By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Order has been restored, and the heroes have prevailed. It's the way all good wrestling shows end. The cursing, drinking and dangerously close violence? That's the way a good XCW show ends. The crowd roars its approval.
"X-C-Dub! X-C-Dub! X-C-Dub! X-C-Dub!"
Blake can't go this time, but Incontrera shows up in a bright pink shirt, as if he's asking for it, despite his lack of reinforcements. As we walk in, they spot Bullman Downs, the supposed denizen of "The Woods," behind the arena, talking on a cell phone.
"Aw, I can't see that!" Incontrera says. "Kayfabe that shit!" Kayfabe is an old carny term, meaning to never let the crowd in on the secret, always stay in character.
Tonight's action is much like last Friday's, with an emphasis on getting the crowd primed for next weekend's BattleBox. Rodney Mack, who was wrestling for WWE a few months ago and is now working the independent circuit, comes out during one match, but he's here more for a meet-and-greet rather than to beat and beat. He signs autographs at the snack bar during intermission.
Once the intermission is over, the moment I've been waiting for arrives. The first guitar chords of the Crüe's "Shout at the Devil" hit the speakers, and the audience is immediately on its feet. Ryan Ridgway and his girlfriend, both in 666 T-shirts, pump devil horns above their heads in time with the music.
"He burned in hell so he could wrestle for you XCW fans," The T says. "Jacob Ladder!"
He comes out from the locker room to a "Ladder! Ladder!" chant. He's a pretty scary-looking dude, even if he didn't have the serpents tattooed on his face, 240 pounds of muscle and a glare that makes me nervous from 100 feet away. His opponent tonight, Bull, is a big guy with a buzz cut and a beer belly, but he's not quite as menacing. Bull is a member of the Tru-Life Playaz, along with Brett Barnes, Eddie Atlas, Hotstuff Hernandez and a few others. He is, apparently, a lesser member of the group.
"I would say 'end his career,' but he doesn't have one!" Ridgway yells, giving Bull the double bird.
"Go back to the Sportatorium, beeyatch," Incontrera follows. Bull shoots him a look.
Ladder gains the early advantage, twisting Bull's arm behind his back and holding it up for the crowd to see. "I'm gonna break this damn thing!" I know wrestling is choreographed--really, I do--but seriously, it looks like he might.
Bull fights back and eventually takes the lead. As he circles the ring, Incontrera again yells, "Go back to the Sportatorium!" Bull takes his attention off Ladder and turns to where we're standing. "You are so fucking gay!" Mission accomplished.
The match doesn't last much longer. Todd Diamond--who manages another wrestler, John Allen, "The Professional"--runs out from the back, distracting Bull long enough for Ladder to roll him up for the pin and the win.
"A big 'Hail Satan!' for your winner, Jacob Ladder!" The T says. But it's not over. Storylines have to be advanced. Diamond takes the mike. "I want to apologize," he tells Ladder. Smart man.
"Ladder, kick his ass!" someone yells. An "Asshole!" chant breaks out. Ladder soaks in it before beginning his half of the interview.
"We need to take care of the Tru-Life Playaz," he says. "But I don't need your help. I've got these people--and Satan--on my side." He storms to the back.
When I read this quote in my notebook later the next day, it makes me laugh. Probably 90 percent of the people here would punch Ladder in the face if he said that outside the arena, if he were just a guy they ran into at a paint-your-own-pottery place. At the very least, they would insist he attend church services with them on Sunday.
But on that night, in a darkened room where men (and one woman) give up their bodies in exchange for a little bit of pocket money and a few minutes of glory, these God-fearing, beer-drinking all-Americans were willing to follow him to the gates of hell. As long as they are entertained.
As Incontrera said early that first Friday, "That's XCW style for you."
In the Blood