Young Bucks Prove the WWE is Still Basic AF
Synchronized fists pound the ring apron as $5 beers spill and bubble into a ring where six costumed wrestlers catapult themselves onto the ground and into each other in a display of fighting acrobatics. Matt Jackson, shirtless and greased-up, grins so hard that his black mutton chops are no longer visible from the front. He hops out of the ring and into the crowd, dead-focused on a 56-year-old man holding a crinkled mess of notes. The drunks surrounding me must be topping a hundred fucking decibels and I can’t tell if I’m drooling or spilled my drink on my face but Matt Jackson is about to confront this dude and I can’t blink let alone lift a napkin to my chin. Face to face, wrestler and older guy pause and the crowd collectively breathes. Boom. Matt plants a sloppy kiss on the guy’s wrinkly cheek. The crowd erupts as Matt triumphantly skips back to the ring, looks at his brother Nick Jackson, and tells him “I just kissed Dave Meltzer on the cheek.”
This isn’t sport entertainment; this is fucking pro wrestling.
Outside of the American Legion Post #308, the line for tonight’s show snakes from building to a brick wall and ends at Canby Ave’s cracked sidewalk. The Pep Boys parking lot directly across from the arena has posted signs that read “No Parking. Cars will be towed,” but local Smarks don’t GAF on show nights. Where the hell else are they supposed to park?
Pro Wrestling Guerrilla refuses to leave the American Legion Post #308—a sweat-stained, 400-person bingo hall in Reseda, California. Super Dragon believes wrestling should stay local and not overly accessible, unlike Vince McMahan and the WWE’s massively corporatized trash. For example, PWG doesn’t stream their matches: DVD sales only—yeah, even in 2015. But they’re not struggling; tickets for tonight’s event, Night Two of the Battle of Los Angeles, sold out in like five minutes. At 4 P.M., PWG regulars already wait outside, sipping Bud Light out of bootlegged Coke cans. Most of the 20- and 30-somethings wear black Bullet Club t-shirts. They’ve outgrown World Wrestling Entertainment—it’s so stupidly safe now.
The only John Cena fans here like him ironically. Grown adults crotch chop and spill beer and adoringly yell “Suck it” to the performers. They taunt, “You’re gonna get your fucking head kicked in.” They throw Too Sweet signs at each other, pinching their middle two fingers together into a wolf-like mouth.
At American Legion Post #308, “ringside” seats don’t involve secure, cushioned barricades. On show nights, fans literally pay $85 to lean their elbows and drinks against the canvassed squared circle. Super Dragon relishes in these super fans’ rowdiness, and, as a fan pounds the mat during the show, he yells: “I love seeing people so into the wrestling. It's part of what makes PWG special. As long as you're not taking away from the show with stupid shit and killing the crowd vibe. I have no problem with it.”
Dave Meltzer, the dude who gets kissed later in the night, is alone, facing the ring, probably thinking about something smart. Meltzer is the American Professional Wrestling journalist and owner of The Wrestling Observer. The fans leer at his notebook, trying to clandestinely catch their eyes on something legible. For all the fucks the legion of PWG fans don’t give, they do give a fuck about what Meltzer thinks.
“Everyone’s a Mark for [The Observer], we’re just one of the first one’s that’ll openly admit it,” remarks Nick Jackson, the other half of The Young Bucks. After every major wrestling event, regardless of host company, Meltzer publishes a Star Rating and review for each match. One-Star matches are unwatchable shit-shows, and Meltzer isn’t shy to give them when deserved. Yet 2012 was the last time North America had a single match reach a coveted Five Star rating. He only gave out four—out of thousands of matches—in 2016. Dave Meltzer’s calculated approval is the Michelin Star system of professional entertainment.
Tonight’s main event belongs to Will Ospreay, Matt Sydal, and Richocet, vs The Bullet Club, who caters to the smart wrestling fan. No one in professional wrestling is more self-aware than tonight’s Bullet Club representatives, The Young Bucks and Adam Cole. Former wrestling trainer Rip Rogers described independent wrestling matches as “‘this is awesome’ chant, strike exchange, dive, no sell indy style, more strikes, no sells, dive, flippy-floppy sequence, dive, hit everyone with each other’s finisher then Humpty Dumpty we all fall down.” The Young Bucks are Rip Rogers’ worst nightmare. Just to piss off the industry’s old tight asses, they intentionally stuff their matches with super dramatized acrobatics. As a respected professional wrestling journalist, Dave Meltzer should hate The Young Bucks, and yet there is just something about Matt and Nick Jackson that Meltzer just fucking loves.
The Young Bucks strut to the stage in trademarked matching frilled jackets, sway to Hanson’s “MMBop” while rhythmically crotch chopping with the beat. They’re the last to arrive to tonight’s match. All six men—The Young Bucks, Cole, Ospreay, Sydal, and Richocet—ready themselves for a long bout.
Within minutes of starting, The Young Bucks run through their signature moves: front flips, back flips, and SuperKicks. A SuperKick is like a normal kick, but better. At one point, Cole and The Young Bucks front flip over the top rope onto their opponents, disregarding the collateral fans hit standing ringside. At a boxing match or hockey game, gasps and a lawsuit would stifle the fun. At a PWG event, a sing-song “This is Awesome” chant rises from the drunken crowd.
Matt Jackson holds Ricochet in preparation for the Meltzer Driver, but Ospreay lunges as Nick dives, snatching The Young Buck clean out of the air. The wasted crowd starts yelling “Ho-ly Shit” on repeat. With Cole and The Young Bucks down on the mat, Ospreay, Sydal, and Ricochet all climb to the top rope, soaking in the symphony of chants and spilled beer and hands banging the mat before they perform a Shooting Star Press, a forward-lunging backflip where they land stomach-first on their opponent’s gut. 1, 2, 3. Ding ding ding.
“Ho-ly Shit” succumbs to boos and cheers, then morphs into the next chant: “Five. Star. Match.” The three-syllable demand shakes the modern colosseum. Attention moves from the ring’s fallen performers to Meltzer. He bows his head, claps along, and then delicately places his notebook on the ring apron. He’s retraining himself, but knows, after the match he’s just seen, that he needs to report with integrity. The guy takes his right hand, holds it dramatically over his head, and slowly raises all fingers, agreeing with the crowd.
“5. Star. Match.” He looks straight into the camera, apologetic for the press he was about to give the small wrestling company. I’m not worried—pro wrestling isn’t supposed to be the WWE’s take on clean and safe play fighting. It should be like a great western: gritty, with a few flippy-floppies to keep the likes of Vince McMahan and Rip Rogers— keepers of “shoulds”—in their plastic world of sports entertainment.