The night before CZW’s Tournament of Death was kind of rough for me.
I’ve written extensively on this blog about my feelings regarding blood in wrestling, and how a deathmatch can be the ultimate climax of a storyline. But I’ve also written about my aversion to unprotected head shots, and how it is hard for me to watch an ultraviolent match that has no storyline. To me, that feels like I am consenting to violence simply for the sake of violence – acts that inevitably escalate until people are doing horrific things to themselves that could short their lifespans drastically (or worse, immediately.)
Now, let us not beat around the bush – I went to ToD to see Jimmy Havoc and Clint Margera. I’d never seen Clint wrestle live before, and I was absolutely blown away. He is very different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Perhaps a good descriptor would be unsuspecting. He is quiet and calm, even when you’re speaking to him one on one. His entrance, his gear, none of it is flashy. But when he climbs in the ring things seem to go very still, like everyone just decided to hold their breath simultaneously. His match with Connor Claxton (Jimmy’s eventual opponent in the final) had a really nice structure to it, considering how much time they spent raging outside of the ring. I was making mental notes to spend more time watching Clint’s matches going forward, to really study his work. I hope I get the opportunity to see him live much more often in the future, and if you, dear reader, are presented with such a chance – take it. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
I was still nervous, though. Jimmy’s “Pains of Glass” match was fourth on the card, and that was more than enough time for me to work myself up with worry. He has been very kind to me every time we’ve met, and generous with his time. I am very grateful to him for all of the time he has spent, not just speaking with me, but with all of the people I’ve seen him interact with, patiently and with all the charisma in the world. He’s one of those wrestlers who takes their time with fans, no matter how nutty we may get. I’ve seen people in tears with him, and he waits while they get it together. I’ve seen him effortlessly handle big drunk buffoons who can barely sloppily string two works together. But he makes sure everyone got what they came for – a piece of his time and to tell him how much what he does means to them. And I can guarantee everyone goes away feeling incredible having gotten that chance.
When “I Hope You Suffer” hit, I knew everything was going to be fine. The way Jimmy stalks around the ring in his face mask, all pristine in white with his wild eyes watching, I felt at ease. This wasn’t going to be violence for the sake of violence – Jimmy was going to tell a story. And he did. Here I was, someone who had never seen a live deathmatch before, a bundle of nerves in a field in Delaware with hundreds of dedicated, hungry hardcore fans, and I was being given a gift. The writer, the woman who is obsessive about storytelling in wrestling, was going to see her favorite wrestler find a way to snake an actual story through the Tournament of Death.
Matches like these are not for everyone, I understand that. But if you have the stomach for it, take some time to watch Jimmy’s three matches from this event. He effortlessly creates a character – a version of his own, highly recognizable character – who plots, and waits, and seeks out opportunities. He stole a pin, he waited his opponent out. He was crafty, and a bit of a sneak. And if deathmatches ARE your thing, know that Jimmy is a mastermind of the saved spot. If the glass won’t break, Jimmy will break it. Overshot that barbed wire? Jimmy will make sure to plant you in it. And he is not afraid of being on the receiving end of some nasty spots, as well. (If you hop over to Twitter, I’m sure you’ll see a video of a Michinoku Driver through a pane of glass, a piece of fencing, and some barbed wire – I think, I couldn’t keep track of everything in that final match.)
After the show was over, we waited (along with a massive crowd) to see him. People followed him from the entrance way back to his merch table like he was some sort of cult leader – and maybe he sort of is. People in Die Havoc Die shirts, and people who are just CZW diehards alike gushed over his performance. It was really something else to see how much it meant to everyone there, how grateful a lot of the CZW audience is for what these guys do to their body in the name of deathmatch wrestling. There is a sense of reverence among everyone: the wrestlers for the art itself, the fans for what the wrestlers are able to give them. Maybe this place is not MY church, but I can see why people are so dedicated to it.
I’m so proud of Jimmy Havoc. He deserves every success this world could offer him, but I know this one in particular has been a dream of his for a long time. Being a fan of his has given me more than I could ever explain. When Courtney and I began our journey through all of Progress back in January, the first thing I was struck by was Jimmy’s character and his story. I wrote a blog post about it at the end of that month and received such wonderful feedback on it. Watching his approach to wrestling gave me a new perspective and has allowed me to fall in love with the art form in a way I didn’t even know was possible. My writing has been improved for having tried to analyze what he does, and express my thoughts on his work. I gripe often about people tagging me in things he does on Twitter, that I hate being called “the Jimmy Havoc girl” as though I were a fifteen-year-old with a poster over her bed. But I’ll take all the tweets if it means I also get to do things like sit in the audience when my favorite wrestler makes his wildest dreams come true.
If you, dear reader, take anything away from my experience at Tournament of Death, let it be this: allow yourself to fall in love with wrestling. It is not always going to be perfect – it will not even always be good. But it will be there when you need it. Wrestling will give you some of the highest highs you have ever known. You will fall in love with strange characters, be taken for bizarre twists and turns, and you may even discover things about yourself you did not know. You will meet people who will move you, who will make you want to work harder and do better at whatever your thing is. You will be inspired. You will make friends (and maybe enemies) but you will never, ever be bored. Or complacent. If you are feeling those things, you need to find new things to watch – and you can, because wrestling has NEVER been more accessible. You can connect with people on a global level, people doing things you’ve never even heard of before that will blow your mind (like jumping off a truck into a barbed wire-filled trampoline, perhaps.)
Wrestling is the best.
And so is Jimmy Havoc.