MURDER DEATH KILL: The Power Ballad of Nick Gage

Originally published at MURDER DEATH KILL: The Power Ballad of Nick Gage - POST Wrestling | WWE NXT AEW NJPW UFC Podcasts, News, Reviews

By: Aniello De Angelis

It’s April 9th, 2021, at the Cuban Club in Ybor City, Florida. Five-hundred fans crowd the entry way in anticipation of someone or something. Finally, the first note of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” strikes and the audience is sent into a near rabid fury. A masked man in a bandana walks out to an adrenaline-fueled sea of exhilaration that visually echoes the riotous mosh pit from Bad Luck Riot 13 Extravaganza’s 2004 Hellfest set (if you know, you know). Afterwards, a lone figure in all white emerges to a sea of boos as he slowly approaches a wrestling ring encased in glass. If we’re to take this at face value, we have a character draped in what is traditionally seen as the color of purity and innocence while the other is wearing a red bandana, camo shorts, and a black t-shirt that reads: MURDER DEATH KILL. If we take a survey about who is presumably the villain and the hero, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a toss-up.

Nick Gage makes his entrance at GCW rSpring Break (Credit: Pro Wrestling Cinema)

Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s fill in the blanks. The event is Game Changer Wrestling’s (GCW) rSpring Break – the “rSp” being a play on Rickey Shane Page, the man in white – and the match is the main event of the show for the GCW World Title. To fully understand the moment, we have to travel back to September 19th, 2019 in Summit, Illinois for the Nick Gage Invitational 4: an annual death match tournament featuring some of the world’s best talent such as Alex Colon, Yuko Miyamoto, Mance Warner, Orin Vedit, and Matt Tremont. In the finals, Nick Gage successfully defends the GCW World Title by defeating three other men in a gruesome fatal four-way. During the post-match celebration, a hooded figure slides into the ring and attacks Gage with a massive light tube bundle. The hood is slowly pulled back and revealed to be one of the top gaijin death match wrestlers in the world, Rickey Shane Page. Thus, beginning a near two-year story between RSP, Gage, and the GCW World Title.

In the Poetics, Aristotle states the purpose of tragedy (we’ll call it drama for the sake of modernity) is to arouse “terror and pity” and thereby effects the catharsis of these emotions. Meaning that, whether it’s Star Wars, the newest MARVEL film, a daytime soap opera, or men fighting each other with light tubes the goal remains the same: to help audiences purge their emotions of terror and pity by evoking them, ultimately providing catharsis through the experience. Now, obviously there’s an outlier in what I’ve just mentioned – the glass. You may be wondering, “How is that entertainment? Hell, how is that escapism?”

Throughout history there have been forms of radical art that provide catharsis for both creator and spectator. Think of the extreme physical and scatological humor of the Jackass crew, Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, the daring performance works of Marina Abramovic, or the wild stunts by Jackie Chan and the rest of the JC Stunt Team. When consumed, this makes the drama a truly visceral form of storytelling as audiences are gifted something that taps into sensations of the body and mind that are rarely touched upon in mainstream entertainment. Experiences that truly pierce our terror and pity centers, which is to say, sheer excitement and total empathy. It is a perverse and macabre celebration of never shying away and pushing limits that demand your gaze. Living in a post-Internet age where so much is purely digital, it’s nice to watch something and be able to say: that’s real. And it’s that physical connection that inspires so much, both good and bad, within its audience.

Given this, it makes the previously aforementioned – MARVEL, Star Wars, daytime soap operas – the outliers as opposed to the men fighting with glass, which for the sake of professionalism, we’ll refer to as death matches. If Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 – a performance work in which an audience member held a loaded gun to the artist’s head – can be canonized in the Guggenheim, then the rehabilitation and revival of Nick Gage deserves its due as well.

Poster for the main event of GCW rSpring Break: April 9, 2021

Back to April 9th, 2021: RSP has been GCW World Champion for 488 days which, while impressive, pales in comparison to Nick Gage’s previous 722 day reign. If anything, the world title is synonymous with Gage and over the past year and a half RSP has done anything and everything to make audiences crave that reunion. Knowing all of this, we can now safely say that in terms of dynamics, Nick Gage is our hero/face and Rickey Shane Page is the villain/heel. This recontextualizes RSP’s white entrance gear as an almost Messianic delusion while Gage’s entrance becomes the equivalent of hometown fans rushing the football field after the star quarterback wins the big game.

When viewing media, we often judge based on how we’ve been conditioned. The all-white resembling religious figures like angels and gods, the entirety of the Greek Pantheon, and heroes such as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings while the masked bandana points towards the robbers and killers of the Wild Wild West. Now, traditionally a wrestler has a “gimmick” which they portray. Meaning that, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt isn’t actually an undead clown haunting other wrestlers with supernatural magic but rather a man in a mask playing said gimmick. In the case of Nick Gage, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. For him, there are no gimmicks. Life always bleeds through.

Gage is one of the founders and innovators of modern death match wrestling. Having fallen in love with the hardcore styles of the 1990s seen in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), Wrestling International New Generation (W*ING), International Wrestling Association Japan (IWA Japan), and other fringe companies, Nick Gage, along with many others including his late brother, Justice Pain, sought to push the limits and redefine the very meaning of death match wrestling. Ultimately, this led to the normalization of glass as a storytelling device, predominantly in the form of the light tube. In 2009, at Combat Zone Wrestling’s (CZW) Tournament of Death VIII, a light tube would slip underneath Gage’s armpit and break, severing his artery and leading to his death.

