I’d seen Lumberjack Matches. Everyone has. Those unwieldy monstrosities of pro wrestling matches in which two men fight and ten, fifteen, twenty others surround the ring. The rule is that if either man is thrown or falls or tries to run from that ring, the men on the outside will usher him back inside, the heels all too eager to take a potshot at the hero in the process of hurling him back between the ropes for more punishment.
Promoters have arranged these matches for years. A sense of escalation in a rivalry. The spectacle of showing fans something different without the expense or logistical burdens of a steel cage. A way of getting some extra mileage off the talents booked on the card by having them perform a second time, but not paying them double, because they aren’t actually wrestling twice.
There’s no such thing as a good Lumberjack Match, Percy Reynolds said. Percy was prone to grand proclamations, announcing for anyone who cared to listen the best burger of the Mid-Atlantic, the hottest ring rat in the Great Lakes region, that there’s no logical reason to bounce off the ropes and into your opponent’s arms off an Irish Whip, which was why he always stopped himself, which was why his matches so rarely have any flow.
But Cowboy Sam, who ordinarily couldn’t be bothered to listen to anything Percy said, couldn’t abide this. Do you even know why it’s called a Lumberjack Match?
Percy didn’t give him an inch. Crossed his arms. Because the first time they did it, Paul Bunyon was working the show?
Cowboy didn’t laugh. The legend is that this was how lumberjacks—real woodsmen—used to settle their differences. No ring, but they’d circle around the men who had an issue and they’d keep either man from retreating, keep anyone from interfering. Never break the circle until the matter was settled.
It’s not until Cowboy was done that I noticed, that I suspect Percy noticed that there was a circle of us around him—around him and Cowboy.
To look at them, you’d think Cowboy and Percy would have a fair fight. Cowboy thicker in his haunches, more of the scars of a man who’d lived through his share of fights. But Percy was barrel-chested and cut, with bigger biceps.
It was no contest, though. Not with Cowboy. Not in his locker room. Legend has it he used to wear real spurs on his boots. A prop for the crowd. An implement to stab and gouge and slice at anyone who’d defy him backstage. Legend has it he had one of his nipples knocked of him in a steel chair fight gone wrong in Japan years back. That he finished the match—another ten minutes—before he went backstage and had it stitched back on. Just some of the disaster area of scars hiding beneath the thick hair on his chest.
When Cowboy spoke of legend, there was always the possibility—the likelihood, even—that he lived it.
Percy hadn’t lived much. He stepped back into the circle.
There’ve been some Lumberjack Matches, all right. Cowboy sat back down. Lumberjacks are nothing to laugh at.