The Fellowship of the Ring

Michael Dvorak

"This is not your typical crowd," First Avenue publicist Sam Sawyer says, surveying the club's storied dance floor, which has been hijacked by a makeshift 18-foot wrestling ring and a small but rabid gaggle of minor league fight fans. "You won't see a lot of Uptown hipsters coming out for this event."

Thirty minutes before the first bell, scheduled to ring at 9:00 p.m., Sawyer's demographic observation appears accurate.

The only black leather in the two-story room is festooned with NASCAR logos. Many of the women look to have just left Old Navy for some pampering at Great Clips; their dates sport carefully creased backward baseball caps (the Mets, Jets, and Islanders are big sellers) and carry 40-ounce bottles of Corona (sans lime). The digital video camera functions as both fashion accessory and status symbol. If The Sopranos were about mobsters from Middle America, this place would be a casting director's dream.

DJ Smitty Smitt is above it all, mixing it up in the tech booth. For the video screen, which serves as a curtain across the Minneapolis rock club's skyscraping stage, he has chosen a Japanese wrestling video from his own "private collection." The soundtrack is a disparate, dissonant amalgamation of white-boy rap, suburban thrash, popified punk, and the occasional non sequitur. At this rather surreal moment, Radiohead's Thom York can be heard wailing over the robotic yawn of Kid A, while one made-for-TV warrior--his carbo-loaded jowls powdered white à la Brando's Colonel Kurtz--appears onscreen to toss his nemesis from the ring like a sack of soggy laundry. "I get the dumb metal spinning, then I throw in whatever I feel like. Maybe a little Ziggy Stardust," Smitt says with a what-the-hell wink.

Across the balcony from the DJ's perch, local wrestling impresario Eddie Sharkey, the endearingly brusque, appropriately squat 65-year-old operator behind tonight's event, dubbed "Blood in the Snow," is sipping his second gratis brandy from a plastic glass and surveying the fight card, which features eight bouts and is scribbled on a cocktail napkin. "We've got something for everyone tonight: big guys, small guys, pretty girls," he says, looking fit enough to take a run or two at the turnbuckle himself. "Sometimes a place pays us a lot of money and wants the very best. That's not the situation here. They pay us less and I get a chance to give some guys a shot. The first four matches have some wrestlers who don't have much experience. Then the last four matches have some wrestlers who have a good following."

The first fight features Candy, new to the ring's regimen, and Violet, not much more experienced, but appreciably more buff and dressed to accentuate her attributes in a fishnet body stocking, studded leather shorts, and matching bra. "They really like to watch the girls at this place," Sharkey exclaims, as the two clumsily scrap on the canvas below. "And I'll tell you, no one hates each other like women wrestlers."

In response to the action, the crowd begins to circle, literally and figuratively; hollering, heckling, jeering, and joking. There is a pre-vaudevillian dance-hall air to the proceedings, a kind of participatory theater of abuse in which rotten tomatoes and the shepherd's hook have been replaced by fans' improvised one-liners and insults.

"Oh c'mon, that's not very ladylike," one female enthusiast shouts.

"Ya ain't no shrinking violet, Violet," retorts another, who then revels in the peals of approving laughter.

"Hey, girls, don't quit your night job," someone calls from the balcony. Across the room: "Quit playin' house." The club breaks into a chorus of boisterous boos.

"This is a rough place," Sharkey says, almost in disbelief. "It's not like other places. You make a mistake and they let you know."

The next three bouts bring much of the same, both between the ropes and from the faithful. "When they're inexperienced, they don't develop any psychology. There's no story," Sharkey explains. "A good fight has to have a beginning, middle, and end. You need to be a good crowd psychologist to make it in this business."

At intermission, Charles Amdahl, a local defense attorney, former college wrestler, and Sharkey patron wanders through an improvised greenroom off the balcony to size up the competitors, who are huddled in twos and fours, fiddling with their sparse costumes and collaborating on match strategy. "If anyone thinks rock 'n' roll is any more real than this, they're confused. It's all about performance. It's all about passion," he yells as Korn screams through the sound system. "I mean, why is this less of an art than smoking dope and throwing paint on a wall?"

By the time the night's best brawl gets under way, more than a few of those Uptown hipsters Sawyer was missing have made their way in from the mid-January chill for last call. And as O.D.B. (One Dirty Bitch) holds her own with Cujo the Dog of War, the Black Stallion; and Scottie Zappa--three men twice her size--the ironic smiles and practiced poses fall away.

"Who wears short shorts?"

"Go for the super G spot!"

"We come for blood in the snow. Blood in the snoooow."

"Hey, Black Stallion, you're going to get your ass whupped by a woman."

"We came for"

And finally, the evening's chant de grace: "Kick her dick. Kick her dick. Kick her dick."

Amdahl breathes in the mayhem: "See, man, I love that chick in the silver pants ass. For her to be hurt would cause me trauma." Then he leans in for emphasis. "And that, my friend, is drama."

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