds in chants of “USA! USA!”, and the villains that exist mainly to give the American crowds feel-good victories over whoever constitutes their current enemy, from the Bolshevik tag teams of the Cold War to the Arab insurgent Mohammed Hassan who debuted post 9/11. But just as hip hop has crossed the Pacific Ocean into Aotearoa, shedding its unhealthy fascination with shooting people and pimping hoes in the process, a truly Kiwi professional wrestling scene has also begun to emerge.
One of the prime movers in this scene is New Zealand Wide Pro Wrestling, a group that formed in 2003 in a tiny gym in Petone where the ceiling was so low that the ‘high flying’ wrestlers were often restricted to performing their aerial manoeuvres off the bottom rope for fear of whacking their heads on it. But under the guidance of social worker Martin Stirling, a veteran of the ‘60s New Zealand pro wrestling scene (ask your parents), NZWPW have risen to the point where their final show of 2004 was watched by hundreds of fans packing out the Lower Hutt Town Hall. Now the group is busting out of the Hutt Valley with their first tour, performing at the orientations of Canterbury, Lincoln, Massey and, of course, Victoria.
Some however, find the whole concept of professional wrestling somewhat absurd, often for the reason that “it’s all fake”. Yes, the outcomes of the matches are predetermined and many of the moves require cooperation from both wrestlers to come off properly. From that standpoint it’s fake – as is, y’know, any fiction at all. But the athleticism of these guys is very real, and, sadly, so is the injury rate sometimes. Anyone who wants further details of the real/fake debate is invited to take it up with the 6’6” Ruamoko, or perhaps the 180kg Punisher.
For the rest of us, NZWPW can be enjoyed for what it’s supposed to be – a fun mixture of combat sport, the circus and a sort of interactive theatre where you’re free – in fact, encouraged – tell the performers exactly what you think of them. The wrestlers who will perform include Island Boy Si, who is on his orientation week too, just about to begin a BCA at Victoria. Inside the ring, however, he is a fresh-off-the-boat Cook Island immigrant about as politically correct as, and almost as funny as, something off bro’Town. Then there’s Ivan Dragunov, a throwback to the pro-Communist wrestlers of Cold War America, hilariously out of place in 21st century New Zealand. But whether the character in the ring is a goofy stereotype or a serious martial artist, all the NZWPW wrestlers excel at providing simple, old-fashioned fun, livened up with the odd chair swung behind the back of a conveniently clueless referee. Just don’t start chanting “USA” at them…
Ranald Clouston is the NZWPW correspondent for the New Zealand Pro Wrestling Informer (nzpwi.co.nz)