NWA Wildside

A walk on the wildside: National Wrestling Alliance stomps, slams and thrashes its way into the into the Athens Arena, by Kimberly E. Mock

Trick question: What's of questionable taste, employs more spandex than Britney Spears' stylist and represents a veritable fight of good versus evil?

If you answered Christina Aguilera, you're right!

If you answered professional wrestling, you're also right!

Caught somewhere between a prime time Telemundo network drama and an afternoon of Jenny Jones episodes is a macrocosm inhabited by an armada of spandex-clad heroes that, through the magic of television and cross-marketing, has helped the sport of professional wrestling become America's lowbrow pastime of choice.

Yes, it seems watching grown men (and women) thrash about in a ring has become a mainstay in modern American culture. And while millions may argue over its validity - are fights real or the product of elaborate choreography? - there's no denying wrestling's power as a bona fide sport and, for many, a lifestyle.

Professional wrestling has outlived (and out-financed) such beloved American television entertainment phenoms as ''American Gladiators,'' ''Putting on the Hits'' and ''Roller Derby.''

Why? Perhaps wrestling's subsistence lies in the critical life lessons we've learned since professional wrestlers first entered the ring for an afternoon of smackdowns.

Thanks to professional wrestling, wrestlers' trademark moves such as Stone Cold Steve Austin's ''Stone Cold-Stunner'' and The Rock's ''The Rock Bottom'' have nestled their way into the American lexicon.

Wrestling has taught us valuable life lessons too, such as: After a hearty fight, the good guy usually prevails; using steroids makes you large and a shoo-in for anger management therapy; bleached platinum blond hair is generally a bad hair choice (thanks Hulk Hogan!); if and when Randy ''Macho Man'' Savage comes bursting through your garage door, you'd better be ready to eat some Slim Jims.

But perhaps the most important lesson we've learned via the well-lit arenas of Sunday night pay-per-view is this: watching a good ass-whooping can be good clean American fun. And in Athens, the fun is just about to begin. On Saturday, the granddaddy of all wrestling cliques, the National Wrestling Alliance, will stomp, slam and thrash its way into the Athens Arena as part of ''Arena Wars,'' an all-out, multi-card beat down that NWA-Wildside owner, promoter and television syndicator Bill Behrens describes as a ''passion play of good versus evil.''

While your typical passion play may not employ the messiah cavorting about a well-lit ring whilst fans chant ''Get him,'' Saturday's showcase will feature David Young (the ''Messiah of the Spinebuster'') taking on Jason Cross (a.k.a. ''The Role Model'') and Jimmy Rave, ''The Original XTC.''

The two- to three-hour romp also will feature ''The Archangel'' Gabriel versus Azrael with Jeff G. Bailey, as well as a match pitting The Impact (a.k.a. Chaos & Cage) against Bulldog & Tank with Al Getz. Behrens says the match is designed to delight spectators with wrestlers' death-defying stunts, continual bombast and ongoing beefs.

And contrary to popular belief, you need not study up on the past four years of league matches to understand the story lines at the show - although with the NWA's new monthly matches at the Athens Arena on the second Saturday of each month, you really have no excuse.

''You're going to be entertained from square one,'' Behrens says. ''You're going to see tremendous athleticism, people taking gigantic risks with their bodies and their lives. (It's) good guys versus bad guys and a series of matches that each tell a story. ... It's an aggressive soap opera.''

For parents hoping to show their kids the plight of good versus evil - a seemingly common theme in wrestling: nobody liked it when Andre the Giant took down Hulk Hogan - without the raunchy outbursts sometimes associated with wrestling, fear not.

Behrens says each match is tailored specifically to its audience - meaning, while kids likely will witness a serious beat-down, matches still can be a fun, family-friendly activity.

But what about the match's reality factor? Is it real or is it all a sham?

As Behrens says, the match's real factor may just be in the eye of the beholder.

''Everything you see actually happens,'' Behrens says. ''So if you see someone bleed, they are actually bleeding. There (are) no blood capsules in wrestling. Whatever these people do happens that very evening.''

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Thursday, July 10, 2003.

Article on the Online Athens website

NWA Wildside official website

Mediaman, Greg Tingle, interviews Bill Behrens

NWA Tribute (Greg Tingle's website)