Is pro-wrestling a sport or a performance? According to Mark Davalos of Lansford, pro-wrestling is both. Each match is a mythic performance of good versus evil set against a demanding feat of athletic punishment.
Davalos should know. He and his wife, Renee, have been pro-wrestlers since the 1990s as headliners in the Johnny Rodz World of Unpredictable Wrestling. Mark Davalos teaches up-and-coming wannabes the skills to become pro-wrestlers.
Upon entering a room, Davalos is quiet-a most mannerly Clark Kent or perhaps a Dr. Jekyll, who can, in an instant, become a Mr. Hyde-in the guise of his ring persona, Bad Billy Walker.
Where Davalos stoops, Walker is tall and erect, where Davalos wears a soft smile, Walker seems to be on the attack with a psychotic grimace. And his speech, well, here's how he describes himself, "I'm Bad Billy Walker, a low down filthy, dirty southern boy from Texas that nobody likes and I don't give a rat's rear end what you think, son!"
"That's what I project to tick people off and to get an emotional charge out of them," Davalos explained. "I want them to hope that I die before the match is done. I want them to feel that, because if they don't feel that, then I'm not doing any justice to my brothers who are working as hard as I am."
"In pro-wrestling, there's a basic principal of good and evil, right and wrong," he continued. "From the minute you walk towards that ring, it's show time.
"I have to enter this job that I love to death, and turn into a psychotic individual-and project that. So, I walk in a circle, walk round and round, and begin to talk to myself in character, changing my accent, the way I speak, what I say, my mannerisms, even my posture. I have to be there emotionally, and endure the pain and smile."
Being Bad Billy Walker is a total makeover, both emotionally and physically, for Davalos. He dresses the part, carries the props, and is accompanied by his Renee, who plays his manager, Texas Rose.
The Bad Billy Walker costume consists of a cavalry shirt, chaps and a black hat. The black hat is like a neon sign letting the audience know that he's the bad guy.
Davalos, a former shoemaker, made his own chaps and wrestling boots. That's how he got started in wrestling. He was working at the counter of his father's shoe repair and a guy brought in a pair of boots for resoling. "These are professional wrestling boots," he said as he showed them to his dad.
The pro-wrestler told him about Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn and the Unbelievable Johnny Rodz. Rodz saw him, told him to let his hair grow, and started him in his first character role, Comanche Joe.
In his current role as Bad Billy Walker, Davalos' favored prop is a vintage cow bell at the end of a thick white rope. He uses this as a threatening weapon, pointing it towards the audience so it appears to be the barrel of an odd rectangular bore weapon. Renee carries a lasso which she uses to feign strangling the opponent while Bad Billy distracts the referee.
Speaking of the referee, there's one additional clothing item in Davalos' pack, a referee's shirt. "I can always fill in if the ref doesn't show up for a match," he said.
He remembers one match in Tucson, Arizona, 60 miles north of the Mexican border, where he was matched against the Mexican champ.
"Everybody was singing to a mariachi song because he was a hero," Davalos said. "People are thinking good guy/bad guy-he's Mexican from the other side of the border-people want to see the good guy win."
"I had to do something to immediately define who I am. So, as soon as he turns his back on me, I jump him from behind. That's my defining moment. That tells everybody who's who, that I'm on the wrong side of the fence in the match."
Once the match begins, it tells who we are through our characters. My character is, "going to take a piece of you before I'm done, son."
To get that message across, especially to the back row, Davalos explained that movements have to be larger than life-almost pantomime. "It's amphitheater style of theater," he explained. "Throwing a punch must be so huge that people in the back can see it."
Then, he demonstrates in character as he puts on a grotesque facial expression, facing to the audience and saying, "And I'll do it to you, and I'll do it to you, and I'll do it to you!"
One time, Mark and Renee are too successful at doing their job. Someone from the audience became so emotionally involved that they tried to attack Renee with a chair and they had to be escorted from the arena by the police.
So what is pro-wrestling all about? "You are there for a show, not to hurt someone," Davalos said. "There is a premise of the match, a story line, and the angle that they want you to put across. The rest is sweat and blood-and ad-libing."