Lords of the rasslin’ ring
Sacramento’s premier sports-entertainment wrestling league goes to 11. As in years of back flips, body slams and breaking chairs—and bones.
On a Monday evening in a backyard on 58th Street, local independent wrestler Cjay Bates leads a crew of fellow Supreme Pro Wrestling fighters as they improvise a practice tag-team match.
Bates, one of the top hard-core wrestlers in the independent sports-entertainment wrestling scene, likes to bring mayhem to his matches, spicing them up with the inclusion of such props as barbed wire, thumb tacks, tables, ladders—and almost anything else remotely dangerous that you can find at The Home Depot. He lives decidedly on the edge, and shrugs at the price he often has to pay.
“I’ve vaulted off balconies, been hit with a weed whacker,” says Bates, who wrestles as the “The Nihilist.” He chalks it up to a high tolerance for pain and a “fuck-it type of attitude.”
In a recent show, for instance, he botched the landing on a 450, or a one-and-a-half gainer flip, and shares that he didn’t “remember the three-and-a-half days afterward.”
For the cadre of Sacramento’s Supreme Pro wrestlers, there’s a decidedly thin line between dedication and foolhardiness. Bates says it all comes down to putting on a great match that entertains fans. And the rasslers of SPW, who’ll celebrate their 11th anniversary this week, will also get a taste of the big time this Sunday: Veteran TV producer Dan Nelson will film their exploits in hopes of landing a documentary-style wrestling program on a major network, including NBC.
SPW’s anniversary show comes at a perfect time for Nelson, who created promotional trailers for shows like The Office, My Name Is Earl and Law & Order, and believes the crew’s grassroots feel and high-energy approach will make for great TV.
“It’s fascinating,” he says. “It’s one thing to [wrestle] for the money or glory. But the independent [wrestlers] are doing it in front of 40 or 50 people, and there’s not much money.”
Reality TV comprises more than 80 percent of current televised programming, according to Nelson, who thinks the deluge has lowered the bar—one he intends to sail over by capturing the magic and mayhem of SPW and other indie wrestling.
“For the cost of one episode of Two and a Half Men, you could do an entire season of our show,” he says.
He won’t be at a loss for story or characters.
This Sunday’s matches include “The British Messiah” Timothy Thatcher, defending his SPW heavyweight title against “Axe Murderer” Bobby Hart. And in what should be a chaos-ridden affair, six wrestlers will compete in a Supreme Hell Challenge Cage Match.
Local Josh Littell, current owner of SPW and who wrestles as “Sir Samurai,” will take on “Big Ugly” J.D. Bishop. “You can have the best match in the world,” Littell says, “but if the crowd is indifferent, it feels like a failure.
“But if the crowd loves it, we’re doing our job.”
Littell, 38, says he’s wrestled in 374 matches and keeps track of each in a hand-bound notebook. He got hooked on wrestling in college, when he started a website and later became a ring announcer—before challenging a fellow announcer to a bout, eventually becoming “Sir Samurai.”
He says giving and receiving punishment through the various means—punches, chops, kicks, objects—is a science in itself. A brutal one.
“In NorCal, we really tend to go out there and kick the poop out of one another,” he says. “If the fan believes you’re hitting each other, they’re gonna care that much more.”
There’s a lot of practice that goes into knowing where to hit someone. “You can hit me with a chair across the shoulders and it will sting,” he explains, “but it won’t injure.
“But if you hit me in the gut, it will knock the wind out of me.”
Wrestlers stay busy competing as part of a loosely organized confederation of independent promotions throughout the region, from Fresno to Reno to the Bay Area. While wrestlers help write the scripts for each bout—yes, matches are preplanned—improvisation is essential. Anything can, and will, go wrong.
Littell remembers years ago wrestling with a girl who’d jumped off the ropes; he was supposed to catch her. But a male fan reached into the ring and grabbed his ponytail. “So I forearmed him in the face and caught her,” he recalls, “then security grabbed the guy and dragged him out.”
His showdown this weekend with Bishop has an interesting back story: Bishop, his former trainer and previous owner of SPW, couldn’t stand staying in retirement and watching “Sir Samurai” in the spotlight. So he’s making his comeback this weekend.
“He hasn’t wrestled for a long time,” Littell says, “but he still kept running out and hitting me with chairs.”
The game is addictive.
Another local wrestler, Ramon Gomez, a.k.a. Superstar Ramon Clarkson, who’s primarily a tag teamer with some 45 matches under his belt, says the first time you wrestle is “both terrifying and magical.”
“I’m an information security architect,” Gomez says of his day job. “The running gag with my friends is that I’m the smartest—but I can’t be that smart, because I let people hit me over the head with things.”
Heavyweight champion Tim Thatcher graduated from Sacramento State with a journalism degree. Born Tim Moura, he rowed crew for the university and, according to Littell, was simply too charismatic not to jump into the fray. Thus, “The British Messiah” was born—and took the SPW title from “Sir Samurai” in November 2009.
But Moura began as a referee. “They told me they needed extra hands,” the champ says. “I’d been a ref for about 10 months, and when I came out to wrestle, it was like, ‘Oh! The ref’s gonna wrestle!’”
The son of an English mother and Portuguese dad, Moura, who works by day at Sacramento State’s Aquatic Center, laughingly describes his wrestling character’s dialect as “crap.” “My mom’s from the Midlands, which most people don’t think is English anyways,” he points out. “But they always bill me as from London, because that’s the only place in England people know.”
Moura has toured England twice, wrestling as many as 22 shows in 25 days, and even had a couple looks from Vince McMahon’s WWE, getting punched in the face by former Raw wrestler John Cena while cast as a security guard during an arena show in San Jose.
“It’s an uncertain life,” he says of the amateur wrestler’s grind. “They can get rid of you at any moment. … The promoter wouldn’t tell you if you were on the next week until Sunday, so you don’t know when you’re working.”
But it’s good, fun, crazy work—and that’s the blood sport.
“[Bates’] matches are unbelievable,” Moura praises of SWP’s owner. “He’s a hell of an athlete who can do all these flips and dives.
“Plus, he’s friggin’ crazy.”
Bates puts it in his own words:
“I’ve seen athletic guys come in and not stick around. Then some guys come up and can’t do the simplest things, but then years later they’re still here.
“It’s whoever feels like nutting up.”