By Gary Mehaffy |
What drew you into the British wrestling scene back in the day?
I honestly couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. The earliest memory I have as a child was watching wrestling on a Saturday afternoon with my granddad. I was born in a house 50 yards away from the house that my dad was born in. I spent a lot of time there watching it on ITV – from the age of 4 or 5 that’s what I remember doing. It just captivated me.
I couldn’t tell you who it was, or what it was, it was just part and parcel of my childhood. It was all I ever talked about and all I ever wanted to do. I never wanted to do anything else – well, I did.
Charlie Cairoli was a very famous clown who used to be on in Blackpool Tower. He had a TV show and I loved to watch him – so it was either a clown or a wrestler. They stick out in my mind. I was very fortunate – I wasn’t born in Blackpool, I was from Codsall Wood and our local arena was the Wolverhampton Civic Centre. At 7 years of age my dad used to take me every two weeks, on a Tuesday night.
That was where I got to see all of the big rivalries. It was being run by Joint Promotions at the time. I was there for a lot of the TV tapings – I was there the night that Kendo Nagasaki unmasked. It was an incredible time for wrestling.
I used to go every two weeks when it ran, which was from September until the end of May. Then they’d have the summer off. Then we would go to places like Blackpool or Rhyl for a few days at a time and I’d get to see wrestling there as well. When I’d go to Blackpool – and I think I was about 9 – I’d see Bobby Baron’s Wrestling Booth and it completely captivated me again. From that day onwards I just wanted to be a wrestler. I wanted to work on that booth – I thought it would be the greatest job in the world! That’s probably being very nostalgic, but that’s truly how I felt as a child.
To get myself prepared for wrestling, I did some judo and some training. When I was 15, at the weekends, I started hanging around at the Horseshoe Show Bar. Bobby Baron – who was a wonderful man – took me in and I started working on that. I was still at school, and at the weekends I’d go there. I left school when I turned 16 on May 10th, 1984 and I finished on May 18th. I worked for my dad for a few weeks to get some money, as a bricklayer, and I went to Blackpool from then onwards.
It’s funny you mentioning Blackpool. My first wrestling memory was in Blackpool, apparently, when I was 5 in 1981. My dad had splashed out on front row seats for the wrestling, and when the first match started the heel came out and yelled at the crowd, at which point I began to cry and ran to the back. So Blackpool was really the first place where I got sucked into it.
Was that at the Tower, too?
I honestly don’t know, I’d have to ask him. I just remember him saying it was either the wrestling or ‘The Grumbleweeds’.
Yea, ‘The Grumbleweeds’! They were there at the time, too. That whole scene – I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s – those were the shows that were available to me. Being from a working class family, you grew up watching things like that, or ‘The Comedians’. Then you could go to Blackpool and actually see them as well! From my childhood I would go there and then when I moved there I was part of that too. I remember telling guys who are getting involved and creating characters for themselves – never forget what you liked as a child. When you get older and you understand it a bit more you like the better wrestlers, but when I was a child it was the characters that made me get into wrestling; Mick McManus, Steve Logan and Sid Cooper – he was so insane! Even as a little child he would have me screaming and shouting and have me laughing the next, then two minutes later I’d be screaming at him again. They had great control of the crowd. But even then, at the age of 7, I was also a Big Daddy fan.
But at the age of 10, my world changed – that was the first time I remember seeing Marc Rocco against Marty Jones. That changed the wrestling industry, whether anybody wants to admit it or not. From then on, that style went around the world. Dynamite, who at that point had been doing a traditional style of wrestling, went to Stampede with it. They’d had a few matches but I hadn’t really noticed. I used to love Johnny Saint. I loved the bad guys, I used to gravitate towards them (laughs), but I loved Johnny Saint. I loved Jim Breaks – I talk a lot about wrestling, but I don’t think Jim Breaks gets enough credit. I obviously do when I watch him, and I realise how good he was. He might have been the best heat getting wrestler out of all of them.
He used to be able to get English people to hate him by doing very, very little. The heat that he had was incredible. So it sort of went from there and I really started paying attention to the industry, and watching the good wrestlers and that’s what I wanted to do. People ask me if UFC had been around then would I have gotten into it? Absolutely no way. I wrestle in a very physical way, but I’m a pro wrestler.
You mentioned Rocco and Marty Jones. Around the 1970’s to the mid-80’s there were many revered wrestlers coming through. There was yourself, Fit (Finlay) , Davey Boy (Smith), Dynamite (Kid), Dave Taylor, Robbie Brookside, and so on. Do you think we’ll see a talent pool like that again, that will have such a major effect on the worldwide scene?
No reason why there couldn’t be. There are enough people there. The only difference now is that we all made names for ourselves by being different. We all had our different styles. Dynamite was doing things in Calgary that were just incredible. So was Rocco. Fit , once Rocco left, he was the man (in the UK scene).He was my favourite when I was in my teens. Being from Northern Ireland, as you would appreciate, he could get any reaction in England without doing anything (laughs). With the whole package with him and Paula, even before that, he was superb. We had our own styles, our own way of doing things. But now, I think people have to adapt to wherever they go, whatever company they are in. But as I said, I say to them to not forget what you liked as a child. Never let that go away.
