To SoCal and Away… But Some Things Stay

I don’t know when I might finish this writing or when someone may read this, but as I sit and write this, it is my 35th birthday. By coincidence, this morning, Steve of SoCal Uncensored messaged me and asked if I would be interested in writing something for SCU. This site and the SoCal wrestling scene were such a formative part of who I became and I am happy to write about it. I hope this doesn’t come across as too personal or uninteresting. Anything that is shared is only meant as background to explain how my experiences there have led me to what I am doing now.

I’m originally from a small city in Georgia, and there were very few ways I felt that I fit in. Most around me listened to country or pop, longed for a pick-up truck, went hunting with one of their dozens of guns, and enjoyed their hatred of minorities. I never felt a part of the society, and my escapes included acting, karate, and boxing, but two things really stuck with me as my “rebellious” points.

One was Japanese study. At age 12 I just came upon a book in the library that happened to be in Japanese, and it was some scribbles I couldn’t read, and I decided that I wanted to be able to read it. I studied until I could and one thing led to the other and now I’ve lived in Japan for 13 years. (Maybe if I had found a book in Arabic I’d be in Abu Dhabi right now?)

The other thing that stuck with me was wrestling. It wasn’t really allowed at home when I was young and I always had to hide to watch it, but I remembered the first time I could watch wrestling in peace as I was left home alone. I turned on TBS that Saturday night, and I remember Tony Schiavone shilling that “Coming up next we have the debut of PN News, and he weighs over 400 pounds!”

How can I miss that?

Coming back from commercial, a very large white man in colorful spandex is rapping horribly and goading the crowd into chants of “Yo baby, yo baby, yo!”

Holy shit, can it GET better than this?

I was really drawn into the characters and mannerisms and couldn’t care about the matches. If I just had the entrances and finishes I would have been just as happy.

But still, it was rare to ever have the chance to be able to watch it without dealing with the hassle of being hassled. The only option was after I would be the last one awake, and what would come on TV after midnight? Only on the local super-low-rent TV station, which had ECW Hardcore TV Saturday nights! In the same era that many of you were watching the nWo and Austin and Rock, I only heard about these things on the sidelines. I never really understood the nWo except as referenced by the bWo. To me, Shane Douglas and Taz were unbeatable, Sabu was incredible, and I was learning to love wrestling matches as well as the character performances.

Fast forward to 2000. I am about to graduate high school, and I put all of my trust into my college advisor. Other than a trip to Japan, I have never travelled west of the Mississippi River. But I was told that based on what I wanted to study and my personality, I would be happiest at a small school in Southern California. He turned out to be right. In August I’d move to Claremont and start studying at Pomona College, and instantly felt in a place where I could respect the local culture and be part of society.

Wrestling had fallen away from my interests and now in a new environment with much more to do and much more connection with people around me. One day, though, I turn on TV late and land on a super-low-rent (for LA) TV station, and there is Sabu and Terry Funk! But this wasn’t ECW… Still, the same feeling I had for ECW crept back in with XPW, but also the old feeling of first seeing PN News crept back as well… The feeling of being underground and interesting but also corny and fun… XPW was brilliant to me, but more importantly it was my bridge to the bigger SoCal wrestling scene which would broaden my taste in what wrestling could be. I attended my first event in Pico Rivera, just before the move to Pennsylvania (and just before my move to Japan to study for a year in Kyoto). I remember the atmosphere so well, with the crowd passionately cheering for a beach ball and to have entered the event without having to pay, which made me so jealous that I didn’t know the secret to get free tickets. I saw what I thought would be the most amazing feat ever attempted by a human, when Altar Boy Luke somewhat hit a Phoenix Splash. I could see The Sandman in person but more importantly, Supreme, who was my highlight as I’d shown his matches I had on DVD to others on campus and we all loved them as awesome and hilarious. Then, to see Shane Douglas in the corniest stunt with a paintball gun or a tranquilizer gun (and I still don’t know what it was supposed to be), finishing with huge pyrotechnics, I was so impressed with the experience. I thought that this was awesomely awful, impressive, but most of all so interesting.

