Hardcore Weekend: How I Bled Until I Saw the Future and Why Texas Is A Madness-Inducing Forever Machine
In 2004 I was at the tail end of my pro-wrestling career although I didn’t know it yet and I traveled from Dallas to Mineral Wells, Texas on a Saturday night to take part in a hardcore three-way Texas Death Match.
I no longer remember the name of the company/promotion. After a number of years they all tend to blend together into an endless and spastic DNA sequence of three-and-four-letter initials.
Those are all real, by the way.
Some of you may know the following. Some of you won’t. Some of you will think you do, but trust me you do not.
Texas is big.
Texas is big and flat and it goes on that way goddamn forever in every goddamn direction.
The weekend in question the sameness—the oneness—of Texas was finally threatening to overwhelm my mind.
Every two weeks I drove a flat burn from one end of the state to the other to wrestle in a converted movie theater in Corpus Christi. It was nine hours of slightly varying shades of exactly the same flat fucking thing, over and over, until you wanted to paint the landscape with your own entrails just to see some color and stark contrast.
IT’S THE SAME THING. ALL OF IT. NO MATTER HOW FAR YOU SEEM TO GO.
You drive nine hours and it’s still the same thing as when you started. You don’t cross state lines. You aren’t welcomed to somewhere new. You accomplish nothing. You are still in motherfucking Texas because Texas never ends. In particular, that last leg between San Antonio and the gulf is a void. It’s forever. It’s nothingness squared. It is a flat, featureless, indistinctive expanse of sandy limbo. And the more you drive it the more you are starkly aware of that fact and the longer the miles take to psychologically traverse. Even speeding along at eighty miles per hour a weak man may go mad.
Company helps keep you sane, but that’s about it. I was riding with “The Hardcore Kingpin” Scott Phoenix and his wife, who was also his manager/valet, Lady Draven. They were as good as any friends I made during my time in Texas, and I didn’t make many of those. I’d crashed at their place because we’d worked the night before in Denton, Texas, where we wrestled every week for another promotion that ran out of a space in a strip mall with ceilings you could reach up and touch while standing in the middle of the ring.
Scott and I worked (read: wrestled) each other all over the state for half-a-dozen different wrestling promotions. We were comparable in size, had good chemistry, and I didn’t mind him pummeling me with any and everything that wasn’t nailed down, which was kind of his thing at the time.
He once dropped a steel shopping cart on top of me.
It hurt. A lot.
Coincidentally the previous night’s match in Denton had been another hardcore three-way dance. Scott had gotten color. Our third man in that contest, Hugh Rogue, had also worn the proverbial crimson mask.
I hadn’t juiced/colored/gigged/bled. Largely because my mother had come to that show and I didn’t want to freak her out. She never saw me bleed profusely in a match, and that’s probably for the best. There’s also something slightly perverse about cutting yourself open in front of your mother, at least for me. I’d had my eyebrow busted open a week before and I told Rogue if he could open it back up with a punch that was fine (fifty hard-knuckled shots to the brow bone later not a drop, by the way), but I wasn’t going to blade that night.
I would not get away with that two hardcore nights in a row, and I knew it.
We got there; Mineral Wells, not much to say about it other than inexplicably we passed a good-sized movie studio outside of town (that’s what we in the trade call “foreshadowing,” kids). We set up the angle for that night at the top of the show during a big battle royale, which is a bunch of wrestlers in the ring at the same time all trying to toss each other over the top rope in order to be the last man standing, and thus the winner. I was barely paying attention when Scott back body dropped me over the top rope and nearly busted my knees and my skull simultaneously. I think the point was I yanked him out of the ring after and we brawled to the locker room, and that set up the conflict for when we took each other on later, but that whole part is hazy in my memory.
I do remember hitting the concrete from about sixteen feet up. I also remember landing wrong and realizing I was only halfway tuned in to the proceedings.
Neither my head nor my heart was in the thick of things at this point.
The concept of a Texas Death Match is fairly simple and classic in the Aristotle sense: your goal is to knock your opponent down so they’re unable to answer the referee’s count of ten. Beyond that there are no rules, and many bludgeoning weapons would be involved. I had a tiny razor blade concealed under the top fold of the athletic tape around my left wrist.
The third participant was a burly, jovial middle-aged man with the ring name Sensei. He wore a gi and was supposed to have a legitimate martial arts background, although I can’t say as I noticed during the match. He also made it clear he wasn’t going to color, which put added pressure on me to deliver the juice, which people absolutely expect to see during a hardcore-style match.
We came out somewhere in the middle of the card and went to work. There were bamboo canes, chairs, frying pans, assorted and industrial-looking pieces of metal of varying rigidity.
Everything in pro-wrestling hurts to some degree, weapons or not.
Getting hit with a forged piece of steel hurts a lot.
I ended up outside the ring. I took a sufficient shot to the head with an object I can’t recall offhand. I half-rolled under the ring apron (an amateurish and purely lazy way to hide your actions, and not something I would have contemplated a year before). I unsheathed my teardrop-shaped razor. I put a three-inch slash in my forehead.
