December is a crowded month for pro wrestling in New York City. Ring of Honor has their annual Final Battle at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Evolve and local promotion House of Glory both have major shows, WWE has its annual Christmas week event at Madison Square Garden, and so on. The weirdest event of New York’s most overstuffed wrestling month stands alone, though.
That would be Death Match 7, which is part wrestling card and part concert, and which was held at the dive bar Tender Trap in Greenpoint, Brooklyn on Wednesday night. If you’re trying to picture what such an event might look like, start here: There was no ring. Both matches took place in the venue’s concert space, surrounded by fans. As the name indicates, this is part of an ongoing series of “death matches”—blood and weapons in wrestling parlance—featuring local wrestler Casanova Valentine, who doubles as the promoter. Wednesday’s edition increased attention over the past shows, though, for two specific reasons:
- Valentine was facing Matt Tremont, who’s widely considered the best American wrestler in the death match style and who recently lived his dream of wrestling Atsushi Onita, who basically invented the style.
- For the first time, there was a preliminary match: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Chuck Taylor. Both are highly in-demand independent wrestlers and work for New Japan Pro Wrestling as well; Taylor had literally just gotten back from that promotion’s year-end tag team tournament.
Valentine’s previous events drew plenty of local wrestling fans, but were still received as more of an offbeat hipster show. This one, though, was more clearly aimed at hardcore fans of independent wrestling. “You gotta understand that this all came about as a happy accident,” Valentine told Deadspin. “The first show was just an art show I was doing based on famous dead wrestlers. I hadn’t wrestled in the indies in over a year and thought it would be an interesting performance art piece to wrestle inside the venue/art space. I didn’t know it’d get to the level it’s at.”
Wednesday’s experiment was, if nothing else, a curiosity: Even if you know what the main event will look like, how the hell are Taylor and Sabre going to have a match in that setting? Sabre’s style is rooted in mat wrestling, and it seemed unlikely that they would be exchanging wrist locks on the floor of a Brooklyn dive. Some fans expected a comedy match, given Taylor’s experience in that subgenre and the degree of jetlag that he was likely battling. The result was not really what anyone was expecting.
Sabre opened by yelling out “FUCK ROY MOORE!” That led to a chant in kind, with Taylor lamenting that it made him look like a Moore supporter. And then the two locked up and had a professional wrestling match.
Both wrestlers’ skill as live performers was readily apparent, and they maximized everything they did in a room so crowded that most fans could only see bits and pieces of the bout. After a few minutes, the two made their way out into the bar proper, where Taylor took a drink and Sabre eventually tied him up in an arm bar...on the bar. This bit of violent wordplay was something he made sure to yell out in his British accent. Eventually, they made it back into the performance space, there was a dive off the stage, then some stuff I couldn’t see, and then the match ended somehow. For safety reasons and thanks in part to the bigger than usual turnout, the Tremont-Valentine main event stayed centered within about a 15-20 square foot radius as they bludgeoned each other in Valentine’s usual bloodbath.
“For the first time it was a problem that I had too good of a turn out,” Valentine said. “It’s fairly obvious getting huge international pro wrestlers like Zack Sabre Jr. and Chuck Taylor in such an odd, unconventional show caught a lot of people’s interest.” This was indeed obvious, and in more ways than one. The show, which was advertised entirely on social media and had no advance ticket sales*, was the talk of “Wrestling Twitter” for the night, thanks in part to how many fans/writers with followings were in the spot and tweeting about it. Those who weren’t in attendance were tweeting about it, too—mostly about how much fun everyone seemed to be having and expressing frustration that they couldn’t attend.
And somehow, despite large portions of the room being unable to see anything much of the time, it really was that fun. Many of the best things about going to wrestling shows were present and accounted for—due to the nonexistent sightlines, most people in the crowd had to let the noises of the match trigger their reactions, but there was plenty of cheering, booing, and chanting nonetheless. If/when you could see, it was even better. It all makes sense: As events from promotions like Beyond Wrestling and Germany’s Westside Xtreme Wrestling usually show, having fans as close to the action as possible (in those two groups, fans are literally leaning against the ring) makes for a better, more lively atmosphere. Even those promotions’ more sparsely attended shows have the decibel level of a much bigger event. The same thing happened here.
That kind of thing can’t normally happen in New York, though. Pro wrestling is regulated by the state athletic commission, albeit in more limited fashion than in the past—today the commission only having power over shows and promoters, not wrestlers. The commission’s bylaws have long required barricades separating fans from the immediate ringside area, which has to be covered in padded mats. If you’re wondering how that reflects on Casanova Valentine’s shows, he has an answer. “I’m honestly not worried about it,” he explained. “I don’t even advertise these as wrestling shows. The idea that pro wrestling is subject to an athletic commission is also just a strange idea to me.”
It’s easy to see his point, but whether that explanation would actually past muster if someone pushed the issue remains to be seen. According to Section 213.2 of the updated rules put in place this year, “professional wrestling” is defined as “an activity in which participants struggle hand-in-hand primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators and which does not comprise a bona fide athletic contest or competition.” However, the rules do not distinguish how this is different from, say, actors doing a fight scene in a play, which helps explain why Valentine is confident even if his theory is as yet completely untested.
For now, though, he has other concerns. “If I book more guys with the same type of drawing power, I should probably switch venues.”
*CORRECTION: Due to a typographical error, this originally said that the event had advance ticket sales. It did not, so we fixed it.