Shortly after I would only follow the promotion online while in Japan and see the decline, only for XPW to not be there when I got back to California. But, thanks to SCU, I could see that SUPREME would be at a small indy show very close to Claremont, so why not go? I convinced a friend who had a car to make the trip with me. I discovered Frank and Sons, and inside, so much more.

Most people reading this who were around in the early 2000s know the feeling of the SoCal scene. On this day, I could experience it for the first time and know how special all of you have made it. On the day, my biggest memory was seeing Supreme and Veronica Caine in person as they would pass out fliers for the new Rev X promotion, but the show itself was incredible with so much great talent I would see for the first time. It didn’t take me long to shed my desire to see the remains of XPW and to rather focus on what the future of wrestling would become.

For about one year, as often as I could, I would make every Rev Pro, AWS, and PWG show I could, and try out others here and there. It seemed like I could absorb so much of everything but now I know how short of a time it was. I can also look back feeling like a huge douche with how I acted… Dressing in suits, bringing signs (and I often wish I could personally apologize to Super Dragon and Bryan Danielson for trying to be part of things by bringing signs for them to tear up, although they certainly don’t care I’m sure…), and in general trying to stand out instead of just being a part of the best wrestling crowd in the world. Here a white liberal arts college student could be part of a group with all races and ages who all equally respect and appreciate the same art and artists. The chants, the comradery, the acceptance, and the collective joy in being part of the same experience made a scene with performers and fans creating something that I’ll never feel again. Although I am trying my best to do so now…

In the summer of 2004, as much as I felt happy in SoCal in my few years there, I had spent many more years preparing for a life in Japan, where I knew I would be happiest. I tried to keep a part of the scene, but it felt so artificial and sometimes even sad that I couldn’t be there myself. My ritual of buying PWG DVDs ended in late 2006, I no longer frequented the message board, and wrestling just stopped for me for almost 5 years, for the most part. Everything about SoCal froze in my head. For years, frozen in time, Larry Rivera remained the best wrestling announcer ever. PWG events were where, as Excalibur would say, you could “buy a ticket but take TWO seats”, before it became the industry phenomenon it is now. My fantasy matches I might think about would include Super Dragon and Kaos and CM Punk in a 3-way. Joey Harder was a thing online. Adam Pearce and Frankie Kazarian would be debated in my mind with Super Dragon and Taro for best feud ever. In 2004 I went to an Osaka Pro show ONLY to see the same comedy match I had seen from PWG, and remembered nothing else from the event.

Above it all was the familiar faces of the fans attending every show, supporting and respecting and CARING about the promotions, wrestlers and each other. Until 2011, wrestling to me WAS SoCal 2001-2006. No more PN News and no more ECW in my mind. Just being on the internet I would know about events in WWE and TNA and ROH and others, but it didn’t bring about any feelings. I might be interested to see events and matches, but it would never match the feeling of catching a Chris Bosh shirt torn and thrown out of the ring by Excalibur. Even now, like most people who feel the need to keep up with things and especially to watch NXT, I subscribe to the WWE Network. But the biggest moment for me watching it wasn’t the Undertaker’s streak ending or Goldberg’s recent win, or great NXT events, or any classic match I could finally discover. One day, watching Swerved, I literally yelled at my TV, “GQ MONEY!!!!! HE’S IN WWE!!!!”

To me, it was a bigger appearance than if Sean Connery had come out of retirement to cameo on the show. I mean, come on! It’s GQ Money! I have worked shows with Masato Tanaka, Atsushi Onita, the future Asuka… But I am flipping out seeing GQ Money getting swerved!

Working with Asuka to seeing GQ Money to seeing that Asuka is working with GQ Money. This is where SoCal and wrestling have connected me to so much.

In 2011, I was in one of the worst natural disasters in this generation, as eastern Japan was crushed by a series of earthquakes and the tsunamis that followed. I was stuck on the second floor in a three-story building that was shaking so hard, I was being thrown off the floor with loud snapping all around me, and for about two minutes I felt sure that at any moment the building would collapse, and I’d likely be crushed to death. I learned that day that I should put a lot more trust in Japanese architecture to be earthquake-proof, and I also realized that I should never have regrets with not accomplishing something in a life that may end at any time.

