The man in neon green pants climbed up to the top of the ropes and balanced precariously until his opponent was in just the right spot. Then he leapt, executing a perfect double somersault in the air while somehow taking out his opponent, who was left writhing on the mat, stamping his feet in some invisible agony. But just as the hero was accepting the applause of the adoring audience, the villain regained his footing and launched a cowardly counter attack, kidnapping his beautiful trainer.
Meanwhile, just up the road, fans sat hushed in old church pews as they watched with growing dread. Their hero, an aging but noble chief, had been mesmerized by a visiting band of marauders. Unable to shake off the hypnotism, he wandered aimlessly as his tag-team partner had to fight all four bad guys, all by himself. “You’re better than this, Eagle!” one woman yelled plaintively, to no effect.
Just a typical Saturday night in Spartanburg? You bet. If you’re a pro wrestling fan, that is.
Spartanburg has been a hotbed of pro wrestling, or just “rasslin'” as South Carolinians call it, for decades. Wofford College even once taught a class on professional wrestling. If you want to experience real, authentic rasslin’, then head up to the Hub City.
Spartanburg is host to national pro wrestling tours who visit the die-hard fans at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. That leaping, flipping acrobat was a wrestler from Big Time Wrestling, who visits the Hub City several times a year. The fans are as much a part of the show as the wrestlers, and devoted fans know all the story lines and histories of their favorite wrestlers. Before the matches begin, fans can participate in the meet and greet backstage, where they can talk to their favorites, get autographs and pictures, and even buy souvenirs from the wrestlers.
Just a few miles up the road from Spartanburg, in Boiling Springs, you’ll find the wrestlers of American Pro Wrestling battling it out every Saturday night. Located in a low-slung building filled with friendly, fun-loving people, the ring is surrounded by old church pews, making for the rowdiest service you’ve ever been to. Christmas lights and a DJ make the whole atmosphere festive.
If you’ve ever wanted to actually learn how to rassle, then you’re in luck. APW offers lessons on Tuesday nights. And with the incredible physicality of the moves and matches, you can see why training is necessary.
The wrestlers play their parts, and the fans play theirs. The matches and the story lines that go with them can be bawdy and even a little wild. They can seem violent. It is pro wrestling, after all.
But my favorite part of both shows was how the wrestlers always stopped during their grand entrances, and sometimes even in the middle of their matches, to talk to the many children who lined the ring, hoping to meet their heroes (or their despised villains). It’s the thing most lovely and truly touching in this boisterous, intense, crazy world of professional wrestling: the care the wrestlers take with their youngest fans.