Hey there everyone! My name is JR Goldberg (@wrestlingbubble), and I’m very excited to be here at Voices of Wrestling. If you aren’t familiar with me or my column, I write about my life and the events that surrounded my going to independent wrestling shows. I often think we look at matches, but we don’t look at where we were in our lives, and what we brought to those special nights in overcrowded high school gyms and converted bingo halls. As a rule, I will rewatch the match in question, but I try to do everything else from memory, so if I get details or timelines wrong, please forgive me. I think part of the exercise and the column is my perspective and memories, and how inherently biased and unreliable it is. If you followed me over from Wrestling With Words, thank you for your continued patronage. If you’ve never read my work before, I hope above all else that you enjoy it and that it makes you think about your own time as a fan, and the memories you have that are shaped by this passion we all share. Please feel free to contact me on twitter or in the comments here! I look forward to hearing from you all.
I met a girl at a Social Distortion concert. I was wearing a black cowboy hat for some reason. It seemed like a good idea at the time. She brushed shoulders with me and flicked the hat off my head and looked up at me with a flirtatious defiance. She had a nice smile and a tattoo of a revolver on her breast. We started seeing each other pretty shortly after that and it was one of those perfect early twenties relationships that could better be described as a learning experience. I was head over heels for this girl with a substance abuse problem and she was on the rebound from the guy she had been seeing since high school. I didn’t want to save her, I just wanted to feel the way she made me feel all the time. We would go to bars and guys would flirt with her and hit on her and I would hear her laugh from across the room as she got herself a coke and me a beer and I would never get jealous because for those moments I knew that we were purely for each other. We would go back to my house on the west side of Cleveland and she would pick a movie and I would inevitably pass out and when I would wake up she’d still be watching the television. I thought it was odd, the sign of a troubled heart or a restless head, but then she’d look over and smile and I’d feel like the coolest person in the world.
By June we were bored and the Cleveland summer was getting to us and I was desperately trying to hang on to the barest threads of a relationship. She wanted to escape and I was more than happy to get in the car and go somewhere, anywhere. First, we drove to the airport and walked up to the counter and asked how much flights to Las Vegas would cost. When that failed, we drove east. She sat in the passenger seat, the window down, wearing over large sunglasses, eating candy from a plastic bag and switching albums every couple of songs. In my head we looked as cool as the cartoon from that Sonic Youth album cover but in actuality I’m sure she looked that cool and I looked the the guy who was too eager to please.
I had an ulterior motive for driving east. On June 11, one day after we set out on our trip, The Necro Butcher and Samoa Joe were going to kill each other in Philadelphia. It seemed like a thing I should witness. I had resigned myself to watching it later on DVD, but I once I got consent for an open ended road trip I took it as a sign from God. Once we passed Pittsburgh I confessed my plan and it was met with a mixture of incredulity, curiosity and good humor. I bartered full control of the radio for the rest of the trip and she assented. We had a destination, an official one, and not even listening to the same US Bombs songs over and over could curb my excitement.
For the last two hours I tried in vain to prepare her for what she was about to see. I don’t know if you all know this, but it’s hard to give someone a grasp of IWA-MS when their only point of reference is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. I told her about CM Punk, and Homicide, and even a little about Tracy Smothers, who had a match against a heel Claudio Castagnoli. But most of my words were spent talking about The Necro Butcher.
It’s difficult to set about describing someone’s aura, and yet that’s what I found myself doing for the Necro Butcher. I tried to give analogies, but I felt all of them somehow sold him short. Sure, in some ways, he’s like an angry homeless man who just sort of wandered into a wrestling show, and in some ways he’s basically like your friend’s crazy dad after eight beers. Anything I tried to say, I found I would immediately follow with a frustrated no no, that’s not really it either. It all made him sound like sort of a goof, someone that shouldn’t be taken seriously. I settled on something to the effect of you’re just going to have to see him.
There is something inherently thrilling about two tough men getting in each other’s face. In 2005, I believed that Samoa Joe and Necro Butcher were the two toughest men in the world, and I was fully prepared to see them topple buildings, and move mountains. I was preparing myself mentally for civilian death to surround me as they fought through the crowd. I’m sure I was smiling ear to ear. I felt like I was in a vacuum, the world melted around me as both men took turns throwing Bryce Remsburg like a ragdoll with sideburns. Everyone stood with me.
