The muscled bodies; the tight uniforms and the intense body contact. Wrestling remains the most homoerotic of sports. Just the nature of the sport -- one man attempting to dominate another -- implies a sexual subtext.
Why the appeal? Wrestling has, of course, been with us from the Greeks, making it one of the oldest of competitive sports. In modern times, it has been sensationalized on a professional level with the comic antics of WWE wrestlers, making it more like populist performance art than a serious sport. But wrestling remains one of the most intense and widely practiced contact sports around the world, as popular in Iran as it is in the United States.
While some commentators may want to debate the sport's homosocial appeal, to gay men it has always been apparent. In recent years -- with the explosion of adult male films -- it has become a popular meme with scenes that begin with wrestlers on the mat and end with sweaty sex. Of course, the wrestling in these sequences always looks staged -- an excuse to put two men in an erotically charged situation. But what if the sex were taken away?
That's the idea behind Thunders Arena Wrestling, a website that features videos of wrestlers doing what they love to do. "We are because we love to watch Indy wrestling, UFC, high school and college wrestlers, submission wrestling, and grappling," reads the site's mission. "Old school mat wrestling with long held holds, pro moves, college moves, and submission grappling all make up how we wrestle. Wrestling takes skill, not weapons or cartoon characters to be entertainment. We may not be the best wrestlers on the planet, but we definitely got athletic skills to bring a fresh new look to wrestling. You might see pro, you might see submission, you might see BJJ, you might see freesytle or college matches, sometimes even a blend of all the above in our ARENA!"
The site is the brainchild of Mr. Mike, whom EDGE spoke to about how the site came about, what's the appeal to gay men and why no nudity.
Just Goofing Around
EDGE: How did the website come about?
Mr. Mike: I was actually a college wrestler and was teaching a few friends of mine how the wrestle -- goofing around. They had never wrestled in high school or college and wanted to learn. We would get together once a week. One of them started joking that I should make some wrestling videos, and I said, 'Who will buy them?' Anyway, a friend that worked at a gay bar and he asked one of the dancers if he wanted to do a wrestling video. We ended up filming it and putting it up for sale, and it sold okay. Then we did another one and another one and another one; every week people kept buying more and more and more.
EDGE: Do you have a wrestling background?
Mr. Mike: Yeah. I wrestled in college. I was ranked third in the nation in college rankings. I represented the United States overseas in Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Unique to Site
EDGE: This is a more generic question, but what is the appeal of wrestling?
Mr. Mike: I think it has several different levels of appeal for a lot of people. There's the competition as far as being able to see one guy dominate another guy. It's like a physical chess game. And in order to wrestle you need an amazingly fit body. There is a lot of great muscle definition with wrestlers. So it shows off the human body, whether it is pro wrestling wearing trunks or amateur wrestling wearing singlets, it shows off the male form like no other sport does. You see how the muscles tense and flex. What's cool about it is how it reflects statues from Ancient Greece.
EDGE: Is it fair to say that wrestling is the most homoerotic of sports?
Mr. Mike: There's definitely that side to it. It exposes a lot of guys to .....
EDGE: What is unique about the videos on your site?
Mr. Mike: What is unique is that we take some of the high school and college-type moves and also combine everyone favorite's pro-style moves. So it's a combination of college-style wrestling and pro-style wrestling.
On top of that, what makes us unique is our guys really do trash talk each other and make fun of each other during the match. Ours is much more interactive in that there's a lot of back-and-forth, there's a lot of making fun of each other. So there's this locker room banter thing as well as the actual wrestling, so there's a lot more entertainment value.
Sometimes it can be very funny, sometimes it can be super edgy. There are moments of really intense comedy or really intense drama, or both, sometimes.
EDGE: Were you frustrated by what you saw out there in terms of wrestling videos?
Mr. Mike: Yes. I was exposed to a lot of the other gay wrestling videos out there, and they were done not realistic looking. You could just tell the guys weren't trying too hard; moves were held for too long and no one saying anything. They had amazingly hot bodies, but without talking, it was just so boring. And if you watch WWE these days, there's literally fifteen minutes of talking then three minutes of wrestling.
So I was frustrated. I wanted to make something that would be a lot more interesting, especially with my college wrestling background, and a lot more entertaining. One of the first things we got told when we started was that a lot of the guys asked us if we were ever going to do nudity. And our decision was not to. The big thing I want people to know out there is that we can get a lot more guys to do the site if they know there's no nudity. When you do nudity, you limit the pool of guys willing to do a match, because they don't want to ruin their future reputations if they want to be a doctor or lawyer or teacher or something. They don't want to do pornography, but they would love to show off their bodies. They would love to wrestle someone and get paid for it. We made a conscious effort to keep the site clean for the very reason of recruiting people that no one else would get.
EDGE: Is there much muscle worship in the videos?
Mr. Mike: There's definitely a level of muscle worship in every match. It really just depends on the type of guy and their comfort level. But it's almost as if they're doing it a teasing manner. When we first started, someone told us that if we aren't giving people nudity, we have to give them drama. So there always needs to be a reason why they're fighting. There's a resaon why something is happening. So that's the formula we adopted. It can come from someone making fun of someone's muscles to someone complementing someone's muscles. There's definitely a lot of flexing and posing going on, and feeling and grabbing.
EDGE: What determines the look and feel of the videos?
