Category Archives: Pro-Wrestling

Beating up Kids

Is it ever ok to beat up children? As a high school teacher my job is dependent on avoiding that impulse. The law unequivocally sets in stone its unacceptability, even if the child in question is the fruit of your own loins. On the mats preying on the young is something that is most definitely frowned upon too. Although, jiu-jitsu offers ample opportunity for the opposite, I have spent an inordinate amount of time being beaten down and humbled by ‘mere children’; last year, I spent eight weeks on the shelf after having my ribs broken by a fourteen-year-old. In pro-wrestling, at last, I found a medium where it is perfectly acceptable to kick the shit out of kids, or at the very least simulate doing so.

Beginning my pro-wrestling training, I discovered very quickly that it’s something, which, on the whole appeals to young dudes. In comparison with BJJ which attracts both those who fear the mirror’s reflection and its daily promise of more wrinkles and grey hair as well as spritely young cats to whom immortality seems certain. Professional wrestling is the proverbial young-man’s game; training with young teens and being questioned on whether I own a ‘fidget spinner’ could not make me feel more old.

West Yorkshire based promotion UKW provides an excellent service in training young grapplers and getting them ready for the ring. Each month they put on their own junior show pairing young students with opponents of a similar experience level. This gives them an opportunity to hone their skills by performing in front of a small audience made up of family and friends. While definitely not a junior, I was looking for as much ring experience as possible and thus jumped at the invitation to perform on one such show when asked by my instructor.

I was to have a match with a trainee named Zenith, who at only fourteen-years-old already had two years of experience. An initial issue arose while planning the match, by virtue of the fact we were both heels – he was a ‘chicken-shit heel’ that relied upon nefarious antics to win, while, I played a badass heel that choked cats out. We essentially planned a glorified squash match – whereby I would handily beat him using my grappling-based move-set. He would use his underhanded tactics to get a couple of ‘hope’ spots in before I relieved him of his consciousness. I thought it was a concise little match that effectively told a story. Unfortunately, it was a story that nobody wanted to hear.

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Fourteen-year old Zenith doing his thing.

We were put in the main event of the show – which, as it turned out was a death kiss. The problem being, the penultimate contest had seen two talented high flying teens, who were going all out in an athletic back and forth contest, with acrobatics galore, and a clear hero and villain. The crowd ate up what was a really fun match. Watching in the back and knowing I was expected to follow that, I was consumed with impending dread.

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A difficult act to follow high-flyer Leon Blade.

I’d heard from a number of different sources, it was more difficult wrestling in front of a small audience – to me this seemed oxymoronic – less people should in theory mean less pressure. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I could viscerally feel the mood of the sparse crowd, and it was not positive. When people would comment on a crowd being ‘flat’, I had no real understanding of what this really meant – I certainly found out that night. The crowd of about twenty-five parents treated me with complete apathy. In an art form where success is predicated upon eliciting a reaction (positive or negative), it really doesn’t get any worse than that.

In hindsight, two bad guys wrestling, left no-one for the crowd to become invested in, they had just seen kids doing back-flips; watching a dude slowly contort another’s limbs failed to compel them in any meaningful way. Perhaps more importantly they had no interest in seeing a grown man aggressively beating up a helpless teenager!

Famed wrestling journalist / historian Dave Meltzer often refers to Terry Funk and his innate gift for sensing the mood of an audience. Funk was able to switch up matches on the fly, when he felt they weren’t resonating with those in attendance. He would ‘call an audible’ to his opponent and they would pursue another avenue to engage the crowd. That is all very well and good for the ole Funker, who has over fifty years of in-ring experience – I was in my second ever match and I was yet to acquire this skill. It didn’t take a wrestling savant like Funk to ascertain that my match was dying a death, but I just carried on and suffered through the entire thing conscious of the fact, yet unable to do anything about it.

Rather than acting magnanimously upon my ‘hard-fought’ victory, I cut a promo deriding my opponent and the crowd, who by this point I honestly despised. They still didn’t give a shit, in fact half of them left while I was in the middle of it. My self-esteem was literally in the toilet.

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Props to Darren Potts Wrestling Photography for the shots.

