JOHANNESBURG – In the East Rand region of South Africa lives a dedicated and passionate amateur hardcore wrestling community whose members find time between work and family to put on shows for their devoted fans at local halls, high schools and motorcycle rallies.
Run by the country’s premier hardcore wrestling promoters, South African Pro Wrestling, training and matches become a central part of life for those who follow their passion of entertaining through fighting.
Wrestlers with ring names like “The Jackal,” “Hector Payne,” “Azazel” and “The Crow” battle each other using dangerous items like tables, chairs, fluorescent light tubes, shovels, chains and hammers.
In one epa image, the Jackal is seen standing in a cloud of artificial fog as he waves a wooden club wrapped in barbed wire and roars at crowds before a fight.
Later on during a match, he is shown kneeling on broken glass and drawing pins with a cut on his forehead and his heavily tattooed arm smeared with blood.
He had just reportedly been hit over the head with a pane of glass by Hector Payne.
In this hardcore version of the sport, disqualifications, count-outs and all other usual wrestling rules do not apply.
Twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursday, the amateur wrestlers gather at the Brakpan Community Hall to train for their next fights, starting with warm-up exercises including sprints and fireman’s carry, and ending each session with full wrestling moves such as throws and neck locks.
They pray together before their matches, then transform into their ring personas by putting on face paint or masks, wearing unique outfits and becoming the character they have created.
An epa image shows the Ripper’s black-and-red mask lying on a table amid empty beer cans and soft drink bottles. It looks less like a nightmare’s face and more like a child’s paper mache project until he puts it on, along with icy blue contact lenses, and is transformed into the villain of a B-rate slasher film.
The horror movie theme is consistent throughout the wrestlers, like Azazel, who named himself after a fallen angel and paints his face with a broad black stripe that covers his eyes and drips down his face like a contamination.
The Crow is photographed peering into a portable mirror as he paints his face white with black rings around his eyes and mouth, identical to the supernatural avenger from the 1994 film of the same name, about a man who rises from the dead to hurt those who killed his wife.
Hector Payne dresses in an orange prison jumpsuit and wears a leather face mask that covers his mouth like the fictional cannibal Hannibal Lecter.
Brakpan, a formerly affluent gold-mining town in the East Rand region, has fallen on hard times and with unemployment on the rise, the regular amateur wrestling nights the Brakpan Community Hall offer the local fans an escape from daily life.
With beers in their hands and adrenalin running through their veins, the small but passionate crowds follow every fight.
Ultimately, though the wrestlers love what they are doing and their fights, the process serves as an escape from the real world and the stresses that go with it.