Apart from all the leathermen, drag performers and nudists milling about, the scene at last month’s Bearrison Street Fair in SoMa could have been straight out of Wrestlemania VI. Early in the afternoon, the first of several professional tag-team matches was a contest between a local powerhouse and some challengers from Malibu. Money Power Re$pect, an up-and-coming duo composed of Marco Mayur and Fabuloso Fabricio, went up against MyloBoo Barbie and Barbie Boi to see who would walk out with Full Queer Wrestling’s title belts—and who would exit past the portable toilets with heads hung in humiliation.
This was an open challenge, offered by Money Power Re$pect, who had already beaten every other tag team in the Bay Area. After a few body slams, some calculated calls from the refs and a whole lot of high-volume trash-talking, MyloBoo and Barbie Boy claimed victory. The growing crowd recognized this as a serious upset.
“People underestimate me, but I’m the Mac Daddy,” MyloBoo told The Standard immediately after the match. “I’m a force to be reckoned with.”
“She’s the boss,” Barbie Boi admitted, panting. “I’m the fun one.”
Money Power Re$pect, who have wrestled together for a year and a half, had no time to lick their wounds. They were headed up to a steel-cage match that night in the Central Valley city of Oroville, to bust out moves like the Burning Hammer and the Glam Slam.
Pro wrestling is a hustle—as well as a new highlight of both the Bearrison and Folsom Street fairs. But it has only recently roared back into the wider public’s consciousness, a feat of genuine athletic prowess augmented by a gaudy photo filter.
Today’s landscape looks different from when Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair were winning Royal Rumbles in the 1980s and ’90s. These days, it’s even raunchier and more flamboyant, with gender parity at the forefront. The West Coast is now home to numerous wrestlers whose matches elevate their own profiles along with that of the sport itself.
“It's live-action theater,” Mayur said. “It's going to give you drama. It's going to give you Greek Odyssey, Shakespeare, all in the form of stage-choreographed fighting.”
Queer and gender-nonconformimg people appear attracted to pro-wrestling in considerable numbers. (Money Power Re$pect is managed by drag performer and longtime wrestling fan Pollo Del Mar.) At present, the sport’s queer pinnacle is an invitation to Chicago to participate in Effy’s Big Gay Brunch, as Mayur and Fabricio did this year.
Looked at from one angle, some of the people likeliest to get picked on in middle school are now emitting primal screams of raw triumph—or, in Mayur’s case, shouting “Sexy Time!” as a catchphrase. But even theatrical combat may upset people who do not care to witness a spectacle of stage-managed violence against women, however consensual or empowering.
“If done correctly and with respect, I don't view it any different,” Mayur said. Using the X-Men as an example, he added, “You would never have Professor X tell Jean Grey, ‘Hey, sit this one out. Let's let the guys fight.’
The keyword, Mayur emphasized, is “professional.” Wrestling is fundamentally about storytelling, and the operating principle is similar to improv comedy’s formula for success: “Yes, And.”
“It was like more, more, more. Give me more of that,” Mayur said of the match against the Barbies. “And people are going to see that and go, ‘Oh, those m-f’ers can go very fierce, regardless of gender.’”
Mayur, who is Peruvian American and whose “Clark Kent job” is in the mortgage department for a large bank, has wrestled under several names. “Marco Mania” is one. “LlamaJack,” a pun on lumberjack and a reference to Peru’s famous domesticated camelid, is another. (On Halloween, Mayur also debuted “They-Ra,” a nonbinary take on He-Man offshoot She-Ra.) Each carries a slightly different persona.
“When I really need to dig deep and give people something different, that's when I bring out LlamaJack,” Mayur said. “It’s like the ultimate volume, cranked way up.”
He’s been hooked on televised wrestling since the age of 6 or 7. But only in the last three years has he trained at West Oakland’s Stoner U, a messy dojo filled with wrestling bric-a-brac and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles posters.
“They give you all the tools you need to improve your moves, improve your character, learn new moves, learn better psychology,” Mayur said. “And they have made me want to get better and better.”
Self-improvement is virtuous in nearly all cases, but few pursuits involve being told the outcome in advance. Mayur presents a hypothetical situation of what happens when a promoter talks to him about his opponent.
“Maybe they have an idea of how they want the match to end. Maybe they don't,” he said.
If he and his opponent get into the zone, their moves will naturally correspond to amp up the drama, until one of them makes a deliberately cheap move that the other will then respond to with overkill.
“At some point, they have to have a little moment where the crowd gets behind them, like, ‘Oh, they're going to come back now,’” Mayur said of that hypothetical opponent. “And then I'd do something cheap or really asshole-ish to cut them down to size.”
At first, he wanted to be a “super-good babyface,” but Mayur has grown more comfortable taking on the role of the “heel,” or bad guy. Getting booed is fine. What you don’t want is no reaction at all.
Settling into a character like that has taken time, though. At first, Mayur was unsure about unzipping his singlet and unleashing “Sexy time!” for fear it would earn catcalls.
“But, you know, doing that—even as a heel—some of the fans would start cheering,” he said. “I had to stop, because I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not doing my job if they’re cheering me.’”
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org