No doubt, Las Vegas is a place for fighting. The city is the undisputed boxing capital of the world, as well as the headquarters for mixed martial arts powerhouse the UFC. These professional sports, as well as the amateur leagues and training facilities they foster, offer locals and tourists alike no shortage of brute athleticism in battle. So, where does that leave professional wrestling? Are its predetermined outcomes, spandex fashions and finishing moves with names like “the camel clutch” and “the pedigree” choking on the dust of MMA?
You might ask one of the hundreds of people gathered inside the Future Stars of Wrestling arena Sunday night during the anniversary show, but it’s too crowded and loud for serious conversation, and, really, I guess that answers the question on its own. The only chair not occupied is located inside the ring, and it is being slammed against some dude’s head. The crash is loud, the cheers and screams from the crowd even louder. This is no longer the real world, but a carefully crafted universe where people can easily be categorized as good guy or bad guy (aka: heels) and political correctness is pushed aside in favor of easy-to-hate entities like the Hater Nation and Enemies of the State.
To a layman, the most common descriptor for all this is “fake,” but don’t tell any of the FSW crew that. The organization began hosting events two years ago this week and expanded to include a training facility a year ago. They know better than anyone the physicality involved. Head trainer Mike Modest, a former pro wrestler himself and trainer to various stars in the WWE, recalls a would-be wrestler who came in and quit after day one because of the weeks of conditioning and training required. “He really thought he’d come here, get a cool name, learn a finishing move and be done with it,” he says, “but there’s obviously a lot more to it.”
Many wrestling moves (like the clothesline) are based in martial arts like aikido, says Modest, and could actually be used in real defensive situations. Basic wrestling moves, like the kind boys learn in gym class, are taught early on for foundation. It will take a typical student six months to reach his first body slam and even longer before making it to the official roster, which includes training students from the facility, more established wrestlers from the region (San Francisco, Reno, Arizona) and former WWE stars like Kizarny.
Then there’s the audience factor. “If the crowd can’t get behind you, if you can’t connect with them somehow, that leads to problems,” says FSW owner Joe DeFalco, who writes the plotlines for all FSW shows. The audience is expected to cheer or heckle, and the wrestlers dish insults right back. Homemade signs are common, as is a wrestler grabbing a fan sign for a competitor and tearing it apart. At the anniversary show, a diehard fan rests his shoe on the metal barricade separating the audience from the ring. Without missing a beat, a wrestler takes his opponent and throws him forward, seemingly bouncing his head off the fan’s shoe.
Many describe wrestling as the male version of a soap opera because of high-drama moments like these. For Ryan Clay, a correctional officer who transforms himself into heel Leon Hater (of the Hater Nation) when inside the ring at FSW, this was the appeal growing up. “I was athletic and always played sports, but I liked the stage and theater. This was the perfect mix,” he explains.
Sometimes people are surprised at his preferred form of entertainment, expecting the attractive, physically fit, real-life-hero type to prefer something not involving so much spandex. Yet, you’d be surprised at who’s watching. According to the WWE, pro wrestling is broadcast in 30 languages to 145 countries and is viewed by 500 million homes worldwide. Statistically speaking, there aren’t that many rednecks around, so someone else must be watching.
- Future Stars of Wrestling
- June 24, 7:30 p.m.
- 6658 Boulder Highway
- Saturday night, 2 a.m., CW
- Beyond the Weekly
“Wrestling has a lot of closet fans,” notes DeFalco. “A lot of people don’t advertise that they watch, but they do, or they used to, and they have some interest.” He says that more than half of the audience includes families with children. “It’s not that we’re showing kiddie stuff, just that we won’t need the half-naked women around and tons of cursing.”
Plus, you can’t curse on TV, and FSW has its own Saturday night (technically Sunday) CW show at 2 a.m. called High Octane. FSW also has an online show through Blip.tv, meaning non-local people can watch. Clay says his grandma in England loves it, and anecdotal evidence suggests strangers are taking notice, too.
“I was in Big 5 of all places, and some guy recognized me from the show,” says Clay. “He told me he wasn’t sure if he should say something because they’re not supposed to talk to celebrities. Apparently Paris Hilton had been in before, and they are supposed to pretend they’re normal people. Ha! I’m not anybody, so it was funny being compared to Paris.”
(An aside: Nobody knows what Paris was doing inside Big 5.)
Not resting on laurels or loyal fans, Clay, who handles marketing for FSW, is focusing on expanding the company’s reach. “Most people don’t know we exist,” he says. “We want them to, because if they are fans of wrestling and check us out once, we know they’ll enjoy it.” He’s working on deals with Living Social and Groupon, as well as trying to build up the company’s social media and brand sponsorships. That stuff worked for the MMA community, so he thinks it can work for them, too.
“None of us are looking to get rich here,” says Clay. “We do all this for the same reason some dude goes Downtown every month on First Friday to play some small bar … we do it because we love it.”