One year ago today, my first article about a little amateur wrestling league in Austin was published in my first paid journalism job writing for the lifestyle section of The Horn. The Horn, being a small online publication, lost its database sometime last summer and all of my articles went with it. Which is probably for the best, but I always had a soft spot for this one. It launched a trajectory in wrestling fandom that I would’ve never expected, as I was a total wrestling novice at the time. PWR has grown incredibly since this article and I’m happy to call most of these interview subjects friends. I’m posting this as an unedited, cut-and-paste from an archival site. I did not include the Buzzfeed-esq links to the promos or wrestler pages. Looking back, it reads as a fangirl love letter to the early days of PWR:
The Party Belt Champions of the World
Party World Rasslin’ is not your average wrestling league. What lurks in the shadow of the ultra-violent Anarchy Championship Wrestling organization and Inspire Pro Wrestling in Austin is a truly DIY, wholly amateur, Vaudevillian, character-driven form of backyard wrestling that conveys the truest essence of punk rock.
Look no further than this organization’s Facebook page for an idea of what to expect. The first line of their invitation for Winter WonderSlam reads, “SNOW MERCY! Raise your althorns and wineskins amidst the chill of Fimbulwinter and know the exaltation and glory of TRVE KVLT PARTY WRESTLING!” If promises of “Freon-cold KEG BEER” and “Soul-charring pizza” aren’t enough of a hook, perhaps the multitude of promo videos for their various characters should be.
Luigi Primo, for lack of a better explanation, is a stereotypical Italian pizzeria owner. In the video, Luigi is carelessly tossing pizza dough and bragging about how his pizza has significantly fewer nails than his competitor’s pizzas. As proof, he pulls a pie out of the oven and exclaims, “I finda nail, it’s just one. I catch it in time.” Primo is a heel, a wrestling term for a villain, and is even more dastardly due to his disdain for wait-staff and his inevitable ties with organized crime. The end of the video depicts two hipster customers being ejected from the restaurant after asking for hot tea and gluten-free pizza. Primo screams at them, “Gluten not a real! Celiac’s not a real!”
Social media has allowed PWR to build their reputations outside of the ring. Corporate shill, Dan “The Man” Ziggler can often be found running his mouth off in character about his opponents and occasionally speaking in hash tags, “A lot of #haters jealous of my #success.”
Dock Master, the stoic hero of the Nova Scotian working class, in stark contrast, reels from his loss at WonderSlam by posting, “Adrift between Houston and Halifax, I still haven’t brought my trawler to port. No doubt the men and women of the docks have already heard of Ziggler’s treachery, but I can’t bring myself to face them. May the sea forgive me for what I’ve brought upon the docks.”
Social media posturing and online pissing contests aside, what is it like to see PWR in action? I was fortunate enough to witness Winter WonderSlam last December with only the word of mouth recommendation of a friend who attended Slamhain in October. When I saw that their IndieGoGo had met their goal of $666 and that it allowed for a ring to be constructed and two Porta Potties to be anchored in the front yard, I knew that it would be a spectacle to behold.
The Sanchez Center is a clever name for the backyard of a residential East Austin home that has hosted these matches since its inception in the last spring. When I arrived an hour after the official start of the match, there were already 150 people in attendance. A crowd that large can be intimidating for first time audiences, but the only way to fully experience PWR is to get ringside. As I move toward the ring, the match in play is regarding the estate of the late Victor Von Vang who died in the ring at Slamhain. His Wiccan niece, Diana Hearthstone, was smudging the ring with sage as the legal counsel of Ronald Roundtree and Associates waited for her to invoke the spirit of her late uncle.
This is just the first five minutes.
The next three hours are incredible. Even without the knowledge of previous rivalries, it’s not hard for newcomers to be caught up as the announcers fill in the blanks of the ongoing drama from prior fights. Between the spot-on improvisation of the announcers, surprise guests, physicality of special moves, and the relentless chanting and booing of the crowd, a smile never left my face. It was comedy gold, fun for the sake of fun, and entertainment by its pure definition. It was the best thing I saw all of December and it was free.
Who are the people behind PWR? Dan “The Man” Ziggler, describes them as, “good-natured nerds,” which is the most accurate description anyone could give to this organization. I met with him, Party World Rasslin’s Commissioner Chris Monica, and PWR’s official photographer Elissa Chopov at Radio Coffee and Beer during the first week of January.
The concept of Party World Rasslin’ started off as a sideshow full of scantily-clad fanboys limited by what they could do in between bands to the main event; a vibrant form of entertainment that people would actually come to watch. It also had the added benefit of getting some great minds in the same room to envision a multiverse of possibility. Monica’s fervor for his co-creation is hard to ignore. Besides wrangling the 30+ people involved with the organization at any given time as Commissioner, he also wrestles as Luigi Primo and The Nightcrawler, often portraying all three during any given match. When I told him about how a friend at Winter WonderSlam was not impressed with the physical ability of the wrestling, he sincerely responded, “That’s not really what this is all about.”
