The Modern Hunger Artists: An Expose on The Art of The Deathmatch. (warning: contains graphic images).

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Let me Begin with a personal story of mine. I have been meaning to write something down on this subject for a long time, to give an “ode” if you will, in print form to a certain dark corner of the big tent carnival of wonders that is professional wrestling around the globe, a dark corner most will (even within wrestling) find needless, repulsive and downright “bad for business”. The “Business” of pro wrestling is often misunderstood, simply put, is a way of getting rear ends in the seats. But the Business of pro wrestling is so much more then a mere financial transaction, it is selling people on the suspension of disbelieve unlike most other forms of entertainment mediums and sports shows. It is the embodiment of characters, stories to tell, a visual violent ballet or theater of the absurd, having roots in the carnival sideshows of long ago. Pro wrestling is often mocked as (as my mother once referred to it when I was younger) a “soap opera for boys and men”, a “fake” pseudo-sport with ridiculous characters and determined outcomes. Of course, back in the days of “Kayfabe” or believability in both what happened in the ring and with the whole characters, story lines and gimmicks of the wrestlers, this was not much of a concern. The modern wrestling fan knows it is “fake” (a word not appropriate for such a spectacle) so chooses to watch it like a movie, admiring the athleticism and the ability to convey an archetypal hero’s journey in its physical form. yes, wrestlers do get hurt and genuinely risk their lives like every other athlete, but what happens when the lines of believability are distorted once more? What would make wrestling fans and detractors look at the product and have that feeling of doubt about its believability once more?

Now onto the story.  Let us go back to the halcyon days of the late 90s-early 2000s. the world wrestling federation (as it was called, now world wrestling entertainment after the lawsuit with the world wildlife fund) was experiencing the biggest peak in wrestling interest during what is now referred to as the “Attitude Era” then the “Ruthless Aggression Era” in the early 2000s which is remember most of all. I was a young lad and my best friend has turned me on to this dizzying spectacle of sheer combat. I memorized all the backstories of my favourite wrestlers, I was enthralled with the larger than life characters, I was delighted most of all to be (what seemed like the almost weekly) witness to some of the most exhilarating matches that involved weapons and various gimmicks, either by changing the rules of the match or the environment of the ring (such as Ladder matches or steel cage matches). I loved watching the Dudley boys and the debris created in the ring and outside of it by launching their opponents into tables, or the Hardy boys flying off ladders. I saw the Undertaker dominate every Jobber they put in his way (instead of the “dead man” gimmick of old, he had transformed his character into a biker gimmick called “the American Badass”, a Heel or bad guy that got heat with the audience and who was the primary enemy of the baby face or “good guy” wrestlers). I saw the evil Vincent Kennedy McMahon, owner of the WWF, mock audiences, oppress and abuse his workers, and quite amusingly get blasted repeatedly by his number one eternal enemy he could never contain: the working-class, beer swelling, redneck hero Stone cold Steve Austin. Life soon adopted the character of being in a wrestling storyline. I often daydreamed as a Kid of what I would do given the present situation on Raw or Smackdown at the time. I bought into the psychology of the matches as they call it. But then I ventured to other sources when things got a bit too routine and stale in the biggest wrestling show on earth.

I sensed that things got tamer as time went on. Seeing as this was the early 2000s, I heard about what people refer to as the all-encompassing label the “independents” or “indie” wrestling promotions through the internet. I soon started downloading older matches on Lime wire from a plethora of places, first starting off with videos from ECW (Extreme championship wrestling, a name that will evoke a flood of 90s nostalgia in any wrestling fan). I learned about it from watching talent that had migrated to the big league (most notably Rob Van Dam) and quickly saw through a grainy limited bandwidth lens a gritty and realistic wrestling style. I always loved hardcore matches, and was particularly intrigued with the infamous first ever no-ropes Barbed wire match in the US between Sabu and Terry Funk, two deathmatch icons (as I would learn through my meticulous study of wrestling at that time). They were throwing each other into barbed wire ropes, bundling each other in the razor-sharp mess, “ripping flesh to ribbons” as the Cryptospy song “defenestration” states (there is after all a connection between death metal and deathmatch wrestling). Sabu leaps off a chair and does a running heel kick into the corner where Funk moves out of the way at the last second (its always at the last second), causing Sabu to lacerate his bicep on the cold, sharp steel, having to tape up his wound in the middle of the match! I had never seen this sheer act of real brutality before, I was immediately intrigued. It was as they say, “like a car crash” you feel repulsed but oddly stare at the ready-made spectacle with a uniquely mortal intensity.