The biggest highlight of the night for me came when one of the young grapplers told his adversary to “smell my victory”. Unless his opponent was suffering from an acute form of Synaesthesia such a request would be physically impossible, but, nevertheless, it was a hilarious way to tell someone they’re a loser!

That night was definitely a learning curve, a resounding failure, no doubt the first of many in my foray into the world of professional wrestling. I certainly discovered that beating up kids is not as satisfying as one would imagine.

Check it out below in all its glory:

BJJ + Pro-Wrestling = Inner Turmoil

Taking up professional wrestling at the advanced age of thirty-three, I certainly had no aspirations to reach the lofty heights of other renowned grapplers who didn’t start until they were in their thirties like Bad News Allen, George ‘the Animal’ Steele and most famously Diamond Dallas Page. As previously noted, this whole endeavour was the culmination of a childhood goal, after which, I would be back in my kimono and the business of competitive grappling.

My original intention was just the one match, but, that quickly changed as I discovered how awesome it was performing in front of an audience and the creative freedom I was afforded within the medium. My goal expanded, I wanted to do as many shows as I could, and in the quickest possible time, before my already battle-weary body was completely decimated from the constant ‘bumps’ that were required. With that in mind, I vowed to wrestle whenever and wherever possible.

I had found a home at UKW where I was gaining much need experience (eight matches up to this point), but had no idea how to get booked on other shows. I sought advice from my fellow ‘workers’ on how one might get noticed by different promoters. I was given a number of tips. The most resounding of which was, you have to promote yourself; I needed to establish a social media presence – that of Francis Darwin. My first port of call was setting up a Facebook page – this is where I ran into trouble.

Sat in front of my Mac, about half-way through the creation of said page, my cauliflower ears began to burn, lit up by an unmistakeable sensation of ignominy. Why was I being punished with such an acute sense of shame? Its origin, I discovered after some thought lay at the feet of my gimmick, or at least its implications; Francis Darwin was essentially me, albeit an ego-maniacal version. In creating this page to promote a character that was primary a jiu-jitsu athlete, I felt like I was denigrating something that I love. I didn’t want to feel like I was becoming a parody of myself or disrespecting the art form which had completely changed my life, making a mockery of it as a vehicle to ‘get over’. I didn’t want to be thought lesser of by the wider jiu-jitsu community.

This inner struggle promptly inspired me to immediately stop what I was doing and sketch out this blog post in the hope that it would be cathartic. It wasn’t.

Now, it is worth noting, that my attitude towards pro-wrestling, its norms and time honoured traditions is hardly one of irreverence, I love wrestling’s little idiosyncrasies (and there are many!), but I had come from a very different world. One where, if you put yourself out there online, extolling to all what an incredibly bad dude you are, it wouldn’t take long before most people thought you were a complete penis-hole. In jiu-jitsu your ego is put in check from the moment you first step on the mats and continues to be regulated every single day by cats of all shapes and sizes choking you into submission. Conversely, a healthy sized ego seems like a prerequisite to achieving success in pro-wrestling. This fascinating dichotomy between pro-wrestling and fighting, and my uneasy relationship to it is something that I intend to explore further.

I realise that I am probably being completely pedantic about all of this, but, we all know how this ends, first Facebook and the next thing I know I will be introducing myself as Francis.

Anyway I did it – I created the page – if you would all be so kind as to ‘Like’ it, it will hopefully go some way in helping me progress in my pro-wrestling mission or at the very least it will do wonders in satiating Mr Darwin’s ever-growing ego.

My Gimmick is Jiu-Jitsu… Part II

The week of my in-ring debut had arrived.

I was fortunate to have my instructor, Jonathan Sedgwick as my prospective opponent. This gave us the opportunity to plan the match in tandem and run over it numerous times to the point it felt comfortable and smooth.

In the spirit of my favourite all-time wrestler, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage, I had written our plan down in its entirety. Savage had purportedly done this before his legendary contest with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3, much to the derision of his contemporaries who thought it only proper to ‘call it’ in the ring. I scribed the match in the most intricate of detail: the sequence of holds, reversals, finishers, I even included brackets detailing the points where I should ‘sell’ the inflicted pain; colour coding my actions and those of my opponent. I revised it over and over; visualising my movements from the moment I stepped through the curtain to my exit from the ring, I did this continuously until I had each nuance down to a science.

