Getting Your Kicks (and Punches) in LA
I'm sure this holds true for other parts of the country as well, but in my city especially, people like to relax by watching combatants battle one another inside a ring. But it's not what you'd expect: sure, you can check out a boxing match while you're here, or even an Ultimate Fighting bout (no thanks), but we tend to prefer our fights, well, strange. For instance:
Kaiju Big Battel
An American phenomenon that has taken on the mantle of Japanese pop culture (hence the intentional "Engrish" misspelling of "Battel"), Kaiju is a hybrid of professional wrestling, in all its parodic theatricality, and the tokusatsu kaiju movies of Japan -- literally, "special effects" movies (think Godzilla and other absurdly large creatures). Costumed wrestlers with names like Atomic Trooper Robo and Steam-Powered Tentacle Boulder duke it out in the ring, the meta-story being that if these Earth-destroyingly large creatures don't get their aggression out in the ring against one another, they'll start crushing Tokyo and San Francisco again -- and we can't have that. (Photo by Steve Lipofsky.) Check out this video of a particularly surreal Battel between Kung Fu Chicken Noodle and Robox:
Otherwise known as "Mexican wrestling" (though the sport is played throughout Latin America) and popularized in such films as Nacho Libre with Jack Black, Lucha Libre has had a Los Angeles-based cult following for years. While there's quite a bit of theatricality to Lucha Libre, it's different from Kaiju in one crucial way: the combatants, called luchadores, are actually wrestling. Known for its rapid sequences of holds and moves, the rules are more or less similar to American singles wrestling matches. While lucha libre itself has only been around since the beginning of the last century, and has been popular for only half of that, the colorful masks some wrestlers wear hearken back to something much older: the animals, Gods and heroes of the ancient Aztecs. Lucha Libre took off in the U.S. in the mid-90s, with a Pay-Per-View series of matches aptly titled When Worlds Collide. Since then, they've taken hold in our pop culture, inspiring movies (check out Rob Zombie's upcoming The Haunted World of El Superbeasto), lucha-themed athletic shoes (thank Nike for that) and even sodas (Blue Demon Full Throttle).
Once a bygone phenomenon of the 70s, female Roller Derby has taken hold again, and has an especially strong following in the city of Angels. Teams of intimidating women roll against one another to screaming capacity crowds on a tricky banked track near downtown LA, rolling at speeds up to 30 MPH and taking hits that would make Hulk Hogan wince. Theatricality is an important part of the show (notice a theme here?), with every player adopting crazy-tough alter-egos with names like like Tara Armov and Venus de Maul'r -- each one commanding their own rabid base of fans. Matches are fast and exciting, and medical staff are always on hand (and generally kept busy) tending to cuts, bruises, fractures and limbs that aren't supposed to bend that way. Here's a kind of lame but informative local news report on my favorite team, the Derby Dolls:
Also, next year keep an eye out for Whip It! -- a movie about female roller derby starring Ellen Page.