I download matches and compilations from different federations, XPW, ECW, TNA, etc. Amidst what I see in music videos and compilations is this odd company with yellow turn buckles and referee uniforms. Then one night I download a match I will never forget; it says something along the lines of “combat zone wrestling, brutal match”, or whatever stylistic early versions of clickbait titles lime wire seeders had at the time. It finished downloading and there it is, a fireman’s hall, no audience buriers, two funny commentators calling it a “fans bring the weapons match”. You can only imagine how odd and excitingly curious this seemed to me, I remember feeling that I had never seen wrestling like this before. I immediately thought the concept was neat and cool in my young mind. It was a tag team match, and little did I know two legends were teaming up in this bout. It was the champion at the time, Justice Pain, teaming with Johnny Kashmir against the once in a life time team of “Sick” Nick Mondo and specially imported from CZW’s sister promotion in Japan, Big Japan Wrestling, “The Crazy Monkey” Jun Kasai; it was like witnessing a gladiatorial game, all four men, florescent light tubes in hand, circling each other in the squared circled that has been literally covered on all sides with grotesque taped and glued together weapons from the audience. The crowd claps as they do the introductory circling, like a war of pack animals, till Mondo and Kasai leap to only both catch bundles of glass raining down on them, with the audience doing a roaring “oh!” at every devastating move and weapon spot. The match was pure anarchy, both teams choosing one or the other opponent to brawl with, going all throughout the hall in a sea of humanity, throwing themselves onto tables and glass, trails of blood marking the shiny floors, squaring off in and out of the ring, flying over the top ropes onto the unforgiving concrete outside littered with broken weapons and glass. Kasai is described by the commentator Eric Gargiulo as “being in his environment, he probably sleeps in broken glass!”. In one spot Kashmir hits Mondo right in the stomach with a bundle of light tubes, then the camera pans into a huge jagged piece of broken glass firmly sticking out of his midsection. The Heroic baby face team of Mondo and Kasai win the match, but just barely. The Crazy Monkey is thrown out of the ring by Kashmir and Pain, rolling over a piece of particle board suspended by chairs with light tubes taped to it, to then later see backstage footage of the medics working on Him, and horrific images of his broken elbow bone sticking out of his skin! I was transfixed, exited and startled in ways I had never been before.

Nick Mondo quickly became my favorite wrestler just then. With his hybrid style of high flying Lucha-Libre ability, technical wrestling and of course, having the unbelievable endurance to withstand the deathmatch genre, he quickly became a fan favourite and a deathmatch legend despite his short career of 5 years (I highly recommend his documentary you can find on YouTube called “Unscarred”[1]). Mondo, for better or worse, put CZW on the map, gaining the company infamy by his death-defying stunts, one more brutal then the next. At the very first Tournament of Death in 2002, the most well recognized annual CZW show now, Mondo lost in the finals by taking a weed whacker to the chest, a literal weed whacker. The next year was the end of Mondo’s career in the ring. Mondo faced in the second round the (then) owner of the company John Zandig, being body-slammed from a 20 feet high roof onto a stack of tables and light tubes, to only clear the tables and hit the concrete right in the spine. Mondo survived with a giant back puncture, which he later said the ER doctor remarked that it resembled a gunshot wound. He was taped up and later wrestled in the finals, winning against notorious Promoter and ECW alumni Ian Rotten, stating he cannot remember the match due to being out of it from the experience; CZW would later become somewhat of a dirty work to the smart-marks and purists on the internet. Eventually under new ownership, they toned down the violence save for a few shows a year, eventually having Tournament of Death 2016 profiled on a vice documentary.Digital Camera Exif JPEG

A History of Death-Defiance.

