XPW: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Death Match
In the afterword to the excellent collection of pro wrestling essays Steel Chair to the Head, father and son duo Henry Jenkins III and Henry Jenkins IV tell a heartwarming tale of their shared interest in wrestling. IV briefly mentions his love of ECW, suggesting that Vince McMahon learnt a lot from the 'shock and titillation plotlines and rank sexuality' and that early ECW provided a model for selling wrestling to adults. IV goes on to suggest that if the WWF's relationship with adult fans is a 'rocky romance', then ECW was the fans' 'mistress'.
There are hundreds of ways in which this metaphor could extend to include XPW. Perhaps XPW is that same mistress, a few years later with a meth habit and a few missing teeth. Maybe XPW is a porn star, like the actresses that its co-owners employed both for XPW and for movies that would contribute to their obscenity offences. It may even be that XPW is closer to a top-shelf magazine that, more than anything else, leaves you feeling grubby and thankful that you still have that rocky relationship with Vince to get back to.
Hostile Takeover is the first show after XPW's move to the East Coast in 2002. Apparently 'new' XPW of 2002 began a trend away from the more gratuitous aspects of its show, so I thought it might best to look at one of these shows before even trying to study West Coast XPW.
XPW Tag Team Title Match: Mexicos Most Wanted (Damien 666 and Halloween) (c) vs. The New Panthers (Malcolm XL and Smokey Carmichael)
Before the match begins, Smokey Carmichael (or, as he refers to himself, Smokey motherfuckin' Carmichael) takes to the microphone to tell a member of the audience to "shut the fuck up" because they are a "fuckin' cracker". It should be noted that Smokey over-pronounces the -er ending of the word 'cracker' to demonstrate that he means for it to be offensive. Smokey then demands that someone "bring out the motherfuckin' Mexicans", and is so riled up that he begins shaking his right fist around comically. Unfortunately for him, Halloween mistakenly believes that Smokey referred to his team as 'Mexican motherfuckers' as opposed to 'motherfuckin' Mexicans', and so he is ready to give Smokey a good thrashing.
This segment seemed to have one purpose - to establish that the New Panthers and Mexicos Most Wanted were heels and faces respectively in front of an East Coast crowd that could well be new to XPW entirely, exposition to make the match work which was actually done very cleverly to my mind. Get ready for a twist in about three or four gifs time, wow.
The three gifs above sum up most of the early going - MMW go for power whilst the New Panthers go high risk. Malcolm XL has the lions share of the New Panthers presence in the ring, but both of them make some attempts at offence, and both of them seem to have far more enthusiasm than skill. Malc' can't quite get a full rotation on his hurricanrana or in response to the clothesline in the far right gif, whilst in the middle Smokey hurts his foot whilst attempting to break the pin impractically. Malc' has more success in his backflip over the top rope, which the commentator suggests might be evidence that he's a prospect for the Olympic Games. In my research into the Athens Games of 2004, I found no competitor of the name 'Malcolm XL', so it seems that he was unsuccessful. Regardless, you're probably wondering what sense it makes to have the two athletic high flyers work as villains against two enormous Mexicans in spooky masks. Evidently, both teams in the match were wondering the same thing.
Mexicos Most Wanted head to the back, at which point there is no way they are not meant to be the villains. So why was Smokey so hostile before the match? Is the Smokey Carmichael gimmick just being generally mardy and tough to be around? Whilst you might think that now having the villains defined properly, the match would find its groove but you would be wrong. Whilst the preceding exchanges were sloppy but engaging, after this the match stops being cogent, becoming something quite overwrought in the process.
All of the above takes perhaps a minute to unfold, and whilst I can see that it was meant to be a fast-paced opener, the execution isn't on point, and so that match as a whole is difficult to read - it's too chaotic to get a clear picture of what's going on. In the end, Mexicos Most Wanted hit Montezuma's Revenge to retain their titles, and confusingly the crowd loves it. Who am I cheering for in this match?
