What are your thoughts on intergender wrestling?
Like most questions it has (at the very least) two answers, and like some questions with two very logically sound answers it leaves me a bit torn.
Of course: women have every right to be treated with equality, whether in wrestling or otherwise. Seeing women hold their own against men in live-action combat-theater (I hope Mike Quackenbush hasn’t trademarked that term; it’s a great description tool.) empowers girls and young women to learn to stand up for themselves and compete in once gender-separate endeavors.
Of course not: it’s not cool for young men to become desensitized to seeing men hit women through its normalization in art.
When I see some audiences stand up in cheer at a stand-off between two opposite sex opponents; I tend to lean towards the former.
When I hear the loud cheers from young men - whom I might be inclined to pre-judge as involuntarily celibate - when a woman gets Superkicked or Powerbombed or Ace-Crushed, I can’t help but feel more than a bit icky and tend to lean towards the latter.
Because of my dueling dual-thoughts on the subject and in light of the fact that I was scheduled to wrestle a young female wrestlestudent of Glenn Jacobs (Kane) and (Dr.) Tom Prichard named Kenzie Paige, I decided to reach out to some of my friends and colleagues to see their opinions.
I decided to start with my upcoming opponent. Here’s what Kenzie Paige had to say:
“I personally believe intergender wrestling is more entertaining. It’s one thing to see a female do something to another girl but seeing her being powerful enough to do it to a man is shocking. In ways it’s inspiring for people who watch the sport of professional wrestling: seeing a woman hold her own against a man, no matter how big or small; just a female defying the odds. It brings about equality in all aspects of the sport. Girls should be able to dish it out and take it. There’s a lot of controversy on the topic of intergender wrestling, but if a woman wants to step in the ring with a man there should be no reason why they can’t step in the ring and create magic. Looking forward to our match!”
Kenzie was very much on my Answer 1.) side of things, but more than just agreeing with that side, she said something that sparked new thought: to her, it’s more entertaining because it’s shocking.
Let’s have an old rule breaking look under the hood of professional wrestling, shall we?
One of the first things that was drilled into my head as a wrestlestudent was storytelling.
“Great wrestlers tell great stories in the ring.” Was the mantra of many of the oldtimers I came up around. What they meant was using movements (including and especially facial movements) and sounds to create a book or movie or play within the match that held people’s attention like those other storytelling mediums.
One thing I don’t think that many of them considered was, beyond structure, what makes a good story: something unusual.
You see, another thing that was drilled into me was the importance of realism.
I’ll explain the contradiction I see between those two wrestling ethics, shortly, but first let’s explore the thoughts of another person I asked about intergender wrestling, a friend of mine from my days on the Pursuit Channel’s Traditional Championship Wrestling, a wrestler named “The Golden Boy” Greg Anthony, who is also a promoter and outspoken social media (and otherwise) critic of many aspects of current wrestling trends.
“I am completely against intergender wrestling. I believe that professional wrestling in its most successful form must be based in reality. Intergender matches tend to lean towards the sports entertainment side of our business. I think that sports entertainment is unnecessary because great wrestling is already entertaining. I understand the kayfabe era is viewed as passe but in my experience making people believe and creating suspension of disbelief is the lifeblood of our business. With that being said, other athletic competitions always separate male and female competitors. The NBA has not and likely will not merge with the WNBA. In MMA, we separate gender and weight classes not to diminish anyone but to make it a fair competition.
From a storytelling standpoint it's a lose-lose situation. If a male competitor defeats a female competitor he is viewed more as a bully rather than a competent athlete. If he loses to a female competitor then he is viewed as weak. While this might not be politically correct the fact is: men are statistically stronger and faster than women. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule but it doesn't change the rule. Woman should forge their own path instead of trying to be ‘The Man’.” Writes Greg Anthony.
One of the reasons I asked Greg was because I knew he would share his opinion with unapologetic honesty; something that I very much appreciate and value. That being said, a major point of his argument against intergender wrestling is so far outside of my paradigm of pro wrestling that it begins to leak into a different (though related) subject and frequently asked question that deserves it’s own article (“Would you do that in a real fight?” Coming soon to Fightful.com.). For now, let’s just dip our toes in.
The main disconnect between Kenzie’s view and Greg’s view seems to be the same disconnect I first perceived between the emphasis on storytelling and the emphasis on realism.
Kenzie thinks intergender wrestling makes for a better story because it’s not necessarily rooted in reality. This is where I take a hard stance against my WrestleElders Wrestligious Dogma on the ethic of realism and side with my WrestleJunior.
Real realism in storytelling is dogsh** storytelling. Stories are worth being told because something about them is greater than mundane reality.
If I said, “Did you hear about the child that fell and rolled into a car jack?”
And you said, “Nah?”
And I said, “Yeah, his mom watched helplessly while he was crushed to death.”
And after waiting impatiently to see if there’s more to the story, and coming to the conclusion that there’s not.
