As the warm August sun set over Union City, the wrestling fans in the football field bleachers had already seen their fair share of body slams, choke holds, and slimebag bruisers. And yet, there was an obvious lack of enthusiasm among the spectators; even the family who had brought signs proclaiming themselves "White Trash" had stopped cheering much.
About 400 people had come to see "Summer Scorcher 2000," a fund-raiser for the local high school that had promised an unusual double bill of lowbrow entertainment: wrestling and roller derby. Many of them had shown up, no doubt, expecting a big, professional wrestling event like the ones they'd seen on TV: well-known characters bashing one another with chairs, smashing onto ringside tables, bloodying their opponents' faces -- in other words, good family fun. But Union City was small-time, and all the crowd was getting was a bunch of no-names and also-rans from a local promotion, Big Time Wrestling.
The roller derby, too, had fallen flat. But the tail end of the evening featured the main wrestling events, with experienced pros flown in from elsewhere. The star attraction was the Blue Meanie and his girlfriend, erstwhile porn star Jasmin St. Clair, who achieved fame a few years ago for sleeping with 300 men in 10 hours. As the Blue Meanie strolled from the dressing rooms in the end zone to the ring at the 50-yard line, the fans finally got pumped up. "ECW! ECW!" they chanted, referring to Extreme Championship Wrestling, the popular -- and bloody -- promotion that the Meanie wrestles for. Jasmin St. Clair, however, was nowhere to be seen, and the crowd noticed fast. A new cry went up: "We want Jasmin!"
The Blue Meanie climbed into the ring and grabbed a microphone. "How many of you came to see roller derby?" he boomed. Jeers. "How many of you came to see wrestling?" The crowd went nuts. "How many of you came to see the Blue Meanie and Jasmin St. Clair?" And nuts again.
The Blue Meanie paused. "Well," he said, "there's a problem with that."
Then the Blue Meanie suddenly climbed out of the ring and stalked across the running track toward the stands. The spectators may have assumed this was all part of the wrestling script, but in fact it was very real. The Blue Meanie stopped and pointed toward one of the bleachers, which was nearly empty except for a fat man calmly eating nachos next to his girlfriend.
Jasmin St. Clair couldn't show her face tonight, the Blue Meanie exclaimed, because of that man: Roland Alexander, the bitter rival promoter, the jerk, the bastard. Alexander got St. Clair pulled from the show, the Blue Meanie said, by calling the school and telling the administration a porn star was going to perform.
Alexander himself sat impassively and said nothing. His girlfriend stood up to protest, only to be quickly dispatched as "trailer trash." As the Blue Meanie was coaxed back into the ring, a befuddled audience was left wondering what had just happened.
The match went on, but it was hardly the end of the matter. For weeks afterward, Internet message boards, pro wrestling magazines, and wrestlers themselves couldn't escape the topic. The event's promoter, Kirk White, had his suspicions -- Roland Alexander had screwed with his operation before, and it seemed like just the sort of stunt he'd pull. Jasmin St. Clair summed things up on her Web site, where she offered fans her opinion of Alexander: "Some local indie jamboni had me thrown off the show out of jealousy," she wrote, "since he never has any big names on his show, has talentless boys, and a Bob's Big Boy-looking white trash girlfriend that stenches up any room she walks into."
As it happens, nobody called the school to try to ruin its fund-raiser. The high school's administrators had noticed the ads for the event, which prominently featured the scantily clad St. Clair, and asked Kirk White to cancel her appearance. But the fact that so many people believed Roland Alexander could have done it speaks volumes about the level of bitterness, suspicion, and cutthroat behavior that suffuses local independent wrestling promotions. It's a war in which events are allegedly sabotaged, rivals are bad-mouthed on the Internet, and wrestlers are treated like indentured servants.
As wars go, the stakes are petty: The reward is success in a small and only modestly profitable world. Nevertheless, independent promotions here and across the country have bloomed again in the last three years, riding the coattails of the massive success of the World Wrestling Federation. They lack the style and pyrotechnics of the big-name events clogging prime-time cable TV, but they keep hard-core fans sated when TV matches aren't enough and six months is too long to wait for the next live event.
In the Bay Area, everybody agrees that trying to do shows in big cities is usually a waste of time -- the sophisticated residents of San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Berkeley won't sully their hands with something so gauche as wrestling -- so most matches are staged in the Bay Area's outer rim of bedroom communities: Healdsburg, Galt, Antioch, Union City, and Vallejo. Matches are broadcast on public access channels in Newark, Fremont, Foster City, and elsewhere. The matches themselves are held at high schools and Boys Clubs; because they're often fund-raisers, profits are slim.
In such a market, getting your piece in the Bay Area means playing a bit of hardball. In fact, sometimes it seems promoters have learned to run their companies by watching what happens in a ring.
Today, three promoters work the Bay Area: Roland Alexander of All Pro Wrestling, Kirk White of Big Time Wrestling, and Bruce Collins of upstart Boreman's Wrestling Planet. To varying degrees, each feels burned by the other two, either by actual actions or perceived slights. Observers, including the wrestlers themselves, wish it could be otherwise. But the egos are too strong and the skins are too thin.