“Yeah, building the ring single handed was tough.”
“Before we go any further Mario, you have a real reputation in Quebec as a ring mechanic,” interrupts Little Petey.
“Yeah, well, I have been taking apart and putting the little fuckers back together for the better part of forty years. You keep your eyes open, you pay attention, and you pick up some shit you know.”
“So, I think this would be the perfect place for you to explain what goes into a great ring. How they are built, what the guts of the ring are that sort of thing,” insists Little Petey.
“Are you out of your freaking mind? Who the fuck wants to know anything about that?”
“Trust me. People want to know,” Little Petey says reassuringly.
“Now I know why Danny used to call wrestling fans geeks. Well, the first thing is you need a ring that fits your style and your space. And you have to understand the stresses that you are going to be putting it under, because most times, most indy feds, their biggest capital investment is the ring. So you don’t want to buy something that you are going to have to replace in six months. And it’s not even a question of quality. Take this place here, it’s a bit of a dive, low ceilings, acoustics suck. So you need a ring that’s relatively low to the ground and that makes a lot of noise when you bump.
If you are going to be performing a lot of outdoor shows, you want a ring that isn’t going to be affected too bad by humidity. I mean when I was working for those clowns in California and they were doing those wacky outdoor shows in Sturges? They used one of their rings outdoors and the fucker was fucked after the show. It didn’t even rain, but it threatened too, got real humid, unseasonably so for that area. By the time we got the ring back on the road, there was rust on the posts, the Styrofoam and the canvas was fucking mildewy, the plywood was curling, it was a nightmare. Fortunately, they had money to burn, so they just ditched the fucker.
So, you got your three basic sizes. There’s the sixteen footer. Those fuckers are sturdy as hell, built to last. Good for high-flyers because you can wind the ropes tight as super-model’s ass. Problem is, you put a big guy in those, not even a really big guy, some six foot guy and the ring starts to look a little small. I mean you slap a submission move on a guy and he can basically grab the ropes from anywhere in the ring. You give a guy a suplex and he lands on his back and half the time his leg just naturally flops over onto the ropes. The other issue is sound. You have to design the sucker good for the sound because generally you’re going to have lighter guys hitting the mat and you have got that small space under the ring to create the noise. It’s like an echo chamber right, bigger the chamber, bigger the noise. Still there are things you can do. A nice well-tweaked sixteen footer can make more noise than a sloppy twenty footer any day, and it’s a lot easier to keep the sixteen footer tweaked.
Next size up is your eighteen footer. Not as sturdy as the sixteen footer because all your beams are two feet longer. Louder, usually. You can’t get the ropes as tight as the sixteen footer, but usually you can get them tight enough. Big guys don’t look out of place in them. You got some room to move, a bigger canvas to create you know. Your eighteen footer just makes everything seem a little bit more real. All other things being equal this is the ring you want. You will need to replace it or fix more often than your sixteen footer, but unless your running a fed filled with midgets and cruisers, the aesthetics are probably worth it.
I have seen rings bigger than the twenty footer and those are always a pain in the ass, but basically twenty feet is about as big as you want to go. Terrible ring for cruisers. That’s why when you watch guys go from Japan to Texas, they always look so clumsy in comparison. In Japan, their working in a cruiser promotion in a tight little sixteen footer with cables so tight you can walk up them like steps on a ladder. Then in Austin, they are working in this massive twenty footer that makes them look like midgets in comparison and they use loose as diarrhea ropes instead of steel cables. Not to mention that it’s not like they usually give someone a month to adjust. It’s Sunday in Japan, Tuesday on TV from Austin, thank you very much, don’t worry about the jet lag, try not to let our sloppy ass jobbers drop you on your head cause they don’t even know how to throw a hip-toss properly! HA!
Any way, twenty footer. So, two more feet again on each beam. You have to start worrying about beams bending from over-use. Or you have to design it with smaller beams but more cross-pieces under the ring, which makes the ring more sturdy, but increases your cost. You also have to worry that over time your twenty footer will start to list at weird angles, because the beams are starting to bend over time right. Especially if you’re a fed where everyone does all their moves from one side and you all end up bumping in the same place. I mean your sixteen footers, it doesn’t really matter, but I have seen twenty footers that had a groove in them from people always bumping in the same damn place all the damn time. And every time they show you a ring falling apart because there are many guys in the ring, almost always a twenty footer falling apart. Almost always.”
“What about the ones where the fans rushed the ring in Chicago?” asks Little Petey.
