Wrestle Mzanziaby Dylan Muhlenberg / 13.04.2009
Oh cruel and bizarre irony that after 15 years of nationhood, the thread that unites all South Africans is an American soap opera that has men in spandex faking punches, jumping off ladders onto one another and hitting each other with folded office chairs while mouthing off at each other in pseudo-angry displays of poor acting.
Dumazweni was born with Aids ten years ago. Today he’s an HIV+ wrestling fan who wears his John Cena T-shirt everyday. He also takes his AZTs everyday and, even although he hates it, goes with Madam to the doctor for regular check ups, which feels like everyday. The John Cena T-shirt, the one he’s wearing now, Madam bought it for him when he was very sick. The T-shirt made Dumazweni want to get better. He wanted to get better and grow big and strong, just like John Cena. Before his mom died Dumazweni used to live in Idutywa, there near Butterworth. Dumazweni never knew his dad but he’s known gogga his whole life. When his mom got very sick gogga took him to live with her in East London. Gogga has a room at the back of the Madam’s house. Madam is very nice. She lets Dumazweni play in her house and watch the wrestling on her TV. Sometimes gogga gets cross, but Madam never does. Dumazweni doesn’t speak much English, but he is learning. ‘Top-Rope!’ shouts Dumazweni from on top of the pool table, before leaping onto the Boerbull below. The dog wakes up with a yelp, startled, then attempts to run away but doesn’t get very far because Dumazweni is holding its tail. When Madam walks into the family room there’s a bizarre beast struggling on the floor, made up of two dark legs and four furry ones. Dumazweni gets up, dusts his shoulders off and waves the palm of his hand an inch in front of his face before dropping onto the Boerbull’s ribcage with a sharp elbow.
41 Gatstad is a digs in Grahamstown. Nobody actually knows who lives there but somebody’s parents pay and that’s good enough. At any given time there can be anything from five to fifteen people there, and the house is at its fullest when the wrestling is on. Or when somebody’s made the drive back from the kei. Through a thick haze of smoke the red eyed, armchair enthusiasts exhale things like ‘nooit’ and ‘bru’ and ‘jissus’ and when they’re really excited – ‘yoh!’ Otherwise they don’t say much, and communicate by sucking their teeth and clicking their tongues and using a repertoire of gutteral grunts. These aren’t violent people, they’re peaceful pacifists who just happen to enjoy the high-camp drama and the superlative stage show of the wrestling spectacle. They’re also all very big on irony. Their usually slumped spines go straight when Vince McMahon enters the ring, because everyone at 41 Gatstad shares one party trick – mimicking McMahon. They can do his walk, and his voice, but still none of them have girlfriends. One of the guys was actually going to do a term-paper on how America’s WWE unites South Africans of all colours and creeds, but he missed his deadline. Everyone at 41 gatstad st. agree that it would’ve been sweet.
Ivy is a 40-year old domestic worker and mother of five. Her family lives in one of those villages between PE and Port Alfred on the N2, but she doesn’t see them too often because she helps her madam run a Bed and Breakfast in Jeffrey’s Bay. Right on the beachfront. When the madam leaves to go do some shopping or have tea with her friends, Ivy moves the ironing board to in front of the TV and watches wrestling on the DSTV. Madam’s favourite story, which she tells at almost every dinner party, is about the time she turned back from the shops because she’d forgotten her shopping bags, not that she’s cheap – just environmentally conscious, and heard the biggest commotion in the lounge. She thought that Ivy was fighting with her husband again, so she grabbed the Bauer pan and sneaked into the lounge and saw that Ivy was screaming at the TV.
‘Ndwako Big Show! You’re a wrrrrong. Haibo! Ho-ho, yes. No really.’ Shouts Ivy.
‘My Ivy’s usually so quiet and obedient.’ Says Madam. ‘I’ve never heard her say anything louder than a whisper before, but here she was screaming at the TV. True’s Bob. Now I let her do the ironing in front of the TV whenever the wrestling is on. Ag shame, she loves her wrestling hey.’
