Men on the Top Ropes

A resounding “pang” shoots over the tournament ring as an old metal folding chair ricochets off a man’s forehead. The man falls to the ground, dirtying his frayed, cut-off-sleeved T-shirt. The audience is caught between astonishment and laughter. Is he really hurt, or is he just faking it? Or both? This is certainly unique entertainment. The man on the ground is Grunge, a semi-pro wrestler at Uncle Bill’s Flea Market. The chair is being wielded by his opponent, Scorpion. Only minutes ago, Scorpion was beaten with the same chair, but only after having a trashcan shoved over his head.Is the blood pouring down Scorpion’s face real? If it is, Uncle Bill doesn’t seem to care. He is yelling at the wrestlers, “Hey, be careful with my chair!” It’s another normal Saturday night wrestling match at the flea market.. . . Ben Seay, publicly known as Uncle Bill, has hosted these matches for over four years. Wrestlers come from near and far to duke it out at his flea market, located off Highway 23-74 in Bryson City.Uncle Bill is a middle-aged Bryson City native. He wears red, white, and blue suspenders, shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, and a brimmed hat, under which stringy hair falls and a smile resides.He has been around the world, as he will eagerly confess. “I’ve been chased through the Congo by cannibals,” he says with a certain pride. “I’ve been on a sinking ship.”He grins as he explains, “I speak four languages: Spanish, Indonesian, a littleEnglish, and a whole lot of hillbilly!” Wrestling is far from the most exciting thing in this man’s life. Uncle Bill proudly shows me his wooden spears. He has a whole collection of artifacts and pictures. He tells me about them between talking on the intercom and instructing the employees who come through his door.Outside his office his 10 year-old son, Richard, works the concession stand. Uncle Bill enjoys emphasizing how smart the young man is. When new employees are hired, Richard is put in charge of their training. Uncle Bill has a lot to be proud of. Uncle Bill bought the flea market with his brother twenty years ago. Nine years ago he bought his brother out. Uncle Bill also owns a half-mile stretch of land around the flea market. Most of the people who sell at his flea market live on his land. “I’m the mayor of this little town,” he explains.. . . So how does a wrestling championship end up at a mountain flea market? Five years ago, a man known as Fatty Love approached Uncle Bill with the idea.Fatty Love weighs 440 pounds. He is a local wrestler and the star and co-founder of Uncle Bill’s Championship Wrestling (UBCW). Since then, it has grown to become an interesting, if somewhat ludicrous, weekend pastime. Currently Fatty Love and another man, Kenny the Wop, own half of UBCW. They organize the matches and the talent. Matches are held every Saturday at 8:30 P.M. Entrance to the show costs $8, but students get in for $5 with a student ID card.On Sundays, Fatty Love and Kenny the Wop hold training camps for people interested in wrestling. As a rule, no one under 18 may participate.. . .The ring itself looks like something out of Fight Club. One wrestler affectionately labeled it “patches.” But Uncle Bill swears by it anyway. The ring is made from a steel frame with a wooden platform and foam padding. On top, a wrestling tarp provides a little give for the many high rope slams. Though the ring has some cushioning, the moves, throws, and falls the men make on it can still be dangerous. One wrestler is unable to fight this week due to a broken arm he received at another competition. There have been accounts of broken ankles and one of a broken shoulder. Fatty Love went to the hospital recently for a head injury, which required six stitches. More recently, Love injured his knee at Dragon Con. in Atlanta, Ga.. . . Behind the tarp curtain, in the “locker room,” the wrestlers explain their terminology. A heel is a bad guy. A face, or baby, is a good guy. “It’s easier to be the heel,” one man says. “The good guys have to win the crowd over. They have to shake hands and be nice. When your heel, all you have to do is rile people up.” Abel Adams is worried about the kids. Outside of the locker room, Adams talks junk, throws other men around, and takes a beating. It’s what he’s paid for. But right now he’s concerned with being a role model.”That’s my pet peeve,” Adams declares, concerning wrestlers who smoke where fans can see them. His powerful arms move with every point he makes. He doesn’t think that any wrestler should encourage bad habits to the younger fans. “There’s a code,” he explains. This code encompasses everything from being a role model to respect between wrestlers. Adams is a man of many strong beliefs. When he’s in the ring, though, he’s a man of punishing blows, as are the other wrestlers.They take their work seriously. The Phoenix Brothers, a tag team duo, come all the way from Miami, FL, to do battle. STD, Able Adams’ partner, is a Marine. He comes from Camp LeJeune to wrestle.The men love their work. It is acting, drama writing, and a full contact sport.. . . “Get up Scorpion! Come on Scorpion, get up!” one man yells. Scorpion lies, face down, on the floor of the ring. Blood glistens on his face. Beside him, Grunge lies, sprawled out, unmoving.The referee begins the countdown: “Ten… nine…” Scorpion moves slightly. “Eight!” Scorpion lifts himself up slightly but cannot fight gravity. He falls back down. “Seven… six…” A couple of the fans cheer their hero on. Again Scorpion tries to get to his feet. “Five… four…” He is staggering now, but standing. “Three.” The hero stumbles, barely maintaining his balance. “Two!” The referee is distracted by something in the crowd. The countdown continues, “One!” Scorpion crumbles to the ground in an exhausted heap. The referee declares the match a draw.”He was up, Ref!” a spectator cries, insisting that Scorpion won. The referee won’t be dissuaded and sticks by his call. Such arguments are all part of the drama at Uncle Bill’s Championship Wrestling.