I have worked in professional theatre for the vast majority of my adult life. As such, most of my friends over the years have been actors and actresses, and when they inevitably discover my wrestling fandom, I always try and give some remark couched in theatre history. I try and draw a parallel between the morality plays of the 15th century, and the spectacle of the gladiator shows from the Roman Empire. I say that wrestling is a natural progression of humanity’s need for catharsis, and how professional wrestling is one of the last true good versus evil based storytelling methods in a world where drama has increasing shades of gray. Wrestling, I say to them, at it’s best, can be watched by anyone, and that person will instinctively root for the conquering hero to swiftly and brutally dispatch the cowardly and dastardly villain.
Of course more often than not, wrestling is a bit more complicated than that. In the unlikely event that someone buys the aforementioned bullshit stock response I use, they are often faced with an almost insurmountable task of knowing where to begin. Everyone reading this has the same experience: a loved one wants to sit down with us and understand just what it is we are so obsessed with. They tasked us with finding the best matches and angles we can think of. We rack our brains, and come up with a mixtape, a playlist, an afternoon of sitting on the couch and watching wrestling, and it seems like the perfect thing until you slowly realize that you don’t have the slightest idea where to begin.
For all my talk about good and evil, black and white, morality and so on, modern wrestling has become an almost never ending sequel, an inbred mythology that somehow stands precariously on its own shoulders. Think about your favorite match. Can you show it to someone without explaining months of backstory? Would they know why the crowd is booing one person, why they cheered so loud when someone ran to the rescue? It’s a daunting and frustrating task to find a match that can hook someone in on its own, and it often makes me wonder how we became fans in the first place.
These thoughts came to mind this week when I watched the brawl between Rush and LA Park from Elite.
Since watching it, I’ve thought about it almost constantly, and I have decided that more than any other match in recent memory, it comes the closest to working as wrestling without context. Wrestling as a violent pantomime and nothing more. Wrestling as morality. I don’t think it’s the best match ever or anything like that, but in an art form that often starts out slow or intentionally stretches story lines to fill hours and months of television, I would contend that Rush/LA Park works tremendously well as an introduction to wrestling and as a semi complete narrative.
The video I watched starts with both men on the ramp, and with a simple shrug and gesture from Park, the tone is immediately set. He’s portly, masked, obviously older. He’s still confident, still cool, still in command. It’s an archetype we see in all forms of entertainment and even sport: the aged superstar who is not going to go down without a fight. His slightest movement sends ripples of adulation through the crowd.
Rush is almost subconsciously cast as the villain before he can even resort to anything actually underhanded. He is physically the opposite of Park, young, handsome, fit. His boots and curls combine to give a sense of self cultivation. If Park is the aging superstar, Rush is cast perfectly as a living embodiment of the next generation, a preening, scowling primadonna. Park gains sympathy by forcing his body to do things it shouldn’t, willing himself in to the match. Rush poses and scowls and reminds us all of our inevitable fear of youth culture and being supplanted by someone younger.
Lucha Libre, more so than any other form of professional wrestling, is inherently symbolic, and is a war of masculinity rather than a war of moves and physicality. It’s a war with it’s own bizarre rules of etiquette, and for wrestling viewers used to the pomp of WWE or the stoic brilliance of Japan, diving in to Lucha Libre can often feel like trying to play croquet with the Queen of Hearts. That being said, without any context, it is clear to almost anyone that ripping violently at an opponent’s mask before nonchalantly walking away is patently disrespectful, an assertion of dominance. Like something you’d see in the wild, two wolves circling, the pack gathered around, waiting wearily for the outcome. It appeals to a nature within us that doesn’t need narrative. It simply needs biology.
I encourage you to watch the match, and my intention with this article is not to offer play by play. Frankly, there are too many moments of wonderful struggle, too many things that seem epic, and as I have it on in the background and try and get my thoughts together, I find myself going off on tangents about both competitors and their hairstyles and what it says about generational differences. That is to say, It’s all too fascinating for me. They fight in the crowd and hit each other hard with hard objects. They continue to fight well after the referee told them not to. They motion for a mask vs. hair match, throw punches as trash rains down upon them, and dive on each other in form of one upmanship totally unique to professional wrestling. As Rush leaves, content to fight another day, his blood lust sated for the moment, Park returns to the ring and drinks in the adulation of the crowd and is faced on some level with mortality. The fans in the arena shower him with money, and he waves almost bashfully before using a previously tossed soda cup to collect everything. It’s a decidedly human moment to end a viscerally animalistic experience.
I hope you watch it, especially if you know nothing about Lucha Libre. I hope you watch it if you know nothing about professional wrestling. I hope you go in with no context and let two men and no words and your own thoughts on life and power and love and struggle walk you through a rare wrestling match that serves as a true beginning. It is a wrestling match, a very good one. It’s a rare once upon a time in a fairy tale that began one hundred years ago.