Sam Armstrong flew off the top ropes, using the full weight of his body to drive a chair into Walker Hayes’ chest, sending each man to the mat for the umpteenth time. With three other Ultimate Championship Pro Wrestling South wrestlers piled upon him, Hayes could no longer get up. Armstrong crawled over, draped an arm over his opponent, and the ref counted Hayes out.
The Broad Avenue Brawl, the street-fight rules main event of the April 20, 2018 UCPWS match was over. It didn’t take long for the match to spill first out of, and then back through, the front doors of Memphis’ Rec Room. By the time it was over, it had involved chairs, poles, buckets, and a bed of Legos. It also required those present to wear ear plugs to dampen the sound of the wrestlers slamming into the mat over and over.
Scenes such as this one play out every other Friday at the Rec Room, on occasion at El Mercadito Market, and at other venues in and around Memphis. That evening’s match brought out a diverse crowd to cheer and jeer the Faces and Heels of UCPWS, and allowed the fans to get as close to action as they dared without getting hurt. It was the sort of unregulated fun you could never get at a WWE arena spectacle with its layers of broadcasting gear, pyrotechnics, and security measures separating fan and wrestler.
Before this match, all we knew of Memphis wrestling was seeing Jerry Lawler’s WRESTLING trailer haunting the open lawns and roadsides of Memphis, never permanently located, but a clear fixture of the city’s landscape. We’ve seen it often, but had never looked into the events it advertises in small font beside the giant WRESTLING lettering. In many ways, it was a doorway into a world that was hiding in plain sight… just like every sign, facade, or flyer leading into the worlds of Memphis’ dive bars, music scenes, and tamale-selling gas stations. All we had to do was walk through.
What was going through your head during Friday’s match?
Armstrong: Honestly when I’m in the ring during a match I tend to keep a clear head. I try and not let anything distract me. It can be pretty stressful being in front of a wild crowd and you’re having to make sure you’re doing everything correctly to put on a fantastic show for those wild fans.
Hayes: Mainly what was going through my head was that I needed to put on the best show possible for the people in attendance. That goes through my head in every match, but with this being the main event and a street fight on top of that, with the hype it was given we had to spice things up a bit.
Why do you wrestle / what do you love about wrestling?
Armstrong: I was bullied, picked on, and didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid. Wrestling was my escape. Watching my heroes in the ring overcome their obstacles always gave me hope that I could overcome anything too. After I got out of the military I was given the opportunity to make a dream I had as a little kid a reality and 4 years later it’s been the best choice I’ve ever made.
Hayes: I wrestle because I’ve always been a fan of it and it’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. When I was little I watched Survivor Series 2001 when The Rock won the 5 on 5 elimination match and my heart was set on wrestling from then on. What I love about wrestling is it allows me to give people an escape from their daily lives for a night and to portray a character that the crowd can relate to, or in the case of Friday night, love to hate.
What do you do when you’re not wrestling?
Hayes: Outside wrestling, I’m a musician. I’m always playing guitar and coming up with new riffs. Not in a band or anything, just for fun.
Armstrong: When I’m not wrestling you can find me at home relaxing with my girlfriend and dog. What little free time I get I like to spend it doing nothing. I try to enjoy the little things.
What’s one thing about the wrestling circuit that someone who’s never been to a match should know?
Hayes: One thing about wrestling a lot of people don’t know is it actually hurts. We put our bodies on the line every week doing what we do, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t even express how sore I was the next day, but it was all worth it in the end because the people walked away from that show with something they’ll never forget.
Armstrong: Anything and everything can happen. Keep an open mind. And remember to have fun. We put our bodies through hell to entertain the crowd. We do it ’cause we love it and we’ll never stop doing it.
Essay & Interviews by Dan Meade
Photos by Dan Meade & Rob Bellinger
Publication date: 4/28/2018
Date of match: 4/20/2018