Drag performer Pollo Del Mar stood under the hot flashing lights of El Toro nightclub, her blonde wig alternatingly lit orange and green. She held the microphone close to her mouth to loudly smack-talk her opponent, the “maniacal” long black-haired wrestler, Jeckles.
“Do you think this match would have turned out differently if I hadn’t suspended your devious, no good, cheating manager?” Del Mar asked Jeckles, with a hint of threat in her voice.
Jeckles himself picked up a mic, but not to speak — whip fast, he clocked Del Mar with it, sending her flying onto the mat in spectacular fashion.
So goes amateur wrestling in San Francisco with Wrestling for Charity, a small outfit that packs a big punch. And though the Nov. 2017 fight resembled its big-brother, World Wrestling Entertainment, it also featured a uniquely Bay Area cast. Del Mar is among a handful of drag wrestlers in the United States trailblazing a path for the LGBT community in a hyper-masculine setting.
Now Del Mar is writing new storylines for Wrestling for Charity’s bombastic wrestlers, and vows to bring even more inclusivity to the small but growing band of brawlers.
Paul E. Pratt is Del Mar’s alter ego, and in a June interview he (metaphorically) piledrived the idea that professional wrestling is only the domain of the testosterone-fueled. The extravagant costumes, the soap opera-esque storylines and grandiose presentation can attract audiences of any proclivity, Pratt said.
Pratt long dreamed of donning proverbial (and literal) spandex to wrestle in the ring. Years before he would take San Francisco by storm as one of its most prominent drag queens, Pollo Del Mar, he donned a cheap suit to portray a fictional agent to a wrestler. Pratt’s character, “The Bail Bondsman,” aired on a low-rent Cleveland, OH public access TV show.
“To put in perspective how long ago it was,” Pratt said, the video editors would cut it on VHS tape decks.
That character never quite gelled, and Pratt’s most memorable persona wouldn’t emerge until 2006. Enter Pollo Del Mar, reigning Empress of San Francisco — feminine but amazonian, flamboyant but stylish.
Still, internalized homophobia kept him away from the ring for years, Pratt said. “I thought I’d never be respected.”
Eventually, however, he plunged headfirst into the ring.
Del Mar emerged on the local wrestling scene with Wrestling for Charity in 2017, where she brawled a wrestler known as “The Fallen Flower,” Kikyo, at the Santa Clara Expo & Convention Center. The broad shouldered Kikyo tackled Del Mar to the ground outside the ring, and the two tumbled between onlookers. A video of the fight shows a young girl turning around with her jaw dropped, smiling wide at the spectacle.
Like many beefs between wrestlers, it was scripted, but Pratt said “it became a much bigger thing,” and captured the attention of some wrestling fans locally.
Del Mar found her niche. “I could do this in drag?” Pratt thought to himself, at the time. “I was so excited.”
Wrestling for Charity brawls across the Bay Area, sometimes taking Del Mar into more conservative towns that aren’t used to seeing a drag queen in sky-high heels back-handing other outlandishly-costumed wrestlers. Pratt said in some early bouts, he didn’t feel comfortable using either the men’s or women’s restroom, for fear of upsetting locals.
Looking out at “a sea of testosterone” in one venue, Pratt said he thought to himself “I guess I’ll just hold this a little while.”
Still, Wrestling for Charity is expanding. And Del Mar knew taking the show to San Francisco’s El Toro Night Club would allow her to tap into her local star power.
Pratt recalled seeing one group of women rooting for Del Mar at one El Toro bout. They came for Del Mar, they told her, and said it was their first time at a wrestling match.
“But they screamed their heads off,” Pratt said.
Pratt has big plans for Wrestling for Charity, which is run by passionate die-hard wrestling fans in the Bay Area, and said he’s soon going to take the reins on its local storylines.
Pratt has long been a wrestling fan, and sees Del Mar’s wrestling persona as taking cues from WWE superstar Chyna, who died in 2016, with a dash of wrestler Ric Flair’s showmanship.
Perhaps his one lament is that he found drag, and wrestling in drag, so late in life. “This was a dream I did not feel I’d achieve on any level,” Pratt said. He hopes wrestling in drag will inspire LGBT children of all genders, so they can jump into the ring in his footsteps.
When asked if he thinks drag queens will be accepted by machismo-dominated wrestling culture writ large, Pratt notes that one of WWE’s most famous wrestlers, The Undertaker, is considered by wrestling fiction to be a “dead man.”
“I play a woman,” Pratt said, “that’s no more ridiculous than our other popular character,” Pratt pauses for effect, then deadpans — “the guy who plays a lobster.”