I understand cutting. I did it a lot in those days. I did it with a purely utilitarian psychology. I did it for money. But I still experienced it. It doesn’t really hurt, at least not superficial cuts. Initially it’s cold in a soothing way. The blood flow, by contrast, feels quite warm. Your body releases endorphins and for a moment you don’t care about much at all.
It only lasts for a second or two, especially when you’re in the middle of a match, but this time it was different for me. That night in Mineral Wells a curtain of blood dropped down my face and I couldn’t hear the crowd anymore. I felt cold, then warm, then extremely calm and serene. I very much wanted to stay coddled in that moment. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to come out. I just wanted to lie there and bleed and not face the reality I’d cultivated around myself since I was fifteen years old.
I thought about the endless loops through the phantom zone that was Texas and how one more trip would probably drive me insane. I thought about everything that had happened in New York and why I wanted to leave. I thought about the thirty dollars I was being paid that night and the twenty dollars I’d been paid the night before.
I thought about all of these things and I decided I’d rather just rest.
I couldn’t, of course. We had a match to finish.
We were working in a rodeo arena, the floor of which was covered in these brittle wood chips that were now dyed red in my blood and smelled like a gas chamber and I’m facedown in them and the reality of the situation hit me harder than any of the foreign objects hurled and battered against my head in the last ten minutes.
I suddenly knew the following. I didn’t fully realize it yet, but I knew it.
This wasn’t working; any of it. It wasn’t going to work. Not the match, you understand, but everything I was doing. I was almost ten years on in this business, I had neither the body nor the charisma to move beyond my current mired level, and worse than all of that my desire had waned. Professional wrestling is a shitty business. It really is. Blue chippers are few and far between held against the number of workers who take a serious shot at making it. The majority of us toil long and fruitlessly and we wreck ourselves in every conceivable way a human being can. We push ourselves for years, decades, every season of every year.
The point is you have to do it because you love it or it will kill you. Once you no longer have the business in your heart, especially at the indie level without a six-or-seven-figure career to think about, you’re done.
We all have the ability to glimpse the future, even if it’s only ever the possible future. In that moment the next ten years rolled out before me and I knew I wanted none of what I saw and I knew I would have to step from the path that would carry me through all of it.
First things first, however. I got up. I finished the match.
We eliminated Sensei. Scott was booked to go over (i.e. win) that night, but the finish was left to us. We decided on the Rocky II ending. We’d knock each other down at the same time and then slowly race against the referee’s ten count to our feet, with Scott managing a vertical base at the last possible moment while I slumped back down to the mat, winning in grand and histrionic fashion.
Unfortunately the referee was some kid who didn’t know his asshole from a warp zone in Super Mario Bros. and though we’d explained the finish of the match to him beforehand he still managed to fuck it up. Scott and I came at each other armed with folded steel chairs, whapped each other upside the head simultaneously, and took our double fall. The referee counted. Scott dramatically and with Herculean effort forced his beaten form back up to a standing position just in the nick of time while I pancake back to the canvas in a heap…
… and then the referee started counting again, this time just for me.
I should have gotten up and we should have improvised something else, but I was beyond giving the barest molecule of a fuck so I just lay there and took another ten-count.
It was, to the say the least, anti-climactic.
Minutes later I sat down in the back, every part of me not covered in blood covered in sweat. A few feet away from me veteran Bullman Downs was hunched over, gray-haired and gray-bearded and two hundred pounds overweight and chain-smoking although he could still go for a solid half-hour in a match and he’d been in the business for decades and wrestled all over the world and was finishing his career doing the same indie shows as me while supporting his family by working for the city of Irvine.
“Good color,” he commented through a puff of smoke.
Some other twelve-year-old working behind the scenes for the promotion agreed and wanted to snap some pictures before I cleaned myself up.
I stood against a wall and the kid asked me for a pose, and then a different pose. I had nothing. I just stood there. I tried to make a mean face that instead came out pained and slightly constipated (as you can see for yourself in the photo).
Because at that moment I knew that I would have to go home and figure out what the fuck to do with the rest of my life.
I just wasn’t ready to deal with it yet.
I wrestled a few more matches before I finally came to Jesus on the whole thing, and my final match a long time later was a wholly unremarkable event, but that’s another story and not a very good one.
I traveled to hundreds of towns, to different states and different countries. I worked thousands of shows, wrestled thousands of matches. But I think about that night probably more than any other in my career. Lying on the floor of that rodeo arena bleeding from my forehead is one of my most vivid memories of being anywhere at any time in my life.
People change jobs and careers every day and sometimes it’s a huge deal and most of the time it’s not. I get that. Pro-wrestling was more than a job for me. It was my way of life, my culture, and my biggest dream.
That night I realized for the first time I had to let all of it die if I was going to survive.
I hope you love whatever it is you’re doing. Short of that, I hope you’re content with your choices and love the life they’ve facilitated.
If not… I don’t recommend heavy bloodletting as the turnkey of personal epiphany. At least not before you’ve had the training and years on the road to put it in the proper context.
I do recommend you take a look at your life and the dreams on which it’s based with new eyes and a hard, pragmatic heart. Ask yourself if the time you’ve put in is worth the time you have ahead of you.
You may decide you have to leave it all in the ring.