I’ve been in louder buildings because I’ve been to shows like WrestleMania, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a match where the crowd was louder per person, if that makes sense. I looked over to my companion and she was seemingly transfixed. On some level, it’s human nature to be entranced by people larger than us hitting each other very hard. Neither man seemed willing or capable to give ground, and the forearms felt endless. When they finally gave way to a dive from Joe and the match spilled into the crowd as we all knew it would eventually, there was a palpable feeling of relief mixed with the very present sense of danger. Headbutts gave the crowd their first glimpse of blood. Necro throwing chair after chair after chair at a prone Joe showed that it’s possible that these men hurt and feel pain like we do.
Less than a minute later, Joe picks up Necro Butcher for a powerslam and drops him unceremoniously on his forehead on the concrete. Necro Butcher grabs his face and squints his eyes and I always felt in that moment he looked oddly childlike, the same basic, honest expression of pain that we have when we first fall off a swing, or slip down the steps. A few more unprotected shots to the head, which I’m sure I screamed my head off for, and both men are meandering back towards the ring, and we have our first cover, the faintest hint that this is still a wrestling match and not a comic book battle played out before us.
I think it’s a sort of lovely touch that Necro Butcher is the one who ends up using the ropes for momentum in this match. Joe is this mythical otherworldly ass kicker. Necro—at his core—is humanity at its basest and most powerful. Despite his reputation, in this scenario, he is the one who has to rely on things that would normally work in the confines of a wrestling match. Also guardrails. He relies on those too. He pastes Joe with one. It’s beautiful and immediate, like seeing a car on fire on the side of the road and feeling the heat through the windshield. The suplex from the apron to the floor that happens right after is like watching that car explode in your rear view windshield right as you drive by it and having your whole body involuntarily shudder and flinch.
The crowd chanted “holy shit” which sums it up but in retrospect I wish we had agreed on something less hackneyed. So many matches had moments that made us chant that. Doing so here felt as though we were diminishing what was in front of us by comparing it to things that had come before. I don’t blame the crowd. At that moment in time, all we could do was mark out. I was in awe of Joe. To take the punishment he had and still be able to stand up and look unflappable was inspiring. As Joe paced before his opponent, the crowd chanting his name, nodding along like a prize fighter on his way to the ring, I couldn’t help but think, over and over, you’re so cool, you’re so cool. He flexed as he covered Necro, and the world was gelatin to be molded in his hands. As Necro kicks out, the cool veneer is broken and Joe shows doubt, and frustration, and finally anger, and with each slap and knee strike the blood flew off of Necro Butcher’s face like a mist. Necro finally falls, his body reaching its limit. When he is finally stationary, the blood changes from a mist to an ever expanding pool. It grows larger than I can fathom over the course of ten seconds. The bell rings. Whatever we just witnessed had finished. I felt like I had flexed every muscle in my body for ten minutes. I felt like I hadn’t taken a breath. We filed out after that, sweaty, into a summer night in an unfamiliar city.
After a moment’s recovery, we spent the night in a hotel about an hour outside of Philly. We had no plans, nothing to go back to in Cleveland, but we felt compelled to get on the road nonetheless. That city has a strange siren’s call to all its residents. We stopped at a gas station and I bought a few beers and some ice and two packs of cigarettes and we flipped through channels and shared an ashtray and for a brief moment it seemed like I’d never have a better day in my entire life. The low buzz of the air conditioner and struggling to hear the sounds coming from programs we didn’t even care about and the the minor annoyances of the ashtray shifting as we moved under the sheets seemed like a perfect view through a porthole into a life domestic. She was quiet, she had been all trip, for weeks if I really thought about it, but a comment here or there still made her laugh that same floating laugh I’d hear from when we would first hang out at the bar by my house. I closed my eyes, and I felt, if not bliss, something approaching content. Like always, I fell asleep first. I don’t know how long I was out, but I woke up to her head on my chest and her arm draped across my body. She whispered when she felt me shift, and she told me she’d had a great time with me. She rolled over and I closed my eyes again. When we got back to Cleveland, I’d drop her off, and whenever I called her house someone else would always pick up the phone—and she’d always be out, or doing something else—they’d promise to take a message.
A few months later, the DVD of the show arrived in the mail and I spent an evening trying to find us in the crowd.