The week of my in-ring debut had arrived.
I was fortunate to have my instructor, Jonathan Sedgwick as my prospective opponent. This gave us the opportunity to plan the match in tandem and run over it numerous times to the point it felt comfortable and smooth.
In the spirit of my favourite all-time wrestler, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage, I had written our plan down in its entirety. Savage had purportedly done this before his legendary contest with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3, much to the derision of his contemporaries who thought it only proper to ‘call it’ in the ring. I scribed the match in the most intricate of detail: the sequence of holds, reversals, finishers, I even included brackets detailing the points where I should ‘sell’ the inflicted pain; colour coding my actions and those of my opponent. I revised it over and over; visualising my movements from the moment I stepped through the curtain to my exit from the ring, I did this continuously until I had each nuance down to a science.
This meticulous preparation didn’t allow me to escape the nerves. My existence had been plunged into a general disquiet. The sense of foreboding had been increasing incrementally as the week crept slowly towards Saturday. My emotions crescendoed the night before the show when nervousness swelled to all-out fear, my mind was consumed with dread.
When you first compete in jiu-jitsu there really isn’t much of an expectation upon you, a medal on your debut is a bonus. However, with pro-wrestling, I would be in a venue full of people, all of whom would be expecting something that looked good, what if I completely sucked? My fear was compounded after being informed that my match would be on last, while it wouldn’t be a packed Madison Square Garden, there would more than enough people to look like a complete tit in front of.
I arrived at the venue on the day of the show. Now that I was going to be ‘working’, I was permitted into the closed world of the wrestler’s dressing room, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to know that it was a pretty bizarre place. The small room was overflowing with some of the most colourful characters; dudes getting in and out of tight garish attire, some applying face-paint and meretricious accessories. There were cats deep in conversation going through the physics of their matches – which differed immensely depending on whether they were involved in straight singles, triple threats, four-ways or tag team contests. This was a packed room where it wasn’t deemed out of the ordinary to see a vertical suplex being practiced. Testosterone fuelled conversation dominated proceedings, while the air that hung over us all was thick with the stench of stinky-ass pads and wrestling boots.
While all this went on around me, I attempted to treat it like any BJJ competition, keeping my same routine in a futile attempt to limit my nerves. Completing my mobility drills proved troublesome given the spatial constrictions. My attempt to focus with a little Tribe Called Quest was neigh impossible, with my headphones cranked up to the maximum Q-Tip was drowned out by the cacophony of noise resonating from the jam-packed dressing room, shouts from the crowd and the booming sound of rock music which introduced the wrestlers.
There was an abundance of nervous energy in the dressing room, it manifested itself in a variety of ways from the persistent tapping of feet to those sitting in quiet contemplation. I was visibly scared – to the point that fellow wrestlers were attempting to buoy me – each providing their own experience of being in the ring for the first time – each person had a little nugget of wisdom, but, I invariably didn’t hear any of it as I was trapped in the self-indulgence of my own fear.
My anxiety had centred on the idea of being out there with a mouth as dry as the surface of Arrakis, completely unable to swallow, consequently forgetting what I was supposed to be doing and looking like a complete penis in front of my girlfriend, friends, and kids from my school who had discovered that their teacher was a ‘wrestler’. I have always had a strange relationship with fear, before my competitive career in jiu-jitsu, when faced with the sickening feeling of fight or flight, shamefully, on occasion I would fly.
As I walked through the curtain any angst dissolved in a flash, akin to stepping on the mats at a jiu-jitsu competition, I felt ready to go. Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Con te partirò’ announced my entrance, and I started doing my thing as Francis Darwin. However, my fastidious planning and visualisation predictably went out of the window after the initial sequence – when my mind went completely blank and I had no idea what I was doing, fortunately this was only a momentary lapse, a back suplex soon brought me back to the script.
The story of the bout played out like I was the experienced grappler from a real combat sport and my opponent, Jonathan couldn’t keep up with my jiu-jitsu as I chained submissions together. I became frustrated at his resilience and my inability to finish him, at which point I started to throw strikes. As a result of applying my finisher, the trusty rear-naked choke, the referee caught in the crossfire was ‘knocked out’, my submission failed and I was hit with my opponent’s super-kick finish. Some nefarious antics took place, outside interference led to a baseball bat shot on Jonathan, which ensured that I picked up the three count.
It was hardly a five-star performance right out of the gate but I don’t think it was a completely inauspicious debut. The sense of elation that I felt after arriving backstage was analogous to stepping off the mats after winning a competition, my head was above the clouds. I was truly awestruck and remained that way for the rest of the evening, food tasted better, music sounded doper, life seemed like the pinnacle of awesomeness.
Without wanting to dive into an uncharted level of cheese, after being a fan from the age of six and it being a constant in my life ever since, having a professional wrestling match had been the culmination of a life’s dream.
My original intention was to train, have one match and document my experience – but as it stands I think the gi is going to have to stay in the closet a bit longer now that I’m officially a wrassler!