The art of the Deathmatch has a long history, evolving from its roots in wrestling brawls, to gradually becoming more of a spectacle, a contact art of death-defiance if you will, to defy physical and mental limitations with one’s thresholds and tolerances of the body; the use of weapons gradually came about from the earliest days of wrestling in the 20th century. Wrestlers would brawl in the ring, and promoters saw opportunities in having wrestlers bleed or “get colour” by blading themselves with hidden razors, or by sometimes doing it the hard way or “hard-selling”. During the 70s and 80s in Japan, America and Puerto-Rico, companies even started using pieces of barbed-wire, wrestlers then would brawl on the outside, going into the crowds, use weapons like the famed steel folding chair, and go into the concession stands. A whole group of wrestlers became hardcore wrestling legends, stabbing each other with forks, using canes and chairs, getting color etc. such big names as Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher, The original sheik, Bobo Brazil, Freddie Blassie, and Terry Funk in the States to name a few. In Japan who had the originator of Puroresu or Japanese “strong style” wrestling Antonio Inoki, and deathmatch workers like Onita, Tarzan Goto and Mr. Pogo[2]. These wrestlers and more paved the way for what we know as the Deathmatch/Hardcore genre today.

The 1990s and the early 2000s were the height and golden age of deathmatch wrestling. In Japan you had Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (FMW) owned by the madman icon Atsushi Onita, who made the violence and spectacle of the Deathmatch and international phenomenon, often garnering record-breaking crowds in Japan at the time. Onita would participate in some of the most insane and iconic gimmick matches ever with the likes of Terry Funk and Mick Foley, and the high-flying, technical grappler and archetypal hybrid wrestler Hyabusa. Hayabusa carried the company and garnered international fame after coming back to Japan in 95 from training in Mexico. He innovated the advanced Japanese hybrid style, inspiring wrestlers in the Japanese style to this day. Unfortunately, He suffered an in-ring accident, breaking his neck in 2001, ending his career and contributing to His tragically soon death last year; Onita put on shows that to this day no one has managed to replicate in their specialness and originality. Such matches as exploding barbed-wire matches, barbed-wire cage matches, piranha and tarantula pit matches, C4 exploding ring matches where the ring is in the middle of a depth-charge laden pool, just to name a few. Onita struck up a partnership with ECW in the states, leading to cross-promotional matches and the diffusion of the Deathmatch Genre with the likes of Foley, Sabu, Raven and a myriad of other wrestlers who gained ECW its recognition in the 90s as the edgy and realistic alternative to the two bigger company counter-parts at the time (WWF and WCW). Unfortunately, both companies, either through poor business management, bad dealings (in the case of FMW, being practically owned by the Yakuza) or with the inability to keep their product relevant, both companies folded, giving rise to promotions who would carry on their legacies in a much more brutal fashion.

The late 90s and early 2000s were the birth of three infamous companies (among others) : CZW, IWA-Mid South, and of course Big Japan pro-wrestling. These federations would go down in history in the period between the early and mid 2000s and putting on some of the most intense, gripping, and all around horrifyingly sickening deathmatches on the face of the earth. A feat in the deathmatch genre that these companies innovated (including several other smaller ones) is the concept of the deathmatch tournament, three or more rounds of what CZW famously terms “ultraviolence”. The idea of a whole deathmatch tournament unusually involves an array of gimmick matches revolving around a theme, like a baseball bat derby match or a “fans bring the weapons” match, with each round bringing on progressively more violent matches till the finals, which usually has a specialty match that is the most violent in the tournament. Three Tournaments in particular: IWA-Mid South’s “king of the deathmatches”, CZW’s “Tournament of Death” and BJW’s “Deathmatch survivors” are the most well known and infamous. Here deathmatch wrestling transformed from (in the words of John Zandig) the “Hardcore” of ECW to the “Ultraviolence” of CZW. After ECW fell, CZW was on route to taking its place in the Philadelphia area, even finding a home in the former ECW arena (or as it is affectionally known as “the bingo hall”). Transitioning from the over the top (and overtly staged) spectacle of FMW, to a brand of deathmatch wrestling that is more visceral, more towards the body itself and its physical limitations. Here we see in these promotions the heavy use of the most well-recognized implement, the florescent Light tube, along with thumb tacks, panes of glass sheets, barbed wire and even fire, essentially taking what ECW had built and running it to its absolute death-defying limits. BJW stars such as Abdullah Kobayashi, Ryuji Ito and Jun Kasai participate in matches with upwards of 400 plus light tubes, leaving none of them unbroken, essentially wrestling in a ring that is 2 inches deep with blood and broken glass. Some matches appear as if half-way through someone has painted the wrestlers with very liquid bright red paint. deathmatch_wrestling

The Question of Why?

