GUEST EDITORIAL: Oakland’s Hoodslam Marches Forth in First Show of 2022




The COVID-19 pandemic was nearly a death sentence for performance arts, let alone an independent wrestling promotion. But for Hoodslam, which emanates out of Oakland, CA, it was especially hard, because Hoodslam isn’t your typical independent wrestling promotion. The lines between wrestling, music, art and performance have been blurred and mixed into a show that needs to be seen to be believed. 

“What makes Hoodslam such a unique experience to perform for compared to other promotions that I’ve worked with is that Hoodslam doesn’t take professional wrestling as seriously as other promotions do,” said AJ Kirsch, the promotions longtime emcee as Broseph Joe Brody and the first (and only) winner of The Rock’s Rock the Promo competition. “they’re not trying to convince the audience that what they’re seeing is real, they are putting on a show that is so over the top, that they’re making the audience forget that it’s not real.”

It’s in this concept that has made Hoodslam so successful. It’s not just wrestling fans that go to see “BART Man”, a wrestler whose gimmick is tied to the Bay Area’s train system, or El Chupacabra, a performer based on the cryptid of Mexican folklore. Fans clamor to get closer to the ring when Derek and Dustin Mehl, two brothers who wrestle under the name “the Stoner Brothers”, enter from backstage. They come out smoking blunts and will often pass them around to the fans next to the ring. Hoodslam can also be a proving ground for competitors wanting to grab the brass ring. Acts that have appeared on WWE like Shotzi Blackheart and Mansoor, then wrestling under the name Manny Faberino, cut their teeth and honed their craft amidst the clouds of smoke and smell of booze. Hoodslam attracts all walks of life. 

When you walk into Hoodslam, you see the usual tables lined to the side for performers merch, but while most promotions will perform out of school gyms or VFW outposts, Hoodslam normally occurs in a dive bar. There’s no cookie cutter pre-produced music for entrances, Hoodslam has used a live band that has even gotten involved in the action at one show. 

Attending a show and looking at the fans around you, you see a hodgepodge of what makes the city great. It looks like a melting pot of all of the cliques one would normally see in a high school cafeteria at lunchtime. It feels like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where Edie McClurg talked about the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads that occupied Glenbrook North High School, except rather than thinking Ferris Bueller is a righteous dude, they all gather to celebrate professional wrestling. They all gather to celebrate art. 

“Therein lies the irony of one of our battle cries, which is, ‘This Is Real!'” Kirsch went on. “The characters are so ridiculous, the storylines are so out there, that it’s just too much fun not to go on the ride that Hoodslam takes the fans.”

This promotion is as much a part of the DNA of the city as the Bay Bridge or the Grand Lake Theatre. 

Unfortunately, things had to take a backseat when the COVID-19 pandemic burst onto the world in March 2020. 

“Dealing with the pandemic was awful. There was just so much uncertainty surrounding when shows of any kind would be back, not just Hoodslam. All professional wrestling, all concerts, all theatre. Everything was gone, and for performers and audiences alike, there was just this gaping void that nobody knew how to fill.”

As a fan, the pandemic was devastating. Having the major promotions be able to continue in a limited format was great, but It left you feeling helpless, knowing that people were getting sick and dying, and feeling that sadness as a community without the usual outlets to destress. Everything needed to be put on hold. Marriages were put on hold. Birthdays were postponed. Celebrations were cancelled.

“And we were coming up on our tenth anniversary show, which was supposed to be my last match, for all intents and purposes, I was actually going to wrestle at Entertainia X (against James C.) and, you know they say ‘never say never’ in wrestling but I would’ve gone into that match with the mindset that if I never step foot in a wrestling ring again as a wrestler after that night, I better get everything out of my system.” 

Thankfully, as restrictions started to lift and COVID cases started to drop, it became possible to put shows on. On August 22, 2021 Hoodslam put their first show on since the pandemic started in San Francisco at the DNA Lounge. On November 5th, 2021, the promotion put on their first show back in Oakland. 

“We had a Hoodslam first Friday in November in Oakland since the pandemic, so you know, 18 months or so after it first hit.” Kirsch reminisced “And it was at an abandoned train station, but it was amazing, it felt like a festival. We drew over 2,000 people.” The feeling of family was there, as I saw familiar faces at the merch tables and bars. Kirsch confirmed that the staff of the Oakland Metro Operahouse was on hand to work the event.

Being in the crowd for that show was unlike anything I’d seen, even by Hoodslam standards. Surrounded by derelict buildings and train tracks, the show kicked off with a funeral for a wrestler named “Pooh Jack”, a Winnie the Pooh inspired parody of the hardcore legend New Jack. Lighters were in the air, it was a somber tone for a staple of the Hoodslam roster for the last few years. 

Then Pooh Jack erupted from the stage as a zombie. 

“This. Is. Real! This. Is. Real!” erupted from the 2,000+ fans in attendance as Pooh Jack took in his applause before exiting the stage, instantly setting the tone for the rest of the show. 

Later in the show, a performer came out to sing what was billed as the National Anthem. It wasn’t just any performer though. This was “Enrique Iglesias”. (“This. Is. Real! This. Is. Real!”) what followed was something incredible. “Iglesias” started singing his song “Hero”. Lighters again went up. The crowd started singing along, and 18 months worth of sadness, pain, heartbreak and stress poured out of every single person in the crowd. With each word that was sung, the crowd healed from the pandemic as tears fell from their faces. Every person in attendance left feeling a little more free. 

After years, that we all can agree felt like the longest and shortest of our lives, Hoodslam returns to the Oakland Metro Operahouse for their first show of 2022.

Kind of. In the spirit of Oakland, that rebuilt itself after the 1988 Loma Prieta Earthquake, Hoodslam will be putting on their first show of the year in the street outside the Operahouse.

“Oakland Metro Operahouse, which was the home of Hoodslam, doesn’t have a physical space right now. And so, this next Hoodslam on Friday March 4th, is going to be in the street, in Oakland, 3rd and Castro, literally in the street.” Kirsch said. Safety is important for the promotion. Warnings air pre-show to let fans know that, while you may be able to stand right next to the ring, if the wrestlers leave the ring, you need to move. (“You get out of their way, they don’t get out of yours”) making sure that the show takes place in an open air venue was important. 

What should you expect from the event, besides it being in the street? The promotion is boasting darlings of the independent scene like Trish Adora and Nicole Savoy, and Juicy Finau making his Hoodslam debut. 

What are the performers looking forward to?

“I’m looking forward to an electric atmosphere, that Hoodslam always provides.” Kirsch said. “I’m looking forward to the vibe that only Hoodslam can produce, and really my expectations are no different than they have been for the past decade or so that I’ve been involved in Hoodslam, and that is, that it’s just going to be a good, f*cking, time.”

Hoodslam: March Forth is available to view on FITE here. Tickets can also be bought on Eventbrite here.

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