Wrestling for a Future

Wrestling for a Future

The red lights illuminate the Glasgow Asylum, all eyes focusing in on the ring. It’s a fairly small venue where you can feel the excitement in the air, but at the same time it’s a relaxed warm atmosphere. Alan Russell, host of the ICW Fans Podcast explains “Everybody’s talking to someone here, it’s like a family. I’ve met three of my best friends whilst here. You meet such a variety of people, but everyone has a place in ICW.” That comes across immediately in my experience, as on my visit I was immediately immersed in conversation and debate with like minded people. The show is about to start and the chants begin, “I-C-DUB, I-C-DUB, I-C-DUB”. This is ICW, one of the UK’s biggest and best independent wrestling shows.

The WWE has always been the most prevalent force in wrestling, with it reaching a huge level of popularity from the late 80s all the way to the 2000s, particularly in the late 90s with the larger-than-life bad-ass stars such as Stone-Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker and The Rock. This is for many what is classed as the golden era of wrestling and this was true for both sides of the Atlantic. The years following the popularity of the WWE diminished somewhat, with a more PG product at the forefront. Many people seem to have stopped watching or “grown out” of wrestling. However, wrestling is still a regular fixture on our tv screens and many wrestling shows take place up and down the country. Is wrestling something that will perhaps lose all relevancy in the UK, or is there a loyal enough fan base and good enough product to insure its survival?

Outside of the WWE, the independent wrestling scene in the UK has gone through a challenging period itself in recent years. They have, like the rest of the world, had to deal with the pandemic, often having to operate in either recorded shows without fans or in many instances just not having shows for a considerable period of time. There was also the emergence of NXT UK, a UK based developmental system for the WWE. This led to many of the top stars and biggest draws of the UK scene being signed up, leaving the landscape of the UK scene scarce.

I recently attended a couple of shows ran by ICW or Insane Championship Wrestling, one of the UK’s biggest and most prominent wrestling promotions. Both shows featured some of the top wrestlers on the UK scene, one of which was Kez Evans, the current ICW champion. Kez shared his views on what it’s like to be a UK based wrestler in this current climate: “I think it’s a good time to be a Pro Wrestler in the UK but also a challenging time as well. The past few years, we’ve dealt with the pandemic and even before that we had some of the top stars of the scene being signed and going elsewhere. It kinda felt like a hard reset sometimes. But that’s a good thing, we have our die hard fans who were dying to come back, but we also have this opportunity to bring in new eyes to the wrestling scene. With the talent that’s coming up through the ranks and how some of them connect with fans, the sky’s the limit in terms of where the business can head.”

The main takeaway I had after going to the ICW shows was seeing just how much the fans enjoyed it. The venue which it was held, The Asylum, was near enough full and there was a real community feel to the place. In the two separate weeks I attended I recognised a majority of the audience. You could almost feel the passion in the air. When the good guys, or faces, came out they cheered and were so behind them and when the bad guys, or heels, showed up the boos were vicious. On multiple occasions top heel in the company, previously mentioned Kez Evans was met with chants of “FUCK YOU KEZ”. He had a match with popular face Wolfgang, a legend of the UK scene and it felt as though it was almost unfair with how much the crowd was behind Wolfgang. When Kez won, the disgust was felt around the room. ICW means a lot to their fans and they are not leaving anytime soon.

As it’s clear that UK wrestling has a niche but incredibly loyal and steady support, what about the future of the wrestlers on the scene? Another ICW star Andy Wild, is a wrestling veteran who is currently operating the FPWA (Fife Pro Wrestling Asylum), where he is training the next batch of wrestlers. He describes how the experience of training the younger guys has been so far: “It’s the biggest achievement for me in wrestling. There’s something really special about taking someone from doing absolutely no wrestling at all to being able to put on a highly entertaining performance. I genuinely feel overwhelmed with pride when I see them get in there”.

Andy has also been wrestling for NXT UK, the aforementioned WWE ran development system. Andy talked about what he learned from the performance centre and the benefits it’s had on himself as a coach. “10 years ago we could never have imagined being in the same room as William Regal, Shawn Michaels, Matt Bloom etc and now all of a sudden they are coaching British wrestlers and taking them to the next level. This then filters down to unsigned wrestlers and then filtered down into schools. The whole scene is growing and becoming better for it. I learned so much in the 3 times I was at the performance centre last year. Lots of ‘of course’ moments when things, after 15 years, clicked and made sense. Everything I learn, I pass onto my students”. On the issue of NXT soaking up the talent Andy said “For every great wrestler signed there is another one ready to hold down the fort. The scene is almost over saturated with good talent, you have to be giving 100% in every aspect of your game to progress now”

Daz Black is one of ICWs bright lights and is currently the ICW Zero G champion. Daz was just about to turn 20 when he won the belt back in August. This is obviously a great achievement for someone his age and he let me know how that experience was for him: “I was buzzing about it happening but I didn’t want to get too excited because obviously anything could change. I tried not to think about and I really didn’t expect much reaction but when it did I ended up crying in the ring, I just couldn’t stop”. This just goes to show that the dreams and goals that many have as a kid can be achieved through hard work and dedication, something that all the young guys training can aspire to.

In regard to the pandemic and how it has affected the business, there must have been some questions whether or not the fans will come back, ICWs weekly shows have been full or near enough full when they have been allowed to have fans back at the Asylum. Craig Turner, Alan’s co-host on the ICW Fans Podcast explained what it was like to get back to watching the show: “I feel it’s almost better than what it was like before. I think also though because I’ve missed it so much they could have put on the shittest show imaginable and it still would have been incredible. Everyone seems to be enjoying it more and there’s been a better atmosphere.”

I spoke with Craig, to try and get a grasp on what it is about ICW that appeals to its audience. “I love the community, I’ve met so many great people through it, a lot of friends. You feel like you belong there. Everyone belongs there despite the fact we are a room full of people that don’t really belong anywhere else”. These fans care far too much about wrestling. It’s nostalgia, it’s their passion, it’s like a safe space where wrestling fans can just be wrestling fans. There is always going to be people in the world that might look down on people for their passions, whether that’s wrestling, Star Wars, or even football. However, that won’t deter the people who care about these things. I think the industry will have its ups and downs like anything in the world, but with the support of these fans and talented up and comers like Daz, and Andy’s students ready to take the business by storm, I truly believe that pro wrestling in the UK will never die.

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