Portland’s Lo-Fi, DIY Pro Wrestling Scene Keeps It Extremely Real
A sweltering summer evening: about 100 people, some of them kids, some of them grandparents, gravitate to the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge on N Lombard Street for Blue Collar Wrestling’s regular slate of theatrical combat.
Every week since 2010, BCW, a pro wrestling outfit with humble surroundings but a lofty commitment to entertain, draws fans who ache for a firsthand taste of glitz and spandex. BCW isn’t our only local wrestling outfit—fans at the Eagles can rattle off acronyms for the other promotions around the city. But Blue Collar, unlike some, pays wrestlers to go in the ring every damn week. Sunday nights at the lodge call back to the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when Portlanders flocked to wrestling’s biggest names, presented by the legendary outfit Portland Wrestling. And while World Wrestling Entertainment’s pay-per-view glam pulls today’s big money, Blue Collar Wrestling exudes the game’s throwback, carnival soul. Tickets cost $10. The room pulses with an excitement you can’t put a price on.
“There’s not many of us old-school guys left,” says “Tex Thompson” (a.k.a. Thomas Machen), a 54-year-old with 18 years of grappling experience, who does battle in chaps and a cowboy hat. BCW weaves deep backstories for its bouts, with its wrestlers divided into rival factions. For a couple of hours, Machen says, BCW fans “step into our little dreamland here.”
The snack bar sells Doritos; the bar sells canned beer. A geriatric couple ambles toward two ringside seats. Just before the first bell, the man gingerly places protective ear muffs over his companion’s ears.
Pattie Deitz, owner and namesake of Pattie’s Home Plate Café up the street in St. Johns, sits ringside. As bouts begin, she sells raffle tickets, tucking the cash into a washed-out relish container. At 72, Deitz goes back in Portland wrestling history about as far as you can: she started attending fights when she was 13, worked with Portland Wrestling by the time she was 26, and now co-owns Blue Collar with Machen and his wife, Shannon. She remembers pro wrestling before it became “talk, lights, and explosions”; she once watched Andre the Giant, the Eighth Wonder of the World, step over a Portland ring’s top rope.
“We’re here to entertain,” she says. “You want a street fight? Go out in the parking lot.”
Midway through the night, Gregor Petrov, in red shorts emblazoned with a Soviet hammer and sickle, struts to the ring with Tommy Celcious in his entourage. Petrov quickly crushes his opponent. The crowd keeps jeering Tommy. A nearby BCW manager joins in—and Tommy explodes. He grabs the manager by the ears, smacks his face into a table, pulls handcuffs from his own sequined jacket, and cuffs his victim. With Petrov as accomplice, Tommy produces a jug labeled bleach and pours the liquid into the screaming manager’s eyes. Petrov cackles. He and Tommy drag the wailing man backstage. The announcer calls intermission, and says they’ll call an ambulance.
Is this a sport? Or a choreographed dance of big muscled ballerinas? Tonight, no one here really cares. The ambiguity, the camp—this crowd loves it. Deitz loves it. The old couple loves it. A reporter, unexpectedly, loves it. Later, when a wrestler takes a shot to his left eye, blood spilling down his cheek, Deitz jumps up to meet him backstage. “Is that real blood?” I ask her.
“Yes,” she says, smiling as she pushes back her chair. “We don’t use fake blood here.”
Top Image: Gregor Petrov recounts a match; Cousin Jameson body-slams Demarcus James