There are numerous people in and especially outside of professional wrestling who view deathmatch as nothing but “garbage” and untalented gore, baseless shock value that has no place within the various pro-wrestling styles. Some criticism of the deathmatch genre is warrened, for instance, the fact that some promotions do use untrained and inexperienced people to basically go out there and conduct a slug fest. This stereotype has unfortunately tarnished the genre along with the number of high-risk stunts that were preformed in the early and mid 2000s. such as the infamous Danbury fall in XPW or Mondo’s bump off the roof. In one horrible accident, the famed CZW original Nick Gage during the finals of Tournament of Death 8 died for a total of two minutes, having to be flown to emergency surgery after being pushed through the second rope covered in light tubes the wrong way on his side, severing the major artery under the armpit. Some say this type of wrestling, despite being incredibly dangerous and shortening the careers of wrestlers for decades in some cases, also needlessly “exposes” the business. Everyone knows wrestling is “fake” or choreographed, whereas deathmatch workers, already having a bad reputation of appearing to put their bodies on the line due to “lack of skill” (not in every case obviously), do these things for real while everyone is under the assumption that it is not, often for little pay compared to the salaries of the top one percent of those who make it to the WWE. Nick Mondo specifically, having become a film maker since leaving Wrestling in 2003, is in the works of releasing his quasi-biographical film called “The Trade”[3], where he contemplates the feelings of being a deathmatch worker, and his possible influence on the impressionable young fans he left behind, as well as his possible influence in the wrestling industry in terms of the deathmatch genre. This leads us to another criticism that was even around during the halcyon days of 90s ECW: how much is too much? There seems to be a snowball effect (that Mondo has also alluded to in numerous interviews) with deathmatch wrestling, where one thing is done as a gimmick and suddenly that gimmick is demanded again and again. It starts with Sabu leaping onto his opponents through a table with a chair, now the whole card is breaking multiple tables. Once a gimmick becomes stale, this limit must be transcended and another shocking gimmick is put in place, crossing even more and more lines to the point where we have wrestlers bathing in broken glass in the middle of the ring, landing on boards with straight razors attached (made famous by Jun Kasai) and blowing themselves up. The liters of blood and the grotesque kali-dance of living sacrifice must have something more to it then a cheap thrill of pure gory excess. There must be something deeper to these modern-day gladiators lacerating and mutilating themselves fir what seems like little reward to the sane and normal.

There is always a delight, a devilish delight and feeling in being apart of an exclusive movement or phenomenon. Hence the distribution of the genre has transitioned from the wrestling tape-trading days of yore to the current dissemination of online content. The Neo-barbarism spectacle of Deathmatch wrestling is inherently limited in terms of reach and popularity. Hence why (if you shall indulge a modern art argument for a bit) the genre makes more sense when viewed through the lens of it being an art from, a performativity of the archetypally ghastly and verboten spectacle, but one that seemingly has no “higher” purpose relative to wrestling, by that I mean a storyline culminating in a feud-ending bloody match, besides a harkening back to the ancient displays of visceral and bodily violence often missing in the modern day simulated combat of sports. bjw-deathmatch-02

But is it performance Art?

Let us go to the title for this piece “modern day Hunger Artists”. I am of course referring to Kafka’s short story on the Carnival hunger artist, locked in a cage for increasing amounts of time, warding off his perpetual hunger, using the pains and mutilations of his own body as a means of being a side-show entertainer. The hunger artist does not eat, but becomes an embodied performer, every sinew and muscle, every nerve reaction and thought, every piece of gaunt and emaciated flesh becomes a living performance. This is the case with most performance art, however performance art has elements of plot and abstraction which can ease the body of the performer from troubling one’s self with strenuous activity. The hunger artist does not even know why he suffered, and right before he took his last breath he answers the question of the boy who found him wasted away in his cage “why didn’t you eat anything” the embodied piece of art replies “because I found nothing good to eat”[4]. The audience is forced to contemplate the observations of a dying artists who is “making one’s life a work of art” (to Borrow a phrase from Foucault) and boggle their minds on why he would pursue such a fatalistic task! In one class I had on philosophy and literature, my professor discussed this for a full hour with us, coming to the conclusion that the hunger artist did it out of a sheer modern aesthetical exploration of the body, or that it was simply a feat in artistic suffering, a pointless and absurdist suffering. I was always struck by this especially since he shot down my proposition that the Hunger artists was living out a Jungian archetypal journey. Let us look at it as if we are operating in the world of modern art and modern art criticism. The Beauty of modern art or rather all art, according to the ever so willing ambassador of artistic modernism in the 60s, Clement Greenberg, is that it serves no purpose or direct utility, it is there for our contemplation and aesthetic appeal, thus escaping the baseness of the everyday. Art with “a purpose” (like having a anything “with a purpose”) implies this directedness of life that does not appreciate aesthetics for itself, but aesthetic works always conforming to this rationality. Wrestling itself has a rationality, the suspension of disbelief, the art of the Deathmatch serves to break it. The modern day huger artists in deathmatch wrestling mimic that of Kafka’s tragic dandy, making their bodies a topography, a canvas where the aesthetic dimensions of force, cruelty, pain, anguish and feats of suffering play out like a hot raging battlefield soaked in sizzling blood, stinging sweat and grime.

