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Christian wrestling: ‘This is my body slam’

  • Article by: Frank Cerabino
  • Cox Newspapers
  • November 16, 2012 - 2:42 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- I was speaking to Dave Tristani, the man who has introduced the idea of "Christian wrestling" to Florida.

"I call it professional wrestling with a message," he said.

Trying to sell the validity of Christianity between bouts of fake fighting might seem like a stretch.

But not to Tristani, a 55-year-old Pentecostal minister from St. Petersburg who arrived at the pulpit after a career of wrestling in black leather pants under the name of Devin Nash.

"What sent me home from wrestling was my knees," Tristani said. "I had 15 knee operations and two knee replacements."

Now he runs something he calls The Christian Wrestling Federation and stages wrestling extravaganzas at his Tree of Life Church, which must be the only church in Florida that has its own 16-foot professional wresting ring.

"We open every show with prayer," he said. "And between the matches, I'll talk about our lord and savior."

Saturday night's card features six wrestling matches from fighters who are fed at the church, but not paid.

"It's all the high-flying stuff you see on television," Tristani said. "Everything's the same with Christian wrestling except that there's no foul language, no scantily-clad women and no sign language from the wrestlers."

Tristani calls it wholesome family fun.

"It's a place where you can bring your kids and holler and scream," he said.

The Bible does mention wrestling. But not the atomic-drop, eye-raking, folding-chair-across-the-back variety.

"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood," it says in Ephesians, "but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

But there is some flesh-and-blood wresting too. In Genesis, Rachel says, "With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed."

You could argue that's the theological underpinning for a girl-on-girl, loser-leave-town cage match.

But it's hard to ignore that Jesus seemed to advocate embracing humanity with love instead of headlocks.

And that the overall message in reacting to violence was to "turn the other cheek" not "pin the other cheek."

But maybe I just lack the proper imagination in this unusual pairing. It wouldn't be the first time.

I recently read a New York magazine interview of Simon Doonan, the Slate columnist, author and creative ambassador of Barney's New York. Doonan talked about how he liked to start every day with a "lesbian breakfast."

I had no idea that breakfasts might having sexual orientations.

"My breakfast is always a very lesbian moment, by which I mean it's a 'locally harvested organic fruit and sustainable granola' moment ... ," Doonan explained. "The only non-crunchy component of my brekkie is Women's Wear Daily, which I read while guzzling Kukicha twig tea."

So if breakfasts could be lesbian, then I guess fake wrestling could be Christian.

Who knows? This could open up a whole new world of unusual pairings.

Left-handed astronomy, gluten-free gardening, Freudian blackjack, Ayn rugby.

Tristani said that people sometimes question his blending of religion and wrestling.

"Pro wrestling's just entertainment," he said. "You know who's going to win before it starts. We're here to entertain."

Amen.

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