Botherway (yellow tights): "The ring has a little bit of give, but it's not very soft"
So, jumping in at the deep end, the obvious first question is: is it all fake?
Well, fake would imply that it doesn’t hurt, that people don’t get injured, and that we’re not top-notch athletes. That’s the kayfabe answer, anyway.
‘Kayfabe’ is an old carnival word with many different meanings, but mainly it means it’s sort of a con. So, if I was asked a question by a legitimate sports journalist, such as “Are you going to try and win tonight? Are you going to try and break his leg?” the kayfabe answer would be “yeah, I want to break his leg”. If I was being honest, I’d say “No”, because he’s my partner and I want to try and protect him.
“Partner”? Even though you’re adversaries?
Yeah, we call it ‘working’. You have ‘shoot’ and ‘working’. Shoot is like UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), amateur wrestling, where it’s a legitimate contest. ‘Working’ is where you’re putting on a show, entertaining people. We also use the word ‘mark’ a lot. Traditionally the fans are the marks, in a con man sense. It’s a bit harsh, I think. So, if you’re ‘marking out’ for someone, you’re a massive fan of them. The there’s a ‘smark’, which is a smart mark, someone who is clued up on how the business works..
But surely the crowd are aware of the choreographed nature of it…
Yeah, everyone is aware. Nowadays. But it’s about suspension of disbelief. People come, fall under the spell, take it as real, cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys. But it’s very hard to tell anyone it’s legitimate nowadays when you’re turning on Sky and you’ve got people dressed as clowns, and a two-hour wrestling show is an hour and 45 minutes of talking!
I realize that the Mickey Rourke film, The Wrestler, touched on this ‘code’, but you’re not running the risk of being ostracised from the wrestling community for saying this, are you?
No, not at all. Not at all. The internet, the autobiographies, and all the drug overdoses and tragedies – some of the top guys, too – have brought wrestling under the microscope in recent years.
That’s another thing The Wrestler looked at. I guess using drugs to look good on TV is one of the grimmer aspects of pro-wrestling…
The old adage is that nobody wants to pay to see someone that looks like their neighbour. They want to see people that look like monsters: bodybuilders, etc. It means steroids can play a large part in how people get their physiques. It’s grim, yeah, but it’s the reality.
What, for the ‘no pain, no gain’ thing?
Pretty much. These guys in the WWE are on the road 300 days of the year. It hurts when you take what we call a ‘bump’. And if you’re doing that every day, well, it just hurts…
Let’s leave that for a minute and go back to how you personally first got into wrestling. You’re 27, right?
Yeah, 27. I used to love it as a kid and grew up with WWF, Brett Hart, The Undertaker, all these people. I used to watch it all the time and when I was 15 I went to a show in Mansfield put on by a company called Hammerlock Wrestling.
At that stage did you believe it was genuine contest?
No, I think from probably the age of 13 I knew… Anyway, this company was one of only a few at the time which offered training. So at the age of 16 I went down to Kent for a week long training course. There were about 60 people there on the first day: professional rugby league players, big body builders. I weighed just under nine stone, wet through. 16, never been away from home before, and I just got the living sh*t kicked out of me. Really got beaten up pretty bad. And then halfway through the camp – it was two weeks – a lot of people started leaving and by the end there were only 19 left out of 64. I remember the guy running it said to me: “I never thought you’d last”.
What was the objective by the end of the camp, to prove you could enter competition?
No, no. That was just the first couple of weeks of two years of training for me. My objective was just not to quit, because it took me a year to save up for this and I’d wanted to do it since I was about 10.
What would it have meant for you to have quit that camp? Would it have ruled you out of wrestling?
At that time I probably thought it would have, but now there’s a training school in every city and it’s so much easier. You walk in and there are big crash mats for you to learn the moves. At the school, the first week was legitimate wrestling where they’d make you submit, put you in arm bars, try and choke you out. And once you showed you had some sort of understanding of the amateur side of wrestling, the sort of stuff from the Olympics, then they took you in the ring to do the professional stuff, like running the ropes. Nowadays you don’t really do that. I’m extremely proud I got into the business that way, though.