As some point out, the hunger artist is paradoxically in a cage, yet lives purposefully, living at the height of experience, and within a spiritual freedom that most shall never endeavour to even come close to. I understand this comparison to deathmatch wrestling, even comparing deathmatch wrestling at all to an art form seems pretentious and laughable, especially due to the stereotype that its just a bunch of farm boys and rednecks in the south hitting each other and doing embarrassingly botched moved. A warranted criticism at least in part, but we must bracket our criticism of the conceptions wrestling purists have of the genre for a moment, and abstract the genre outside of just the world of wrestling itself, especially since it has gotten some mainstream attention thanks to vice recently[5]. Of course, there are many deathmatch workers who have gone to receive mainstream success, participate in other promotions and are genuinely amazing talents, as well as one being able to extent this analysis to any type of professional wrestling. Wrestling is “sports entertainment” an odd blend of spectacle, ballet, theater, drama, and sport/athleticism. It is unique in its ability to absorb the culture, but deathmatch wrestling is another abstraction, it is the minimalism of modern art to renaissance realism. What do we mean by this? Deathmatch wrestling can have much of the same stories, mimicked current events, plots and gimmicks of a regular wrestling show, sometimes even enhancing a plot with its “all or nothing, everything on the line” nature, but this is not what the deathmatch worker or fan goes for unlike a normal wrestling fan. They want to see blood, they have a consciousness geared towards extremes in it of themselves, especially extremes of the body. The body is art; therefore, the performativity of the body must accentuate this cruelty and violence. It is akin to extreme forms of combat arts in MMA, the performers may have a background story, but any of these details are lost in the act itself. Often, wrestling fans complain that the biggest promotion (the WWE) merely uses wrestling as a conveyor for whatever plot the team of writers comes up with, thus cheapening and sanitizing the product, as any PG rating will do to any entertainment product.

This leads me to take into consideration the words of the deathmatch workers themselves. An excellent piece on this really gives insight as to why the wrestlers themselves explicitly say they are preforming a feat of bodily art while engaged in these terrifying and grotesque matches[6]. As prolific deathmatch worker Corporal Robinson states, the art of the deathmatch is the limit of where the wrestling business is, injecting realism into an entertainment medium that has been progressively stripped of any hint of realism on multiple fronts. From the largely spot-orientated and original (often highly choreographed) move-orientated shows found on the indies, to the muted and tame product in the WWE, the deathmatch genre provides a shocking and sensationalistic realism that demands effort from the audience as some workers state, putting their bodies and even their lives on the line to experience that rush of crowd acceptance, the performance high of being committed to a horrific primordial spectacle[7]. This type of masochistic sport is interesting for its blending of modern and primordial elements in a physical artform. Like the Hunger artist, it is absurd, it does not appear to have narrative or purpose beyond blind shock value and masochistic self-effacement, an odd modern art celebration of ugliness and horror. On the other hand, it is a mimesis of what Nietzsche called “the festivals of cruelty” that have always been present in almost every culture for time immemorial. Thus, Nietzsche was right in The Genealogy of Morals about Man and our relation to cruelty. We love cruelty, or at the least find a great pleasure in it. We cannot express our will-to-cruelty, so we must sublimate it, or what Nietzsche refers to as Bad conscience. We feel the joy in cruelty for debt that is repaid, to seek vengeance is joy in repayment to Nietzsche. But (like Freud would develop in a different direction later on) Nietzsche sees bad conscience as arising out of the primordial instincts turned inwards, expressed in the inner world in a sublimated form, rather than expelled outwards like when we were in a state “before civilization”. The price of society is our suppression of intuitive, primal and animalistic instincts, the hunt, the senses that are awakened when in the forest chasing game or waging war on the enemy. The release valve is modern forms of entertainment, but this does not even suffice.

