It was only natural that photographer Walter Iooss Jr. shot this week's cover and many of the pictures inside for our look into the world of pro wrestling (page 28). Iooss, 41, a 26-year professional with 152 SI covers to his credit, has been a follower of that form of athletic/theatric endeavor since 1982.
"When I shoot Sgt. Slaughter or the Missing Link," says looss, "I talk to them about what's happening in the sport. I'm interested."
Pro wrestling is paid frequent homage in the looss household in Manhattan; Iooss's fondness for it has rubbed off on his sons Christian, 8, and Bjorn, 4. They practice moves when their mother, Evelyne, a former model, is away from the apartment. 'They run around in their swim trunks and body-slam one another—and me," says Iooss. "I can't even lie on the floor in my own home.
"We all know there's a lot of theater involved in pro wrestling," looss concedes, "but these guys take an incredible beating. You think those jumps from the top rope don't hurt?" But what looss most appreciates about the bawdy universe of the pro matmen and matwomen is the zaniness of the personalities. "What names!" says looss. "Kamala the Ugandan Giant, Ravishing Rick Rude.... You don't find characters like these in any of the other sports. Abdullah the Butcher eats liver sushi. The Sarge rides around in a camouflaged limo—and he's actually a pretty nice guy."
Who better to photograph these characters than Iooss—a rather colorful one himself. At a shooting session with Hulk Hogan last week, looss discovered his camera's shutter was slow to click. "You've got to double-clutch this baby," he said. Once, after quadruple-clutching to no avail, he uttered an oath.
"He's talking to the camera!" shouted photo assistant Tim Mitchell to Hogan, just in time. Soon enough, photographer and subject were enjoying excellent rapport.
"You want me to flex my upper body or anything?" offered Hogan.
"That's why I'm here, Hulkie, you media darling," cooed looss. "Get sinister now. Flex—that's right, you're a demon."
At one point Hogan lost his composure and began laughing.
"Hulkster, what's wrong?" asked Iooss.