Fashion blogger Malibongwe Tyilo gets into the spirit of WWE and faces up to Shaun ‘The Lion of Africa’ Koen for a smackdown.
In my prepubescent years I absolutely loved wrestling, and I’m not talking the kinda-boring-sporty-nerdy Olympic variety. No, I loved the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) legends, the Rock, the Undertaker, Hulk friggin’ Hogan.
What can I say? I was a youngster, aware of little more than my boyish desire to physically dominate my mates. In those days, camp to me meant tents, not fuchsia spandex – and WWE and other syndicated wrestling programmes were not just entertainment, they were real sport.
In fact, I wanted to grow up to be part of that magnificent world, making loud noises and thumping around the ring.
Little did I know that puberty would hit with a vengeance and that just a few years later I would lose all interest in full nelsons and headlocks and be more concerned with fabric swatches and the latest colour palettes from Paris, New York, London and Milan.
One od the saddest parts of growing up – and out of my fascination with TV wrestling – is that I lost a shared interest with my dad.
I’ve always considered him an intelligent, with-it man, but I remember how upset he’d get every time I suggested the matches were simply a series of choreographed moves to please the crowd.
Now that I think about it, his reaction was very similar to my partner’s reaction every time I suggest Keeping up with the Kardashians is a scripted reality show – a mixture of disappointment and subdued anger.
So, as South Africa gears up for WWE’s national tour starting this week, I got the opportunity to get into the swing of things with some of South Africa’s pro wrestlers at the Goodwood Civic Centre in Cape Town.
I immediately thought, ‘Yes! I finally get to prove my point to my dad.’ But that was before I met Shaun Koen, aka The Lion of Africa…
Aa owner and promoter of Africa Wrestling Alliance, and with arms the size of baobab trunks, former All-Africa Heavyweight Champion Shaun assured me all the moves associated with pro wrestling are legit – and that it’s the element of surprise that allows competitors to defeat their opponent.
‘You don’t do it for a stupid belt. You don’t do it for the crowds. You don’t even do it for pride,’ he says. ‘No, when you’re on your knees, and every breath feels like a razor blade slicing into your lungs and your sweat and blood are dripping onto the square mat we call a stage, every single thing you do is for survival.’
Daddy issues aside, I’m gonna tell you right now, even as a 1.75m tall man, I felt like a tiny, tiny person as I crept into that wrestling ring to learn a few choice moves from my new mentor. And when I say moves, I don’t mean of the dancing variety.
Although Shaun would have me believe this aggressive play is a ‘gentleman’s sport’, I struggled to see that aspect of it as he grabbed me by the neck and shoulders and quite literally flung me into the air.
Just as I was recovering from that undignified surprise, the man lowered me to the ground and grabbed me in a headlock. I almost had a heart attack. And when he stuck his fingers in my mouth and pulled it open, I felt I might have a thrombosis on the spot. ‘A little too intimate, a little too soon,’ I thought to myself.
The Lion of Africa didn’t miss a beat. As he locked me in another sweaty position, smashing me against a pole pad, I felt a genuine bolt of terror. ‘Daddddddeeeeee!’ I screamed inwardly. ‘What am I doing here?’
Shaun must’ve been thinking the same thing, because he invited the rest of his crew into the ring for some real competition. All of a sudden there were eight of us between the ropes, including Vinnie ‘One Man Show’ Vegas in sequinned trunks and The Oz – ‘Mr Not Guilty’.
I felt like channelling my inner (US drag actor) RuPaul and telling my spandexed opponents to ‘sashay away’.
But although all the movements and facial expressions are exaggerated, the jumps, throws, chops, kicks, strikes and falls are real. They have outlandish names – like the Sidewalk Slam, the Frog Splash, the Samoan Drop and the Lion’s Claw.
And however controlled, there is still a lot of physical activity.
For a second I wished my dad was with me. Perhaps then I would have been less distracted by the level of camp that seems part and parcel of the sport.
I mean, let’s be honest here. For better or worse, the general male heterosexual community makes a point of shunning brightly coloured spandex and excessive bodily contact, and yet here are these guys, in a sport that glorifies machismo, dressed in cerise colour-blocked leggings, in close, sweaty contact.
I say bravo. Because these guys have found themselves the very best excuse to play. As adults, the world demands we don’t play any more. We can’t mess around and inflict our physical strength on each other. But these guys, the pro wrestlers, have found the ultimate socially acceptable way to grow up and maintain their boyhood desires.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must mention that I absolutely hate exercise. I have tried everything, from the standard gym membership to weekly mountain hikes through to the painfully hip hot Bikram yoga studios.
I have yet to find joy in physical activity. However, as I get closer to my 40s, I am well aware that I need to embrace something if I hope to live a long time.
And I must say, I think I might go back and join these guys, because of all the exercise I’ve done in my life, this was the most unpretentious fun I’ve ever had, and I’ve never felt more in touch with the boy I once was.
I can’t wait to go and tell my Bikram yoga teacher about it.
Read Malibongwe Tyilo’s fashion blog ‘Skattie, What Are You Wearing’ at skattiewhatareyouwearing.blogspot.com
Amatuer (or Olumpic) wrestling versus pro wrestling
• Amateur wrestlers attack in the form of holds and do not use moves such as punching, kicking or striking their opponent.
• Pro wrestlers are all showmen who play to the crowds. Amateur wrestlers steer clear of theatrics and drama.
• Since pro wrestling is classified as entertainment rather than sport, there are fewer rules. In fact, almost any moves (except karate kicks, closed fist punches and eye-gouging) are allowed.
• While pro wrestlers fight in eye-catching costumes that add to their characters’ performances, amateur wrestlers wear simple Lycra unitards.
• Pro wrestlers fight in a roped 6x6m ring; amateurs wrestle on a mat.
• There are three referees for amateur wrestling, and only one for pro wrestling.
• While pro wrestling is arguably more exciting to watch, amateurs need a higher level of agility.
Measuring up Malibongwe‘The Marvellous’ Tyilo
Weight: Occasionally in the three digits
Signature move: Girly shrieks
Career highlights: The Hyeres Fashion Festival in France
Shaun ‘The lion of Africa’ Koen
Signature move: Diving leg drop
Career highlight: All-Africa Heavyweight Champion
Justin Gabriel of WWE
Signature move: 450 Splash
Career wighlights: WWE Tag Team Champion
WWE tours South Africa this week
World Wrestling Entertainment has its headquarters in America and is the largest professional wrestling promotion in the world. All the contests are storyline-driven. WWE kicks off its nationwide tour on Tuesday in Cape Town. Justin Gabriel is the only South African Superstar to perform.
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