These young guys are looking for a character, they haven’t necessarily developed one. So I tell them to think back on what they liked. If you’re like everybody else, why should you get hired? It’s not that if you are you won’t get hired, because you might, but how else are you going to make a splash? Unless you’ve got an amazing physique, or two heads, or are seven feet eight! (laughs) You’ve got to have something! I’m just a normal person who’s had to make a character out of himself. Luckily for me, because my only interests were wrestling and entertainment/comedy, I took bits from all of that and made it, and keep evolving it, to become the thing that I’ve become – which is like a ‘Carry On’ character. People in Britain reading this will know what that is, but people in the U.S. might wonder! I’m like a caricature of everything (in the films).
That was the whole point when I came over to America. Once I’d figured out how to be a character, I knew that everybody in Britain would be in on the act with me – wink, wink to you. You’re going to see that I’m being this over the top character. Everybody else might not see it, but you’re going to get it and you’re going to always like me! And if you don’t, great, then hate me anyway! I didn’t have a long, laid out plan. But you’ve got to be an individual! That’s what I tell everyone now – you’ve got to stand out. I’ve been lucky enough to be working with the crew down in NXT, and you’ve got Adrian Neville who has an outstanding skill set, an exceptional skill set. He looks like being not just a flying guy – he’s got it all.
I saw him on an indy show a few years ago here in Belfast, which also had Sheamus and Drew McIntyre on it. You could see, that out of everyone on the show, you could look at the three of them and say “They’re getting this! They know what to do.” That they were developing what they would do here (in the U.K./Ireland) and take it across (to the U.S.).
Sheamus has everything going for him. And he’s been blessed with that great look! (laughs) I know that people can get offended by it, but people see me on screen as a stereotypical Englishman and he has what everybody else in the world perceives makes you an Irishman! But everywhere he goes, people turn their heads to stare at him. Naturally having those genes makes him stand out. Adrian Neville has his exceptional skill set. He has that on top of being English. Once the audience in England find out about him, they’ll take to him. They’ve not seen anyone who can do what he can do for the last 20 years, let alone an Englishman. So when he goes nationwide, he’ll have an incredible run.
You have been involved in transferring from wrestling on the main roster to working with the new incarnation of NXT in Florida. Outside of Adrian Neville, who you mentioned, and Bray Wyatt, who had his vignettes start this week on Raw, who do you see in developmental who could have a major impact on the main scene?
It’s a good question, but it’s one that I don’t really like to answer. It can be too much pressure on you. It’s difficult enough to succeed with having people like me putting that kind of pressure put on you. I mentioned Adrian Neville, and I’m wary of doing so, and I will just leave it there. Everybody there has a chance. It’s all theirs for the taking. There are an incredible team of people that want you to succeed. Anybody that thinks that the people down there (NXT/Florida) are trying to hold anybody back – they are insane. We are there to make everybody a star, if they want to be a star. But it’s how much work are they going to put into it? You hear about people saying “I’m not getting a chance”. They need to look at themselves and maybe they’re not doing what they need to do. People don’t see what’s going on 24 hours a day and it gets frustrating seeing them not (make it). Perhaps he’s not doing what he needs to do to be a star, for whatever reason. So unless you know what’s going on, some of that stuff is very annoying.
It happened in my career, and at the time I didn’t realise – but now, I’m older, I look back on it and say “I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have done that, I should have done that”. I’ve done things in my past that I shouldn’t. Sometimes people think they can get by just wrestling, but to be a WWE Superstar it’s not just about wrestling, It’s the all-around package. Carrying yourself like a star. It’s being able to communicate with people. Like what we’re doing now. It’s all about promotion. Talking normally to people like you. (laughs) If you can’t be trusted to talk to people (to promote the company) then you won’t get the chance to. It’s the simple things. There are a lot of things that go in to being a WWE Superstar. Everybody down there has the opportunity of a chance.
I truly hope that they realise it and put the work in. People like me have the chance to help them out and give them advice, but they’ve got to understand what they’re getting themselves into. Doing media or radio interviews on your day off, etc. If you’re not very good, or if you’re not willing to put the time in, then it (your career) is not going to last very long. People have to remember what a lot of hard work goes into being a WWE Superstar – it’s not just the wrestling.
What does the future hold for you? On the last few UK tours you’ve said that each may be your last one, and on a personal note I’m still waiting for the William Regal/Fit Finlay TV or PPV match – although I think that ship might have sailed! – but do you see yourself getting more involved in developmental or training, or how do you see your role transitioning?
I honestly don’t know. That’s out of my hands. I do so many different things in the company. I’ve had the chance to do so many different things that there’s not a lot that I can’t do. I can still wrestle when I need to, or when I’m needed to. I love doing the commentating on NXT. I’ve loved getting to do that. I love getting the talent over. I work on the road, so I’m always at TV’s. I do a lot of things with a lot of the talent, helping them out, mentoring some of them, etc. There are that many things that I’ve worked on over the years, I don’t really know! I definitely feel like a little bird in a cage sometimes!
I have done a lot of things, and I do some of them really well. I just keep going. I let life get on with me now and not the other way around!