The Ballance Sheet #8 : Collaboration The Name Of The Game


Wrestling is fascinating. It doesn’t fit neatly within any one category of entertainment, yet its very hybrid nature means it has mass appeal across a number of genders and demographics. It’s watched by people for various reasons, and different aspects of the production appeal to different people. Some latch on to the over-the-top storylines; like a soap opera for guys. Some enjoy the matches, others the characters. Others, still, watch for different reasons entirely. There is truly something for everyone, though – wrestling is, at the end of the day, a variety show.

Similarly, the reasons people have for actually getting involved in wrestling vary. I’ve met people from such a diverse selection of backgrounds through wrestling- it’s truly incredible.

Those in wrestling, too, approach and view it in different ways. From a personal standpoint, I find entertainment, in general, quite interesting, and I’ve tried to experience a wide range of media- music, acting, comedy, dance- in order to gain a broad understanding of how they engage an audience. In particular, I have an interest in collaborative entertainment; bands or orchestras making music together, actors working on a scene or production together, dance troupes like Diversity or Prodijig working together to create astounding performances. The skill involved in working with others to this degree is impressive.

The feeling of working with someone else to entertain an audience is a high – a fantastic, incomparable high- and wrestling, for me, is ultimately a collaboration; on a micro level, between the participants in each of the individual matches and, on a macro level, between all the wrestlers on a show, and the promoter and other staff, to create an entertaining and enjoyable experience for an audience.

For me, as I say, ‘collaboration’ is the name of the game; working together to create an entertaining match, and an engaging story. Sometimes that collaboration is easy, and sometimes it’s not. When it hasn’t been easy, some of the following have come into play…

Time Constraints

If you’re working with someone for the first time, it does kinda help to have a bit of time with them, chat for a bit, and get a feel for how they like to work. Sometimes, though, on the day of a show, things can get mad, and a little chaotic, and the time simply isn’t there. Any number of things can go wrong, and have gone wrong, in my experience.

At a DCW show in 2011, we ran out of electrical tape for a new set of ring ropes, and had to wait for a number of people to return from a DIY store, so we could complete the setup of the ring. On a CCW show last year, a new ring had been bought, and we had to saw and shape the wooden boards that form the ‘floor’ of the ring before we could finish the setup. On a number of other shows, stuff from the ring was missing- the canvas, the bottom rope, the apron skirt that goes around the ring.

Similarly, if any of the parties to a match are late arriving to the venue, that can affect the time to chat, as well. I’ve been on both ends of that. I’ve been the one waiting in the venue for the guy(s) I’m working with, and I’ve also been the one to arrive later, stressed and frazzled out of my gourd. The trek to a venue is dark and full of terrors, to borrow a line from Game of Thrones.

The time allotted to a match can also be a big factor. Generally, each match on a show is afforded a certain amount of time so, if someone exceeds their time, it may often cut into the time allowed to the matches that follow it. Again, I’ve been on both ends of this. Early in my career, on a Gym Wars show for IWW, I was in a tag match with a guy called Popeye against The Ballymun Bruiser and Forbes Kelly. All four of us were eager to impress, and we went way too long- a match that was probably intended to go no longer than 8-10 mins ended up going about twenty. It was self-indulgent, but I don’t think any of us realised at the time that we were doing anything wrong. It’s a fault of a lot of less experienced wrestlers, the need to “get all your shit in”.

On other shows where I’ve been working later on the card, matches going long can often impact negatively. For one, it cuts into the amount of time you have to play with for your own match. As well as that, if a crowd has sat through about three hours of wrestling, they’re burnt-out, and just eager to get home, especially if they have young children. They’ll be less and less responsive as the night goes on.

In the spirit of brevity and conciseness: time matters.

Too Many Cooks…

…spoil the wrestling-based broth. (Which would be a rather unsavoury blend of baby oil, bottled fake tan, half a dozen chicken breasts, and maybe a couple of spandex or pleather fabric swatches. Yum.) At any rate, too much input from too many different parties can be a headache- from my own personal experience, it definitely has been.

I much prefer doing singles matches- for the most part, they’re easy to organise, and hassle-free. I had a match with Paddy Morrow a few weeks ago for Wrestling.IE and, though he and I had never worked together before, it was refreshingly easy sorting it out. (Easy like Sunday morning, as it were.) No hassle, no friction- just an easy and very enjoyable collaboration. Similarly, with guys I’ve worked with many times- like Bam Katraz, for example- a match can come together in minutes, with no bother.

Other matches, though, with multiple participants can be tough to plan. I’ve done a number of six-way matches over the years, and they’ve been a pain to organise. Performing them is fine, and fans usually tend to enjoy them, as the action is non-stop, but putting them together is a trial. A six-way ladder match I did for SWE three years ago turned out well, and I enjoyed doing it, but the planning process was difficult, as everyone’s input had to be heard. I can only imagine how difficult it is in WWE putting together the Money in the Bank matches!

