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The Ballance Sheet #1 : The Truth About Wrestling

CC2012 04Hi, folks, and welcome to the first edition of “The Ballance Sheet” in this format- my guide to the often weird, occasionally wonderful world of independent wrestling.

By way of introduction, I’m Gary Ballance, and I’ve been involved in the independent wrestling scene since 2005, and been a fan of wrestling for twenty of my twenty eight years. I go by the name “Bingo Ballance” during my forays into the squared circle. Why, you may ask?

In short, the “Bingo” name was given to me, and I hated it at first. I hated it for many years. At times, I’m actually still tempted to change it, but it’s stuck, and is kinda catchy. Moreover, I spent many years working hard under the name, and built up a fairly respectable reputation using it so, in a way, changing it would feel like starting again, and undoing a lot of hard graft. That doesn’t really appeal.

At the end of the day, a name’s just a name- it’s what you do with it that counts. Dolph Ziggler has amassed such an incredible body of great matches in the last few years that people have just forgotten about his slightly dodgy name, and focused on his talent; proof, in itself, that anybody can break free from the shackles of a bad name.

As I say, I’ve been involved in wrestling for close to eight years, working a good deal, in my early years, all over Ireland, before branching out into Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, and occasionally Germany. I’ve dealt with a fair few of my travel stories in the blogs on my Facebook page and on my Blogger site but I don’t want to rehash them in this. Whether or not this actually comes to fruition, my aim is to give a little insight into the world of indy wrestling- from my own point of view, at least- and deal with the various aspects of what we do.

For a first article, I’ve set myself the relatively auspicious task of trying to debunk some of the usual insults or slurs thrown at wrestling, and try to explain its appeal. So, I will attempt to do so. Where we go from there is really up to you. The more feedback I get on what you want to read about, the better. So, Tweet the Irish News Review Twitter using the hashtag #BallanceSheet, or leave a comment on the FB page.

Anyway, off we go…

Let’s open with probably the most commonly-asked question that any wrestler faces: “is it fake?” Well, yes and no, though I think few would use the word “fake.” Wrestling is pre-determined, so the result has been decided in advance, and both wrestlers are working toward that end. Though there’s a certain cooperation between them, injuries can (and do) happen from time-to-time. It’s a full-contact sport (of sorts), so there’s always an inherent risk of something going wrong.

I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have never suffered a serious injury over the years, though I’ve borne witness to some pretty nasty accidents during my time. Back in 2008, for example, Vic Viper and Mad Man Manson were having a ‘Chain Match’ in Cork; both guys fought while attached by their wrist to a chain. In a completely freak accident, Vic hit Manson with one of his regular moves- the Venom’s Kiss, a reverse brainbuster- and the chain (which had a good deal of slack) ended up hitting Manson in the mouth, breaking a few of his teeth. If that doesn’t make you wince, you’re made of stronger stuff than I…

Accidents aside, even a standard match takes its toll on the body. Wrestling rings are framed with heavy steel, floored with wooden boards, then covered with a layer of padding (which varies according to how much the promoter is willing to spend on the safety and well-being of their wrestlers.) I’ve wrestled in rings where the ‘padding’ has amounted to a few carpet samples dotted about; which is, in essence, like taking falls and slams on wood and steel (i.e. not pleasant.) I’ve also wrestled in rings which were padded so well with foam that they were difficult to run and move about in! There’s a healthy balance, if you’ll excuse the first of many balance-related puns to come.

Along with the steel, boards and padding, some rings will often have a spring in the centre, which helps to absorb some of the impact of the falls (or “bumps”, to give them their technical term.) That said, if a ring isn’t properly set up, the spring might have no effect, and taking a bump is like landing on concrete (i.e. not pleasant.) Spring or no spring, the bumps do damage, regardless.

Another aspect of the “not fake” business is the theoretical cooperation of the participants. Much like people are fascinated with the legendary backstage bust-ups of the movie industry, often the behind-the-scenes antics in wrestling can prove equally interesting. If you’re wrestling another guy in a match, you’re entrusting your safety and well-being to them, and there’s a great deal of trust and cooperation necessitated. Imagine when that trust breaks down in the middle of a match, and the punches or forearm strikes start landing harder than you’d like. It can get interesting…

For a “TL;DR” answer to the above question: Yes, it’s pre-determined. Yes, it hurts. Yes, we’re really hitting each other, but no, we’re not aiming to hurt each other. (Usually.) Like magic, it’s sleight of hand, and theatricality.

Another common misconception is that it’s just a load of fat guys in shiny, customised briefs slapping each other. Yes, there is that element, but there’s so much more. There are also a load of in-shape guys in briefs slapping each other! Seriously, though, there’s a lot more to wrestling than that.

Wrestling, in its purest form, is entertainment; a dazzling mix of pantomime, live theatre, sports, and stunt work, designed to have widespread appeal. Done well, wrestling is a variety show, with a bit of everything. Big guys, small guys, fast guys, strong guys, women, singles matches, tag matches, good guys, bad guys, and everything in between.

As someone with an interest in wrestling, but also films and television, the chance to do something combining sports, athleticism and acting is hugely appealing.

Strangely, there’s still a kind of aversion from elements of the general public towards wrestling, like it’s something seedy and perverted. I’ll admit that the scene itself can be quite poisonous at times, with a good deal of bitching, backstabbing and the likes, but the shows, themselves, are family-oriented. It’s not like one of these “after-school specials” you hear about from the States, where little Johnny is taught the value of saying no to drugs, or not getting into an unmarked van with a salivating pederast offering Oreos and Cherry Coke, but the classic ‘good vs evil’ story is clearly set out, and kids are encouraged to cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys. In a way, it’s fairly wholesome entertainment, and really does attract and engage people of all ages.

What attracts people to wrestling is really subjective; some see it as a soap opera for guys, and love the storylines and angles. Others like the actual wrestling, itself, and seeing two (or more) guys put on a great, thrilling match. Others, still, like the spectacle, the bright costumes, and the whole presentation. Each to their own, but there’s more to wrestling than meets the eye, and those open-minded enough to give it a chance often find that they enjoy it more than they think they will.

Next time, I hope to give an insight into what happens on a typical show, and the various problems that wrestlers and promoters can face on ‘show day.’

‘Til next time, folks, thanks for reading.

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