No holds barred: Extreme wrestling part of a night’s entertainment

Referee Steven “Gilligan” Dean, left, counts out a pin made by Jessie Bosquez on his trainer, Ric Mullins, during a training session at Georgia Xtreme Wrestling in Rossville. Mr. Bosquez came to Georgia from Texas to learn how to wrestle and performs under the name “El Diablo.”

By CHRISTINA COOKE
The Chattanooga Times Free Press, Feb. 26, 2006

About five minutes into a Saturday night wrestling match at Georgia Xtreme Wrestling in Rossville, Sam Young slipped out of the ring and grabbed a stop sign from beneath the platform.

As his opponents, Chip “Hazard” Brown and Jesse “Kilawaya” Harvey, fought to pin each other to the ground, Mr. Young hoisted himself back into the ring and cracked the sign twice over Mr. Brown’s back and once against his forehead. Mr. Brown howled and thumped to the ground, his eyes closed and his arms limp at his sides. The crowd cheered.

The match was business as usual at Georgia Xtreme Wrestling.

Pro wrestling is popular in warehouses and vacant halls in many parts of the country, said Georgia Boxing Commissioner Tom Mishou, who estimates there are 30 independent operations in Georgia alone.

While many states strictly regulate boxing and other per- son-on-person sports with measures ranging from weigh-ins to ringside supervisors, more than 25 do not regulate wrestling, said Tim Lueckenhoff, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama are among those that do not regulate the activity.

“(Wrestlers) keep pushing the envelope, and it’s pushing safety right out of the picture,” said Mr. Mishou. “My great fear is that I’ll pick up the paper someday and find out some 14- year-old kid has some irreversible brain injury as a result of some lawn chair stunt.”

The Georgia General Assembly addressed wrestling regulation last spring after a performer at an independent operation poured lighter fluid on his opponent and lit him, Mr. Mishou said.

While the Georgia legislature did pass a law requiring wrestling operations to obtain licenses, it stopped short of imposing regulations. Mr. Mishou estimates that 15 organizations are licensed, including GXW.

“It’s not a good law, I’ll admit up front, but it’s what was put on my desk,” Mr. Mishou said. “What we’re doing is taking the first baby step in (imposing regulations) by identifying who these groups are in Georgia.”

Kelly McNeely Brockman, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, said the state does not regulate wrestling events as most constitute “entertainment” and not sporting events. The state’s boxing program does not maintain a list of wrestling organizations since those organizations are not regulated, she said.

Regulation of wrestling would require legislation, she said. The Tennessee General Assembly is not considering any legislation related to wrestling this year, state records show.

A PERSISTENT CULTURE

GXW kicks off at 8 p.m. every Saturday in a corrugated metal building across from Darr’s Chow Time on McFarland Avenue. Each week, men, women and children pay $6 each at the door and file into three rows of metal folding chairs around the ring to watch the battle for the title belt.

During extreme matches, nothing is against the rules. At Xtreme Wrestling Alliance in South Pittsburg, Tenn., wrestlers slam each other’s heads with mailboxes and fluorescent light tubes. They bowl each other into the announcer’s stand, sling each other across vacant chairs in the audience and drag each other to the bathroom for a dunk in the toilet. At GXW, wrestlers take cheese graters and barbed wire to each other’s skin. The referee hangs around only to name a winner.

Fran Nelson, 47, who runs GXW with her husband, Grady, 72, said she writes a story line for each match, which outlines who will win and how. While most of the moves involve some degree of acting, she said, getting hit still hurts.

“Most of my wrestlers make contact,” she said. “They say its not worth getting in the ring if they’re not going to feel it.”

Mrs. Nelson said that although wrestling is inherently dangerous, she tries to run as safe an operation as possible. She requires wrestlers be 18 or older and train for several months before joining the show. She also stands ringside during the matches to watch for injuries or lost tempers.

“We try to run the safest wrestling in the area,” she said. “I’ve told (the wrestlers) I don’t want them to get hurt any more than they have to.”