That’s right, you did not misread that. In 2021, Nick Gage is challenging for the GCW World Title but in 2009, Nick Gage is also dead in a field in Townsend, Delaware.

Nick Gage cuts a promo after being successfully resuscitated at CZW Tournament of Death VIII (Credit: CZW)

After seven minutes of being pronounced legally brain dead, Gage is successfully resuscitated, giving a whole new meaning to the Tournament of Death. At this point, Gage leaps from being an independent wrestler to a death match legend and iconic cult figure. However, this isn’t to say he doesn’t have his troubles. The physical, mental, and emotional toll of death match wrestling coupled with other factors leads to various forms of self-medication and drug addiction which culminates in the robbing of a PNC Bank in Collingswood, New Jersey that Gage would serve five-years in prison for.

Again, you may be wondering – wait, the bank robber is the hero? And to that I say, have you never heard of Robin Hood! But I digress.

Historically, audiences have latched onto antiheroes such as Luke Cage and Punisher as they step outside of the traditional bounds and fields of morality to achieve their goals. What that is really saying though, is that these are figures who have typically been let down by society and fail to meet its standards due to systemic and socio-economic ills. From John Shaft to John Wick, we enjoy finding ourselves in the journeys of individuals who are marginalized or without habitat as they trek urban concrete jungles and criminal underbellies rarely answering to any higher power. Morality is a spectrum, and these characters exist to remind us of that. Now, what this says about the traditional hero archetype is that they are someone who operates within a strict (often subtly religious) moral code and serves a higher power whether that is God, government, the people, etc., thus positing antiheroes as foundationless individuals who, again, have failed society. Ultimately, the delusion of the hero is the same as the delusion of RSP: I am God. So, who exactly is Rickey Shane Page?

Rickey Shane Page at GCW rSpring Break (Credit: Pro Wrestling Cinema)

Coincidentally enough, RSP began his career under the name, Christian Faith, wrestling in various backyards and Mid-West promotions. In 2011, Christian Faith would begin wrestling under his real life name Rickey Shane Page and work the entirety of his career as a heel. Throughout the 2010s, RSP became a top independent star and survived a litany of death match tournaments such as CZW’s Tournament of Death, IWA Mid-South’s King of the Death Match, and Big Japan Wrestling’s (BJW) Ikkitousen Death Match Survivor. It’s as though RSP’s career somehow ran parallel to Gage’s. Both men having won numerous death match tournaments and titles in the same companies, yet never sharing a ring before their feud outside of a one-off thumbtacks match at Beyond Wrestling’s Abbondanza event back in February 2018. After that fateful night in September 2019, RSP made his intentions known: that after thirty-five successful defenses, Nick Gage was going to lose his title… to him. RSP saw it as a cleansing of evil in GCW, even going so far as to steal Gage’s title and take it to Japan with him, bragging about the fact that Nick Gage couldn’t cross international borders due to his felonious status. Thus, we have the hero who thinks he is the benefit of society (and perhaps, a god), and the anti-hero who failed to meet society’s standards. Knowing what we do now and having painted the backdrop, let’s head back to Ybor City for the fight.

Nick Gage stands in the ring opposite RSP for the ring introductions. Ring announcer Emil Jay begins, “Introducing first to my right. He is the challenger… Fighting out of National Park, New Jersey with an official weight of 208lbs. Representing that Murder Death Kill gang worldwide, representing for all his boys locked in the fucking cell, Eastern Bloc! Representing the mother fucking H8 Club — rest in peace, Big Nate Hatred, rest in peace, his brother, Justice Pain. And you know what it is, it’s MDK—,” to which the crowd responds with a thunderous, “ALL FUCKING DAY!”

Immediately afterwards, Emil Jay jumps back in, “…the man, the king, the fucking god of this shit: NICK! FUCKING! GAGE!”

The ring introduction reiterates the tale in a way that few other forms of storytelling could: Nick Gage is a person who grew up in a tougher, lower income area (National Park) who represents a gang with his fans that he calls Murder Death Kill (community), as well as the one he founded with friends such as Two-Six in prison (Eastern Bloc), positing him as a proponent for the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. We then learn of his affiliation with a wrestling crew involving his late friend Nate Hatred and brother Justice Pain which he still reps even though he is the only remaining member. All of this paints Nick Gage as a tragic Aristotelian figure. A man who sought to redefine a genre, who lost everything in the process, only to hit rock bottom and pull himself back up with the love and support of those around him, to then catapult to a status that was previously unimaginable. The bell finally rings once again, and the match begins.

After twenty-four minutes of carnage and blood shed, Nick Gage stands above the ring atop a thirty-foot scaffold holding RSP by his throat. RSP’s previously all-white outfit is now a deep, tattered red as though his karmic retribution visually and colorfully imprinted itself on his gear. Gage slams RSP from the sky to the ground, finally slaying the beast. The story concludes with the man deemed unfit for society standing in the clouds, being showered in adulation by his peers, as the man who felt he belonged in the heavens now rests far below.

Gage’s ascent would only continue from there, culminating in a light tube death match on national television against Chris Jericho at AEW’s Fight for the Fallen. Previously unimaginable feats now regularly manifesting themselves for Gage have capped off a career that once again feels like it’s only beginning. It’s hard to imagine a tale of redemption centered around broken glass, bank robbery, and bloodshed, but if there’s anything we can confidently say we’ve come to appreciate in media: it’s a light tube/saber wielding hero that takes us on grand adventures and resonates deeply with us on a personal level. The bell tolls for a final time – catharsis is found.

Follow Aniello De Angelis on Twitter: @aniellooooo