“The Pirate’s ring. Yeah, see that was an eighteen footer, but it was old as fuck and that ring was designed fucking weird. I mean when you call it an eighteen footer, it was the longest eighteen footer that I had ever seen, because it had this weird ring-post set-up where the ring posts were kinda skinny up top and wide down below at the base but exaggerated, so it made the actual ring area bigger. It was like a weird attempt at grafting a twenty footer onto an eighteen footer frame. That’s one of the places where I would get bookings and the Pirate would bring me in early to fix up his ring the day before a show.
The only good things about a twenty footer. First, you tune those fuckers properly and they are almost like a musical instrument. I mean you could get some really deep bass going on a bump. Get someone the size of the Mountain bumping in that fucker and you would feel that bump deep in your balls you know? The other good thing for an old fucker like me is that on a sixteen footer pretty much anywhere you bump it’s going to be the same, but on an eighteen footer and especially on a twenty footer, you can sometimes find places that are easier to bump on – less hard on your knees and back. When you watch the Champ on TV, the old fucker is what 56? 57?”
“He just turned 58,” Little Petey corrects me. Like I don’t know my best friend’s age. Cocksucker. Just cause this is a shoot don’t mean that I am going to be telling you the whole truth, you smug little prick.
“Yeah, the old bastard’s 58 and Reilly’s only four years younger. Watch them on TV and watch where they land. On the big bumps, the bone-rattling ones, I bet you dollars to donuts that they both land on the same god damn square of canvas.
It’s like with a baseball bat. The reason that they use aluminum bats in the college leagues is that the sweet spot is so much bigger. It’s why you use a big wooden bat in the majors if you have the wrist strength for it. The bigger the sweet spot, the better chance you have to hit it only here you’re hitting the sweet spot on the ring and using your body to hit it. Hit it right and it sounds better, but it hurts less. Hit it wrong and it’s like breaking a baseball bat in the majors only instead of the bat, you’re breaking bone and joints and muscles and cartilage.
That’s probably why it seems like Austin is filled with old fuckers too stupid to know how to retire. That big fucker of a ring is literally their security mat. Put them in a tight little sixteen foot Japanese cruiser ring and Reilly and the Champ and the rest of the old fuckers would be in body casts in a week.
So, anyway, now that you have picked you size, the next step is the spring. Single heaviest god damn piece of the ring. When I was moving shit around for the Mountain, this was the one piece that defeated me the longest. I mean, I would be happy just to be able to move the fucking thing an inch right. But you know an inch one day, inch and half the next week, two inches the next month… It’s like the story of Paul Bunyan and his Bull right. He started carrying Blue around when they were both babies and as they both grew Bunyan kept carrying Blue around until when Bunyan was a full grown man, he could carry around Blue who was a full grown bull. That’s how it was with me, I carried around that damn spring or at least I tried to every weekday and once a month on a Saturday show, until I could actually lift the fucker.
Anyway, often underappreciated the spring. Most feds, don’t even do basic maintenance on it. Usually all I do for most rings is clean and oil the spring, tighten it up some and fifteen minutes work makes it look like I’m a miracle worker.
Now, I’ve seen ring designs without springs, but I don’t hold with them. Not the way to go.
On the other side, I knew this crazy exotica in Tijuana who commissioned a ring with nine springs in a kind of a box arrangement under the mat. At least I think it was nine. Yeah, nine. Anyway, he did this for two reasons, the first made no sense, but he figured that if the ring made noise with one spring, it would make nine times more with nine springs. Yeah, told you it made no sense. Anyway, the second reason made more sense; He got a contract to put on weekly shows in this seedy pool bar in El Paso. Like here, only this place has higher ceilings and more class if you can believe it.
I can’t remember what his name was. Some transliteration of Gorgeous George in Mexican.”
“Spanish,” interrupts Little Petey.
“What I said, Mexican. Anyway, the regular rings that they used for Lucha Libre would just be too damn tall for this bar. So, George figures that instead of building a ring with one tall central spring that he builds one with nine smaller springs, so the mat can be closer to the floor and the crazy Mexicans luchadors can go nuts without scraping their heads off the ceiling on a tope right?
Actually worked too. Course, they do one show in this dive and pack the place, everyone gets drunk as lords, Mexicans flying everywhere, pitchers of beer flying everywhere, chairs getting busted, tables getting set on fire. Like a Greek wedding on steroids and wearing a mask right? Everybody’s happy.
They go back the next week and the owner of the bar wants them to pay for a pool table that got snapped in half.
“What choo mean snapped in half, esse?”