This is true. PWR is not the meat-head world of MMA, WCW, or even Lucha libre, but it does borrow heavily on many of the conceptual aspects of the latter two. The elaborate, technical wrestling moves that PWR can manage are more like the attention grabbers; the icing on the comedy cake. Not to say there wasn’t a lot of physicality seen at WonderSlam. These matches are roughly twenty minute or longer bouts. These performers are bench pressing other human beings and body slamming them onto a not quite professionally constructed ring made of plywood all the while staying in character and keeping sharp enough to improvise lines, which is probably why they practice every Sunday upwards of four hours at a time.
Practice is a sight to behold: half naked men of various sizes are grappling with each other and practicing character work on the first warm day of the New Year. On the ground next to the fence are six bare mattresses in various states of decay. PWR is not an all-male organization, three slight but strong women are learning how to do suplexes for the first time. This is happening in the backyard of Monica’s house in deep East Austin.
A man in a truck drives past the yard slowly with a bewildered look on his face. Rick Petaccio is the only wrestler to use his own name for his character and whose heel persona seems to have bled into real life, turns around and says, “What the fuck is that guy looking at?” 420 Alien looks up from his phone and replies, “I’m sure he’s wondering the same thing.” From the corner of my eye I see the strongman who plays Dock Master launch a man in the air and onto the safety of the mattresses below. Monica sees the look of disbelief in my eyes and says, “That’s Tracy, you should talk to him.”
Tracy Hunt, the unknown man I saw being hurled through the air, is an unofficial consultant for PWR and will be wrestling for the first time with them at WrestleSlam. He trained with a small federation called KYDA Pro in Virginia a decade ago. He also worked security for the shows and helped with the practices. He met WWE Women’s Champ Mickie James and ECW’s Axl Rotten but an injury made him rethink wrestling as a hobby.
“Now, years later, I’ve stumbled across PWR and thought it would be fun to work with them in a much more relaxed capacity than the school, which was pretty brutal.” He helps PWR handle some of the crazier moves and the proper ways to improvise sparring.
After nearly six hours of practice the starving group eventually disbands. Dan Ziggler loves Buffet Palace. We have adjourned our last two meetings there. The first time, as I sat down, Dan turned to me and said, “Hey, check this out.” Dan then proceeded to squeeze a lime into his right eye. I am unsure if it is the endorphins released in the duration of practice or the collective hunger of everyone in the car on the way to Buffet Palace, but there is a sort of Zen vibe rolling with us along Ben White. Chris says one of the more profound things I’ve heard someone say.
“Joy is struggling towards an achievable goal with others.”
Dock Master admits, somewhat melancholic, that doing PWR for the last few months has brought him more joy than the years he’s been studying Philosophy.
Hearing everyone come up with characters and their vivid backstories is perhaps the funniest thing to listen to while eating orange chicken. The next match, WrestleSlam I (The Riots of Spring), without spoiling the surprises, should see a lot of child versus father/creator matches. PWR has a private planning page where threads of character ideas are formed. I ask Chris how far they can go with an idea, especially in regards to whether or not some things should be deemed offensive. As always, he is quick with thoughtful replies.
“Bad guy characters need to be offensive, but there are lines that can’t be crossed, and these lines are understood by everyone involved in performing,” he says. “Anything that makes fun of an ethnic or sexual minority by a group in power is not permissible. ‘Punch up, never down,’ as our announcer team of Timmy Quivers and Mike the Bear are wont to say.” Timmy Quivers, or by his real name Timothy Faust, loves PWR so much he flies in from New York for every match just to do the announcing.
Dock Master’s rich baritone fills the car on the ride back from Buffet Palace. The song is a forlorn folk hymnal about fishing that he wants to use in his next promo video. It’s a strange and fitting end to a long day. Along with some small planning business, they are also trying to plan a road trip to Florida to pick up a $1500 professional ring that they’ve just purchased for WrestleSlam. This will be the last time PWR performs at the Sanchez Center, with every match gathering 100 more people each time, there isn’t much sustainability in a place surrounded by so many neighbors. This, however, isn’t the end for PWR.
In less than a year they have managed to produce four matches. There is no end of creative potential among them, and with each match new crops of hopeful amateur wrestlers come out of the woodwork to be vetted by the founding members. There is no shortage of enthusiasm. The Riots of Spring already promises an endless array of pagan/metal motifs to play with. New characters, like a sentient hamburger from space looking to experience all aspects of life or a horse that lifts weights will eventually replace those ready to retire.
The future looks bright for Party World Rasslin’, with momentum only increasing with each new match. While this isn’t something that needs to be explained to the believer, it is certainly something worth experiencing to the uninitiated. You can see PWR in action for free on Saturday, March 7th, 2015 at The Sanchez Center 1612 Sanchez St.