I’ve supported and volunteered with the local pro soccer club for about ten years, and know the announcer at the stadium. It turns out that he also announced for the local independent pro wrestling group. When he tweeted that he would announce a free event on Sunday a short drive from my home, I thought I’d go see him in action, knowing nothing about the wrestling scene. What I found was VERY different than the SoCal scene, but equally endearing and one that drew me in immediately. I was watching the first match and probably was the only one of the 25 people watching who knew that it was all a work. There were elderly people with their mouths open in awe, young women shielding their eyes from the violence of chops, and in the middle of the event 50 kids walked into the gym after a youth basketball tournament in the same building, and shortly began passionately cheering and booing exactly who they should. None of the workers were famous or flashy, but these people sincerely respected and were in awe of what the wrestlers were doing.

I had decided earlier in the year that I would live without regrets. At this event, I felt that seeing the way that these guys were able to bring real feelings out of the fans, that this is something that I wanted to do. So, I decided that I would. I contacted the person in charge after the event and arranged to meet in person before the next one. I start training in summer, and my first match by summer of 2012 (as training in Japan is no joke, you HAVE to pay dues with the time and effort put in, not assuming it isn’t the same in SoCal or elsewhere of course). Since then, I have felt in the ring a feeling that I can only assume was the same for those I watched ten years earlier… That connection between the performer and the audience, the respect and appreciation, and the feeling of being part of the same experience, and the same memory… It’s something I love to do so much and with all of the difficulties of the normal grind in life, it’s the best part of each week for me. I can only imagine the same for every wrestler there in SoCal and I do indeed live with a regret, that I hadn’t taken the plunge to do the same thing while I lived there and with ten more years in front of me to keep doing it.

From the beginning I wanted to keep SoCal in my wrestling as it was the scene that changed me to make me feel the positivity of the industry. Just before my first match I needed a ring name, and so chose “DiCaprio” as a connection to the idea of “Hollywood”, which I would also take as a hometown in any federation that announces them. I also try to include a Super Dragon curb stomp in as many matches as possible. I hope it doesn’t feel like stealing the move, deep down it is with respect for him and I want to be able to have fans here feel the same awe as I felt when I first saw it myself. Whenever someone asks me about it, as it is memorable here, I always give credit and tell that person to look up the original innovator of it, and to see some of what Super Dragon has done over the years. Last year, it was actually heartwarming when I worked an indy fed in northeast Japan, and was asked by a couple of workers after the match about the curb stomp. I explained about Super Dragon, and the next show I worked with them two months later, the move was greeted with a “Super Dragon” chant by about ten Japanese workers who were watching and had taken the time to learn about him. I really feel honored to have been able to share my experience with others who now know the positivity of the workers and fans of SoCal.

As I travel Japan working spots on independent shows, I of course now have many new goals. I’d love to live a lifestyle through wrestling (although I know it would need to be with a job other than performing over the long term, soon), including the major Japanese groups. I’d love to improve and become respected much more through being able to do a lot more in the ring. I’d love to get that one great match recorded that I’d always be proud of to watch and show others. I would love to be a CM Punk or Super Dragon style memory for fans (or even a PN News). On December 4, I will wrestle/will have wrestled at an event in Yoyogi Park, the most popular one in Tokyo, with perhaps tens of thousands coming by to see which would be huge for me. More than anything though, I’d love to wrestle there, in SoCal, in front of all of the great fans reading this who gave me the inspiration to follow the initial dream, and be right there in the middle of all of you as you chant about how awful I am. 🙂

If you made it this far, thanks for reading through everything. I just want everyone in SoCal reading this know that, whether wrestler, staff, or fan, you made a real impact in my experiences thousands of miles away, and I am sure you have done the same for many others. I hope the SoCal scene always remains the best in the world.

-“The Unsinkable Luxury Liner” Kento DiCaprio

1 Comment on "To SoCal and Away… But Some Things Stay"

  1. Wow. This was fantastic. We really do have something special here and its great to read about stuff like this.

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