So, moving forward, was there ever a possibility of making significant earnings from it, making it a career?
Not in this country. There are guys that do the holiday camps – Butlin’s, Pontin’s – where wrestling’s on every day, and they’ll earn enough to get by. But British wrestling, most of the shows are pretty poorly promoted. And ran. And attended. So, you know, you’ve got guys doing it for free, which someone quite experienced like myself is totally against, because it means they’re not going to pay me. I mean, a good crowd is, like, 200, so if you’ve got ten guys on show…
So, do you freelance then?
Yeah, I’m not associated with any one company. So if someone rings me, meets my price, and I don’t think they’re an absolute idiot, I’ll do it. The money comes into it when you go to Europe, which I do quite regularly. Germany’s very good. I went to Poland last year. I’ve been to Italy. That’s where you can get…well, not amazing money but more than 100 euro for a ten-minute match, plus your flights, plus your hotels. That’s where it becomes a little bit more worthwhile.
So effectively it’s an appearance fee…
The Greco-Roman wrestling: that’s the authentic stuff, isn’t it?
Yeah, that’s what they do on mats, what you see at the Olympics.
All the stuff I vaguely remember as a kid – World of Sport, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, etc – that was all fake, of course…
Yes, but they’d never have admitted to it then. It was heavily protected.
With ‘kayfabe’ and all that, the wrestling roots are in travelling circuses, right?
Yeah. I don’t know whether it’s US or UK, but professional wrestling is based on ‘catch wrestling’, which was the early form of amateur wrestling, late 1800s, a legitimate sporting contest where it was won by pin or submission and the moves we use are still based on that. The way it became professional like it is today, as we see it, is that they worked at shows, in wrestling booths, and you’d challenge the public to come and last five minutes with you. And they’d build up the excitement by putting plants in, so that it was a wrestler versus a real wrestler, do a show, and then some of the audience would come and pay money to take on the wrestler.
Sounds a bit League of Gentlemen…
It probably is, it probably is. But you can manipulate a box office, and that’s how it all started. If UFC had been around when I started, I think I’d probably have got into that. I might not have been any good at it, but that’s what interests me now. And that’s wrestling’s biggest threat because it has everything wrestling has: it has adrenaline, and the way they promote themselves is better than any storyline. Their preview videos, their hype videos – they’re just brilliant.
So, back to what we were talking about – the pain and the painkillers – all the moves genuinely hurt?
Yeah, that’s why, when you ‘work’, I’ll try and protect the partner. So if I was going to do a body-slam, I’d do it in a way that would minimize the risks. The most simple move could put you in a wheelchair if you don’t protect yourself. It’s all about protecting yourself with ‘bumps’, and ‘break-falls’ like you’d have in judo: land on your feet, tuck in your head, all stuff like that. You’ve got to remember that the wrestling ring is a steel structure, with a layer of wood over it, then sometimes mats, sometimes a layer of carpet over that. It has a little bit of give, but it’s not very soft.
Despite all that, do you not think there’s a fundamental issue with wrestling? What I mean is, when I watch WWE, I can’t convince myself to take that leap of faith and simply forget that it isn’t genuine contest. However, you look at a WWE audience and, despite the fact that they must always know that it’s not real, they still have screwed up faces, testosterone pumping, etc. How do you explain that?
I always say, you never have people complain that Eastenders isn’t a real street. It’s exactly the same. The only difference is that, once upon a time, wrestling used to be in the sports section [given the amount of simulation in football, it still will be – Ed]. It doesn’t really fit anywhere, but it’s exactly the same as an episode of Eastenders: you have your good guys, you have your bad guys, but they aren’t physically getting hurt. I mean, sometimes I wonder when I get in the ring with people and they do these dangerous moves: why are you doing that? At the end of the day, by hitting me quite hard in the face, you’re actually a worse wrestler than someone who would do it quite soft.
Someone’s done that, then? Accidentally?
No, no, on purpose. People hit very hard – some of them. They think they’re more legit’ by laying it in hard. We call it ‘being stiff’. But really, they’re totally missing the point.
