On Friday the 18th of November, Phoenix Professional Wrestling will celebrate its 8th anniversary at the Phoenix Theater. What started as one man’s dream has become a whole community’s delight.
I am sitting here with a happy-ass smile on my face after watching the YouTube channel of the PPW. Beefy men talk smack before throwing each other around a first-class-looking ring. The crowd on their feet cheer like caffeinated children as grown men pretend to punch each other in the face. The broadcast announcer hollers, “He’s punch drunk!” and suddenly I’m 13 again, smiling shamelessly.
PPW co-founder Josh Drake first felt that way about wrestling in 1991. Then he became a lapsed fan—the way some might be a lapsed catholic—until a friend reintroduced him to the joy of the spectacle. In a punk band at the time, Drake immediately saw the confluence of the two subcultures. By 2006, he was hosting a wrestling and music show called Punk Slam. While that series did not last, the next evolution of the dream was the PPW.
The involvement of the punk-forward Phoenix Theater makes possible a level of professionally polished spectacle that is difficult to achieve in local wrestling. “If [fans] come into a room and it’s not well lit and there’s no one in there … it can play into their fear [that] they’re gonna be seeing something that feels amateurish,” said Drake in a free-wheeling phone call worthy of a Gene Okerlund interview from 1985. I get to be Mean Gene.
“When you have professionalism in presentation, the stage is set for everyone to believe in these heroes,” enthused Drake, detailing the quality of lighting and sound at the venue.
After bonding over our love of the Mountain Goats’ love-letter album to regional wrestling, Beat the Champ, I note how wrestling at the local level can offer a non-corporate alternative to the global superhero fantasy of the MCU era.
Drake agrees wholeheartedly. In the PPW series, heroes, or “faces,” like Kal Jak square off against “heels” like Boyce LeGrande in year-long epic storylines of betrayal and revenge. Those in attendance on November 18th will see the mighty conclusion to that feud up close and personal.
The Phoenix is a youth center and wrestling appeals to us first when we are kids. So are the shows kid-friendly?
“We’re conscious of the kids,” said Drake, pointing to the low price of youth tickets and explaining that the shows end by ten so families can get future ultimate warriors home to bed. But the level of violence? I ask. “You can’t tell a ghost story without showing ghosts but it’s a PG show.” Any blood is reserved for cage matches. Oh yes, cage matches.
Wrestlers keep the language “easy on the mic” and Drake emphasizes that the new era of wrestling is much more inclusive than what we grew up with. The Northern California scene includes openly LGBTQIA+ wrestlers and the “men’s” and “women’s” wrestling events are merging more and more.
“[T]he wrestling community is some of the most real people and friends that you could bring into the Phoenix,” said Tom Gaffey, Phoenix founder and theater manager. “The Phoenix will always be punk but it will also always be wrestling.”
Phoenix Professional Wrestling goes from 8 pm to 10 pm, Friday, Nov. 18 at the Phoenix Theater, 201 Washington St, Petaluma. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite at www.phoenixprowrestling.com. Tickets are also available cash only at the door. First 100 attendees receive wrestler playing cards!