When indie pro wrestler Joey Ryan walks out to the classic Rupert Holmes’ song “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” with a sucker in his mouth, the group of fans I’m sitting next to at the first-ever POW! Pro Wrestling show pull out a brown bag full of lollipops and pop them in their mouths.
Besides flipping people with his penis, Ryan’s gimmick includes that 1980s “hunk” vibe — Members Only jacket, aviator shades and baby oil. As Ryan removes the sucker from his lips, fans from the front row run up to the ring and beg him to dip it in their mouths. He does, and they go wild.
This is an indie pro wrestling show, an altogether different beast than the polished productions that WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) puts on.
At times, indie shows are more vaudeville spectacle than athletic event. Fans are a part of the show — sometimes, for instance, a wrestler gets thrown on your lap, as one kid experienced at the Oct. 13 POW! Show at the University of Oregon’s Gerlinger Hall.
“Going to an indie show is a completely different, intimate experience,” says Mister Ooh-La-La (yes, that’s his legal name), comparing an indie show to WWE. “You get to meet the wrestlers up close and personal, and get to meet other fans.”
Started by Ooh-La-La, POW! Pro Wrestling is the new Eugene-based promotion that, along with other organizations in the region, is bringing body slams back to the Pacific Northwest.
Ooh-La-La isn’t new to the world of pro wrestling. He says he grew up on 1980s WWE (then-WWF) when characters like Hulk Hogan, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Jake the Snake ruled the ring. In fact, he worked with the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper on his show Portland Wrestling Uncut, which ran from 2012 to 2013 — Piper used to call him “Fifi,” Ooh-La-La tells me.
From the early 1990s until Piper’s show, the Pacific Northwest didn’t have a strong presence of pro wrestling promotions, Ooh-La-La says. That drought is the reason now-legendary WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan, who grew up in Washington state, had to leave the area to get in the business.
Although wrestling promotions are finding success throughout Oregon — such as Prestige, DOA, Blue Collar Wrestling and West Coast Wrestling Connection— wrestling isn’t common in Eugene, save for the rare WWE appearance at Matt Knight Arena.
Ooh-La-La says he plans to have a show in Eugene every four to six weeks, and he hopes to expand to other areas like Roseburg, Florence and Salem. Maybe when POW! celebrates its first year, he’ll introduce a championship belt, he adds.
But first, he says, he wants to figure out what sort of wrestler the local fans like. And that means establishing a win-loss record, because Ooh-La-La remembers when he was a kid and picking up a Pro Wrestling Illustrated to see which wrestlers were climbing the ranks.
“That encourages fans to invest,” he says.
It’s hard to explain why pro wrestling is a captivating art form, but Ooh-La-La says it encompasses every form of human expression.
“You have athletics, you have improv, there’s music, there’s comedy — sometimes there’s gore,” he says.
All of that was found at POW!’s first show, during the main event between Alexander Hammerstone (6-foot 4-inches and 251 pounds) and former WWE wrestler “Grizzly” Kal Jak (6-foot 6-inches and 285 pounds).
The two wrestlers found themselves off-script when Hammerstone wrapped his arms around Jak and slammed him into the corner of the ring. Called an exploder suplex, the move dislocated Jak’s shoulder.
The POW! referee raised his crossed arms, meaning the match had to be stopped due to injury. Hammerstone took the opportunity to berate the audience and Jak, sending a reminder that his so-called “soy boy” challenge would continue.
Minutes later, Jak returned to tell the audience that wrestlers put their lives on the line every time they walk into the ring.
The match wasn’t supposed to end this way, Ooh-La-La told me at the end of the show. But going off-script for the two wrestlers didn’t expose any of the supposed “fakeness” of the theater because, just like in any other art form, the show must go on.
POW! Pro Wrestling returns with “Lightning Strikes Twice” Sunday, Nov. 17, at Gerlinger Hall at the University of Oregon. For more information, visit POWProWrestling.com.