To be honest, even a straightforward tag match can be troublesome sometimes- not that often, in fairness, but it’s happened. A tag I had last year with two (what I could only describe as) bell-ends was a tiresome and irritating process. They were loud, opinionated, and not very good, and it wasn’t much fun working with them. The broth was well and truly spoiled.

Input from multiple parties in your match can sometimes be a hassle, but what if you’re getting notes and directions from people not even in it? That can prove grating, as well. I speak, of  course, about promoters installing “road agents” in matches, in an attempt to ape what they see as the “WWE model” of doing things. That is something that really does not sit well with me. I have no problem taking broad notes from a promoter on what they’d like from a match- and I can definitely appreciate the importance of having someone ensuring that the same stuff isn’t recurring on a show- but I massively resent having someone not in my match telling me how to wrestle or what to do. Doesn’t go down well in the Ballance camp! Hasn’t occurred very often, and it’s nothing personal with whomever is installed as an ‘agent’, but I value creative freedom in the matches I have.


Crucial to collaboration, I feel, is a certain trust between the performers. When I step in the ring with someone, I am putting my safety and well-being in their hands, and I trust that they will take that responsibility seriously, and not be reckless. In that same vein, anyone who works with me has the right to expect the same; that I will look after them, and not endanger them, regardless of whatever personal issues we may have.

I’m not someone who trusts people easily, so it’s an amusing paradox that, through wrestling, I pretty much have to trust my safety to- at times- people I’ve just met; weirdly, it’s never really been an issue. I might have a split-second thought in my head of “is this guy gonna catch me?” when I’m going for a dive to the outside, but I’ve never been left to just crash to the floor or wipe out the punters in the first few rows. Not so far, anyway…!

Much as I love wrestling, there are some aspects of it that wreck my head; none more so than people abusing the trust that should exist between performers, and taking liberties. Accidents can and will happen- if someone is injured deliberately or through recklessness, though, that’s a different story. I’ve gotten black eyes and very minor injuries down through the years but, frankly, shit happens. Wrestling is a contact ‘sport’, for lack of a better term, so knocks, bumps and bruises are gonna occur. Working with someone who knows what they’re doing, though, and looks after you, helps to minimise this.

Guys like working different ways. I’ve had matches with people who like to ‘work light’. In some cases, I could barely feel their strikes landing, and it was genuinely very difficult to know how and when to sell them (especially if I was face-down, taking stomps, or what have you.) That’s not ideal. At the other end of the spectrum would be people who like to ‘work snug’- that is to say, they like to hit a little bit harder to make the strikes look realistic. Nothing wrong with this if the stuff looks good. Nothing at all.

“Stiffing”, though, is something altogether different. Stiffing, basically, is hitting someone or applying a hold with the intention of actually hurting them.  Example: .

I usually try to be diplomatic, but I detest the idea of stiffing. It is an absolute breach and betrayal of the trust that should always exist between wrestlers. It’s unprofessional, it’s pathetic, and there’s no place for it in the context of a match. If you want to act the hard man, fuck off and do MMA. Beating up someone who is trusting you with their well-being and letting you hit them or apply holds to them is not impressive, it’s not tough, and it’s the very definition of cowardice, plain and simple.

A few years ago, I was working a show in which one guy (who considered himself a veteran- he wasn’t) was working with a much younger talent. Rather than try to use the little more experience he had than the guy he was working with- to try and guide him through the match- he took it upon himself to punish the lad’s inexperience through stiffing, ultimately concussing him. It remains one of the most pathetic displays I’ve seen in many years, and I have nothing but the utmost contempt for the guy.

This is one of the more common reasons behind stiffing- guys who think of themselves as ‘veterans’ taking it upon themselves to stiff less experienced guys in order to “smarten them up to the business”, “teach them respect”, or punish them for messing up a spot, like it’s some sort of ancient Stonecutters-esque tradition. Traditions, particularly ones which are just fucking stupid, are meant to be broken. Some justify their actions by they, themselves, having been trained that way. It doesn’t wash. If you were beaten by your dad, would you consider it your responsibility to beat your own kids, as that’s how you were raised? Of course not. Think for yourself, engage brain, and break the cycle.

I’ve always maintained this: if you are a good enough worker, you should be able to guide/carry almost anyone to a halfway decent match. If you can’t do that, don’t work with inexperienced workers or trainees. Simple as. Similarly, if you’re a good enough worker, you should be able to make an audience believe the stuff you’re doing without having to beat the shit out of the guy you’re working with. If the only way you can make someone believe you’re beating someone up is to stiff the crap out of them, then you can’t work, and there’s no skill to that. Just my opinion.

At the end of the day, I still love wrestling for the collaboration, and enjoy chasing the rush and chasing the high that comes from working with someone else to put on a great match. If it wasn’t still fun, I would’ve pulled the plug years ago, and taken up decoupage, or some other nonsense.

Gary ‘Bingo’ Ballance 

Catch Gary at the Armagh Market Place Theatre & Arts Centre this Saturday, March 22nd. See for further details.

Images courtesy of Mark Lyons and Brett Hadley

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