Wrestling show at Sonoma County Fair delights some, offends others

There were a half-dozen of them, young men in their late teens or early 20s, the opposite of woke, impatient for the show to begin.

“We want the midgets!” shouted one.

“Give us the midgets!” screamed his friend.

Later, as the 4-foot-2 wrestler Short Sleeve Sampson perched on a turnbuckle, facing the crowd, one of those unkind bros yelled, “How can you be so short?” His buddies cracked up.

They were a mean-spirited minority in the crowd of some 500 gathered Friday night at the Sonoma County Fair for a show called “Midget Wrestling Warriors.”

It was a rowdy, rollicking exhibition of professional wrestling. There were detestable heels, such as Little Mean Kathleen, and the annoying, cowardly and ironically named Rob the Giant. There was acrobatic action, especially during the match between Zoey Skye and Reina Dorado, trained in the Mexican lucha libre tradition of high-flying attacks.

“It’s a very athletic mix of acrobatics, mixed with martial arts, mixed with entertainment,” effused Rob Haugh, who was doing a brisk business selling shirts, posters, trading cards and other merchandise at a pop-up tent by the ring.

But that wasn’t obvious to everyone, at least at first.

“I thought it was kind of weird they’d have it,” said Steve from Sonoma — he chose not to share his last name — who was sitting in the bleachers facing the ring.

“Are people here because they want to watch wrestling, or because they want to watch midgets?”

Providing a ‘showcase’

So, how did this event, which struck many as insensitive, exploitative and antiquated, end up at this year’s county fair?

Dan DiLucchio, aka Short Sleeve Sampson — he is also owner and promoter of Midget Wrestling Warriors — sent a flyer to Rebecca Bartling, CEO of the Sonoma County Fair. During a subsequent conversation, they talked about “potential issues” around such an event.

DiLucchio emphasized that he and his colleagues are professional athletes and entertainers who “project a positive image” for their community, recalled Bartling, who also noted that the fair is always looking for ways to “diversify” the acts and entertainment it offers.

“I spoke with my board about it, and we all thought this would be a good opportunity for him to showcase what he does with his group.”

People are laughing’

Angie Giuffre, who lives in the city of Sonoma, is administrative manager for Little People of America, which offers support to people with dwarfism and their families. “It’s a tough one,” she said, when asked for her thoughts on Friday’s show.

On one hand, “the wrestlers are getting paid — this is what they do for a living.”

On the other, she believes that the very existence of “midget wrestling” events stunt progress made by few people in gaining mainstream acceptance.

Now 60, she’s been teased and taunted her whole life, especially when she was a child, and in high school.

“Now, things are a lot better,” she said, especially since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Midget wrestling events, she believes, “are just such a negative environment. People are laughing.” The day before Friday’s show, which she didn’t attend, Giuffre said, “Why are we doing this? This is just going to put us two steps back.”

The M-word

Nor does Jennifer Crumley, publicity director for Little People of America, begrudge the wrestlers their livelihood. Every little person “has the right to be employed in any and all professions just like the rest of the population,” she wrote in an email. “We encompass a wide variety of careers and vocations, from acting, entrepreneurship, biologists and medical doctors to teachers and disability activists.”

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