But doesn’t that run the risk of escalating into a genuine scrap?
Yeah, and that happens fro time to time. We’d say people are ‘shooting’ on other people in matches. One quite common thing is with an experienced guy and a young guy, and the young guy makes a mistake or forgets something. It’s very hard: sometimes you’ve got to remember 20 minutes of ‘dancing’, or moves.
How much preparation goes on?
A few hours. You’re not writing it down days in advance. You’re just talking through it. You’re not even rehearsing it. And say a young guy forgets a move or does something wrong and you get a little bang on the head or he hits you a bit harder, the experienced guy will normally teach him a bit of a lesson, and give him a few digs so he won’t do it again.
What if that provokes a counter-reaction?
Well, we say: “once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is taking a liberty”. You get more fights backstage. Normally people are professional enough to get through the match.
Would the referee ever try and defuse things if it got a bit fruity?
They would normally step back, I think. Sometimes we have – and this is really bizarre – people trying to win when they’re not supposed to. Or a promoter who’s not getting along with the ‘champion’ and wants him to lose, so will not recognize the kick-out or will legitimately make him submit. That’s very rare, though; I’ve been wrestling for ten years and I’ve seen it maybe twice. I’ve seen people get into fights backstage loads of times, though.
Going back to the WWE – we were saying there’s a lot of drugs, there’s a lot of testosterone, a lot of fame, and therefore, I’d imagine, a lot of ego. So, is there a lot of negotiation as to who’s the ‘hero’, who’s going to win, or do they accept those, if you like, ‘pantomime roles’?
I think that when you get to that stage, when it becomes a TV show – and I’ve only been involved with two companies that’ve had TV deals, and they were very small – you hear a lot of stories about guys wanting a bigger ‘push’. So, they want to be in a more prominent role. You hear about guys who say “I don’t want to lose to him, he’s beneath me”. Stuff like that. But, I mean, at the end of the day they pay your wages.
So what sort of money do the top WWE guys make?
Some will be making millions. They’re a multi-billion dollar company. They travel all over the world. The biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania, sells a million buys on pay-per-view. More than boxing. It’s about 50 dollars each, so that’s huge, They’re mainstream now, which they weren’t in the past.
Back to you, then: you’ve said you wrestle on the continent. What about locally?
Yeah, there’s a full-time training centre in Nottingham. It’s open all the time, there are lots of training sessions, beginner’s sessions. It’s called House of Pain
, on Queen Drive
. I do little bits for them. And I’ve wrestled everywhere in this country that’s not worth going to. Generally in little Working Men’s Clubs, places like that.
So where else is wrestling popular?
America, Europe – Germany’s massive. France and Italy, too. They’re the main places. I was supposed to wrestle in Nigeria once, but my visa didn’t come through. Mexico – it’s their national sport. Lucha libre, as they call it. I spent a month in California and went down to Mexico and it’s something else down there. I’ve heard some crazy stories from people working there…
Do you get mafia?
The mafia involvement’s in Japan – it’s big in Japan, as well – and if you ever see a wrestling match there, three or four rows back are a bunch of men in suits, the Yakuza guys, who always take the wrestlers out for meals afterwards.
But how do you fix something – how do you have a market – when there’s no actual competitiveness?
I guess it’s just like the Krays used to associate with top boxers. They just want to be associated with television personalities.
So, what about your nickname?
Don’t have one. Never been given a decent one. It says ‘B-way’ on Wikipedia
. I did a tag-team for one of these TV shows and that’s what they gave me. No one’s ever thought of anything original.
I have a submission, which I learnt in the States, called the ‘Puma Lock’. Lots of stuff from British wrestling from the 70s and 80s.
Biggest guy you’ve grappled?
There’s lots but Sheamus, whose in the WWE, a former champion – I’d say he was one of the biggest. He’s about 6’6”, 6’7” and 260 pounds. He’s safe, and really professional but I’m sure there have been others, some gigantic fat guys that’ve not been able to move and have been dangerous. I’ve also wrestled Drew McIntyre from WWE.