The best bit about being a professional wrestler was the road trips with my tag-team partner. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the wrestling, or the hardly getting paid, or the nights spent on floors of dubious cleanliness, but Good Times with my tag partner were the best bit of all of it. There’s something about the open road (or as close as the M4 or whatever comes to the open road), some choice tunes, random snacks, and talk talk talk.
It’s been ten years since we laced up our boots but we’ve had a few road trips since then. The magic has been easy to re-capture because it was never lost, and it really doesn’t matter that we’re not spending twenty minutes in a wrestling ring in the middle of a four-hour round trip. So introducing him to Lucha Britannia last month was the Right Thing To Do, because it means a road trip Every Single Month.
We arrived early for this month’s show. Like, four hours early. That’s because Lucha Britannia is so good I drive from miles and miles and miles away, and if I left any earlier I’d hit traffic and I may as well not bother. Early’s good, though, because you get that prime parking spot, and you can go and get some food, and you can watch the Lucha Britannia crew rock up and remember when it was us that was doing said rocking. Not that we were ever four hours early for a show, you understand.
So when Steakley Bakewell arrives, you nod to him through your car window, and he nods back, and you tell yourself that’s not odd because you’re Facebook friends, and what does it matter that he’s not wearing his mask like he does in his Facebook picture and you don’t look like Harley Race like you do in yours. It’s an understanding, you tell yourself, and we’re good people and we can smell our own. Early’s also good because you get to meet the Royal Ramble podcast guys, who also get there Early, and catch up with Nigel & Jamie Mc (who knows EVERYONE), and Early is especially good because it means you get to stand ringside and I don’t know how I’d enjoy the show if I wasn’t.
You never know what you’ll get at Lucha Britannia. That’s not hyperbole, they really don’t release line-ups or even a definite list of who’ll be there. But that doesn’t matter because it’s the show you come to see, not any individual, no matter how much of a wrestle-crush you might be developing on them. One thing I did know was that JUVENTUD FUCKING GUERRERA would make an appearance and even though his best days are a decade and an arrest for PCP-related rampage behind him, I was still HYPED for that.
The show kicked off on time, which is late by any other standard, and Benjamin Louche ran through his super-effective warm-up routine. Louche is a huge part of the show and you can’t help but feel affection for him as he warms himself up as the crowd files in. Tony Two Tops, as geeze as any PROGRESS trainee, throws his lot in, too. Their commentary was funny and filled those gaps which might otherwise be filled by comedians in the crowd. Without these two the show just would not work. The Glamazons – Mamzelle Maz & Viva Ruin – were a vision in PVC, the ring girls from that worrying yet arousing dream you’ve been afraid to tell everyone about.
The first match, as seems standard on these occasions, was a Lucha Chaos match. These multi-man tornados are the perfect way to start a show, all flying bodies and colourful characters, an apposite introduction to the world of the RetroFutureVerse. I say multi-man but there’s a woman here – la Rana Venenosa, the poisonous frog – although her performance betrays any notions that women’s wrestling should be seen as separate or inferior. Alongside her, and also representing evil, were the undead Necrosis and the silver lizard Lagarta de Plata.
Unusually, the forces of good outnumbered their yin, with scrapheap cyborg Metallico, sex-obsessed primate Monito Aullador, neon explosion Cassius, and reformed hooligan Fug stepping out on the side of yang. When the dust had settled, and many, many sweaty bodies had been flung out of the ring and into the assembled crowd, it was Cassius who came up sparkling. That he’s anything other than beloved inside the Resistance Gallery is never in question, and he’s the nearest we’ve got to a true exótico on these shores. If it were up to me, every show would have him on it.
As big a part of the show as the lucha is the cabaret, and tonight was no different, with two acts, each cleaving the wrestling in twain in either half of the show. First up was Te Te Bang, all Tank Girl and leather and striptease and angle grinding. When I told a friend about the shows I’d been going to see in this tiny corner of Bethnal Green, he called them “titty wrestling”, and while that’s not really an accurate description of what goes on, even in the burlesque-esque cabaret acts, it’s a cool name so I let it stick.
