No Ring, No Rules: Bar Wrestling Brings a Bloody New Performance Art to LA

There are no cheap seats, but lots of nosebleeds at the immersive wrestling event series Barroom Blitz.

casanova valentine loads up a punch at barroom blitz bar wrestling in la
Photo by Evan Moses for Thrillist
Photo by Evan Moses for Thrillist

Thirty minutes before doors open at 1st Street Pool Hall in Boyle Heights, Casanova Valentine scouts the venue looking for unusual props he can use during his show. He points out the huge water jug at the end of the bar: “This will be great for waterboarding Peter [Avalon],” his opponent, and also his collaborator, for the upcoming fight. It’s Saturday night, and preparation is well underway for a sold-out crowd at Barroom Blitz, the story-driven, limitless wrestling experience in which combatants go at it in the middle of a packed bar with no ring and lots of improvised weaponry.

The roadhouse vibe is a perfect match for Casanova, a Brooklyn-based artist, pro wrestler, and nonconformist. And despite his hatred of law and order, he still has to lay down some ground rules with Circle 6, the team behind this event. The only rule tonight: “Don’t fuck with the pool tables.”

“Normally I have a spiked dildo called ‘Satan’s Cock’ to use,” Casanova casually mentions. As you can imagine, that might have caused an issue with TSA on his flight over—couldn’t risk it. At the merch table for Cancer Christ, the accompanying LA-based metal band performing that night, Casanova contemplates a monogrammed butt plug for sale. Others join him in discussing the many ways he could use it in the fight. This is what pre-production sounds like.

using a beer can in a fight at a bar wrestling show in los angeles
Photo by Evan Moses for Thrillist

Casanova, who coined the phrase “no ring no rules,” is at the forefront of this underground wrestling experience, and to him, it’s performance art. As an artist in Brooklyn, New York, he began curating his own gallery shows, but felt that people just weren’t engaging with the art: “I needed to do something interesting, and as a pro-wrestler myself, I just decided to do impromptu wrestling matches in the middle of the art show.” As you can imagine, that brought more people in.

He began fighting fellow wrestlers in the middle of the crowd, where no one could take their eyes off of the chaos. The schadenfreude worked—people found joy in watching these fights, and he sold all of his paintings.

Casanova’s ‘no ring’ style caught the eye of Circle 6 Wrestling co-founders Mike Gevorgian and Jonathan ‘JB’ Bowles. With a lengthy background in promotion and live events, the collaboration between Casanova and Circle 6 became ‘Barroom Blitz’—the story-driven, sometimes improvised battle in the open arena which happens to be a bar venue. As JB breaks it down, “I would never describe this to someone as a wrestling show. I’ve heard people in the wrestling industry describe it as ‘Live Action Shakespeare in the Round’… when the entire venue and the crowd itself is on that ‘stage,’ it’s the most immersive live action experience you could ever have.” And the venue matters.

wrestler standing on the bar with an intense crowd at barroom blitz in la
Photo by Evan Moses for Thrillist

Circle 6 and Casanova agree that the venue can’t hold more than around 200-250 people, or the experience gets lost. “Unlike a traditional concert, there’s a cap on how big it can get,” says Gevorgian. “It can continue to grow in exposure and broadcasting in terms of people watching it…but if people aren’t feeling that tightness next to the action, the experience starts to lack.”

Most patrons at 1st Street Pool follow the wrestlers with phones out as the fight weaves through the precious pool tables, recording and streaming for social media. The energy in the room is palpable as everyone tries to get a glimpse of the fight, singing in unison to Casanova’s favorite song, “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus.

Casanova and Circle 6 carefully curate wrestlers and also local bands—almost always punk and/or metal—to create the counterculture tone that powers Barroom Blitz. “I’ll sometimes put in go-go dancers between matches, bands, a sword swallower, just some kind of oddity,” he describes. And this is his baby: “I just made a show that I wished existed.” And it isn’t just for wrestling fans.

wrestler crashing over speakers at bar wrestling in los angeles
Photo by Evan Moses for Thrillist

“You don’t have to like professional wrestling to have fun at this show,” says JB. “What we’re seeing with Barroom Blitz is that it provides an open door for new people or people that would never go to a wrestling event to still be able to see these guys perform. And when you see them live and up close, two feet from your face, it kind of kills the ‘you know that’s fake right?’ argument. It’s so immersive, it’s so real, and you’re a part of the action, right in the middle of it.”

He means that literally—it’s not rare for someone in the crowd to get involved. Maybe you present Casanova with an open beer can to smash on his opponent’s head, or he’ll pour it into a wrestler’s mouth while they’re restrained atop the bar.

“We started this to change the culture of the wrestling business,” says Gevorgian,
“I want you to go through all of it…feel everything.” For example, he says, “I had a friend who passed out during one of our shows because of the smell of iron in the air from the amount of blood.”

two wrestlers in a bar fight at barroom blitz bar wrestling in LA
Photo by Evan Moses for Thrillist

Despite the gore, Casanova believes his wrestling style creates positive energy, and you can tell that it works through the smiles, laughter, chants, and connection from his fans. He’s creating an open space for anyone to appreciate his bloody canvas, but that’s on the surface. This is his genre of expression as well as his full time job.

“I curate these shows off of my artistic tastes,” he says. You can see it in Casanova’s final triumphant move at 1st Street Pool, a signature called “the text message break up,” in which he slams his opponent onto a trash can, amps up the crowd, then dives on top of him from the bar for a powerful pin. “The wrestlers are my paint brushes, and I use them to fill in the artwork.”

villain wrestler gives the crowd a middle finger at bar wrestling in la
Photo by Evan Moses for Thrillist

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Carla Nichamin is an LA based American-Argentine filmmaker and writer whose critically unacclaimed work has been featured on her Instagram page.