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Rockin' Rasslin' Writin'

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 29, 2000; Page C01

Some people buy wrestling magazines for the pictures, which tend to show big, ugly dudes beating the bejesus out of each other, sometimes with folding chairs. But not me. I'm an intellectual. I buy wrestling magazines for the writing, which is fabulous.

For example, check out the latest issue of WCW mag for this description of the "Bunkhouse Brawl," part of Starrcade, a wrestling extravaganza held in our fair city last December:

"With anything-goes rules, this turned violent quickly as Jarrett attacked Rhodes backstage while Rhodes was being interviewed by Mike Tenay. The action moved into the arena, where Jarrett attacked Rhodes with a wheelbarrow. Once in the ring, Rhodes pummeled Jarrett with a bull rope wrapped around his fist. The combatants eventually brawled to the stage, where Jarrett won by nailing Rhodes with a guitar while jumping from a ladder."

Perfect! Hemingway couldn't have written it better. Note the clear-eyed, just-the-facts-ma'am style. Note the lack of any excess verbiage, not a single wasted word. E.B. White could quote this in his famous writing textbook, "The Elements of Style," if he were alive and reading wrestling magazines.

If White were alive, he might be reading them. The enormous popularity of professional wrestling has spawned a renaissance of wrestling literature. Earlier this month, two famous wrestlers--Mankind and the Rock--had memoirs on the New York Times bestseller list! Simultaneously!

Meanwhile, literally dozens of wrestling mags are competing for space on newsstands. Some of them are the old-fashioned black-and-white pulp mags, printed on paper that feels like something soaked in wrestler's sweat and then dried by the smoke from a promoter's stogie.

But there are also new magazines printed on slick paper and enlivened with fancy four-color graphics. Each of the major wrestling tours--the World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling--publishes its own slick mag, and now there are several independents, too. The best is published in Reston. It's called Wild Rampage Wrestling--or Rampage, for short.

"We are," the current issue proclaims, "in a Golden Age of Wrestling."

Some people scoff at the whole idea of wrestling literature. I used to be one of them. I laughed at the come-on line on the cover of the 25-year retrospective edition of Wrestling Insiders: "The Best in Wrestling Journalism! By the Sport's Most Respected Writers."

Gee, I said to myself, I didn't know there were any respected wrestling writers.

But I'm eating those words after thumbing through the magazine and finding scads of prose treasures, including this wonderful paragraph by columnist Bob Smith:

"Is it just me or does eating the wrong combination of foods make you hallucinate? On Monday July 1, I enjoyed a dinner consisting of seven jumbo Beef Chevys (the foot-long kind, for those of the faint of heart), two cans of Jolt cola, some Pop Rocks, and the contents of my nephew's Aquaman, Bullwinkle, and Marge Simpson Pez dispensers. Then I turned on the WWF's 'Prime Time Wrestling,' and I thought I saw Bobby Heenan sticking refrigerator magnets to the steel plates in Brutus Beefcake's head. Naw, nobody's that tasteless. Must've been that Jolt."

After that, I was hooked. You just don't find this kind of stuff in the New York Review of Books.

Wrestling writers are fearless. They're not afraid to insult wrestlers, who are, don't forget, large, violent men who make their living stomping on human heads. Wrestling writers are passionate, sometimes to the point of apoplexy, when they feel that the purity of their beloved sport has been violated.

Certain "wrestlers are cowards afraid to wrestle fairly," wrote Dan Shocket in Wrestling Insiders. "They hide behind bribed referees and fans who worship toadies instead of men. They are peasants, ready to do anyone's bidding . . ."

And he was just warming up. A couple of paragraphs later, he started getting really vicious.

The greatest living wrestling writer is Winchell Dredge, Rampage magazine's resident genius. He's got three stories in the current issue, each one a triumph of unashamedly over-the-top prose. Dredge understands that wrestling is about excess, and he writes accordingly. Describing the theatrical arrival of a wrestler named Kane into a pitch-black arena, he goes gloriously gothic:

"From the place where dread lives deep in the bottom of your mind, organ music swells. It sounds like those pipes are being played from the grave.

"In an explosion of fire and ice, illumination flashes on the entrance ramp. A figure thumps through the swelling fog . . . and ohmygod . . . he's huge . . ."

When the lights come up, Kane is standing in the ring, all seven feet, 326 pounds of him. He's got to face his worst enemy, his evil brother, a wrestler known as the Undertaker.

"The Undertaker does not sing and dance in the ring," Dredge writes. "He glares at his opponents, intimidates, rips them apart. And then, as though to show his true nature, his eyes turn up to show just white, and a demonic tongue snakes out of his mouth."

Is this great writing or what?

No. But it's writing that's so bad it's good.

So who is Winchell Dredge, anyway? The name has got to be a pseudonym. Surely Mr. and Mrs. Dredge did not name their baby Winchell. I called Rampage and asked the editor, Scott Edelman.

My hunch was correct: Winchell Dredge is a pseudonym. His real name is David Bischoff, and he makes his living writing science-fiction and horror novels. It turns out that a lot of Edelman's writers are moonlighting horror and sci-fi scribes. They understand, he says, "this strange comic book/super-hero world of wrestling."

"Crack! Flash!" Dredge writes. "The turnbuckles belch fire. Kane turns to his opponent as though to say, How deep do you want to be buried?"

Call me crazy, but I love this stuff.

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© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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