It’s been a little over 3 years since it’s release and I am still as crazy about The Wrestler as I was the first time I saw it. It’s the combination of Mickey Rourke’s heart wrenching performance, the reminiscing about the glory days of professional wrestling, and its New Jersey setting that makes it hit so close to home for me. Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece remains legendary, especially to fans of the pro-wrestling business, but we the fans need to keep it alive! One way to do that is through wearing The Ram’s t-shirt!
Even though there was a glimpse of a Randy “The Ram” Robinson action figure in the movie, it was merely a custom job. You may be able to find a few custom Ram figures in the outer reaches of the Internet, but that’s about it. Since The Wrestler wasn’t watered down by a marketing onslaught, fans took it upon themselves to create t-shirts for their broken down Jersey hero. I wore mine this past weekend, and I’ve also noticed WWE’s Curt Hawkins (Zack Ryder’s former tag partner) proudly wearing a black Randy “The Ram” T-shirt as well. You can purchase one via Zazzle at this link.
Have you ever passed by a barber shop or a dry cleaner and noticed a poster for a local independent wrestling event? Out of the nearly 20 wrestlers that appear on the poster, occasionally you’ve heard of at least a few. Events like this are usually much more reasonable than going to a WWE event, and a lot closer, there may even be one this weekend at your local VFW hall. OK, so you won’t see John Cena, CM Punk, or Zack Ryder, but it will still be a lot of fun. Even as a lifelong, hardcore wrestling fan, the dedication of indy promoters and wrestlers never ceases to amaze me. What keeps these guys performing at these events? It’s definitely NOT the wrestlers paltry payout at the end of the night, it’s the devotion for the business.
Since the hype started hitting the Internet a couple of years ago for the indy wrestling documentary Card Subject To Change: Pro Wrestling’s Underground, I wanted to see it desperately. I went so far as to email the addresses listed on their official site to find out more info on the film or if I could somehow review it. I never heard back from them. You’d think a mere mention of The Sexy Armpit would elicit some sort of response after the several moments of snickering and confusion clears the air. I forgave the filmmakers since the operation was headed by a fellow Kean University graduate, Tim Disbrow. He directed, produced, and edited Card which is now streaming on Netflix. George “The Animal” Steele had his plush creature “Mine,” and Tim has his documentary. Creating a documentary that’s actually entertaining and not boring is quite an accomplishment and I have to hand it to Tim for producing a film with such reverence for the business.
Lots of places around the U.S claim to be exclusive hotbeds for professional wrestling. Actually, the truth is that aside from Madison Square Garden, the state of New Jersey has cultivated so many superstars and continues to have tons of indy wrestling shows all throughout the state. This made it easy for Tim to capture scenes with promoter Johnny Falco who runs shows all over New Jersey.
While The Wrestler illustrated the end of Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s career, Card Subject to Change shines the spotlight on a broader look at the indy wrestling scene. From the outset, Tim Disbrow’s film establishes that there are literally thousands of active professional wrestlers in the country, but probably only around a hundred are signed to full time contracts with the large companies. So DVR the glitz of Smackdown for one night and power up your Netflix. Update your status as “watching a documentary” so they think you’re very cultured and intelligent. Meanwhile you’ll be seeing the local exploits of some of the most well known indy wrestlers.
Appearing in the film are NJ’s Rob Eckos (now Robbie E. in TNA), the late Trent Acid, Kamala, Kevin Sullivan, the late Sensational Sherri in her last interview, ROH’s Rhett Titus (Also from NJ),
If you thought The Wrestler was simply the wrestling version of Rocky, after reading this post you’ll think differently. The immense amount of similarities between 1988’s Homeboy and 2008’s The Wrestler make them more suitable companion films. The Wrestler, came 20 years after Homeboy, but both star Mickey Rourke and are filmed in New Jersey. Now join me at ringside as we pit boxer Johnny Walker vs. former wrestling superstar Randy “The Ram” Robinson…
Both The Wrestler and Homeboy’s New Jersey setting and stirring cinematography transported me directly into their respective main character’s agonizing world. While The Ram was your typical beefed up bleach blonde babyface who has seen better days, Homeboy’s Johnny Walker had shorter hair, and a western flair, but they were both equally beaten down, fading athletes.
Randy the Ram was grappling with his own demons and masking his pain with drugs, but Johnny Walker put himself in danger when he merely stepped into the ring. Walker also continued to align himself with an underhanded promoter prick only out for the purse, Christopher Walken’s Wesley Pendergass. It was easy to feel bad for a weathered, wandering cowboy who was being manipulated by a sleazy low level crook. As Pendergass, Walken is so Walkeny that you’d think he’s doing an impression of himself. This is classic Walken.
