whisky-drinking crooked cop versus the Bronx thug. A three-time winning
Olympian versus the All-American pimp. Two dudes in medieval armor. It’s professional wrestling season, and these guys are
ready to fly off the top of a steel cage.
But as the
lights dim, revelers at Denver’s Oriental
Theatre know this event is going to be special, for one reason: Midgetpalooza.
Wrestling Federation, the organization responsible for the moniker, boasts
“mini athletes” who take their stint on the road, filling up audiences who come
to see people 4’10” and under pummel each other with fists, various props, and
Spandex. The entire event involves three one-on-one matches, a steel cage match
involving several of the wrestlers, and then a surprise bonus at the end, which
is promised to be “unlike anything you’ve seen before.”
This ends up
being stripping midgets.
With a ring that’s
12 feet by 12 feet, less than a standard size of five yards as regulated by
other professional wrestling groups, the entertainers suit up for the show in
the early evening while tour manager Reggie tests out the PA system in the
venue. Doubling as the event’s commentator and outfitted in a sleek suit with
matching fedora, he slickly runs through a couple lines before rallying up the
wrestlers in the back for a pep talk.
organized tours for strip show revues akin to Chippendale’s
performances, before being approached by a business acquaintance about a new
“venture” – the midgets. He initially passed. “I had no idea what it even meant
for midgets to be wrestling,” he said. But two years
hit the road with the whole production. (The word “midget” is one MWF approves
of, and is what the wrestlers also call each other in relation to their jobs.)
they do. The cast–which includes six wrestlers, one referee, and a handful of
production assistants who coordinate everything from
building the ring and aligning the proper music to managing segments of the live show–travels through much of the continental U.S. during the year. Most holidays are
reserved for going back home, though it’s back on the road again once gigs
begin filling up months that take them through mountains, deserts, the ‘burbs
MWF has also
picked up momentum on behalf of the entertainers. They recently appeared on NBC
sitcom Bones playing themselves, and according to Reggie, they’re in talks to be the subject of a reality show.
Just as the
entertainers have a story plot that plays out for the audience, they each also
have a personal history of their own. Pixie, the event’s ref, made a living
stripping in Arkansas prior to landing her gig calling the shot of the matches.
Nasty has a house in Portland that he shares with his girlfriend of two and a
half years, and of which much of his paycheck through MWF goes to. The
entertainers are considered independent contractors and get paid, usually
in cash, after each show.
Once the show
starts, all seven midgets get in the groove. They pump themselves up with
chants and dances before appearing on stage in front of adoring fans, who hawk
beers in one hand and homemade signs in the other. Costumes are either
tailor-made – as usually is the case with pants – or from shopping in the
children’s section of department stores. Entertainers near
the high end of the midget height spectrum fit into standardized adult
matches, the stripping begins.
Curious customers with dollar bills ready line the perimeter of the ring and wait for their lap dance. Jmazing and Pixie each grind their
way for cash until finally the entire group come out to take pictures with fans
and to sell shirts. The next city
awaits them after the sweat settles in.
“I’ve been in
this business 26 years, and loved every part of it,” said Nasty. “It’s what I
do, and I do it well.”
Writer’s note: a heartfelt thanks to Morgan Hopper for use
of his camera, and to my Auntie Mela and Uncle Robert Aquino, for without your
generosity in driving me around Colorado and letting me crash with you, this
picture editorial of midgets beating the shit out of each other would not have
been possible. I love you guys.