We become increasingly desensitized to the mediums and genres of entertainment and sport to the point of dullness and a morose uncomforting feeling inside, for the few of course. Violent videogames, for their increasing computer generated graphic realism, are still just that, a game. Sports become more politically correct and tamer by the year, and wrestling, at least from the very top, has gone in this direction as well. There is nothing like seeing actual combat, to physically see a dance of motion, violence, blood-letting, and suffering in front of our eyes. Hence the suffering is felt in the collective groans, shouts and chants of the crowd, especially when the pain and suffering is intensified, signaling chants of respect and admiration. I remember watching the infamous “they said it couldn’t be done” CZW even back in 2001 where Zandig gets a weed whacker shot to the back and is then screaming in agony as his opponent the wife beater (yes that is a real wrestling name) literally pours salt on his wounds. The voracious appetite for more extremes on the part of the crowd, and the psychology of the performers to slowly increase the level of (real or representational) risk and violence blends together in a reciprocity of muted external cruelty and animalistic forces. This leads us to another aspect of the art of the deathmatch which is often pondered upon, the motivation of the performers themselves.

What this breed of professional wrestler often describes is an uncanny feeling of being “in the moment” of not caring about ones own existential-moral danger to their bodies and mobile ability. They choose to tune it out as it were, focusing on the totality of the moment during the time of the match, going through the motions, taking bumps, inflicting pain and the like[8]. The dance that is involved between deathmatch workers in the ring brings about an intensity to existence, a threshold, or what Bataille called a “limit experience” often found in the extreme practises of religious ascetics, artists and mystics. The body of the aesthetic is a work of art that is offered up to God, or Brahman or the like, and no mortal concern is considered. The humanly is sublimated in these moments, in these fleeting experiential places of intensities and revelation, like a Satori moment in Zen. The cruelty, spectacle, and pain mixed in with pleasure of entertaining a crowd, a vicious and bloodthirsty crowd of beasts, demanding no less then rivers of blood and mountains of lacerated flesh from these competitors. This is of course a flight of hyperbole, but one can see an aesthetic expression in such limit-experiences. To quote Foucault:

“The phenomenologist’s experience is basically a certain way of bringing a reflective gaze to bear on some object of “lived experience,” on the everyday in its transitory form, in order to grasp its meanings. For Nietzsche, Bataille, Blanchot, on the other hand, experience is trying to reach a certain point in life that is as close as possible to the “unlivable,” to that which can’t be lived through. What is required is the maximum of intensity and the maximum of impossibility at the same time. By contrast, phenomenological work consists in unfolding the field of possibilities related to everyday experience. Moreover, phenomenology attempts to recapture the meaning of everyday experience in order to rediscover the sense in which the subject that I am is indeed responsible, in its transcendental functions, for founding that experience together with its meanings. On the other hand, in Nietzsche, Bataille, and Blanchot, experience has the function of wrenching the subject from itself, of seeing to it that the subject is no longer itself, or that it is brought to its annihilation or its dissolution. This is a project of desubjectivation. The idea of a limit-experience that wrenches the subject from itself is what was important to me in my reading of Nietzsche, Bataille, and Blanchot”[9].

The subject in the moment of peak experiences or liminal experiences dissolve into the totality of the moment, no longer being a subject, but within a state of perpetual motion and de-subjectifying intensities, desires, processes and dynamic relations. The deathmatch worker loses one’s self to the performance, signing over the care for one’s life and safety, giving in to the primal urges of cruelty and dominance, becoming no separate from the vicious and agitated crowd they are entertaining. The body becomes a set of intensities towards violence and suffering, the bleeding, lacerated and scar-tissue laden mounts of flesh colliding in the ring onto various implements of destruction. The performance itself is the test of one’s ability to inflict greater danger, to exercise greater amounts of blood-lust in the crowd, to use one’s body as a pin cushion in hopes of appeasing the inner compulsions of cruelty and suffering. This is chaos, the fog (in this case mercury smoke) of war. but behind the scenes is a choreographed expression of attaining the most intensities of emotion and cruelty-sublimation from the crowd. A chair over the head no longer reaches that peak, now it must be the pools of broken glass, syringes stuck through cheeks, kidneys smashed over Tibetan nail-boards, the musty air of blood and sweat, so much blood the crowd can practically taste the signature metallic taste of hot blood.