During the making of the two films, Rourke had more difficulty adjusting to training to become a wrestler since he had previously been a boxer for several years before pursuing acting. His bio on Wikipedia reveals that he suffered at least two concussions during his early boxing matches. His ring experience in real life clearly lent authenticity to both roles. Rourke even used Guns n Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine” as his entrance music in his boxing bouts, while Randy “The Ram” Robinson chose to use the same song in the last match against The Ayatollah in The Wrestler.
In 1997 singer Paula Cole begged to know “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” Homeboy might not answer that question precisely, but after watching the film it’s obvious that all the cowboys slash boxers have gone to Asbury Park. Considering that Rourke wrote the screenplay for Homeboy (under his nom de plum “Sir Eddie Cook) and that he went back to boxing after his declining movie career, Homeboy becomes even more poignant. Although there’s many differences between boxing and professional wrestling, there’s almost no separation between Rourke, Johnny Walker, and Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Throughout his own boxing career, in addition to concussions, Rourke suffered a number of injuries such as broken bones, a compressed cheekbone, and short term memory loss. All that plus accusations that he was washed up as an actor fueled his performances in these films.
*Currently Homeboy is streaming on Netflix
Whether you are a hardcore McMahon disciple or you’re strictly into ROH and other indy organizations, the fact is that TNA Wrestling puts one hell of an awesome house show. Presently, the Nashville TN based wrestling organization has their show on the road and will be hauling it up to The Rahway Recreational Center in New Jersey on March 12th. The last time TNA came to The Rahway Rec Center in September, the air conditioning wasn’t working and the place was like a sauna. Words can’t describe to you the melange of smells wafting around that gym. I temporarily changed my name to The Sweaty Armpit that night.
Luckily they weren’t lying and the show they put on actually was full of non-stop action. If TNA could only capture that excitement and put it on TV, they would probably see a ratings boost. It reminded me of the old days of ECW, it was simple, no ridiculous pyro or lasers, just wrestling! Perhaps the reason why the Rahway TNA shows are successful has something to do with their association with the local Jersey All Pro Wrestling organization.
The best part about a TNA house show is that they actually follow the story lines and occasionally you’ll witness a title exchange. At the last show Elizabeth NJ’s Jay Lethal won back the X-Division title from Amazing Red in front of his hometown crowd! As Gorilla Monsoon used to say, the place went bananas! Mick Foley also showed up and ignited the crowd upon dropping some trivia that Randy “The Ram” Robinson from The Wrestler was from Rahway just before he confronted the team of The Shore (Robbie E. and Cookie). Unlike at WWE shows, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try and get autographs and maybe a picture with your favorite TNA star. And don’t be concerned about ticket prices either; starting at $23 bucks, they are very reasonable. It definitely beats listening to Michael Cole and watching The Miz.
The world of a professional wrestler, with the outfits, the personas, and the fans will always be a myriad of truths and fictions. Yes, the outcomes are preordained and the storylines scripted, but no it isn’t fake; they really get hit and injured (sometimes permanently) and do things that should only be tried on Jackass!. But underneath this world, for the ones that have left the limelight behind, it’s only one of memories and disappointments. And to look closer, it is also a mirror into the career of Mickey Rourke. Once considered the next Robert De Niro with legendary roles in such 80’s classics as Diner, 9 ½ Weeks, and The Pope of Greenwich Village, Rourke’s star soon faded in the 90’s along with his career, which led him to briefly take up professional boxing. But after a small resurgence in bit parts, Rourke slowly found himself in demand which lead to a breakout of sorts in the 2000’s, with prominent roles in Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Sin City which brings us to The Wrestler. Upon first look, it’s easy to dismiss the movie as Rocky with wrestling in place of boxing. But after numerous viewings, it is an example of Rourke’s power as an actor as well as an excellent portrait of New Jersey in all its truth and grittiness.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke, who trained with real life wrestler Afa Anoai) is an ’80s wrestling star that has long since been out of the spotlight. Working on the independent circuit in gymnasiums and schools, Randy is a broken man in every aspect. His muscled body cannot stand the abuse anymore, and he keeps himself going with pain pills and steroids. Outside the ring, he makes ends meet as a stock clerk at a supermarket, constantly bullied by his boss, while trying to coax Cassidy, a stripper (Marissa Tomei, who bares everything and looks damn better than women half her age), to see him outside her work. He has long since lost contact with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and longs to be back on top, which may happen by a chance rematch with his old nemesis The Ayatollah (Ernest “The Cat” Miller). But his wrestling career is put in jeopardy after an extremely violent “hardcore” match leads to a heart attack that nearly kills him. Now Randy must decide if a last chance shot at fame is worth everything, including his very life.
