A casual fan’s guide to underground wrestling in San Jose

From Kayfabe to Heel-turns, backyards to breweries, we break down what you need to know before you step up to the wrestling ring in San Jose.

A female wrestler in green holds up a championship belt at the corner of a wrestling ring to an excited crowd.

Local wrestlers like Dark Sheik draw packed crowds for UGWA.

Photo courtesy Paul Ponte

Step into the ring, but watch out for the clothesline. Complex, interweaving storylines, characters, alliances + betrayals. The world of professional wrestling can seem daunting if you’re an outsider.

From kayfabe to heel-turns, San Jose’s underground wrestling scene has it all. And if you’re interested in learning the ropes, we spoke to Anthony Trevino, the bossman of the Underground Wrestling Alliance (UGWA), to craft a casual fan’s primer to all things wrestling in San Jose.

A wrestler in red and yellow spandex is slammed over another wrestler's knee, while a crowd cheers in the background.

The stories may be pre-written, but the stunts are all real.

Photo courtesy Paul Ponte

Catch a match

Currently, the UGWA hosts ten matches a year, rotating between venues in San Francisco and San Jose. For the past year, the alliance has held matches at Narrative Fermentations (101 E. Alma Ave.) in San Jose. This weekend, the Alliance is hosting their first big event of the year.

All are welcome here

While major federations often focus on more masculine-presenting performers, underground wrestling is significantly more diverse.

“We’re all like the island of misfit toys,” says Trevino. “We’re all inclusive, and have many transgender performers.”

In fact, one of UGWA’s announcers is Bay Area-based drag artist Pollo Del Mar. “We might be in a bit of a Bay Area bubble here, but I’m fine with it.”

From backyards to bars

Like many underground wrestling scenes, the UGWA began on lawns and in backyards in the mid ‘90s.

“Me and my friends decided to start ‘guerilla front-yard wrestling’ in San Jose,” says Trevino. "[We’d] get off of school, go to a random person’s house, and wrestle on their front lawns until they kicked us out.”

They eventually graduated to backyards across the South Bay, eventually organizing into an official alliance. “What started as 200 people in a backyard rager became full-on shows at The Ritz in San Jose. It’s great now, but we felt like rockstars back then.”

Two wrestlers, one wearing a rainbow cobra symbol on his shirt, and the other wearing furs and sunglasses, stand at opposite sides of a drag queen.

UGWA features many LGBTQ+ wrestlers.

Photo courtesy Paul Ponte

What you need to bring

Unlike massive, stadium-filling matches you’ll see on TV, underground wrestling requires more modest buy-ins from the audience.

Aside from buying a ticket, you’ll want to be comfortable. “Wear something you don’t mind having something spilled on,” says Trevino. “Because that might happen. Come thirsty, don’t be shy, go respectfully wild.”

“The most important thing is to come with an open mind. Find a favorite wrestler, find one you dislike, and cheer and boo them on.”

Defining “kayfabe”

It’s one of the most important aspects of wrestling, professional and amateur alike — and something you’ll need to accept before you go to a match.

“While the show’s going on, everyone’s pretending it’s real,” says Trevino. “So suspend your disbelief. The crowd is part of the show.”

The stunts, the athleticism, and the crowd participation are all very, very real. But, like a TV show, the plot beats are planned out in advance.

“The pageantry is the best part,” says Trevino. “But the wrestlers do all of their own stunts. It’s on the performer to figure out their matches, but the story is written in advance. We have plotlines that will begin this weekend that will not pay off until October.”

The story is important

Trevino sees their style of wrestling to be like writing a live-action comic book.

“I compare it to the good Marvel Cinematic Universe films,” says Trevino. “You can go in without knowing the full story and still enjoy the movie. But, if you start getting more invested, you’re going to get more out of the experience, and pick up on more of the nuances of the story.”

A wrestler, holding a lit cigarette, appears to burn another wrestler's face.

While many shows are for all ages, parental discretion is, obviously, advised.

Photo courtesy Paul Ponte

How can I support underground wrestling shows in San Jose?

Much like being a music fan, the the easiest way to support an alliance is to go to shows. Follow your favorite group, wrestler, or team, and buy merch.

“Wrestling without a crowd isn’t the same,” says Trevino. “You’ve gotta have a good crowd. The energy for the shows are positive and chaotic. It’s insanity, but everyone’s on the same page.”

If you’re interested in diving into the ring, UGWA’s first show of the year, “Shark Infested” will happen at Narrative Fermentations on Saturday, Jan. 6.

Some of the performers you’ll see:

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