“You broke one of my pool tables.”
“We no break tables. We count tables last week, witch you. All there.”
“You broke a table and you’re paying for it.”
“We ain’t paying for shit, you fooking red-neck Tex Has mother fooker can kiss my dick you theenk I’m paying for your fooking pool table.”
Or at least that’s how the story was told to me by George much later.
Anyway, like I said, ring’s a big capital investment, so George is stuck with this fucking ring with its nine springs low to the floor, low rider wrestling ring and the venue that he had it built for is burnt to Hell and back.
Now, the worst thing was, something that George never thought of. I mean, the ring worked for being low to the ground, but for the sound, it made less sound not more. First because you’re low to the ground there’s a smaller cavity, smaller echo chamber to make the noise. And because there are nine springs, not all of them are being compressed evenly right, so that makes for an odd noise too, plus you had this weird thing that happened where some springs would get compressed more and more often than others, so the ring starts looking all lopsided. Like I said the spring is the thing no one thinks to maintain. Make it nine springs that no one gives a shit about and it’s nine times more likely that the ring is going to get fucked up.
I was working in Texas later on and George found me, heard that I was a ring mechanic and he would pay me to work on his shows so that I would tune his ring for him.
What I would have to do – fucking nightmare let me tell you – I couldn’t just rotate the springs around the ring, because the ring had got so distorted that they had to number all the pieces because the ring only fit in one particular way. I mean most times on a new ring you can switch parts around, doesn’t matter which side you use it on. Okay, so maybe it’s eighteen exactly by eighteen and a quarter inch, so you can only swap two pieces instead of four, but you can still swap right, Eventually as you stress the ring and it starts to warp you do get to a place where you can only use the pieces exactly where they go, but that takes years usually.
George’s ring was the most extreme example that I had ever seen. So to even out the ring gradually what I had to do was leave the spring shaft where they were, but take apart the spring, leaving the shaft in place but swapping the spring itself. Like I said, fucking nightmare and even after I finished, the ring didn’t look like new just better. Fortunately, in Tijuana, better is fucking paradise compared to every day fucking life, right?
Any way… For years afterwards, I would be in the weirdest ass places, Montreal, Puerto Rico, Italy, Japan, Calgary, St-Paul, once in Odessa, Russia not Texas – like Heroes, anyway wherever I was, George would always succeed in totally fucking up the time zones and he would always, always wake me up at like two forty in the morning.
“Mario, pleezzhhe you must come to Me Hi Ko and toooon my ring. Tooooon my ring, Mario.”
Remember, I told you about the maniacs in California chucking the damp ring after the Sturges fiasco? Well, I got permission to scavenge some parts from it and I dragged bits and pieces to Tijuana and built George a Frankenstein ring using his old ring and the remnants of the dead damp ring to build him one combined ring that didn’t sag in weird places and that was fucking tight and sturdy as a drum.
More fool me though because it meant that George stopped booking me every three to six months to come and wrestle and tooooooon his ring. I mean it’s not like he stopped booking me altogether, but there might an eighteen month or two year gap before he remembered to call me, because he didn’t need me anymore or at least not as often. Did stop the fucker from waking me up at two forty in the morning though.
Anyway, so you’ve got your spring. In each of the corners, you’ve got your ring posts and usually they are attached to the spring in some way, or at least attached to each other. Most use some kind of cables on the ground that you can ratchet up and tighten, but not just yet. Some use cross-pieces on the ground, but the cable’s are better.
You got to keep in mind, it’s not like these fuckers are available at your local Canadian Tire, more like each one is hand made. It’s like violins right. I mean every body has heard about Stradivarius right. Fucking Italian knew how to build violins right and the guys he taught or who studied his work and his methods, they knew what they were doing. Ain’t no body heard about Stradivarius’ idiot neighbour who made violins sounded like two cats screeching that he sold cheap to people who couldn’t afford the good stuff next door. Rings are like that only nobody knows who builds the good rings.
“Well they can order a good quality on-line…” Little Petey contradicts me.
“Ain’t you ever heard that you should never buy a car built on a Monday? No body on the line’s paying attention - everybody is yacking about their weekends, things get left off, welds aren’t made right, procedures aren’t followed. Nah, you want one built on Thursday, day after hump day. It’s not Friday so people aren’t all focused on getting the hell out of work at the end of the day. You’ve had three full days to get your fuck-ups out of the way and get back into the swing of the things. And hopefully most of the line got laid the night before. Happy line is a good line; good line is a good car. So you order a ring online how the Hell are you supposed to know when it was made? Welds are fucking important in rings. I have had to re-weld rings before I should know. Rings are something built by an individual usually leading a team. You want to know who built yours. Least if it’s being built from scratch anyway.
