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Wrestler to lawmaker: You’ve got a great mustache for wrestling

Rep. Brian Blake Credit: Screenshot from a YouTube video

Pro wrestling ain't real. That bombshell was dropped on the Washington House Business & Financial Services Committee on Tuesday.

"Did I hear you right? The outcome may be predetermined?" asked committee chairman, Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma at the beginning of a hearing on a bill about pro wrestling and lucha libre, a Mexican-based form of masked wrestling.

Later in the hearing, 6-foot, 210-pound Josh Kuntz of Seattle, who wrestled as the scary clown Ronald McFondle from 2003 to 2008, said of pro wrestling: "It's more akin to a music or theater performance than a [mixed martial arts] match." 

Kuntz and Jake Shannon, an announcer for many Puget Sound events (including Rat City Roller Girls matches), testified in favor of a bill for the state to study whether "theatrical wrestling" should be regulated less stringently from more serious wrestling competitions, mixed martial arts bouts and boxing.

Rep Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, introduced the bill. With no arm-twisting, the committee unanimously recommended that the House pass the bill. If passed, the Washington Department of Licensing would have until Nov.1 to prepare a report on the regulation of "theatrical wrestling."

The problem for promoters is that the expenses under current regulations, designed to protect competitors, make Washington among the states with the least pro wrestling. Right now, a promoter must pay the state 6 percent of the gate receipts and $1 for each sold ticket. Most Washington wrestling matches attract 100 to 200 customers. So a promoter cannot afford the state's fees on top of insurance, hall rental and having paramedics present, they said. "Six percent. That's a big bite right there," Stratton said.

"I don't have a problem with licensing," he added. "But we want to be able to do what we do and make a little profit. … We're in a no-win situation where small operators can't afford to put on a show."

King County has a fledgling lucha libre circuit that is also struggling under the current rules. The most famous lucha libre wrestler is Fray Tomenta. He was profiled in Sports Illustrated as the masked Catholic priest wrestling to raise money for an orphanage, which also inspired a 2006 Jack Black movie 

Stratton, Kuntz and some committee members described pro wrestling as acrobatics and pantomime, with a little bit of Cirque Du Soleil.

Kuntz and Stratton stressed that the theatrical wresting is different from its competitive counterpart that it is rehearsed with wrestlers usually suffering only minor injuries such as jammed fingers. Theatrical wrestling's only one recent death was in 1999 when Canadian Owen Hart, part of a wrestling family, fell 78 feet at a Kansas City event while making an entry on a zip line. A quick-release mechanism malfunctioned, and he suffered internal injuries.

Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, whose husband and mother-in-law are longtime Hulk Hogan fans, quizzed the pair on the injury potential of a "pile driver" move. They responded that it is a rehearsed acrobatic maneuver. "The fact of the matter is we don't want anyone to get hurt," Stratton said. Promoters and wrestlers are reluctant to work with someone who has hurt another wrestler in the past, he and Kuntz said.

Meanwhile, Stratton looked at the Fu Manchu mustache of barrel-chested Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and said: "Rep. Blake has a great mustache for wrestling."

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.

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