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Eva Walker

“This is independent wrestling, bro,” said John Hennigan. Also known as John Morrison, Henningan is a former WWE professional wrestler who hit the stage Friday night at Washington Hall as part of DEFY8: Kings Among Men, a wrestling showcase staged by a recently established local outfit called DEFY Wrestling. “This is where wrestling happens today," Hennigan said, "not in some half-empty arena.”

Hennigan’s comments take aim at Vince McMahon’s long-established, though at times sparsely attended, professional wrestling association, the WWE. But his point also sheds light on the raw authenticity of DEFY’s showcase, which had hundreds of fans packed in the building’s second floor on Friday night, shouting things like “Holy shit! Holy shit!” and “Wrestling is forever!”

Some wrestling fans believe the WWE recently watered itself down by removing big hits and blood in order to bring in children and families. The 21-and-over DEFY events, on the other hand, haven’t followed suit. Without the commercial gaze of the WWE’s sponsors, there is ample room to experiment in the ring. And while aspects of the old cliché are true—wrestling matches are, in some ways, choreographed—on Friday, there were real kicks to the head, real welts on the back, and real slams to the mat. At times, wrestlers even flew out of the ring and into the audience. “Creatively,” Hennigan said, “the people here can do anything.”

Before each match on Friday, front row fans tossed rolls of streamers onto the ring, lacing the mat’s black canvas in bright colors. And when the first bout began, the tall and flamboyant Randy Myers took center stage. Pitted against the all-muscle Douglas James, Myers roused the crowd, preening like a unicorn, his long green hair waving, before trading scissor kicks with James. Later, the night featured a tag team between the Amerikan Gunz duo and the hi-liter blond Voros Twins, followed by a triple threat bout between Taya Valkyrie, Christina Von Eerie (with heel husband), and Nicole Matthews. At times, the groups of wrestlers seemed like chomping alley dogs rolling in dust clouds.

In his own match, Hennigan, comporting himself like Macho Man Randy Savage, ruby-studded knee-high boots and all, bested the spry but rock solid Hawaiian Jeff Cobb in a heavy weight match. With each lunge, each connected elbow to chest, fans groaned and growled. Each leap from the top of the ropes elicited yells. You could have closed your eyes and you’d still know what was transpiring. And this may have been no more evident than when Hennigan first entered the ring as Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” played over the loud speakers. “This is way more exciting than a WWE show,” said Cedric David, a long-time professional wrestling fan new to DEFY. “You’re not going to get this kind of crowd at the WWE. Nowadays, the WWE is more like a soap opera.”

Part sporting event, part ballet, the competition between the wrestlers remained, of course, the focus. But it was also the relationship between the show, its performers, and the interactive (beer drinking) audience that powered the charmingly brutal evening. “It’s an honor anytime you’re in front of people,” explained Hennigan, who, during his bout, pulled down his pants and did a standing flip, ass out. “We’re on the cutting edge. And to be included means the world to me.”

DEFY Wrestling's next event is Nov. 10 at Washington Hall.