It’s different if you buy it used like Black Petey did. Then you can have someone like me take the fucker apart and put it together before you shell over the cash make sure the damn thing is worth the money.”
“So is the ring Peter is bringing today good?” asks Little Petey.
“Would I have told him to buy it if it was scrap? It’s a new damn ring only been used once so it needs to be broken in, but it’s a good piece of work.
Anyway, you got your spring; you got your ring posts. Then you got your middle posts, not as tall as the ring posts, they only go up to where your ring mat is going to be and they have three slots on three sides. You face it with the middle slots inwards and then you have got a cross beam that goes from the ring to the middle post and another cross beam that connects the middle post to each of two ring posts. Right there, you got your ring halfway built. Now those cross beams that you connected also had slots in them so now you got a whole series of smaller beams that connect the cross beams until you can pretty much walk across all those cross beams from one side to another.
Then you just lay down your plywood, making sure that if those fuckers are starting to curl that you have the curl facing down not up, because you sure as fuck don’t want to catch your back on some plywood corner sticking up when you bump. Over the plywood, you lay the Styrofoam, more to protect your canvas from the splinters of the plywood than to protect the wrestlers. Torn canvases cost money to replace right? Or to sew back up. Wrestlers are independent contractors. If they get hurt, fuck em.”
“You’re being ironic right?” asks Little Petey.
“Do I look like a promoter to you? Have I ever made one thin dime from the box office being bigger? Hell, yes, I’m being ironic. Right so your Styrofoam is down. You put down a canvas on top of that, some feds will have a bottom canvas and a top canvas, and some will just have one. Two is always better, if only because you can rip it off in a hurry, something goes wrong or if you have a really messy hardcore match and you want to get rid of the glass and thumb tacks quickly.
Some do the ropes before the canvas. I like to have the canvas down first. Then you hook up the ropes and tighten them but tighten the cables underneath first. Tie on the ring ropes if you use them and if they weren’t already tied from the previous show. Have to be careful about that though. I know a guy had his tag ropes permanently attached to the posts and before a big show his moron crew put together the ring so that the posts with the ring ropes were both on the same side rather than on opposite corners. That was fun to watch, when they figured that out three matches into the show when they did their first tag match.
You lace up the turnbuckles and tie on the ring apron if you use one. Better to use one. You can always sell the place on the apron for a local business money mark to buy as advertising for his hardware store or whatever. Plus you usually need to hide some sort of plunder under the ring. And it’s like Christmas right, you throw back the apron and the crowd wants to know what the hell you’re going to pull out from underneath. Like the magician sticking his hand in the hat. The trick isn’t that he pulls something out. Everybody knows that he will pull something out. The suspense is - WHAT will he pull out? No apron, everybody can see the ladder or the table or the chair or the fucking weed-whacker God forbid, you know if you can see it all show, there’s no fucking suspense.
Anyway, that’s your ring.
For Mountain’s ring, for Mario’s ring when I was a kid…
It took me a while to be able to move the spring without help, but once I could do that, putting together the ring was easy. You just put the spring in the middle, put the posts far enough apart and put the sucker together like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces look the same to a stranger, but to you those two identical pieces are as far apart as night and day. The way that a mother can tell apart identical twins, two pieces of metal that seem to be the same are completely different. Each one has different scrapes and scars, bends just a little bit differently.
By the time I put together Mountain’s ring for the first time by myself, I had been putting it together with others for a bit more than two years.”
“So you were ten?” asks Little Petey.
“I think, no I know I did it first by myself the week before I turned eleven.”
“And you were already doing the full stretching routine?” continues Little Petey.
“Yeah, that only took me like six, seven well maybe eight months to get down. I mean I was probably keeping up with Mario all the way through after six months, but I wasn’t necessarily doing every stretch right. By eight months, I could do every stretch right and do them all and do them without Mario being there to tell me what to do next.”
“So Mario Brava started training you what as a birthday present?” asks Little Petey.
“No. He didn’t start training me as a wrestler right away.”
“Why Not?” asks Little Petey.
“Well, I didn’t tell him right away that I could put it together by myself…”
His website (harryharrison.com) is reporting that that he passed away yesterday from unknown causes. He was one of my favorite authors simply because, while he was broadly a Scifi writer, his body of work was so eclectic.