At the centre of every wrestling promotion, is a pulse that connects its fans. Dowie James is that heartbeat at Melbourne City Wrestling.
James, who goes by his real name as a performer, has been wrestling for 15 years. He had his first training session when he was 12, and performed at his first shows at the fresh age of 13. “I haven’t had a break since then,” he reflects with a proud smile.
Dowie reps the Superman logo on his chest as he flies to ring, ‘Danger Zone’ blasting through the speakers and fluorescent blue lights engulfing the arena. Fans are on their feet – they hang on to his every word, they celebrate every finessed move once he steps in the ring.
“I got into wrestling before superhero movies were a thing. (Wrestling) was the closest thing you could get to a live action ‘superhero’ thing. You have a good guy and a bad guy and they have characters and they fight, and that enamoured me.”
We can all find a piece of ourselves in Dowie James. He’s the boy next door. The common man defying the odds. But his experience translates into a unique magic that transcends reality.
“Later on you find out there’s more of a performance aspect than a legit sport aspect. I like that blurring the lines. Late 90’s early 2000’s there was this stigma that you couldn’t tell people wrestling isn’t a real thing. As a performer, I wanted to have physical matches and leave people going, ‘I wonder if that was a real fight or not’.”
But Dowie recognises that wrestling is evolving. His perspective towards performing has shifted dramatically over the years: “I guess because I’ve been doing it for so long and exposed to different forms of art… Now I’m not trying to trick anyone. It’s like when you go to see a movie. Anyone coming to our show, they turn their brain off and enjoy it for what it is.”
Wrestling’s major appeal will always be the escapism it provides. It’s a form of entertainment unlike anything else, hence its massive cult following.
Fellow MCW wrestler, Josh “The Axe” Shooter, explains the significance of wrestling in his life: “It’s an artistic outlet. It’s a way we can get away from daily life. It’s a way we can express ourselves through story telling… When we have freedom and can show our personas, that’s the fun.”
Wrestling is all about how you connect with the fans. But in this cynical modern era, the plight of a wrestler is amplified tenfold. Dowie admits, “They’re in on it now… Especially when I was younger, you like the wrestlers who look like legitimate athletes. Whereas now because people are a lot more accepting you can have more fun with it.” The spaces for intimidating and massively imposing big men are rapidly disappearing, as a new breed of athletic performers and relatable characters take priority.
To be successful in this industry, “You really need to command respect of a room… if you’re engaging enough as a performer, you don’t have to be the best wrestler in the world… It’s more important to have that familiarity with the crowd than it is to be a great wrestler.”
Dowie has quite an impressive resume to his name. He’s worked with the likes of former WWE Superstar Chavo Guerrero, the last of the prestigious Guerrero family lineage currently active. “He was my favourite as a kid watching the crusierweights… Even if I’m the worst (wrestler) they’ve ever met, they’ll be able to make it work. I’m in their hands.”
Being a good wrestler means having the ability to adapt to your surroundings and work with a range of people, often at short notice. A common misconception is the amount of preparation that goes into a match, which usually varies due to time constraints or the discretion of the wrestlers involved. “(It’s like being an) improv comedian… Even if your styles are different, at the end of the day you’re trying to accomplish the same thing. So you trust that it will work.”
Melbourne is far from dependant on international big names. MCW is home to some of Australia’s finest independent talent, and has seen a number of current WWE Superstars – namely Buddy Murphy, TM61, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce – rise through its ranks. But everyone has to start somewhere.
Josh Shooter explains the importance of innovation in the training process: “Sometimes you get someone really new from a local school who hasn’t found a style yet. They will wrestle the same way as everyone that comes out of that school… That’s why they need to create their own style, and stay diverse.”
“Imagine if there was 100 Iron men in the Marvel universe instead of the Avengers,” Shooter adds. But it’s not all fantasy and comic books caricatures in the wrestling world.
“(Melbourne’s wrestling scene) weeds out anyone that doesn’t take it serious,” Josh warns. It’s not an easy industry to make it big in, let alone make a living. It’s as if it were a side note on Melbourne entertainment, a peculiar counter-culture that is thriving below eye level.
“Melbourne has one of the best independent wrestling scenes in the world, (because) it’s very diverse,” Dowie quite confidently concurs. “(MCW) are really lucky because we’ve got a hub that’s on par with your Progress shows over in the UK, or PWG over in Los Angeles that do really good independent numbers.”
To add to his list of achievements, Dowie’s loyalty to MCW (seven years in fact) has earned him a shot at the MCW Heavyweight Championship, against Elliot Sexton.
“We’ve built something really special here (in MCW) that I never thought we’d have in Melbourne, for whatever reason we’d always hit this cap at 300 people. It’s the first time I can ever remember just sticking it out and seeing those numbers getting to triple.”
Those numbers just seem to be getting better by the day. MCW has well and truly made a name for itself as a premier wrestling promotion built on some Aussie hard yakka. Wrestling is everywhere, “People just need to look for it, and the people that are looking for it find it,” Dowie asserts.
“We do well in Melbourne because it’s a live audience, it goes back to that live bands, live theatre…There’s a special magic about to being able to come to a hall like this and sit with a giant group of people and take it in as this spectacle.”
“We’re lucky we’re in Melbourne because (wrestling is) an art form. Art just thrives here.” Melbourne isn’t shy of its assorted entertainment scene, and we are hopeful that there comes a time it is embraced as a part of that culture, a classic underdog turned superhero story.
Dowie James will face Sexton for the MCW Heavyweight Championship, for the first time ever, at the Thornbury Theatre of Friday 2nd December. One thing is certain; the MCW Universe will be backing their superhero.