ATLANTA — Looking down as his opponent writhed on the ground, eyes closed, body convulsing, Ken Shamrock was afraid he'd killed a man.
This wasn't the first time that thought had crossed his mind, nor was it the first time he'd left another man lying insensate on the ground. His 54 years have been filled with such indiscretions, youthful and otherwise, and the UFC Hall of Famer has left plenty of bodies on the floor.
But this was a pro wrestling match, his first in the United States in almost 10 years, and Shamrock was worried that he'd taken things a little too far.
Wildpitch Underground, just a few blocks away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LIII, and City Hall, is normally the home to electronic dance music, techno and house parties, people packed in tight to dance the night away.
But on Thursday, it was home to "No Ring, No Rules" bar wrestling courtesy of McAloon Productions, transformed for one night only into a truly unique gladiatorial arena—and potentially home to a crime scene as well.
Wrestlers had bludgeoned each other in increasingly inventive and grotesque ways all night, bumping into and around a small crowd of loud, drunken, smiling wrestling enthusiasts who were close enough to see every slam, hear every slap—even close enough to smell the liquor, cigarettes and iron tang of blood.
Shamrock's opponent, the newly crowned Major League Wrestling champion "Filthy" Tom Lawlor, had been slammed on top of an artfully placed box, one of many pieces of furniture the wrestlers turned into weaponry. Unfortunately for Shamrock, Lawlor is also an MMA fighter. He countered with a triangle choke, wrapping his legs around the older man's head and neck with the intent of squeezing him into unconsciousness.
When the two worked through the match backstage before the bout, what happened next should have been simple. Shamrock was supposed to pick up Lawlor and powerbomb him safely onto the raised platform where the band Gutter Candy had played earlier in the night.
But that isn't quite how it went down.
"There didn't seem like there was that much room between them when I walked by it earlier," Shamrock said. "I remembered having to squeeze through that section. So when I turned, I thought I was going to be able to drop him right onto the platform.
"When I looked down after I threw him, he was on the floor instead. I was like, 'Oh man, that wasn't even close.' His head was laying right by the corner of the platform, and it looked like he was knocked out. I go to the referee, ask him if he's OK. 'Is he selling?' Because I didn't want to break character, but it didn't look good."
Earlier in the evening, a wrestler named Effy, wearing pink trunks and fishnets, had put a condom on his hand and shoved it down Casanova Valentine's throat. But that felt like justice. After all, Valentine had attacked his foes with a gardening implement called a "weasel" as part of a bloody spectacle that saw wrestlers pound both each other and drinks at the bar.
Priscilla Kelly later left her opponents covered in blood, beer and vomit, and ODB and Penelope Ford soaked each other in Heineken. Matt Cross and Eli Everfly both leaped off the bar onto other wrestlers, leaving piles of bodies soaking in the spilled beer, condom wrappers and remnants of a trash can that was thoroughly smashed by a 250-pound wrestler.
It was that kind of night, which is to say that Shamrock's slam, on paper, was hardly the most dangerous thing fans saw as the wrestlers tried their best to capture and keep the crowd's attention.
But this was different.
Even to a veteran like Shamrock, who shared a ring with the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock on pay-per-view in his pre-bar wrestling heyday, Lawlor's stupor looked entirely real.
Before the match, as promoter T.J. McAloon gave the small crew of wrestlers brief instructions—mostly to go out there and have fun in this unique environment—Shamrock apologized in advance for accidentally stiffing Lawlor, drawing laughs from the other wrestlers.
In truth, his opponent's main concern was keeping Shamrock safe and sound in his first match back on the scene. At 35, Lawlor felt the aches and pains more than ever. He knew Shamrock, nearly 20 years his senior, would feel it even worse.
"I didn't want to put him in a situation where he was uncomfortable," Lawlor said. "My job was to go out there and make sure neither one of us got hurt, while still giving the fans some good action. That was going to leave me taking the brunt of the beating. I knew that going in, and it ended up being pretty much what I figured."
The sight of Shamrock, resplendent in intricately embroidered Affliction jeans, throwing up into a trash can a few hours before doors opened gave no one any peace of mind. But as his body plummeted toward the hardwood floor, a different thought flashed through Lawlor's mind.
"As it was happening, I'm thinking, 'Holy s--t. He's really just going to powerbomb me on the floor.' And in the split-second I'm thinking that, I hit the floor," Lawlor said. "Luckily, it's a spot I've done plenty of times in a wrestling ring if not a bar, so I was curling myself up for him to be able to lift me anyway.
"As I went down, I stayed curled up rather than taking a flat-backed bump, which probably would have killed me or broken my arm. It was close."
Luckily for everyone involved, Lawlor's head didn't actually hit the platform. The two were able to get up and set the internet ablaze by careening into a bathroom in the back where Shamrock, suddenly no longer concerned about his opponent's well-being, tried to drown him in the toilet. Lawlor got his revenge by choking the legend with a toilet plunger right in front of Shamrock's estranged biological father.
Shamrock got the win with his patented ankle lock submission as Lawlor desperately tried to escape. As Lawlor attempted to play up the theatrics, Shamrock thought he was actually trying to break the hold and make him look bad.
"He really cinched that in tight," Lawlor said afterward with a smile, changing clothes in the same cramped women's room he'd had his run-in with the toilet a few minutes earlier. "I could really feel that one. He wasn't messing around."
Bar wrestling, if you hadn't gathered, is awesome.
There were thousands of sports lovers in Atlanta for the Super Bowl, movers and shakers and plain old fans alike, each looking to see and be seen at the biggest sporting event on the planet. McAloon hopes to make wrestling a part of that week, the same way a number of smaller shows now take advantage of an influx of wrestling fans to run their own events before WWE's WrestleMania.
The idea was that Shamrock would draw in a crowd of casual fans attracted by his relatively recognizable name. That didn't happen.
But the modest crowd got a tremendous show, equal parts intimate and deranged.
Here's hoping it was only the beginning.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report. His new book, Shamrock: The World's Most Dangerous Man, is available for pre-order.