Mention pro wrestling to just about anyone and chances are they’ll think of the cheesy over-the-top characters of the 90s dripping in sweat, tired clichés of machoism and quippable one-liners.
It’s an image that springs quickly to mind for those who lived through the hey-day of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and for good reason… it’s spot on.
Wrestling owes much of its notoriety to the once raging debate: real or fake?
In a by-gone era where viewers believed what they saw, it was hard to fathom that a reputable sporting league with global audiences would stoop to trick its fans with fake knockouts and not-so-dirty dirty tricks; and many a wrestler would throw his toys at the suggestion that he was anything less than a blood-thirsty rogue.
But at some point, the ‘sport’ became ‘entertainment’.
To suggest that wrestling might actually be theatre could put some noses out of joint, but it could certainly be a close cousin.
Each month, the Queensland Wrestling Alliance (QWA) descends upon Townsville’s Greek Community Hall, filling it to the brim with every cornball drawcard fans have come to expect from pro wrestling.
Zany characters? Check. Off-the-wall costumes? Check Cringe-worthy bouts? Episodic drama? Audience interaction? Check. Check. Check.
QWA’s local stars Luke Davison (aka The Australian Wolf) and Brendon Holzhauser (aka Seth Tylors) agree that pro wrestling is equal parts sport and theatre.
“The whole show is planned out in the storyline sense,” explains Luke. “But in saying that, still a lot of things can go wrong and people can always get hurt.
“There’s a lot of training that goes into it, much like any martial arts – you don’t know what the opponent might come at you with so you’ve always got to have that counter and protection. It’s more so about the art than it is the competition; but it’s still a very competitive thing in its own way.”
Luke and Brendon are well-positioned to talk about the competition bubbling within the QWA ranks. Luke’s character, The Australian Wolf, is the league’s current hero, pitted regularly against Brendon’s alter-ego Seth Tylors, an arrogant young character who’ll do anything to win.
“Seth wasn’t always the bad guy,” Brendon explains. “I started off as the under dog, going up against guys like The Choff and Karlos Aries, who became the tag team of the alpha males. Once I got the Championship Belt, I kind of turned my back on everybody else, so now I’m the most hated on the roster. Because of [The Australian Wolf] I have the moniker ‘Sissy Tylors’ and they’re chanting it every single time I wrestle. I love that. The fact that I’m booed all the time is great to me; I’d rather be booed than cheered, easily.”
QWA’s wrestlers are about 80 per cent responsible for the character development and story arcs of their own alter egos and, while any actor would appreciate how important it is for a character to resonate with the audience, it takes particular skill to pull this off in the wrestling world, when the crowd is expected to get vocal for and against the good guys and bad.
Luke said it took time for The Australian Wolf to win the hearts of fans when he moved to Townsville from Brisbane in 2015.
“It took me maybe six months before they actually started to get behind me. Because my costume is such an over the top costume, people like to have a laugh and that sort of thing,“ Luke said.
“You have to create a character that connects with the whole crowd. He needs an underlying factor that people pick up on and they associate with. Because what we do is such an unrealistic thing, we’ve really got to dig hard to make people connect with what’s going on – make them cheer for you when you’re getting up and boo the bad guy when he’s beating you down.”
Although Brendon said being the guy everyone loves to hate can be just as difficult.
“I’ve found going from where I was a good guy to a bad guy, I pretty much took away everything that they liked about me,” said Brendan. “I did all the flippy high-flying stuff – they enjoyed that, so I dialled that back so they couldn’t have the satisfaction of seeing it; I took everything that got them behind me cheering and turned it 180-degrees to get them to boo me.”
It’s a lot to process when you’re also trying to avoid being pummelled; and unlike its higherbrow theatrical cousin, the art of wrestling comes with a drastically increased likelihood of a bloody nose or black eye.
So do Luke and Brendon consider themselves athletes or actors?
The answer, it turns out, is simple:
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