As the sun sank Saturday night, Bridgeport was awash in golden rays and smackdowns.
Fans gathered behind Red’s Take 5 Sports Bar for a ridiculous athletic exhibition – professional wrestling.
The word “ridiculous” comes to mind because of the absurdly passionate fandom, whose cheering and jeering are as much a part of the spectacle as the matches themselves. Few athletic events elicit this kind of devotion that often stretches across generations.
National Wrestling Association Texoma Wrestler “The Great Dane” Griffin has been a wrestling fanatic for about 20 years. He first climbed into the ring about seven years ago.
“I think I got interested in wrestling as a kid because of the larger-than-life personalities and the superstardom.”
He said his kids love his wrestling, and although his wife is supportive, she is “not that into it.” His son watches Monday night wrestling and wants to wrestle just like his dad. He mostly competes in Texas but has gone as far as Tennessee for a match – quite a feat considering he only has one weekend a month off from work.
Red Buck owns Red’s and Buck’s North Texas Live. She is hoping for a good time and a windfall from the crowds pro wrestling can bring to Bridgeport.
“We got in wrestling for the first time,” Buck said. “We are trying it out, and hopefully if it does well, we can bring them back every six weeks.”
Buck said she’d like to be on the midget tour. The bar is already home to pool and shuffleboard tournaments and even a karaoke competition that promises to send the finalist on July 25 to compete “with the big boys” for $100,000.
NWA promoter Terri Hopper said NWA does more than 50 shows a year. Her home base is in Sherman.
“We’ve been in business for about four years,” Hopper said. “I kind of helped start this. I saw a show and didn’t like how he was running it, so I got his job and did it better.”
She said the show in Bridgeport could grow into something big. That’s what she has seen in places like Sherman. She said the fans are great and loyal, and if you hold it, they will come.
“There is a family of 14 in Sherman I know who buy tickets and come out to every show,” Hooper said. “This could grow and fill the place up. Our guys may not be on the big screen, but they are some of the best around.”
The night wasn’t all about spills and thrills. It was also about pride and recognizing the men and women who serve in the military. “Major Mark” – Mark Roy – took the stage during intermission and held up a fist with a single black ring. He shook hands with a disabled veteran who was missing his right leg.
Roy, the Commandant of the Marine Corps League in Denton, seeks to raise awareness while putting on a show.
“For me, I want to get the word out,” he said. “Our No. 1 job is outreach and the second is connecting them with the services. It’s the 22 Kill Ring or the honor ring. It honors those who serve and to bring awareness for those 22 veterans who commit suicide every day.
“A lot of people think it’s post-traumatic stress, but it’s not always that.”
Roy said it’s an identity thing. He said more than half of the veterans who commit suicide are over 40 and are retiring from a life that has been defined in military terms.
“They’ve gone through 13 years in the war on terror, and their life unravels,” Roy said. “There is not structure anymore, and it’s all on them. They can never do what they did in Iraq and Afghanistan. They lose their identity and when that happens, they don’t feel like they fit in.”
Roy talked about his ring and held it up as several in the crowd responded in kind, holding up their black honor rings. To the side, Roy’s son and fellow wrestler, also named Mark Roy, stand and watche.
Father and son are just two of a couple dozen wrestlers with NWA.
They’ve already won some fans in Wise County.