A rare singles match was next out, as Prince Katonda took on el Piraña, in something Louche confusingly called a first round match in the King of the Ring. Just go with it. A win for Katonda took us into the interval, where talk and Dixie beer and filling in first-timers was on the cards. When it was my first time, Jamie Mc (who knows EVERYONE) was the one who helped me understand what I was seeing and this was my turn to play host, and I did my wide-eyed best and I hope the group of girls, three of whom had no idea where they were going until they got there, enjoyed their glimpse into another, special world.
The second half started with The Fabulous Bakewell Boys led out on leashes by Lilly SnatchDragon. This is going to sound very odd if you’ve not been following but Lilly was Grandpa Bakewell’s mail-order Thai bride, their wedding prevented by the actions of an irritating minor royal, and she turned to the dark side (and the forces of el Cardenal) to secure her place in the UK. On the last show, she won a raffle to spend a day with the Bakewell Boys, and that turned into a solid month of controlling their lives leading up to this show. She wouldn’t let them drink and wouldn’t let them say “How Do!” Evil, evil Lilly.
The Boys had had enough, though, and threw off their mental actual chains and she challenged them to a strip off, which the crowd gladly accepted on their behalf. Outside the RetroFutureVerse, Lilly SnatchDragon is a professional burlesque dancer. The Fabulous Bakewell Boys are not. Still, they gave it their all – almost literally. They were about to unveil their meat and two veg’ when they were attacked by Los Necrosi and Zombie Janey! The appearance of la Diablesa Rosa to make the save was too good an opportunity to pass up and an impromptu trios match was made.
The Fabulous Bakewell Boys are on a losing streak that varies from the low hundreds to high thousands, and I’m sad to say that it wasn’t ended here. No, the forces of darkness triumphed once more and that bitch Lilly SnatchDragon didn’t get her comeuppance, even if she did get Line Of The Night when she told a noisy fan, “be quiet, white girl.”
After Benjamin Louche introduced the second cabaret act, Bambi Blue, a fire-eater, it was time for the main event. Last month, Lucha Britannia champion Freddie Mercurio had been bested by his eternal nemesis Santeria, and left bloodied & bowed, and – LOOK, JUST GO WITH IT, WILL YOU? – had disappeared off his Twitter the previous night with a cry of “heeelllp… mee…”. He didn’t reappear tonight, so the hopes and dreams of the denizens of Lucha Town were placed in the hands of Pure Britannico, the latest in the line of Britannico heroes…
BUT! Pure Britannico wasn’t alone! Someone had broken through from the real world into the RetroFutureVerse – JUVENTUD GUERRERA! He came to the ring – and wrestled the first half of the match – wearing his old mask, and made it a three-way for the title, with the odds stacked against the champion! Oh, does it show that I love this stuff yet?
So, yeah, they had a great match and Pure Britannico hit highspots and Santeria worked hard and Juvi was Juvi. Dark shenanigans came into play and the upshot was that Santeria pinned Pure Britannico after interference by Los Necrosi. Juvi, who’d been dragged into the crowd, re-appeared and dived onto the assembled forces of darkness from the balcony, cutting himself open in the process. He then pinned Santeria for I Don’t Know Why. Santeria is still the champion, I know that much.
Lucha Britannia has to be the only wrestling show in the world that immediately turns into a club night, and the music that had the wrestlers dancing in the ring – after a speech from Juventud Guerrera putting over the Lucha Britannia promoter Garry Vanderhorne and his crew – soon had the fans dancing, too. Photographs show that the wrestlers joined them but by that point my tag-team partner and I were on the return part of our road trip because age and distance and sleep and social awkwardness.
I feel like I’ve found something at Lucha Britannia that’s right for me. It’s not really something that’s been missing, because how fucked up would your life be if the thing that was missing was a carnivale of strangitude, but it’s something I’ve taken to and welcomed and almost need now to get through the mundanity of 21st century life. I can’t make the next two shows and that’s going to be tough but I know I’ll be back in August for more and it will be waiting for me as if I’ve not been away. That, like the best friendships and life-long tag-team partners, just can’t be undersold.