Arts » Arts Stories & Interviews

Grappling with stereotypes



Seconds before he flings his body midair and lands on an injured opponent on the canvas below, Jordan Rafael, aka J-Mazing, towers over the crowd as he stands on the top rope of the wrestling ring. Place him anywhere else and it’s a different story.

At 3 feet, 11 inches and 70 pounds, Rafael is one of the smallest wrestlers currently on the roster of the Micro Wrestling Federation. Founded in 2000, the MWF, which promotes itself as “the greatest little show on earth,” isn’t really interested in the novelty of little-people athletes. Far from a circus sideshow, the wrestlers at a MWF event take the sport seriously.

“What we do isn’t comedy wrestling,” said Rafael, 25, a native of the Philippines. “People hear the phrase ‘midget wrestling’ and they think they’re going to get something that’s funny to watch. But we’re real athletes that can do anything the WWE can do. We’re just a smaller version.”

A professional wrestling fan since he was a kid, Rafael joined the MWF in 2008 after a lucrative career as an exotic dancer. Unlike some of his colleagues, he doesn’t mind when someone refers to him as a “midget” rather than a “dwarf” or a “little person.”

“People get offended when you use the word midget, but I don’t really care,” Rafael said. “My dad used to call me a midget. He would say I had to get used to it because that’s the kind of thing I was going to hear when I got out into the world.”

Despite Rafael’s self-acceptance, a campaign against the epithet has gathered steam over the last year and a half. The movement exploded when an episode of the NBC reality show Celebrity Apprentice aired in April 2009 featuring a viral video called “Jesse James Dirty With Midgets.” In the same show, former NFL star Herschel Walker and TV personality Joan Rivers joked about washing little people with detergent and hanging them out to dry.

When Little People of America, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dwarfism … while celebrating `their` contribution to social diversity,” got wind of the episode, they called for the Federal Communications Commission to ban the use of the word “midget” on air. This past June, LPA also criticized the wrestlers of Spike TV’s Half Pint Brawlers for referring to themselves by the politically incorrect term. Around the same time the questionable Celebrity Apprentice episode aired, the New York Times changed its stylebook to deem “midget” offensive after readers complained when it was printed in a front-page story.

The territory gets murky in entertainment events that use “midget” to draw crowds, however. The MWF appears to avoid the the word on their website and the FAQ section warns potential event hosts that “the term midget is non-offensive to us as long as it’s used to promote the Micro event and not used in a derogatory manner towards little people.” Yet the official flyer created for the August 31 MWF show at Nightrocker: Live advertises the event under the heading “Midget Mania!”

Wrestler Ricky Sells Jr. (aka Ricky Benjamin) takes a realist approach when asked about his newfound profession as a micro athlete. Sells admits not everyone who attends MWF shows is of the utmost civility, especially when they have alcohol running through their veins. He realizes some people come for the gimmick, but hopes once the night is over they leave knowing not all little people join the sports-entertainment industry just to fill in as comic relief.

“Most people come out to our shows because they are curious about what we do,” said Sells, 21, who enters the ring dressed in red, white, and blue with faux Olympic gold medals hanging from his neck. “Some people have never seen as many little people together in one place until they see a show like ours. They get more of a sense of who we are.”

Sells is a 4-foot-2 aspiring actor who joined the MWF ranks last year when acting classes became too expensive. He’s enjoyed his time with the group so far, but hopes he can use the gig to springboard into TV and film roles. Until then, he wouldn’t mind supplementing his income in other ways.

“If it’s St. Patrick’s Day and they’re paying me good, I would dress up as a leprechaun,” Sells said. “But I ain’t dressing up like no baby. And if anyone asks me to do midget tossing, I’ll punch them in the mouth.” •

Micro Wrestling Federation
8pm Tue, Aug 31
$10 advance, $15 door
Nightrocker: Live

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