For Sam Khandaghabadi, a professional wrestling match in 1989 between Ricky Steamboat and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair may have changed his life forever.
"Steamboat comes out with his family, and his son's on a horse, and then Ric Flair comes out with like 40 women, all looking hella '80s and southern, and I could just kinda tell this was a very encompassing form of entertainment, all these layers were being touched at once."
"A lot of wrestling is insulting to the audience," said Khandaghabadi. "At Hoodslam, we have very strict policing of tying up loose ends and having character development."
To illustrate how deeply Hoodslam's motto, "This Is Real," resonates with audiences, Khandaghabadi told the story of a match featuring Charlie Chaplin, an invisible wrestler who other performers pantomime around.
Chaplin's opponent raised him overhead before tossing him into the audience — who all immediately moved out of the way before surrounding the fallen "performer" and taunting him with chanted expletives.
"It blew my mind," Khandaghabadi said.
The wrestling troupe, which performs on the first Friday of each month and celebrates its seventh anniversary tonight, is in many ways intrinsically Oakland. Khandaghabadi was working at a cannabis club when he conceived of Hoodslam as a show for dispensary patients that also embraced inclusion.
"Oakland has a counterculture, but also it’s very inviting," said Khandaghabadi. "We do a lot of things that are shocking, but it’s still for everyone, it’s not 'just fuck you, get lost'. That’s the heart of Oakland. It’s very much a rebellious city, it’s the best example of community in America. At least it used to be."
Hoodslam has three prime directives: no racism, no homophobia, and no sweeping pejorative statements against women; e.g., a wrestler can call their opponent a "bitch," but wouldn't be permitted to describe all women that way.
Because the women who participate are skilled grapplers, "we do a lot of intergender wrestling," Khandaghabadi said. "This is an industry where it could be a home run at every bat, and yet people don’t wanna lose to a woman."
A desire to rebuff misogyny and gender norms inspired the "Femmed Out" shows, held each February where wrestlers, ring announcer, and band "femme up" with dresses, makeup, and wigs. "Calling it 'drag' isn't right. Wearing a dress doesn’t make you a loser," said Khandaghabadi.
Tonight's exhibition, to be held at the Oakland Metro Operahouse, will include a Lethal Lottery, where wrestlers are randomly assigned to teams (sometimes "accidentally" paired with rivals) before competing in tag-team matches against other randomly-paired wrestlers.
The winners of those matches enter a battle royal, where the sole winner wins a prize — in this case, the Child Montgomery Punk Championship, which allows the winner to book a match of their choosing against anyone at anytime.
Other matches tonight will include Cereal Man vs Pong, which Khandaghabadi described as "the Angry Video Game Nerd but angrier," and Johnny Drinko versus “The Talent” Ean Hancement for the title of Best Athlete in the East Bay.
Hoodslam's monthly show plays to packed houses; a combination of athleticism, activism and performance art, the exhibitions are much more than a send-up of pop culture and conformity, said Khandaghabadi. "We turn around and fight issues in wrestling."
Hoodslam: EnterTania VII is tonight at 8pm at Oakland Metro Operahouse (522 2nd St.); tickets are $20-42 and are sold out, but some will be available at the door.
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