The Van Jaarsveldt brothers
Hannes, Coenrad and Barend are brothers. If you heard them speak English you’d know that it’s their second language. They’re not really exposed to it, English, living on their farm in Tarkastad and everything. And like pa always says: ‘Hoekom moet ons Engels praat as die donderse rooinekke konnie Afrikaans praat nie?’ So that’s why they hardly ever speak it, except when they go to Wesley’s house. Wesley is the next door neighbour who’s three kilometers down the dust road. Wesley’s a moffie, but the brothers are nice to him so that they can go watch wrestling. You can’t get E-TV reception in Tarkastad unless you have satellite. The Van Jaarsveldt brothers take a lot longer coming back from Wesley’s than getting there. Hannes is the youngest and he’s cut two holes out of a pair of white underpants, which he wears over his face. At least he thinks that he looks like Ray Mysterio. Without fail Hannes will end up in tears on the walk back home because his brothers, amped on their WWE fix, will be putting him in headlocks and giving him Chinese-bangles and mousies and dead-legs and what-not. This one time Barend was giving him a boston-crab and there was a loud pop and Coenrad had to help Barend carry Hannes the rest of the way home. Hannes had to promise that he’d tell ma and pa that he’d fallen off Wesley’s horse and Barend had to give Hannes his Loslyf magazines and let him take a shot at him with the daisy-gun.
The Randalls are mom, dad, ouma, oupa, ouma grootjie, big brother, brother’s girlfriend, brother’s baby, little brother, middle brother, pregnant sister, little sister, cousin and when the wrestling is on Wentworth and Galen from upstairs. The first time little brother heard his first ‘Jou ma se Poes!’ was when ouma grootjie shouted it at JR who came running down the aisle towards the ring to attack Eddie Guerrero who was challenging Kurt Angle.
‘Where’s your eyes, Mr. reffff?’ said mom, but nobody heard her because everyone was laughing too hard. Otherwise the kids sit so still that you can’t even hear the plastic on the couch squeak.
The Angle on Kurt Angle
But enough of all that, eh? Because who wants to read about people watching wrestling at home, when you could be reading about people watching it Live. Yes. The wrestling came to town. Madam and the kind people at the Reach For A Dream Foundation arranged for Dumazweni to go to Cape Town and meet his hero, Ivy didn’t go but the Van Jaarsveldt brothers caught a bus down to their cousins in Stellenbosch and they went. Otherwise the Randall’s missed it along with most of the guys living at 41 Gatstad, but one guy did manage to make some calls and get the student paper to cover his trip down to the Good Hope Centre. The crowd was in the area of 7000 and some of the fans included: entire families with identical haircuts, kids dressed up as their favourite characters, people without front teeth, fat men with ponytails swigging beer out of paper cups, Deputy President Jacob Zuma and a seemingly sweet schoolgirl sitting on her own.
‘I must warn you,’ the girl said, ‘when John Cena comes on I’m going to go crazy. And if anyone hurts him it’s not going to be a TV that gets the fuck kicked out of it.’ This girl was about sixteen, slight of frame, almost pretty in an unconventional way. She believed with all her heart that wrestling was real. Probably a model. Or a Christian. The crowd was singing ‘Ole, Ole, Ole…’ blowing vuvuzelas and shouting things like ‘Big Show is suck!’ and ‘Moer hom!’ Quite a show. But after the show there was the opportunity to speak to one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Superstars – Kurt Angle. This is what he said…
Mr. Angle, it’s an honour to meet you. So who’s the greatest wrestler of all time?
That’s a tough question. Technically Brett Hart and myself. As far as most popular you’re looking at guys like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. But that doesn’t make them better wrestlers it just means that people like them more.
Did you hold a 9-5 before wrestling?
I’ve never had a job in my life. Before I got into pro wrestling I was an amateur wrestler training for the Olympic games. I’ve been training for that gold medal since I was 5 years old. Winning gold was bigger than this, bigger than anything.
Will you ever compete in that discipline again?
I broke my neck 4 months before the Olympic games that year. Doctors told me I wouldn’t wrestle again. I was only 26 and I knew it was my last year, so I found a doctor who’d shoot Novacaine into my neck. I went out, wrestled, won that gold medal and retired.