This meticulous preparation didn’t allow me to escape the nerves. My existence had been plunged into a general disquiet. The sense of foreboding had been increasing incrementally as the week crept slowly towards Saturday. My emotions crescendoed the night before the show when nervousness swelled to all-out fear, my mind was consumed with dread.

When you first compete in jiu-jitsu there really isn’t much of an expectation upon you, a medal on your debut is a bonus. However, with pro-wrestling, I would be in a venue full of people, all of whom would be expecting something that looked good, what if I completely sucked? My fear was compounded after being informed that my match would be on last, while it wouldn’t be a packed Madison Square Garden, there would more than enough people to look like a complete tit in front of.

I arrived at the venue on the day of the show. Now that I was going to be ‘working’, I was permitted into the closed world of the wrestler’s dressing room, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to know that it was a pretty bizarre place. The small room was overflowing with some of the most colourful characters; dudes getting in and out of tight garish attire, some applying face-paint and meretricious accessories. There were cats deep in conversation going through the physics of their matches – which differed immensely depending on whether they were involved in straight singles, triple threats, four-ways or tag team contests. This was a packed room where it wasn’t deemed out of the ordinary to see a vertical suplex being practiced. Testosterone fuelled conversation dominated proceedings, while the air that hung over us all was thick with the stench of stinky-ass pads and wrestling boots.

While all this went on around me, I attempted to treat it like any BJJ competition, keeping my same routine in a futile attempt to limit my nerves. Completing my mobility drills proved troublesome given the spatial constrictions. My attempt to focus with a little Tribe Called Quest was neigh impossible, with my headphones cranked up to the maximum Q-Tip was drowned out by the cacophony of noise resonating from the jam-packed dressing room, shouts from the crowd and the booming sound of rock music which introduced the wrestlers.

There was an abundance of nervous energy in the dressing room, it manifested itself in a variety of ways from the persistent tapping of feet to those sitting in quiet contemplation. I was visibly scared – to the point that fellow wrestlers were attempting to buoy me – each providing their own experience of being in the ring for the first time – each person had a little nugget of wisdom, but, I invariably didn’t hear any of it as I was trapped in the self-indulgence of my own fear.

My anxiety had centred on the idea of being out there with a mouth as dry as the surface of Arrakis, completely unable to swallow, consequently forgetting what I was supposed to be doing and looking like a complete penis in front of my girlfriend, friends, and kids from my school who had discovered that their teacher was a ‘wrestler’. I have always had a strange relationship with fear, before my competitive career in jiu-jitsu, when faced with the sickening feeling of fight or flight, shamefully, on occasion I would fly.

As I walked through the curtain any angst dissolved in a flash, akin to stepping on the mats at a jiu-jitsu competition, I felt ready to go. Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Con te partirò announced my entrance, and I started doing my thing as Francis Darwin. However, my fastidious planning and visualisation predictably went out of the window after the initial sequence – when my mind went completely blank and I had no idea what I was doing, fortunately this was only a momentary lapse, a back suplex soon brought me back to the script.
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The story of the bout played out like I was the experienced grappler from a real combat sport and my opponent, Jonathan couldn’t keep up with my jiu-jitsu as I chained submissions together. I became frustrated at his resilience and my inability to finish him, at which point I started to throw strikes. As a result of applying my finisher, the trusty rear-naked choke, the referee caught in the crossfire was ‘knocked out’, my submission failed and I was hit with my opponent’s super-kick finish. Some nefarious antics took place, outside interference led to a baseball bat shot on Jonathan, which ensured that I picked up the three count.

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It was hardly a five-star performance right out of the gate but I don’t think it was a completely inauspicious debut. The sense of elation that I felt after arriving backstage was analogous to stepping off the mats after winning a competition, my head was above the clouds. I was truly awestruck and remained that way for the rest of the evening, food tasted better, music sounded doper, life seemed like the pinnacle of awesomeness.

Without wanting to dive into an uncharted level of cheese, after being a fan from the age of six and it being a constant in my life ever since, having a professional wrestling match had been the culmination of a life’s dream.

My original intention was to train, have one match and document my experience – but as it stands I think the gi is going to have to stay in the closet a bit longer now that I’m officially a wrassler!