Mr. Mike: Our cameramen. We use different cameramen from video to video. We are based in Orlando, which is a big media city, so we get a lot of kids that go to school for media. So we hire kids from the local schools to film and edit. Every kid has their personal style - some like to be in their face, while others are more laid back. So our style does change depending on who is doing the filming.
EDGE: Have their been any breakout personalities with the wrestlers?
Mr. Mike: There are definitely some people we were shocked that the fans locked onto. Like we have this kid named Tak -- he's historically the All American kid. And he is 100% not the stereotypical wrestler. He doesn't have big biceps; he doesn't have a big giant chest. He's a thinner kid. But the fans really locked onto him. I would put him with a real body builder-type, but all the fans would email about was that Tak was doing such a great job. And I would wonder why did they like him so much? But the answer proved simple: they like him because he's extremely handsome and extremely cute. For years we had guys with amazing abs or amazing chests or having a certain attitude or style; but Tac was this little boy next door that I never saw coming in a million years. I almost didn't let him audition because he doesn't have a wrestler's build, but the fans just love him and adore him.
Are Matches Fixed?
EDGE: How would you categorize your wrestlers?
Mr. Mike: There are two types. We have our main body builders, who are definitely guys that are hitting the gym as much as possible. They run from 200 - 300 pounds. And then we have the college jock look, and they range from 135 to 180 pounds. What the fans have locked onto the most is having frat boys take on body builders.
EDGE: That leads to the question, everyone thinks wrestling is fixed...is it?
Mr. Mike: Well, the reality is that we do create drama story lines that we follow. But it depends on the guy. Sometimes there are situations where the guys are skilled wrestlers and want to go at it to see who is better. But then we have guys with little wrestling experience, but really want to show off their bodies, which can be amazing. So in those guys we have to go step by step and show them how to do it. So there's no definite answer to that.
It is much more of a collaborative effort. If they want to wrestle and go at it, we will let them. But some of these pro-wrestling stunts are very intricate and hard to do, so we have to make sure that everyone thing is done safely and no one is hurt. But we try to make it as realistic as possible; so in some cases, it is 100% real; in others, they're 100% staged, as far as this goes.
Deal of the Day
EDGE: Is this a very competitive market?
Mr. Mike: It is very competitive. More and more people are able to grab a camera and film two people in their living room or backyard and put it up for sale. There's a lot more companies that have popped up since I started that. They think that we're making millions and millions of dollars, but that's not the case. There's only a small pool of people that want to pay for it.
EDGE: What are some of the benefits of memberships?
Mr. Mike: The biggest thing for us is that we have membership area where you can see many more photos of the match. One the site there are usually 10-15 photos on the match, but with membership you can see 100-200 photos of the match. This gives a better way to decide if you want to download or buy the DVD. And within the membership area we only put up full matches that are not available for download.
EDGE: What is the Deal of the Day?
Mr. Mike: One of the things is that it is really expensive for us to produce these videos. So we have to have a higher price point than someone hiring people off the street, so to speak. The guys we use are typically models or people famous within the body building community, so they demand premium. And because it's a smaller pool of clients willing to pay for them, so we need a higher price point.
Because of that, I came up with a Deal of the Day to drop it down to a more affordable price to keep that market intact. If someone wants to try it out or can't afford a full-price video, this offers people matches that are good for people that may not be able to afford it on a regular basis.
EDGE: You're selling gear on the site -- singlets and such. Are you working with a clothing company?
Mr. Mike: No. That would be awesome. If there is any clothing company out there willing to partner with us, let us know. What happened was that we use the same trunks for several years and we have wrestlers that have very specific trunks but have moved on, so we are trying to turn over our inventory of trunks by putting them up for sale this year and use that money to buy new trunks.
EDGE: How do you find your models?
Mr. Mike: It was really organic. What happened was we found two guys that were friends of mine that wanted to do a wrestling video. Then they found two friends who wanted to do one, and then they found two friends. It's grown expodentially. You can only get in here by invite only.
EDGE: You said that nudity was a stumbling block, is the fact that the site is aimed at gay men been a hindrance to wrestlers wanting to appear on it?
Mr. Mike: No. Not at all. Our guys are mostly straight, and they absolutely adore the gay audience thing. They love hearing from their gay fans. They appreciate that there are people out there that admire their work in the gym. They really, really, really enjoy that. It's a non-issue with everyone.
A Generational Thing?
EDGE: Is that lack of judgment a generational thing? That it is not a big deal for younger people these days?
Mr. Mike: Actually one of the weirdest things that are going on. When we started this, it was just a concept and it was hard to pitch to models. But once we got started and had something to show someone, we found that the models really enjoyed what they looked like on film.
Our videos make the wrestlers look like they're a WWE superstar. They like looking massive on film; they are impressed that we make them look larger than they really are. Some of it is psychological. We have guys that weigh 230 pounds, but graduated high school at 145 pounds and still think of themselves that way. So they're amazed when they see themselves on film.
EDGE: I want to join, but I am concerned about privacy and security issues. Can you address them?
Mr. Mike: The biggest thing is that we use state-of-the-art banking level encryption on our site. We follow all the guidelines for credit card handling, so that's never an issue. What's amazing about technology today is that we never see anyone credit card numbers. We only see the last four digits. It's done computer to computer as far as that goes.
For more on Thunders Arena Wrestling, visit its website.
From our media partner EDGE