Oh My Fucking God, I Love Pro Wrestling Guerrilla

by Ray Deathray

It’s been 45 minutes since the show was scheduled to begin. It never starts on time. A few people are still shuffling around and buying cheap pitchers of beer that they’ll be drinking directly out of throughout the night. Then the announcer steps into the ring with a microphone. That’s when it starts. That’s when you feel the unique atmosphere of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla coming alive. It’s something else altogether. I fucking love it. And most people I know don’t understand why.

Wrestling isn’t cool. It seems to be one of the few things that people actually go out of their way to dislike. Why would I want to watch a bunch of roided-up sweaty meatheads fake punch each other? I don’t. That’s really not what it is. The same way that baseball isn’t just about hitting a ball with a stick and then chasing the ball to get points for prizes.

Everyone knows that the outcomes are pre-determined. There’s no need to point it out. Most people understand that when they watch a movie, they’re not looking through a window. That’s not what makes a movie good or bad. The same rules apply to wrestling. You need to be drawn into the characters. You need to feel the highs and lows. You need to care. It’s only at fault if it feels forced or inauthentic.

Wrestling is an art form. Like any art, wrestling has the potential to move you. Similarly, it also has the potential to be shitty and pretentious. Much of it is. If it wasn’t for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, I probably wouldn’t bother watching any of it.

PWG is the punk rock of wrestling. It started when group of six independent wrestlers got tired of what they saw as bullshit. They wanted to see something different. They wanted to be a part of something different. So with a DIY ethos, they went ahead and created something different.

They’re not trying to be the next WWE. No contracts, no television deals, and no big egos. Their usual setting of the American Legion Hall in Reseda, California isn’t polished or well-lit — it’s pretty ugly, really. The place is too small for guardrails so everyone is just pushed up next to the ring. Their shows have names like Mystery Vortex, The Perils of Rock N’ Roll Decadence, Kurt Russelreunion, and Kurt Russelreunion 2: The Reunioning. It’s part of PWG’s charm. It’s raw, it’s intimate, and it’s fun.

The first indication that the show is about to begin is when ring announcer Angelo Trinidad walks out with a microphone. The PWG audience starts to rumble. It’s electric. It’s undeniable. Even the first-timers who have never seen a show before can feel that this is something very different. This is something special. The reason for the energy in the crowd isn’t because the PWG audience is an easy crowd to please — far from it. It’s because they know that they’re about to see something great.

At a PWG show, the action is literally all over the place. Sitting in front row means that you’re putting your safety in jeopardy. There’s a good chance that your chair will be broken at some point in the night. You need to know when to move out of the way to avoid injury. People who bring their kids to these shows are both awesome and irresponsible. It’s intense and it’s super fun.

The wrestlers of PWG don’t all look like huge bodybuilders. They come in all shapes and sizes, utilizing different styles and personalities. It doesn’t matter if they’re the biggest. They’re the fastest. The most technical. The most violent. The smartest. The funniest. The sleaziest. The craziest. They’re bursting with talent that other people, including other wrestling companies, sometimes fail to recognize. This is a huge part of what makes PWG so damn special. They see things in their wrestlers that others don’t, and encourage them not to hold anything back. Then they tear the roof off and it’s fucking awesome.

When the leading independent wrestling promotion, Ring of Honor, was stupid enough to fire Kevin Steen in late 2010, PWG gladly took him in and made him a headliner. He got to showcase how talented he was in front of a passionate audience who really understood him. It was so damn fun to be a part of. People were losing their shit. He continues to be one of the staples of PWG today. Steen credits his time in PWG as being a main reason he didn’t quit wrestling. He’s also one of the main reasons that many fans haven’t quit watching wrestling.


Kevin Steen spitting thumbtacks at his opponent

It’s part of another thing that will strike you about PWG: the relationship between the wrestlers and the audience. People are invested. People are engaged. It’s a constant call and response. When something works in PWG, you know it. When something doesn’t work, you know it too. That interaction can make or break a show. In the intimate American Legion Hall, that energy between the two bounces right off the walls and engulfs the room. It can get loud in there. It happens quite a bit. Also, sometimes things work so well that people aren’t even just cheering or booing anymore; they’re losing their fucking minds.

There have some truly standout moments in PWG, especially over the past few years. When these moments happen, when everything peaks and everyone’s losing it, you’re not just watching the show anymore; you’re experiencing it. You’re feeling it. You’re lost in it. You’re going nuts. And you know that everyone in the building is too — not just the audience, but also the performers, the commentators, the people in the back, and maybe even cranky old Legion Larry who runs the venue. When it’s all over, everyone knows that something amazing happened and everyone feels so happy to have been a part of it.

El Generico is perhaps the best representation of what PWG is as a whole. Right off the bat, his name is kind of a joke. He wears a goofy mask. He speaks broken English and broken Spanish. He wrestles for the orphans in Mexico. It’s all kind of silly. The thing about El Generico is…people love him — and not in a detached, ironic way either – people really do love him. It’s undeniable that he’s a fun character. What’s also undeniable is the passion and talent that radiates out of him every single time he performs. On the exterior, he may be very cartoonish, but his relationship with the audience is anything but “fake”.


El Generico with the fans

At the most recent PWG show, DDT4, everyone had heard that it would be El Generico’s last appearance in the company. He’d be moving on to the WWE and his contract there would prohibit him from appearing in PWG. Talent like his can only be kept a secret for so long. It seems that people at the top of the ladder have finally taken notice. Unfortunately, their gain would mean that PWG would have to say goodbye to El Generico.

The entire show was explosive. In PWG fashion, the entire building went nuts throughout the night. Bodies were beaten. Chairs were broken. Cheap beer was spilled. By the end, everyone was exhausted after such a fueled show. The matches were over and nearing 1am, the show had run late. El Generico had lost his final match and would be leaving the PWG ring one last time.

Then, the entire audience stood. And they didn’t leave.

They stood for several minutes, giving not just a standing ovation, but an unrestrained standing ovation. It wasn’t just a gesture for the sake of politeness; it was a genuine outpouring of appreciation at its purest. Despite how tired everyone was, the American Legion Hall was immersed in deafening chants of “Please don’t go,” “We love you,” and “You deserve it,” as El Generico fought back tears giving his emotional farewell speech. It was as real as it gets.

His departure closes a chapter in PWG. The company will never be the same without him, but continues to run strong. PWG is much more than just a collection of oddball wrestlers, or fans who enjoy cheap beer, or a crappy building in Reseda. PWG really is something important to the people who are a part of it. It’s often cheeky and silly, the production isn’t as flashy as the things on television, and it’s part of an entertainment and art form that most people look down on. But there are layers to PWG and those layers run deep. It’s wild. It’s fun. It’s something special. And oh my fucking god, I love it.

Order DDT4 at http://www.prowrestlingguerrilla.com/merch/
Photos by Devin Chen http://www.chdevinphotos.com/

  • Jay

    As one of those guys who is at every show, in the front row, drinking beer directly from the pitcher, and LOVING PWG for the greatness that it is, THANK YOU for this!!! I truly couldn’t say it any better myself!

  • raydeathray

    Thanks man. Glad you liked it.

  • http://twitter.com/discostoo Stoo Radford

    Great piece, invokes tremendous emotions and feelings for similar independent companies here in the UK. This is the mirror image of the ground roots movement that is producing some great smaller shows over here, a backlash against the stale products higher up. Also, I love Steen.

Creative Commons License Imitation Cat by Ray Deathray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.