XPW King of the Deathmatch Title Match: The 'Human Horror Movie' Supreme (c) vs. The 'Hardcore Homo' Angel
The tag team match was, whilst far from perfect, a pleasant surprise. Seeing the graphic for the following match come up on the screen made me think that things were about to turn sour, and I was correct. The graphic design choices to the right sum up the two characters rather well; Angel is a dated, superficial representation of a gay man, whereas Supreme is a crudely arranged pile of excrement set on fire. That being said, there could be a lot of scope for an interesting dynamic where a gay man proves that his sexual orientation is no barrier to becoming an accomplished death match wrestler. Perhaps his role is more subversive than the graphic makes it seem, and he has the fan's support rather than the more conventional Supreme?
As you may have gathered from Angel's non-committal attempts to get a reaction out of the crowd by sort-of acting effeminate when he can be bothered, he is not a nuanced attempt at a gay character. Homosexuality and wrestling have a long, often uncomfortable history, and Angel represents a large and troubling section of that history. Angel is presumably working as the villain, based on the fact that he is embodying a marginalized 'other', typically a villainous role in American pro wrestling. The implication of this, then, is that the XPW audience would prefer to see some part of themselves in the Thauvin-esque, sagging-and-hideous Supreme, the defending death match champion.
Angel then goes on to stride around the ring sort of trying to look a bit camp, and then moons Supreme (although the crowd are distracted by a rowdy fan). At this point it certainly seems like the intention is that Angel is the villain, although the ethics of any of the roster of XPW seems to turn on a dime.
The early-going of the match is actually quite smart in the way that it builds up the danger of the barbed wire boards, as both Angel and Supreme are terrified at the first hint of going near them. Supreme even makes the best of stepping on one of the boards accidentally by yelling out in pain at such a slight encounter with it. Of course, the work they are doing is rendered almost completely useless by the fact that once they have established that the boards are dangerous, any sense of restraint is absent from the match.
The first bit of real death match business features Supreme taking a nasty landing first face, somehow avoiding smashing the light tubes underneath him. Not satisfied with such a narrow escape, Angel runs full force into the top rope and allows it to dump him on the edge of the ring, and then the light tubes and barbed wire, whilst Supreme flails ineffectually in the background. From this early action, it is clear that neither competitor is a particularly good mover. Additionally, fans of Angel will be disappointed to hear that for the rest of the match (and it is far from over), Angel manages little to no offense.
Angel is decimated by Supreme's patented fallaway slam (hold the fallaway) over the top rope - shitty elbow drop - laboured suplex - light gouge sequence. Commentator Kris Kloss takes a moment to reiterate just how serious Angel's injuries are whilst Supreme and the ref do a Chuckle Brothers-inspired routine where they carefully place a board laced with light tubes into the ring. It's strange to me that, as King of the Deathmatch, Supreme seems terrified of barbed wire and light tubes, even when compared to the ref. I certainly wouldn't relish having to cart them round and cut myself all the time, but you'd think he'd be fairly used to it, being King of the Deathmatch and all that.
Whilst Angel staggers around, Supreme takes an opportunity to get to know some fans on the front row. Again, this would imply that the audience is rallying behind Supreme, but about a minute later we get a repeat of the first match when Supreme decides to call it a day and head to the back and Angel makes chase. Oh, not before Supreme takes Angel to the Ladies' toilets and gives him a swirlie though. The screencap on the right is about all I could stomach. Kris Kloss suggests that Angel has spent a lot of time in the Ladies' toilets, which I'm not quite sure I understand.
Angel seems to have long lost interest by this point in the match, mostly following Supreme around and waiting for the next act of gratuitous violence to be inflicted upon him. The pair climb a ladder to a raised area which allows them to brawl squarely behind an enormous air conditioning unit, which proves to be as compelling to the live crowd as it is to the home video audience. As you might imagine, this elevated position is the setting for the finish to the match, which I think speaks for itself.
Supreme retains his title, and presumably Angel has earned the respect of the XPW audience by putting himself through all that shit? That being said, any attempt to force a narrative upon what I've seen so far seems to be rather without use - potentially interesting avenues seem to be being squandered in favour of gratuity at every corner, so it may well be that this match served no purpose other than to 'wow' the audience. That being said, several aspects of XPW (heel/face alignments, the 'performance' of Angel, general ongoing narrative stuff) seem to be very useful to the study of pro wrestling in establishing what is bad. However - this has been quite enough for the moment - the latter half of Hostile Takeover would probably be better saved for some time when I am less desensitized to what is worthy of a gif or not.