A lot of people say that pro wrestling is a farce, so with all the nay-sayers how does it manage to still captivate audiences?
Vince McMahon told fans, ‘Hey this isn’t real sport, it’s sport entertainment. We’re not really fighting we’re performing. But when you watch us, sure it might be a little bit of a dance, more of a performance than an athletic contest, but you can’t deny what we do isn’t real.’ Coming from an Olympic gold medalist in a legitimate sport I’ve been injured more in this than in amateur wrestling. We basically perform and do a bunch of high-risk maneuvers for the fans to watch. But people also like to see stories unravel. They like to see two guys arguing over something and when the story comes to a head they battle it out. That’s traditional human nature. I think anybody who likes any form of entertainment can enjoy that.
What has Vince McMahon done for wrestling?
I’ve never met another human being like him and I’ve met them all from the President of the United States to the Governor to almost every actor and actress. He’s come out the basement and into a billion dollar industry and gone back again and just continues to fight. He works 7 days a week, sleeps maybe 4 hours a day and the other 20 hours he’s working. I’ve never seen anyone with such work ethic; business is his fun.
Do punches ever slip?
Oh yeah, I’m probably better known for that than anyone else. He-he. I can’t help it; I come from an amateur wrestling background so my punches and holds are very stiff. That’s my instinct.
How important is it to be skilled with the mic?
Oh man, he-he. It’s just as important to be skilled with the mic as it is to be skilled in the ring. Take John Cena for example, he’s a slightly above mediocre wrestler but can use that mic like no other, and has become one of our most popular. I’m also one of the strongest guys on the microphone, and I’m also one of the strongest guys in the ring, so that’s a double positive. The bottom line is that they both mean just as much.
Do you come up with your own lines?
I’d say about 50%, the rest comes from our very talented writers. They give me direction as to what I say and what I do.
Why do you use your real name?
I’m one of the few wrestlers who use their real name. My whole character is based around my Olympic gold medal. They don’t want to take that character away they want to build on it. So they kept my name and pushed the gold medal thing. Another guy is Brock Lesner who was a champion wrestler in College and a national champion.
And why did you choose your particular outfit?
That’s what I wore in the Olympics and if I’m going to build on an Olympic gold medalist character from the states then red, white and blue is as patriotic as you get.
I’ve noticed that when you’re winning you pull it down halfway, what’s that about?
He-he, yeah. Fans love anticipation, so we all have our own little signs that set up our finish and mine is to whip my straps off. When I do that you know the ankle lock or the Angle Slam’s coming.
Who has the worst name and outfit?
The worst outfit has definitely got to be John Cena. I hate the street thug thing; he needs to get himself a pair of tights and quit wearing those jean-shorts. I don’t know who has the worst name? Jeesh there are so many good names out, like The Big Show. What a perfect name for a guy who’s 7 foot tall 500 pounds, The Big Show. In the 80’s and 90’s there were some crazy characters like Doink the Clown, Mankind and his Mandible Claw maneuver. I mean who’s gonna take guys like that seriously? Nowadays we are more reality driven. It’s more legitimate with guys doing legitimate things.
Did the Mandible Claw even work? I tried it on my brother and he almost took my fingers off.
Nah it’s just a little gimmick, he-he, the fingers in the mouth. What works in wrestling and what the fans love aren’t the moves but the reactions. When a guy sticks his fingers in your mouth and you’re going crazy, your pain sells tickets. The fans see the guy’s face, the fear and the pain. It’s not always the guy kicking ass but the guy getting his ass kicked that sells tickets.
With the Rock’s move into movies is Hollywood the obvious next step for wrestlers?
There are a lot of guys here talented enough to do it. The only problem is take a look at Rocky now. How much time does he spend wrestling now? Maybe five events a year? Vince McMahon lost the Rock. Do you think he’s willing to lose any more? I think you’ll see the Kurt Angles and the Stone Cold’s go over to Hollywood temporarily or wait until the end of their wrestling careers to do it, but you’re not going to see them do it in the prime of their careers like Rocky did. It was a mistake and it’s not going to happen again.
How do you think WWE wrestlers would fare in Ultimate Fighting?
