When art meets professional wrestling in Akron this fall
by Megan Combs
It’s pro wrestling without the pain, but with all the gusto, costumes and storylines you can handle. Oh, and throw in a little bit of paint, and you’ve got yourself a party.
No, we’re not talking about some weird match where two artists are thrown into a ring with wrestling alter egos and costumes a’blazin’. Oh wait, yes we are. It’s called the Artists Wrestling League (AWL), and it’s awesome.
Here’s how it works: Akron artists are encouraged to create a wrestling alter ego, costume and storyline. If you’re accepted into the league, you’ll be invited to occasional wrestling matches that are usually tied to art shows or outdoor festivals. AWL referee Thomas Refferson puts two artists into a ring and takes a topic suggestion from the audience. The artists then have seven minutes to paint that topic.
Audience applause determines the winner. The loser gets something smashed over their head. We said no pain, right? We’re pretty sure a sugar glass bottle or foam table won’t hurt breaking over your noggin. Plus, you’re a wrestler! Buck up!
All paintings can be bought outright for $20 or are raffled off during the accompanying art show.
The AWL started in Columbus with Beth Yoder, of Akron, and her partner Ralph Walters. Walters, also an artist, thought it would be cool if there was some sort of live painting challenge in the area. He’d always enjoyed wrestling, Yoder said, and so the AWL was born.
“I don’t think people were prepared for how silly it was,” Yoder said of the first match in March 2015. “During the first round of our first match, the audience was a little unsure of it. But the second round was amazing. They loved it.”
Eventually the event picked up popularity and even gained a few sponsors, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Blick art supplies. Walters and Yoder have taken the league to several outdoor festivals where the crowd gets bigger each time.
The duo also own an art gallery in Columbus that they want to transform into a traveling art show. Each themed exhibit will start in Columbus and then move along to Akron or Kent and then another location. It’s likely that wrestling matches would accompany the opening nights of these exhibits, Yoder said.
Yoder and Walter already have one Akron tag team: Hank and Henry Hotlunch, the evil philanthropists. The wrestlers are Joe Flach, owner of the Skeleton Key Tattoo shop in Cuyahoga Falls, and his friend Matt “Rooster” Vernon.
But they’re looking for more Akron wrestlers. The first Akron AWL art show is at the Nightlight on Oct. 1. The theme of the show is “I am the Knight,” or Batman-related art. Yoder and Walters hope to open the show with a wrestling match if they have enough wrestlers involved.
“Everyone involved (in Columbus) is very creative, and they’ve come up with their own storylines,” Yoder said. “We help them tweak it if need be. But if there’s something you want to do and it’s within our means to create, we’ll do it.”
A few wrestlers in Columbus include El Diablo Blanco, a man who has to wear a luchador mask because he was horribly disfigured in a g-string accident; El Durango, who also wears a mask because he was bitten by his Spanish teacher; Feral Dog Buhler and his brother the Atomic Pug; Swiss Missile, who boasts a Ho-Ho bazooka; and more.