A sudden crackdown by the Washington State Department of Licensing (WSDOL) has put part-time wrestlers in the Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling league (SSP) in an awkward position. Last week, SSP wrestler Nathaniel Pinzon, 31—who wrestles under the name Deevious Silvertongue—received word from WSDOL that SSP would have to purchase wrestling participant licenses, obtain insurance, and hire fire department medics for its events (at $520 a pop) or face sanctions from the state. While SSP disputes that its staged, scripted, and choreographed events constitute sporting events, SSP's all-volunteer membership may soon find itself down for the count.
SSP celebrated its fifth anniversary with a record attendance show at the club King Cobra on April 19. Pinzon says nearly 500 people showed up to watch SSP wrestlers like Ronald McFondle and Weapon of Mass Destruction—whom Pinzon describes as "George Bush as Captain America, managed by the corpse of Ronald Reagan"—grapple for glory. "It's all performance art," Pinzon says. "We're a theater troupe that portrays a fictional world of pro wrestling. We usually call ourselves fight cabaret."
While SSP's fights draw a crowd, the physical contests are only part of the fun. SSP matches involve heavy crowd participation, with wrestlers encouraging attendees to throw their beer cans at villainous characters and passing out lyric sheets to the crowd so they can join wrestlers in belting out "We Are the World" and other musical numbers. "If we do go along with all of [WSDOL's] demands, the tone of our shows would drastically change," Pinzon says.
While SSP clearly isn't a conventional sporting event, it still may meet the state guidelines for wrestling, which defines the sport as "a form of sports entertainment in which the participants... physical[ly] struggle against each other in the ring and either the outcome may be predetermined or the participants do not necessarily strive to win, or both." While Pinzon believes the language in the state law is "legally vague," WSDOL, naturally, doesn't see it that way.
"The law is in place to help ensure the safety of those who are participating," says WSDOL administrator Trudie Touchette. Although SSP matches do have the potential for injury, Pinzon says he's only received bruises and the occasional charley horse during his four years in the league.
Touchette says the state is prepared to "take action" to get SSP into compliance. "It could be a fine, it could be a statement of charges," Touchette says.
SSP's next show is scheduled for Wednesday, July 2, at King Cobra. Because most SSP members have jobs and families—and wrestling matches usually only net a few hundred dollars, which go right back into making costumes for the wrestlers—the loosely knit group is struggling to find the time and resources to appeal the state's decision.
Pinzon and his fellow wrestlers are exploring legal means to get their event reclassified. "We're still pondering our options," Pinzon says.