American wrestling may have its share of flamboyant characters, but these portraits of Congolese grapplers by Belgian photographer Colin Delfosse are way more intense than any anti-smoking PSA the Ultimate Warrior could ever shriek his way through.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, muscleheads and black magic practitioners alike don wrestling garb for choreographed matches set to the sounds of blaring brass. Potions and zombification are part of the show, as is the rare appearance by Congolese Spider-Man.
Delfosse shot these wrestlers in Kinshasa in 2010. Once the off hours hit, the combatants shed their civilian personas and assume their oft voodoo-tinged alter egos (the last dude in the Spider-Mask presumably notwithstanding). Explains the photographer of these athletes:
Eight million inhabitants, thousands of shegués (street children), hundreds of wrestlers and their brass bands. Edingwe, Dragon, City Train, Mbokotomo: the "legends" of Congolese wrestling invent themselves on a daily basis in the outskirts of Kinshasa. [...] The motorised parade of wrestlers attracts crowds from the dusty streets of Massina, Ngili and Matete, towns round the Congolese capital. In back yards, on the tables of the street cafés, or even in the street, the spell casters warm up over primus stoves and cannabis. The ring is hastily set up, the judge climbs onto the ropes. "Let the match begin!" The fight starts and is usually more or less fixed. Rounds follow one another until the final spell is cast, until the adversary is floored, until the next fight.
You can see more of the spectacular photos at Delfosse's website, and Vice and Global Post have some pretty good photographs of the Congolese wrestling scene as well. Also, here are the strangest American pro wrestlers ever to capitalize on science fiction and fantasy personas.