Then you should probably promptly Judo Chop me in the throat and then - and only then - as I roll around on the floor coughing and gagging - should you say, “Why in the f*** would you tell me that sh**y f***ing story?!”
Then, if I replied, “Because: *cough* it’s *gag* realistic *cough*!” You should probably put the boots to me like you’re trying to pledge your allegiance to the nWo circa 1996.
But...if I said, “ “Did you hear about the child that fell and rolled into a car jack?”
And you said, “Nah?”
And I said, “Yeah, his mom somehow heard him scream from her upstairs room, from down the street and ran down the stairs and out the door faster than she would have thought possible with her hip issues. She said it felt like she was floating, like being carried by the strongest wind. She said time seemed slow to the point of almost stopping. The horrified faces of her neighbors seemed like portraits of the soon to be extinct staring up at an asteroid. She said she felt like a beam of light from the hottest star in the Universe. She said, as she caught sight of her beloved son that she had tried for so-many seemingly hopeless, heartbreaking years to conceive, bleeding out onto the concrete with ‘save me, mommy’ in his rapidly darkening eyes that her heart seemed to descend into her stomach only to suddenly explode like a nuclear fireblast that seemed to come from the collective hearts of every mother who ever knew the pain of losing a child and fill her physical being the strength of every woman who ever pushed a brand new human being out of their body. With a scream that one neighbor described as ‘a sound that could turn your bones to dust’, the frail woman who waddled a bit when she went to check the mail in the afternoon lifted the sport utility vehicle off of her baby boy. The ambulance arrived at just the right time. The boy arrived at the hospital at just the right time. The mother now has back problems to go with her hip issues, but says, ‘There’s not a day that I’m not in pain, but there’s also not a single moment I’m not thankful for that pain, every day.’
Then you might actually want to hang out with me without knife-edging my Adam’s Apple with your strong hand.
Good stories aren’t about what commonly happens, there about the exceptions to the usual rules of reality.
So, I do believe that a woman being empowered physically, mentally, and spiritually enough to test her prowess against the top male athletes in the World is a good story, whether you want to debate it’s “realism” or not.
One thing that Greg said that directly addresses my Answer 2.) concerns is the idea that a male wrestler defeating a woman wrestler in physical competition could end up looking more like sadistic abuse (bullying, as he put it).
So, we’ve come all this way to come back to square(d-circle) one?
***Jump Cut To Post Jason Kincaid vs Kenzie Page Match***
Damn, that’s one of the best matches I’ve had in months. I think as the referee’s hand hits the mat for the third time with me being on the winning side.
There’s a split in the crowd between people standing and fervently applauding the story of strength of spirit and the spirit of equality and people who are less than psyched that I won it.
“Great f***ing match, Kenzie!” I whisper loudly down at the mat.
The applause turns to “That-Was-Awesome!” chants. I look at the people chanting they don’t look like incels happy to see a man defeat a woman, they look like people who bought a ticket to live-combat-theater to lose their worries in a better-than-reality story.
I look around to show that I appreciate those fan’s appreciation. There’s a few hecklers cussing me to leave the ring. I feign like I’m about to leave the ring, but pause as my head dips through the ropes and look back into the ring, back at Kenzie who’s still laying on the mat showing the pain of the match.
I grab the microphone from the ring announcer who is standing by and come back to the center of the ring. My music stops playing. The fans who were chanting go quiet in respect. The pissed off hecklers scream for me to leave.
Kenzie pushes herself up to her knees, there’s tears forming in her eyes. I know those tears, they’re not tears from pain, they’re the tears I had in my eyes when I found my myself alone, again, after Jake Roberts - my dead grandfather’s favorite wrestler - told me that I was a “helluva worker”, they’re the same tears I had in my eyes when I was asked to hold a seminar for Japanese wrestlers in Japan. Those were the well-known-tears of earning respect, feeling validated, of being rewarded with something you can be proud of after all the painful failures that come with trying to learn a highly skilled craft.
“You know, I came into this match not even knowing your name.” I said, giving just enough pause for drama but not enough to get cut off by the hecklers, before adding, “But after the match you just gave me: I’ll never forget the name Kenzie Paige!”
With that I dropped down to one knee and offered my hand in a show of respect, the hecklers had hushed.
By the time her hand reached out to shake mine, even the hecklers were clapping.
By the time I help her up to her feet, the hecklers are on their feet as well.
By the time Kenzie and I embraced in a hug and I was reiterating “F***ing great, Kenzie! I mean it!” and by the time her well-known-to-fellow-joy-cryer tears were falling on my shoulder, the once-hecklers, who may have seen me as a bully a few moments before, were joining the second round of “That-Was-Awesome!”
And that was awesome.
So, what are my thoughts on intergender wrestling, now?
It can be a powerful medium for creating works of art to help us - for those brief moments - work together to transcend a reality that something inside of us feels should be better than it usually is, but like all powerful tools it should be used responsibly and with the best intentions.
You know, like all forms of art.