This may be a poetic and overtly pretentious take on the most violent and brutal form of sport there is (an uncontroversial claim), worse then the “human cock-fight” John McCain called the UFC and mixed martial arts at the time he banned it from the state of Arizona. If only Neocon McCain could witness the combat of a deathmatch in CZW’s Delaware Tournament, in IWA’s Indiana, in Japan and Puerto Rico, even Germany and Britain there are global deathmatch promotions. This leads us to our last point, after talking about the art of the deathmatch in aesthetic, phenomenological and even neo-romantic connotations, what about the moral dimension? Morality is the basics of philosophy, it is so human of a concern, dare some would say a pedestrian one, for it is so common and everyday. There is no easy answer to this, since this level of simulated violence is so near is un a variety of ways today, not as explicit mind you, and so with us throughout history. Were there is war there is sport, and vice versa, but dare we call this a sport? Is it art? Does it even consist of anything “entertaining”? or is it gratuitous violence the way a horror or slasher film is? Maybe all of those, deathmatch wrestling as we are reminded, is a more realistic and violently intensified form of professional wrestling, so it already comes with the problems of delineating whether it is (or is not) a spot, spectacle, entertainment or make-belief drama. This is the beauty of the deathmatch, its fluidity of interpretations, if one were to forsake just temporarily the prejudices of a sportsman or someone who appreciates the skill and athleticism of pro-wrestling. Of course, a lot deathmatch workers have skill, quite a few of them, but all have an incredible feat of endurance and forgetfulness of their own being in order to achieve the apex of the new, the ghastly, the cruel, and even in some regards the spiritual pursuit of using one’s body in such a way.

There is a moral concern of course. That being if it is legitimizing violence, if it merely is sublimating our blood-lust rather than coming to terms with it, or as some people in the wrestling business think, a “sick” “garbage” style of wrestling for equally sick and disturbed people. To this we can make no solid judgement, the fact is this art is growing in popularity. Often the case with folk art in particular, when the sophisticate types come around (as surly the Vice documentary will bring in the hipster crowd) there can be a plethora of miscommunications and navel gazing. A style of “Rasslin” started in the south, brought to its apex in Japan and enjoyed by a manner of working-class and predominantly “fly over state” people could not possibly be “art”, or for that matter, could not possibly be “good” in any way. Perhaps, but perhaps if a curved wall is art, if the fluids of some art school subversive on canvas is art, if Tracy Emin’s soiled bedsheets are considered “art” then at least this violent spectacle of art can give us a few shocking moments as a living and (barley) breathing form of art. Do not watch this if you are faint of heart, I encourage everyone to question why it is that the deathmatch is so appealing, for both spectator and participant. To understand why it is we find a voyeuristic and perverse curiosity in seeing competitors at the absolute limit of their ability and their bodily safety, just perhaps might make us come to terms with our own sense of cruelty. We live in a vicarious culture, we live through movies, memes, shows, and the news. Like the film “Natural Born Killers” attempting to show us our gratuitous and violence-obsessed culture by literally being as comedically violent and explicit as possible (all while committing acts of heinous violence during national live TV in the film no less) at least this spectacle is an honest one. By honest, we can say the art of the deathmatch is forthright in what it is, and what it appeals to, it leaves us with interesting questions, and ingrains in us the sense of truly witnessing a primordial upsurge of instinct and will-to-cruelty. Tracy Emin’s dirty bedsheets or Piss-Christ, perhaps are not as honest in what they are or what the opinions, emotions and reactions they produce in most people.

(artwork done by me: )



[2] A good article on the History of the Deathmatch can be found here:







[9] Foucault, Michel. “An Interview With Michel Foucault”. In Power, Volume Three. Ed. Foubion, James. D. (New York, Paris: The New Press, Sept, 2001): 241.


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