Extreme pro wrestling is one facet of a cultural legacy of violence in the rural South, said Dr. Peter Coclanis, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“In the South, there has long been a tradition of this brutal prizefighting, these eye-gouging-biting-hair-pulling-scratching-no-holds-barred rasslers who would go around fighting for money,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll ever die out. There’ll always be some form of it.”

Some of the 30 to 100 people who attend GXW matches every week say they come because they have watched wrestling on TV since they were children, and they want to see a live act. Others say they show up because their son or brother or nephew or boyfriend fights every week and they want to watch.

And others say they spend their Saturday nights at GXW because, on a Saturday night in Rossville, there’s not much else to do.

“I guess this and football are the highlights of Rossville,” said Justin Bivens, 18, who attended a match one night with his best friend.

“VANCE KNUCKLES THE PIT FIGHTER”

Mr. Young has wrestled professionally for five years. Known to the North Georgia wrestling community as “Vance Knuckles the Pit Fighter,” the 200-pound wrestler usually fights in black spandex pants, knee pads and a black GXW T-shirt. He has eight tattoos he’s gotten at his cousin’s parlor, depicting everything from a flaming skull to a memorial to his father, who died when Mr. Young was 6 years old.

When he’s not wrestling, Mr. Young euthanizes animals at the Humane Educational Society in Chattanooga. He chain-smokes Marlboro Lights and likes a few beers after a good fight.

Despite his roughness, Mr. Young has captured many hearts. The children in the audience chant “Go, Vance, Go!” when he takes the ring. His sons from a previous marriage, ages 10 and 7, look forward to every other weekend when they get to spend time at his house. His girlfriend of five months, Rosie Hasting, 21, describes him as “the best thing that ever happened to me.” And his mother, Eva, attends all of his practices and matches since he started wrestling and is usually one of the loudest hecklers in the audience.

One night in the ring, Mr. Young faced his best friend and half brother, John “Lance Knuckles” Kilgore, 27. Mr. Young fought Mr. Kilgore to the ground, posi- tioned a metal pizza pan on his groin and elbow-dropped onto it. Once Mr. Kilgore recovered, he seized Mr. Young in a head- lock and slammed him down onto the mat.

While the two didn’t hurt each other seriously during that match, Mr. Young said he put Mr. Kilgore in the hospital three months into their training with a spine-buster gone wrong.

“I know it wasn’t my fault,” Mr. Young said, “but I almost quit wrestling because of it.”

“IT’S ALL ENTERTAINMENT”

State Rep. Martin Scott, R- Rossville, said he doesn’t see any need for further regulation. The independent wrestling organization he knows of, GXW, doesn’t seem to cause anyone problems, he said.

“Not a single constituent has said anything about it, so I would say they must be self-regulating very well,” he said. “I try to abide by that old Jeffersonian principle, that your right to swing your fist stops at my nose.”

Mr. Mishou said that though the Georgia law on professional wrestling lacks clout, it does include a clause that allows the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission to write administrative rules, which have the effect of laws, if it hears about behavior that’s too egregious, such as barbed wire ropes or flammables in the ring. No administrative rules have yet been passed, he said.

“I’ve been trying to write a few things,” he said, “but when I put all my duties on a list, unfortunately, wrestling is at the bottom.”

Rossville Police Chief Sid Adams said he’s also familiar with GXW, and he’s not concerned by the stunts that take place within the GXW walls. He said his off-duty officers used to run security for it.

“Most of (the wrestlers) seem to have it down pat fairly well by now,” he said. “I don’t presently see any difference between what they’re doing and when you see two actors on TV fighting each other. It’s all entertainment.”

Most of the wrestlers say they’ll keep coming back, even though GXW doesn’t bring in enough money to pay them more than $5 or $10 every few weeks.

“After you’ve done this, every- thing else seems boring,” said Jason “The Devil LeRoy” Lewis, who wrestled with GXW for about six years. “After you’ve jumped 15 feet off a cage (during a cage fight), fishing just doesn’t cut it.”

Mr. Young agreed the adrenaline rush is addictive.

“For that 10 minutes when I’m in the ring,” he said, “whether I’m the good guy or the bad guy, my kids think I’m Superman.”

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