Myself and Brock Lesner would do very good. We have actually competed against all those guys. We were thinking about Kurt Angle VS Tito Ortiz, Ultimate Fighting Champion, this year at Wrestlemania, which was going to be real and not a show. I would have loved to do it but unfortunately with the neck injury I wouldn’t be able to compete against a guy like Tito. Guys that I was beating before the Olympics are winning these events and I take pride in that, it’s great.
How much of yourself is incorporated into the character?
We are ourselves with a twist. If you’re a good guy you’re going to be a little bit more humble, pro fan, good guy and if you’re the bad guy you just going to be the biggest asshole that you can be. I love being the bad guy, I get out there and fans say ‘this Kurt Angle is a real prick’ and that’s because I’m doing my job right.
What’s the referee there for?
The referees the third guy in the ring. He has to make sure that both guys are coherent, which a lot of the time we’re not. We got time factors and he makes sure that we finish the show in time. He has to realise when the finish is coming and how it’s going to be set up. He also has to make the match look legitimate. He can’t let any wrestler cheat and if we do he can’t see it.
Which non-wrestler would you love to have in the ring with you?
Osama Bin Laden. Who do you think? I’d love five minutes with that guy, oh yeah. (His entourage cracks up and starts clapping and backslapping and yee-hawing). He wouldn’t last, he-he, I’d break both his ankles and that would be the least of it.
… and now we flip back to the TV. E-TV’s WWE, to be exact, where there’s a vigilante Texan in a Stetson slurring about filthy Mexicans taking American jobs. JR’s his name and the camera follows him Blair Witch Project documentary style to where some other right wingers are waiting, ready to bust a Mexican border crossing.
Cut back to the stadium where Kurt Angle, who has been promoted from a wrestler to a managerial position of sorts, is about to award his beloved trophy. It takes two men to carry the trophy and stands about four feet tall. Kurt has been polishing it and fawning over it and he looks physically hurt that he must now hand it over to this year’s recipient. Eddie Guerrero is admiring it too, and especially likes the eagle that is perched on top. The award is for fan’s favourite and 82% of the vote goes to John Cena. Kurt’s about to hand over the trophy to Cena when the Texan jumps on stage and plays the footage of him, which was shown earlier, kicking a Mexican and his family back across the border. The crowd is shocked, but Kurt starts backslapping the Texan and awards him the trophy instead of handing it to Cena. But Guerrero (a Mexican) grabs it and runs off, returning moments later with the trophy sitting on the bonnet of his low-rider like an aggrandized hood ornament.
Eddie: Check out what I found in the parking lot, homes.
Kurt: That’s a beautiful trophy Eddie, you’re a disgrace.
Eddie: Calm down ese, calm down bro. I’m just going to give it back. This is something you can be proud of. And such a beautiful eagle too. (Closer inspection shows that a wing has been broken off.) But an eagle can fly with one wing.
Commentator: that’s a great American trophy. Don’t do anything brash.
Eddie proceeds to beat up Kurt and the Texan using the trophy, the crowd goes wild and it would seem that Eddie is about to lose his heel status (heels are the what the bad guys are called). But that was then and this is now, where Ed is dead.
Born into a legendary wrestling family Eddie maintained its legacy and represented: ECW, WCW and WWE (hell, he was even with WWF before the bunny-lovers forced the name change), playing a crafty snake in the grass who’d do anything to win. His mantra ‘Cheat to Win.’ Then he started becoming popular, but outside the ring Eddie’s life was falling apart. His autopsy revealed that Guerrero had died as a result of acute heart failure caused by undiagnosed arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease and enlargement of the heart as a result of prior anabolic steroid use.
Sure wrestling is fake, but then it’s also entertaining, after all, it’s nothing like boxing where the athletes retire to their corner every two minutes and the ref actually has a say in the proceedings and you can’t pick up folding chairs that happen to be sitting conveniently next to the ring, because A. you’re not allowed out of the ring and B. you’re wearing gloves… While George Foreman sells Grills, The Rock has walked into Hollywood B-list stardom. There are more T-shirts in the world with John Cena’s face than Muhammad Ali. Wrestling is showbusiness with blood… and like sand through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives.