Love ‘Glow’? Well, Bethnal Green has its own women’s wrestling night. Nell Frizzell heads ringside
Perched on top of a speaker, a black pug with a hypothyroidic stare is looking out over Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green. Beneath it, a woman in red knickers and ripped fishnet tights bounces her bum against the ropes of a wrestling ring and a large man with less hair than the pug sports a ‘Fight Like a Girl’ T-shirt.
This is Pro-Wrestling: EVE, the all-woman grapple night founded by husband-and-wife team Emily and Dann Read. EVE has been running for eight years but is almost certainly getting a giant rope bounce at the moment thanks to the success of Netflix’s new hit ‘Glow’, about a team of female wrestlers. One of the stars of the show, Kate Nash, has already popped down to an EVE event to scrap with shit-talk queen Jetta. There are rumours of a proper rematch in the future. If it’s anything like the night I visit, let’s hope she comes prepared. The evening is billed as ‘Dangerous Women’ and I’m destined to see at least one hospitalisation before the night is through.
'I’m destined to see at least one hospitalisation before the night is through'
For many people, talk of wrestling might conjure memories of ‘WWE’ TV marathons and ‘Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?’ But London actually has a long-running grassroots scene too, and with it, a distinct fanbase. As a regular at the capital’s events, I’m reassured I’ve come to the right venue for EVE when I spot 50 men and women in heavy black boots, hoodies and headscarves outside. To the untrained eye it could be a Papa Roach gig. Thank God it’s a wrestling night.
'To the untrained eye it could be a Papa Roach gig. Thank God it’s a wrestling night'
Inside, the black-clad crowd is hyped up with clips from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and Skunk Anansie, Garbage and various Riot Grrrl music videos. Each competitor walks down the gallery’s spiral staircase into the ring to an appropriate theme tune of their choice. The first, Erin, looks like Barbie if Barbie had joined The Darkness, with sparkly pink flared chaps and a matching crop-top. Thankfully, she doesn’t walk in to ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’.
During Erin’s bout, which opens with a whipcrack flying kick that genuinely makes me fear for her victim’s insides, I hear one woman whisper ‘sorry’ to the other while smashing her face against the corner cushions. It’s these moments of fourth-wall-breaking that make live wrestling so electric and compelling.
'I hear one woman whisper ‘sorry’ to the other while smashing her face against the corner cushions'
As in ‘Glow’, EVE bouts are more like choreographed dances than violent sport: they’re planned in advance, with a focus on melodramatic storylines and acrobatics (as well as chances for fighters to thwack the living shit out of each other, of course). It means these nights are as much about pre-duel hype as they are about in-ring action. At EVE that equals feminist merch, like ‘Support Your Local Girl Gang’ T-shirts, as well as characters that pastiche pop culture and social stereotypes.
At one point the whole crowd breaks out the glowsticks as a classic dance anthem thumps out over the speakers. A Scouse-browed woman in leopard-print trousers stumbles on to the stage smoking a fag. When she temporarily collapses, the referee rushes in and cracks open a can of Foster’s, the noise apparently rousing her from her coma. Billed as from ‘the rough streets of inner-city Dublin’, this is Martina and she is ace. At one point Martina pins her opponent down, face first, turns to a man in the audience and shouts ‘Fuck you! I’ll put my fanny where I want.’ This, for me, is the greatest moment of the night.
'At one point Martina turns to a man in the audience and shouts "Fuck you! I’ll put my fanny where I want"'
I’m pleased to hear that the chants, heckles and jibes are just as funny, offensive and ridiculous as the ones you hear when it’s men grabbing each other by the knickers in the ring. And despite the place being hotter than a sweaty underboob and smelling like an old Hoover bag, it’s rammed. The crowd scream at villains to fuck off, cry out the names of their heroes and order a ‘posh’ wrestler to ‘piss off back to Butlin’s’.
'The crowd order a ‘posh’ wrestler to "piss off back to Butlin’s"'
The penultimate fight is the most dramatic. Charlie ‘I’m gay and true to myself’ Morgan flies out of the ring, between the ropes. She lands awkwardly on her adversary and (I find out later) fractures her collarbone in the process. As a trained first-aider, I wonder if I should offer my sling-tying services, but another wrestler rips off her T-shirt, fills it with ice and rushes into the ring. It’s an act of such conspicuous drama I wrongly assume it’s all staged.
By the end of the night, I’ve seen bald heads kissed from the ring, heard some of the fruitiest language this side of a dockyard, watched numerous women hit the deck arse first and tasted the drama of live female wrestling at extremely close quarters. Not bad for 20 quid.