Outside of football, cricket, rugby, UFC, boxing, tennis and co, there’s a world of… unusual… sports loved by smaller numbers of cult devotees. In our new series Weird Sports, Loaded gives a monthly shoutout to the activities taking places in the outer reaches of athleticism.
A man with a cereal box on his head marked ‘Cereal Man’ is perched on the top rope of a wrestling ring surrounded by almost 1,000 baying fans.
He throws himself from the rope, performing a diving head-butt drop (or a flying head-butt to a layman) on a woman dressed as a demented nurse.
After taking a few heavy hits she grapples with Cereal Man, before encasing his face in bandages. The wrestler, Nurse Ratchet, begins covering the floor of the ring with cereal removed from her adversary’s head, before injecting him in the neck with a large needle.
Looking on in despair, the referee holds his hands to his head, as Nurse Ratchet climbs to her feet. Once upright, she holds the top rope and swings her left arm around in manic celebration.
By the end of the round, Cereal Man has recovered from his faux-drugged stupor and wins the match on a count-out. As the referee holds his arm aloft, Nurse Ratchet’s minder restrains her on the leash she was led to the ring on.
The noise in the Oakland Metro Opera House never drops from deafening throughout.
Drinking and smoking weed, the fans pandemonium appears more fitting to a crowd at a metal concert than your stereotypical wrestling support. And that’s because this isn’t WWE. This is Hoodslam.
Started in 2010 by Sam Khandaghabadi as a regular gathering for wrestlers who wanted to perform edgier acts, Hoodslam has steadily grown through its five-year existence.
It’s a land where wrestlers like The Stoner Bros – Rick-Scott Stoner and Scott-Rick Stoner – and Drugs Bunny rub shoulders with burlesque dancers and live music that Slipknot would approve.
Khandaghabadi, who wrestled as The Sheik on America’s independent wrestling scene for 10 years before starting Hoodslam in the Bay Area of California, opened the monthly event because he wasn’t satisfied with anything else he found on the circuit.
“People were just doing the same old thing and spitting back what they’d been fed before as opposed to coming up with their own twist,” he explains. “I figured I’d try to do something a little bigger and a lot more over the top.”
He started out when a friend invited him to bring a ring to the Victory Warehouse, a space in Oakland where local metal bands practice and perform.
“I’m not sure it even counts as a building,” he says. “I’m pretty sure it’s constructed on the side of another building. It’s freezing cold. The plumbing is horrible. Sometimes the power just goes out. But it was our beginning. If that had never happened we wouldn’t have got off the ground.”
Against all the odds Hoodslam not only survived, but grew. It’s since moved to the Oakland Metro Opera House, which Khandaghabadi says bears a “fancier” title than you might expect after seeing it. But it does have four bars and a capacity that has allowed them to branch out into events outside their monthly show, including Bloodslam at Halloween and Hoodslam The Opera.
“We were performing with grown men that had hundreds of years of experience playing opera around the world between them”
For the latter, the Opera House got an orchestra to rewrite Kurt Weill’s political satire The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahogany.
“It’s a cruel play about people’s loves turning against them, prostitutes, boxers and dying,” explains Khandaghabadi. “The city is like a lawless Las Vegas, where the only rule is that you need money.
“Doing that was interesting. We were performing with grown men that had hundreds of years of experience playing opera around the world between them and Johnny Drinko Butabi was in the middle of them.”
Butabi is a heavy boozing character from Hoodslam’s colourful world – one that combines pro wrestling with profanity, sexuality and the public consumption of drugs and alcohol, with Hoodslam The Opera perfectly summating Khandaghabadi’s vision.
“There’s nothing wrong with WWE or typical independent wrestling, but I believe the wrestlers are more caught up in themselves than they are providing for the fans,” he explains.
“We love wrestling and we’re all trained wrestlers, but we’re trying to take it higher and put it on the pedestal we think it belongs, as opposed to repeating what’s already been done. We want to take it in a new direction, doing it as theatre and presenting it to people in ways they’ve never seen.
“We don’t really put ourselves in a box, so we’re not constricted in any way. We’re a lot more of an amorphous amalgamation of differing art forms.”
“I’d seen people pass a blunt or beer to musicians on stage as they perform and wondered why fans don’t do that to wrestlers. Don’t they like us as much as them?”
And with the motto ‘Don’t bring the fucking kids’, at the centre of that art is one giant party.
“I love that it’s like a rock concert, and it’s by design,” Khandaghabadi continues. “We don’t have chairs or barriers. I’d seen people pass a blunt or beer to musicians on stage as they perform and wondered why fans don’t do that to wrestlers. Don’t they like us as much as them? I think they do, and felt that if they could, they would. So you have that now.
“I’ve gone to the ring and got drunk from fans’ drinks they have given me and got high on the marijuana they have handed me. It’s a bit of a gamble as you hope there’s nothing else in there you didn’t bargain for but so far so good.
“It makes it more intimate. Without the fans we’d be nothing. We’d do it without them, which is why we said ‘Fuck the fans’ when we started it. But now it’s a symbiotic relationship as we bounce off them and they’re part of the performance.”
‘Fuck the fans’ has become a mainstay of the crowd’s cannon, an ironic take on how Hoodslam, despite starting from humble beginnings, is very much for the fans.
And it’s clearly working, as Hoodslam became a global phenomenon earlier this month when it was immortalised in Superman #47. In it, the Man Of Steel falls in with an underground wrestling promotion in Oakland called MythBrawl.
“It isn’t official but apparently the writer lives here and is into Hoodslam,” Khandaghabadi explains. “The cartoon is the exact exterior of the Oakland Metro Opera House.”
“I’ve gone in the ring and got high on marijuana that fans have handed me”
But how did he turn a combination of independent wrestling and such brazen drink and drug taking into world news?
“You’d have to ask someone else that,” Khandaghabadi concludes. “We just did it and nobody told us not to.”
Here Khandaghabadi talks us through some of Hoodslam’s most colourful characters:
“Broseph” Joe Brody
He’s our host, commentator and occasional combatant. He often pours whisky into the mouths of our fans between matches. He’s a true bro.
The Stoner Bros
They’re from Bluntsville, Oklahoma. They’re two 200 pound brothers and they smoke while they wrestle.
That’s Ryu from Street Fighter. He came over from Japan, knows the style and throws Hadoukens.
Cereal Man’s from the Milky Way galaxy and he fights for a balanced breakfast.
The Dark Sheik
Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum