Last year’s Road to Ruin Fest, a three-day venture that saw punk stalwarts such as Tigers Jaw and Iron Chic perform alongside several members of the CHIKARA wrestling roster.
Capping off the weekend was Philadelphia’s own Pissed Jeans performing a rendition of the Agnostic Front hardcore classic, “Victim in Pain” with wrestler Ultramantis Black and Dragonfly of the CHIKARA wrestling promotion joining them on vocals. This year on Aug. 28, this match made in heaven, albeit one that’s undoubtedly caked in a palpable layer of sweat and body odor, returns in the form of a free Pissed Jeans concert at Morgan’s Pier.
Opening up for the Sub Pop Records hardcore quintet is none other than professional wrestler and full-time punk rocker Ultramantis Black.
Eye opening? Certainly. But the combination makes more sense than some would think.
“I’ve known the fellows in the band for many eons and have performed with them in the past in various musical and wrestling combinations,” Black said.
In addition to being a seasoned pro wrestler with more than a decade of experience under his belt, Black has been an active member of the punk community for 25 years.
“I first started listening to punk around the 8th grade level of education. I was just always emerged in metal/skateboarding/lunatic subcultures as long as I can remember,” Black said. “I found professional wrestling on the UHF channels when I was very young as well. I suppose having an eye and ear for the absurd and fringe – whether it was the circus-like showmanship of pro-wrestling or the alluring oddity of loud, fast, and noisy music — led me to both.”
At first glance, the worlds of professional wrestling and punk rock couldn’t appear to be any more different. While one of the main caveats of DIY punk is the elimination of any division between performer and audience member, professional wrestling’s main appeal lies in the fact that it’s a larger than life spectacle. However, both vehicles of entertainment can often prove to be therapeutic.
“I think many of us just have issues in general,” Black said. “For me, wrestling is more a form of escapism, whereas the punk rock world is cold hard reality.”
While Black is bringing his wrestling credentials to the world of punk, there is another side of the equation.
Enter Jeff Guerriero, also known as Jeff “Cannonball,” the frontman of Black Kites, bassist of Altered Boys and mastermind behind RTF Wrestling, a brand new New Jersey-based independent wrestling federation that features punk bands performing during the intermission.
In addition to being a well-seasoned, traveling punk rocker, Guerriero is a three-and-a-half year veteran of the squared circle. His love for the sport began before most are capable of forming coherent sentences.
“I got into wrestling when I was, like, two or three years old just because my dad was a fan, and ever since I was little, whenever that was on I would immediately watch it,” Gueirrero said.
However, with age came wisdom, and with wisdom came a realization.
“Ever since I could remember, when I was younger my dad would be like, ‘What do you wanna be when you grow up?’ and I’d say, ‘Pro wrestler,’” he said. “But as I got older, I kind of realized, ‘Oh wait, you gotta be real big. It’s not realistic.’ However, around middle school I found [Extreme Championship Wrestling], and I was kind of like, wait a minute, I could do this.”
ECW was a smaller promotion that chose to highlight “Joe Everybody” with a propensity for bashing each other with steel chairs rather than the tanned, muscle bound giants that dominated the landscape of World Wrestling Entertainment and World Championship Wrestling. And with his attention recaptured by the blood-soaked, ultraviolent product, Guerriero reset his sights on becoming a pro-wrestler.
“I think that’s a similar thought process that I had with hardcore,” Guerriero said. “When most people think about playing music, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s for rockstars, but when you hear punk it’s like, ‘Hey, I can do this too.’ To play punk, you don’t have to be a super talented, rock star kind of guy. And to be a wrestler you don’t have to be [6 foot, 4 inch] with solid built muscle.”
RTF Wrestling, the brainchild of Guerriero, is fresh off its first iteration. Along with a main event that featured Guerriero taking on Danny Demonto in a thumbtack death match, Meletov Record’s Old Wounds, as well as Damaged Goods and Draize performed their own unique take on hardcore punk during the intermission.
“The first show we did was probably 70 [percent] to 30 [percent] as far as fans go, with the majority going to wrestling fans over punk fans,” Guerriero said. “But the majority of the wrestling fans stayed inside and watched the punk bands. My big goal is to turn some punks into wrestling fans and to turn some wrestling fans into punks.”
While Black and Guerriero approach the merger of wrestling and punk from opposite angles, they both share extremely comparable ideas on the merits of professional wrestling as well as punk music as an art form.
“I think another similarity I’ve always noted is that both require a very unique level and type of passion within the soul of the participant,” Black said.
Be they creator of the art or patron of the art.
“The one thing I always think that a lot of people don’t realize about wrestling and how similar it is to punk is that it’s an art form,” Guerriero said. “With wrestling, you’ve got two guys working together who both have characters that they’ve worked on. And every band has music that they’ve worked on. And when you make a match together you put these two characters together and you write a story. You have so many different ways to make the art form work.”
“There are so many different stories you could tell,” Guerriero said. “Just like with a band there’s so many different things you could do. Both of them are creative outputs. I think a lot of people, when they look at professional wresting, they don’t see the creative output part.”
David Zisser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.