Death Matches are an ultra-violent style of wrestling in which men of all ages relive - and completely reimagine - wrestling shows from decades past. The invented drama is the same, but the narrative arc has vanished. The main draw is blood, and lots of it. Promoters bring what are considered the “standard weapons” of Death Matches to events. Fluorescent light tubes, nail guns, cinder blocks, barbed wire and broken glass are all fair game. Devoted fans bring their own barbaric weapons, capable of ripping flesh, in hopes that they will be used by their favorite wrestler. Fan-created weapons range in style and skill from the simple (a nerf gun covered in thumb tacks, or a cheese grater wrapped in barbed wire) to the ornate (imagine a child’s toy guitar covered in cocktail skewers, thumbtacks, and razor blades with small packets of salt water and lemon juice hidden inside for that extra surprise to the unknowing opponent).

The thrill of consensual physical violence exists in more of us than many would care to admit. It’s both primal and thrilling, and for combatants and witnesses, it’s the most basic of life’s dramas. It is a play produced since the origins of man. To hurt another means you have the skills to survive.  

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The small neighborhood of Perrine, in South Miami is known for its high crime rate, drive-by shootings, and few prospects for jobs. Some young men make a name for themselves by either how well they can play basketball, or how well they can fight. Those who consider themselves skilled with their fists gather regularly in the backyard of an unusually permissive mother of a local fighting legend named Dada. Here, they fight bare-knuckle until someone gets knocked out or taps out. Bystanders (which include men, woman and children), taut with the energy of confrontation, crowd in close to place bets and watch intensely. The most ambitious fighters are driven by hopes of fame and fortune, but others fight for the simplest of reasons: anger, disappointment, and financial desperation. Some hope that the practice they get at Dada’s house will help them become a professional fighter, but most enter the tiny makeshift ring with the hope of earning just enough money to help make it through another day.

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Just over fifty miles north of Perrine, in the suburban backyards of the middle-class community of Coral Springs, exists a world very different from Dada’s. Here, there is no hopelessness, no internal rage, no desperate search for a way out, and, no bare-knuckles. The game is wrestling, and its players are teenagers with too much time on their hands, and an imagination greater than their fear of injury. They swing barbed wire covered bats at each other, and hurl themselves and their friends from heights that common sense would deem reckless. Bodies, untrained in the art of the fall, crush tables as the ground vibrates with the weight of another slammed down mercilessly. Here, they’ll lay bleeding, moaning and grinning for minutes until they regain their breath and are able to stand again. As in Perrine, some dream of the spotlight in an arena thunderous with fans. But the true motivation in Coral Springs is vanity.  If you can fly, and fall, and survive, then you will be talked about in awe at school the next day.

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