Director Darren Aronofsky perfectly captures the balance of a person and wrestler. One minute, Randy is larger than life in the ring, playing to the crowd and basking in the attention; the next, he is sad and pathetic at his work, doing menial labor and swallowing his pride to work the deli counter. Rourke disappears into the role from beginning to end. In addition to performing some of the wrestling scenes, Aronofsky filmed him waiting on real customers at the deli counter in order to keep the scenes as realistic as possible. Apart from Rourke, Marissa Tomei also scored an Oscar nomination as a woman who is much like the Ram; well past her prime to be working in a strip club (Cheeques, located in Linden if you’re interested), she struggles night after night, and well aware that she is being passed over for the younger entertainers. Both Randy and Cassidy live in an era that has long since passed; the ’80s, celebrating the music and clothing, trying to deny the current times around them. An excellent example is summed up during their meeting at a bar while RATT plays in the background: “Yeah, the ’90s really sucked.”
Along with Rourke and Tomei, another star is the state of New Jersey. With a short shooting schedule, Aronofsky filmed on location in Linden, Bayonne, Rahway, Roselle Park, Hasbrouck Heights, Garfield, Elizabeth, and Asbury Park while other scenes where filmed in Pennsylvania and New York. What really captures the spirit of the film is a scene in Asbury Park, where Randy has a brief reunion with his daughter. Asbury has undergone a complete renovation and transformed into a more glitzy, trendy affair of clubs, restaurants, and hotels. But at the time of filming, it was a forgotten, dilapidated boardwalk of empty venues and boarded up businesses. But New Jersey is kinda like that; most of the industries that populated Newark, Passaic, and Paterson (to name a few) had been outsourced and left the Garden State high and dry. Much like Randy, time has not been too kind to the state, but still everyone (me included) still remembers when good times were to be had and hope was not a lost word.
The Wrestler won numerous awards from every film festival from here to Toronto and, following two wins at the Golden Globes including best actor and best original song (courtesy of original NJ’er Bruce Springsteen) was expected to win big at the Academy Awards. But sadly, it came up short with Rourke losing out to Sean Penn and Tomei to Penelope Cruz, but it gave people around the world a new reason to consider Mickey Rourke a major talent again as well as showing New Jersey in a non-Jersey Shore light. Subtle, funny, and moving, The Wrestler is definitely one of the best films in the past decade.
I have no qualms about admitting that I’ve enjoyed TNA Wrestling much more than the crap WWE has been putting out for the last several months. There’s a bunch of reasons why I’ve basically jumped ship like Nash and Hall did when they went to WCW. If you can’t possibly comprehend why I feel this way, I’ll explain.
Foremost, the feel of TNA programming overall reminds me of how wrestling was when I first became obsessed with it. The roster is a crew of extremely talented individuals. Whether it’s the stellar tag teams, the X-division, or the ladies, they all have proven their talent and they didn’t need no stinkin’ reality show! Their new stars aren’t being forced down our throats either, they are genuinely making fans interested via awesome matches and cutting attention grabbing promos. TNA’s ranking system adds some legitimacy to the title race, while the unscripted promos are more natural and lend realism to the characters.
Since Hogan and Bischoff joined the company, TNA has been on a slow, but steady incline. There’s certainly a handful of veteran stars, but the focus is predominantly on new talent. Personally, I find it more exciting to watch wrestlers that come from the indy scene rather than those who have been scooped up after Vince fired their asses.
One of those wrestlers who has had an extensive run in several independent companies as well as occasional spots in WWE is New Jersey born Rob Eckos. Eckos, the former “Platinum Poppa,” was recently signed to TNA as Robbie E., a guido type character inspired by MTV’s Jersey Shore, which happens to be TNA’s direct timeslot competition. Do not judge him by his upcoming tongue in cheek take off on the Jersey Shore crew, Eckos is a profoundly talented wrestler who already has over 10 years of in-ring experience. An entry in The Top 10 Reasons to Watch The Wrestler on Blu-Ray here at The Sexy Armpit was that Eckos’ name was mentioned in it! I think it’s the coolest thing to be name dropped in one of my favorite movies of all time, and one of the best Jersey based films ever.
Robby E’s valet will be a send up of Snooki, aptly named Cookie, whose previous ring name was Becky Bayless, a spunky female wrestler also pulled from the indy scene. Make sure you check out TNA Thursday Night iMPACT! on SPIKE TV in the coming weeks to see the premiere of Robbie E. and Cookie!
Black Machismo Foil T-Shirt available at shopTNA.com