By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
At the Ralph Lauren store in NorthPark Center, there are certain questions to which you can expect answers. What looks good with pink chinos? When is the fall line coming in? Are pocket squares really back in fashion? Do you have this sweater in another size? That sort of thing.
You wouldn't, however, expect an answer to this one: Is there somewhere near Dallas where one could, if one was so inclined, watch two grown men beat each other bloody in a ring that may or may not be surrounded by thorny rose bushes? Nor should you. That's maybe more of an outlet mall question.
But if you happen to ask it while Steven Incontrera is on the clock at Ralph Lauren, you're in luck. He'll point you in the direction of Xtreme Championship Wrestling, tell you all about the Friday-night fights they've been putting on for the past six years, since a wheelchair-bound man known simply as Nite bought a clean-cut promotion called Texas Championship Wrestling and introduced it to the dark side. Incontrera will fill you in on the crazy cast of characters in the ring, guys with names like Drunk Adam and Sidd Murder, and the crazier cast of characters outside of it, the fans who heckle his friends as much as the wrestlers. He may also try to sell you a pair of pink chinos.
That's pretty much how I learned of the existence of XCW. That's why I'm in Incontrera's car right now, along with his roommate Blake and their friend Clay, tagging along on a trip to Denton and the XCW Arena to see for myself what he told me about: the bloody faces, the flying chairs, the drunken fans. Maybe even some rose bushes.
I never expected to run into a wrestling fan at Ralph Lauren. Certainly not one who has a framed collection of wrestling pins titled "20 Years of Wrestlemania" hanging on the wall of his bathroom, near his neatly arranged assortment of Prada skin-care products. But then, you never know where you'll run into a wrestling fan. Or a wrestler.
"My friend was in Austin at one of those paint-your-own-pottery places, you know?" Incontrera says during the drive, while he's running down the who's-who of XCW. "And he was like, 'You'll never guess who came in.' 'Who?' 'Jacob Ladder.'"
Jacob Ladder, he explains, is one of XCW's star attractions. His gimmick is one as old as wrestling itself: He's a Satan worshiper. He plays the part to the hilt, with serpents tattooed on his face in place of sideburns, and pentagrams on his boots and tights. He uses Van Halen's "Running With the Devil" or Mötley Crüe's "Shout at the Devil" as his theme music and leads the audience in "Six! Six! Six!" chants, just in case someone missed all the other subtle clues. In XCW, where even the good guys are a little bad, Ladder is a hero.
"So he went and talked to him," Incontrera continues. "He's like, 'Hey, are you Jacob Ladder?'" He tries to mimic Ladder's forged-at-Satan's-side growl in response: "'Yeah. You want a menu? What kind of pottery do you want to paint?'"
Welcome to a different kind of professional wrestling, where a Satan worshiper who paints his own pottery tries to entertain a guy who sells pink chinos for a living. Where a tag team duo known as The Niggaz does not necessarily include two black guys. Where the audience is (mostly) in on the joke but still keeps laughing at the punch line. Where wrestlers are willing to have their faces gouged by barbed wire in exchange for a $20 payday. Welcome to XCW.
TCW was based in Plano then and run by a political science professor at Collin County Community College named Tom Caiazzo, who doubled as TCW's evil Emperor Tommy Nero. (Not surprisingly, Incontrera and Blake were students of Caiazzo at Quad C.) Nite was just an employee, a jack-of-all-trades, but he had ideas, ways to set the promotion apart from the other cookie-cutter WWE clones. He took them to Caiazzo, who had an idea of his own: Why didn't Nite just buy him out and do it himself? TCW was losing money, and Caiazzo wanted out.
A year later, Nite moved the promotion to Denton, and Xtreme Championship Wrestling was born. Six years later, it's the only promotion left in North Texas, and one of only two (Professional Championship Wrestling in Austin is the other) in the state that runs a weekly show.
"You could go see the same shows just about everywhere, and then you came to XCW to see a fight," Nite says. "That's what we put on. We changed more to get fans, but also, as we started growing, our fans changed. It was less families and little kids and more college students and guys that just wanted to have a good time."