Local videographers capture the life-blood of wrestling with The Territory
Never mind that Angelina Jolie fired 27-year-old local professional wrestler-turned-videographer Drake Nelson from a very short stint as her bodyguard because she didn’t like the smell of his cologne.
Maybe Jolie has bad taste in men’s fragrance, because it was Nelson’s cologne, along with his formidable stature clothed in an elegant gray suit, that made such a compelling first impression on this reporter. That and his extremely likeable demeanor.
Oh yes, and those gigantic black hoop earrings that were the only real giveaway to Nelson’s wrestling persona, “Cannibal Drake,” from his days in L.A. with Global Extreme Wrestling until a wicked ankle injury in late 2006 (watch the video at www.myspace.com/cannibaldrake) took him out of pro wrestling and back to Chico to study telecommunications at Butte College.
The 6-foot-3 Cannibal and local musician/videographer Tom Botchii make up the two-man team responsible for The Territory, the action-packed local cable channel show that covers the NorCal territory of the independent pro-wrestling scene in places like Oroville, Sacramento and Berkeley.
It is Nelson and the 26-year-old Botchii’s undisguised, effusive love of wrestling—the sort of wild, theatrical wrestling made popular by the notoriously cocky Vince McMahon’s WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, formerly World Wrestling Federation)—that easily fuels any conversation on the subject.
“There are two things I am absolutely in love with,” gushed the slender and intense Botchii, a telecommunications student at Chico State, “video production and professional wrestling. I mean, wrestling has athleticism, it has acting!
“A wrestler like Rik Luxury has the ability to control 15,000 people by a gesture with an eyebrow—he’s that good. How many other sports can do that?”
When asked if a sport like bull riding might be more demanding and difficult than professional wrestling, both Botchii and Nelson quickly answered in the emphatic negative.
“No! Wrestlers wrestle every day of the week. They’re away from their kids all the time,” shot Nelson, who has a 3-year-old daughter. “There’s no season. It’s nonstop.”
Botchii, who wrestled in the Bay Area before injuring his knee, pointed out that wrestlers like Reno’s El Chupacabra (aka “The Mexican Werewolf") travels all the way from San Diego up to Ukiah, even to Texas, and makes only 20 bucks to wrestle for five minutes, sometimes seven nights a week.
“In other sports, like pro football, they make a lot of money, they have benefits, they have a manager that takes all the media hits for them,” Botchii explained. “Wrestlers are independent contractors. They have no insurance. They have to keep working even with injuries.”
Nelson and Botchii’s empathy and respect for wrestlers and love of the sport led them to use their video-making skills to create The Territory last April. The show chronicles the semi-underground, indie pro-wrestling scene in a way that they see as decidedly different from what viewers get when they watch WWE—something they see as having become irredeemably commercial and mainstream.
“On WWE, you get 32 minutes of a guy talking before you get any wrestling,” said Botchii, who also fronts the local band that bears his name. “We don’t waste time on talk. We’re filming wrestling. We’re inside the ring. We show you blood. We’re right in their face.”
Nelson and Botchii also use their knowledge of wrestling—and wrestling terms like “suplex,” “sharpshooter,” “frog splash,” “jackknife powerbomb piledriver” and “tilt-a-whirl inverted neck crank"—to add their exuberant and very colorful commentary in the editing process.
“Look at Kassy beating the snot out of Sir Samurai, right over there by that hot sauce!” we hear Nelson exclaim in the animated voice-over commentary to a tag-team barefoot thumbtack wrestling match involving 19-year-old Sacramento female wrestling star Kassy Summers.
“She’s just kicked him in the balls!” we hear Botchii shout.
Botchii explained proudly how the two do the work of a 64-man production crew, referencing WWE’s McMahon’s vast resources. This means, of course, that Botchii and Nelson have complete control over every aspect of the production.
“We can push whatever envelope we decide to push. WWE can’t do that because they have to worry about advertisers,” Botchii said. “We filmed Sheik Khan Abadi [Iranian wrestler from Berkeley] at the Vets’ Museum in Fresno. He is against the stereotypes of Middle Eastern people. That one really pushes the envelope politically.”
Botchii brought up the “Best of Seven” series of matches he and Nelson filmed between well-known independent wrestler Rik Luxury and self-described “Rock Legend Scum” Adam Thornstowe (who, like all wrestlers on the indie circuit, switches off between being the “good guy” and the “bad guy,” depending on which town he’s wrestling in).
“They worked so hard for the cameras, and we worked so hard for them,” Botchii said. “We filmed so that every match is different. It’s hard to get seven straight matches to not be boring—it’s pretty damn difficult.”
Nelson affirmed: “We move the show a long way, quickly. You don’t even realize an hour just went by.”
The two men just wrapped up a shoot in mid-December and will film the next episode in February. Botchii offers up an interesting analogy for how they try to make the sport of wrestling interesting for viewers.
“See this tea strainer?” he asked, picking up the metal strainer from my green tea. “It’s like wrestling. When I look at this, I want to make it something, not nothing. I want to make it extraordinary.”
Nelson chimed in: “I look at that tea strainer and see 50 ways to shoot it.”
Obviously there’s a market for the work they do. It may be underground now, but Botchii says it’s definitely here.
“People want wrestling,” he emphasized. “You can’t give them a mainstream reflection of society [like WWE]. They want real wrestling. I’m the hardcore audience. I’m just filming what I want to see.”