Keeping Kayfabe in the Local World of Wrestling

Performers in Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling captivate old and new fans alike

ECCW’s “Cinco de Mayhem” wrestling ring in Sapperton Pensioners Hall in New Westminster. (Kristine Hui)

While many Canadians were celebrating Cinco de Mayo, those in New Westminster’s Sapperton Pensioners Hall spent May 5 crowded around a makeshift wrestling ring.

“Cinco de Mayhem” was the name of Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling’s latest event, which saw the typically tranquil Pensioners Hall transformed into a wrestling arena. Founded in 1996, ECCW is currently Canada’s largest wrestling promotion.

The evening began when two opponents—Judas Icarus and Artemis Spencer—made their grand entrances from behind a curtained-off corner of the room. Each wrestler brought his own unique energy to the ring, complete with tailored theme music and elaborate costumes.

The dark-haired Icarus was dressed as a dastardly hillbilly, clad in overalls, unable to utter a single coherent sentence. Instead, he hooted and hollered through his match against the fair-haired Spencer, whose smile and charm won over the crowd.

Although the two slapped and grappled each other around the ring, their fight didn’t stay between the ropes for very long. Several times throughout the match, audience members had to flee from their seats as the men flung themselves into the crowd. Both Spencer and Icarus took turns attempting to pin each other for the count of three, and just when it seemed that good-guy Spencer would be defeated, he tapped into an inner strength and overpowered his foe.

If this story seems a bit contrived, that’s because it is.

Judas Icarus (blue) versus Artemis Spencer (red) in the first match up. (Kristine Hui)

In the world of professional wrestling, “kayfabe” is an industry term used to refer to the portrayal of staged events as being real. Since wrestling matches are scripted—as are the rivalries and narratives that surround those matches—wrestlers must maintain kayfabe in order to sustain the authenticity of their personas.

Kayfabe helps audience members suspend their disbelief and accept the fictional world created by the performers. The fact that the match was not a real sports competition, but instead a sports-themed play, allowed them to cheer Spencer and boo Icarus despite the fact that both men were risking their bodies for the audience’s enjoyment.

“It is a performance, obviously, like a live action movie […] mixed with athleticism,” says Cass, a lifelong wrestling fan who regularly attends ECCW shows. “It’s not like any other kind of entertainment. You never know what you are going to see and it’s always different every time you see it.”

Wrestling’s larger than life characters like Spencer and Icarus are a major drawing point for their fans, as is the atmosphere at live wrestling shows. While yelling at strangers on the street might get you in trouble, audience members are encouraged to yell at wrestlers and their managers during a match in either support or disdain.

Shortly after Spencer had vanquished Icarus, a man in a purple leotard adorned with pictures of pizza, hamburgers, and a chicken drumstick made his way to the ring. This man, “Fergie”, offered comedic relief while his opponent, Steve West (also known as “Simply the Best”) played the “no laughing matter” tough-guy wrestler.

Fergie’s sassy antics soon led to him dancing amorously with both the referee and his opponent. Unlike the first, far more physical bout, this match quickly devolved into a dance-off between the two combatants, which only ended when West blew snot into Fergie’s face. This moment of surprise allowed West to pin Fergie to the mat for the three count.

Although West won the match, the fans’ hearts remained with Fergie. Through the rest of the night, the audience watched men get thrown onto picnic-sized tables, be hit with metal chairs, and even expose their buttocks—all in the name of entertainment.

Each performer, whether benevolent or villainous, played his role with gusto while the fans cheered, jeered, and shouted snarky comments throughout the matches.

“It’s kind of a diverse crowd,” says Becca Castle, one of the owners of ECCW. “A lot of the older fans grew up watching the golden age of wrestling, and when they find out that there’s local wrestling, they get really excited because it takes them back to their childhood. Then we have younger fans who find out about us through social media and come and check out our show and get hooked.”

The audience seemed to instinctively distinguish the heroes or “faces” from the villains or “heels.” Heels typically bully, cheat, and exhibit other unlikable traits to make the audience turn against them. They serve as foils to the faces, who follow the rules, are typically polite to the referees, and show great perseverance, and are therefore cheered by the audience.

All of the wrestlers who work for ECCW are independent contractors; a standard in the wrestling business. Every year, ECCW puts on a couple of free shows where non-contracted wrestlers work for free so that management can scout and evaluate new talent.

Although wrestling is a performance, Castle notes that there is still “a lot of athleticism involved, and you have to be in good physical condition to do these moves and do them safely.” She also explains how wrestling in Canada differs from the United States.

“The Pacific Northwest is not as well known, even though we have a lot of good wrestlers who have come out of here such as The Bollywood Boyz [who currently perform in the WWE as The Singh Brothers] and Becky Lynch, who started in an ECCW ring,” she says.

Castle became involved in ECCW when she started dating her now-husband, who worked with the ECCW security team. When the couple was presented with the opportunity to buy into the company when one of the old owners left, they took it.

“If you know about wrestling in Canada then you are one of the few because no one really thinks about Canada [as] having a good wrestling scene,” she says. “But once you know about it, you actually find about how many promotions there are and the great product that they put out consistently.”

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