“Cousin” Larry Huntley at Geno’s. photo/courtesy Cousin Larry
Everyday He’s Scufflin’
All the usual suspects — both inside and outside the ring — showed up last month at Geno’s, the legendary punk-rock club in downtown Portland, for the North Atlantic Wrestling Association’s big event. Cousin Larry, the founder of NAWA and overwhelming fan favorite, led the faces (i.e., the “good guys”) against a villainous band of heels. The highly distractible referee was reliably clueless, never catching a heel cheating but routinely scolding their opponents. The announcer, calm and sharply dressed, was repeatedly alarmed by all the body slams and suplexes. The dedicated fans shouted to see their favorites’ signature moves. Everyone in the room had a role to play, and everyone made the most of it.
“Our shows are still good-versus-bad,” “Cousin” Larry Huntley, a.k.a. The Scuffling Hillbilly, told me. “Whether it’s the adult-themed shows at Geno’s or the family-friendly events at our other locations, NAWA provides quality entertainment for its fans. We strive to make every show as exciting as possible.”
Huntley launched NAWA in 2012 as a fundraiser for the Bonny Eagle High School Drama Club in Standish. During its first four years, NAWA only staged one annual event, but its growing popularity demanded more performances, and Huntley estimates that NAWA puts on about 25 shows per year these days. Given that there are organizations like NAWA in many states and some Canadian provinces, some of its wrestlers hit the mat more often than that.
“I do maybe thirty to fifty shows a year,” said Mani Ariez, who came from Manchester, N.H., to wrestle NAWA star J.P. O’Reilly, a.k.a. The Hardcore Maniac. Ariez was substituting for B.A. Tatum in a Lego Death Match, and quickly established himself as the heel of the evening. It’s a role he doesn’t mind taking, though it’s not always his persona in the ring.
“I love wrestling,” Ariez told me while he hung out with fans on Congress Street during the intermission. “Whether I’m being cheered or booed, it’s just about being able to give people a time to escape.”
The crowd at Geno’s last month had no trouble escaping the normal confines of social behavior and entering the wild world of pro wrestling. Fans bellowed cheers and curses throughout the two-hour show that ranged from the predictable to the perverse: “Fuck him up!” “Rip his dick off!” “Twist his dick!”
During the only women’s match of the night, most of the male fans restrained from making such anatomical exhortations, but a woman behind me shouted, “Rip her tits off!” It wasn’t clear which wrestler was the target of this demand until the female fan added, “Redheads can’t handle pain! It’s scientifically proven!” (Jessie “The Spitfire” Nolan, the redhead in question, won anyway.)
The hapless referee earned his share of abuse, as well. “Fuck you, ref!” was a common refrain, but at least once, someone shouted back, “Aw, c’mon! He’s doing the best he can!”
The fan chants got downright bizarre when local face Geno Bauer entered the ring to defend his championship belt against the Blade Bandit from Ontario. The Bandit wasn’t a full-on heel, but the hometown crowd was solidly behind Geno.
“Ni-pulls! Ni-pulls! Ni-pulls!” fans chanted at Blade.
“Are they saying nipples?” I asked the guy beside me.
“Well, they are unusually large,” he replied. And yeah, they really were.
“Milk them! Milk them!”
Despite the crowd’s thirst for Blade’s lactation, the Canadian defeated the local champ and the chant changed accordingly: “BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!” Regardless, Bauer gallantly presented his opponent with the belt, and they raised their arms together. The fans appreciatively applauded both wrestlers.
Is this kind of wrestling competitive? Obviously not. It’s theater in the classical Greek tradition — not in terms of plot, certainly, but in its open encouragement of strong emotions among the spectators.
Are the performers athletes? Hell yes, they are. If you don’t believe me, check out the NAWA event at South Portland High School on Oct. 14, or catch the action when NAWA returns to Geno’s on Dec. 8. The SPHS event is a family-friendly show to benefit the football boosters, so save your best expletives for the holiday-season smackdown downtown.
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