They're rasslin' over pro wrestling regulation at the State Capitol.
It's the State Boxing & Wrestling Commission versus state Rep. Beryl Amedée, who's trying to knock the regulators out of the ring.
First, a bit of a spoiler alert: If you think professional wrestling — with its larger-than-life characters, spectacular moves, wild plot twists and oft-outlandish costumes — is a genuine athletic competition, read no further.
Because a crux of the debate in the bowels of the State Capitol Tuesday hinged on whether the professional wrestlers knocking each other silly with backbreakers, brainbusters, powerslams and stunners are athletic competitors or theatrical entertainers.
"The reason we’d like to do this is because professional wrestling — believe it or not — is not actual combat. It’s really a theatrical performance," Amedée told the House Commerce Committee to audible gasps.
Amedée said she's trying to knock what she called "burdensome" state regulations off the backs of event promotors because "we don’t have as much pro wrestling here as we could."
"It’s pre-scripted, it's choreographed, it's rehearsed," added Amedée, "and so the regulations, which are very necessary for true combat sports like boxing and MMA, are really not necessary for an event such as pro wrestling any more than they might be for, say, a play."
Or so says Amedée, a Houma Republican who said she has "old family ties" to some of professional wrestling's "nationally known names from the '70s."
In the other corner, so to speak, was the Louisiana Boxing and Wrestling Commission, whose members argued that oversight is essential to ensuring the physically intense — if staged — matches don't get wildly out of control and dangerous.
Deregulating wrestling — or, as several put it, rasslin' — would jeopardize the safety of performers and spectators at small-scale semi-pro matches that make up most of the events in Louisiana, said Buddy Embanato, chair of the Boxing and Wrestling Commission.
Their primary interest in regulating the sport isn't ensuring a fair fight, according to Embanato. It's protecting the "health and safety" of the competitors and spectators.
"Even though it is a predetermined outcome — they know who’s going to win — they still pick each other up and throw each other across the ring, through each other through the ropes, hit each other with chairs," said Embanato. "The possibility of getting hurt is pretty high and it happens."
The big boys of the pro wrestling world — like World Wrestling Entertainment, the organizers of marquee events like WrestleMania — aren't at the center of the deregulation fight. Instead, it's small-scale promoters who stage scattered events on shoestring budgets and part-time performers in school gyms and local recreation centers across the state.
This isn't the first round of grappling over wrestling regulations in Baton Rouge.
The Legislature passed a pair of bills last year to ease regulations on professional wrestling promoters, in part by adding a less onerous class of license for small-scale promoters and events.
But Amedée and pro wrestling promoters contended those changes didn't go nearly far enough.
Brett Landry, a pro wrestling personality from New Orleans, argued production companies and event organizers should be left to their own devices to decide on adequate safety measures and other details of matches.
"If you’re a responsible professional wrestling promoter and business owner, you’ll absolutely have the appropriate safety measures in place," Landry said.
"But if the promoter chooses not to have that in place, that would be their prerogative," Landry told lawmakers.
But Embanato rattled off a list of dangers that could end up in the ring without state regulators watching: Currently banned, high-risk moves like the "piledriver" slamming competitors on their necks; no ambulances on-site in case of an accident; no blood tests to check for diseases like HIV or hepatitis; and thumb tacks and barbed wire in the ring, apparently used to prick skin and get blood dramatically flowing.
Just when was the last time there was an "incident" with a thumb tack or barbed wire during a pro wrestling match in Louisiana?
"We had some midget wrestlers use a staple gun in an event about eight weeks ago. Of course, we stopped it," said Embanato. "It was in a bar in south Louisiana somewhere."
"But isn't that part of the theater?" asked Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero. "A small person stapling somebody in a fight? That's why people go to those things, huh?"
"Yeah, that's theater I guess," answered Embanato. "I don't want to be the one getting stapled."
The willingness of professional wrestling promoters to publicly admit the entire sport is a sham puts the Boxing and Wrestling Commission in an awkward spot, contended Rep. Cedric Glover, a Shreveport Democrat, an avid fan of professional wrestling as a child.
"You’re trying to regulate something that’s not a sport," Glover told Embanato.
Back in the first heyday of professional wrestling in the 1970s, Amedée said, the sport's organizers embraced regulation by the State Boxing and Wrestling Commission "because it only added to the illusion" of professional wrestling's legitimacy.
But now that it's dropped the "veneer," Amedée argued, it should be cut free from any state oversight.
The boxing regulators strenuously disagreed. But with the House Commerce Committee endorsing the bill on a 14 to 2 vote, the rivals will head to the full House of Representatives for the next bout.
The legislation is House Bill 405.