Even though the birth of superstar wrestlers happened right here in Britain with the likes of Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy and Mick McManus, wrestling seems like it kind of belongs to America nowadays. The general consensus tends to be that brash, cocksure bravado is far better suited to a 400-pound guy in a leotard from North Carolina than it is Brian from Stevenage wearing a bit of face paint and his mum's old Lycra jogging shorts.
That's why, when VICE staffer, Rhys James, found out that there was a wrestling scene thriving in town halls and community centres up and down the UK, he decided to make a film about it. It's called The British Wrestler, the trailer is above, it's beyond brilliant and the first part will be up on the site next Monday. I spoke to Rhys about the film to tide you over till then.
VICE: Hey Rhys. So, why did you decide to make a film about UK wrestling? Were you a wrestling fanatic when you were younger?
Rhys James: No, I used to live in Plymouth, where part of the film is shot, and I remember seeing this guy who wanted to be a wrestler in the local paper. That struck me as kind of amusing because I didn't think there really was a wrestling scene in the UK – just this one guy who really, really wanted to put on some spandex and fight someone in a town hall. About 12 years passed and I remembered that story out of the blue, found out there's an organisation called the Plymouth Wrestling Alliance, then went and shot a pilot down there.
What were your first impressions when you walked into the arena?
Well, it wasn't really an arena; more of a social club. It all reminded me a bit of Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights. Like,there wasa guy with a sausage and chips stall right in the middle of where everyone was wrestling, which was kind of bizarre, but they all seemed like they were having a lot of fun.
Then you went up to Scotland, right?
Yeah, we found out about this thing called Insane Championship Wrestling up there and heard the guy who runs it all was about to have a birthday party where all the wrestlers had to go out clubbing in their wrestling gear, which we thought sounded hilarious. We decided to go back after that and check out their wrestling, which was in a nightclub on Sauchiehall Street – the drag in Glasgow where everyone gets wasted and fights and pukes and stuff – and it was just ridiculous. The wrestling was super fun, nothing like what we'd experienced in Plymouth, so we kinda ditched on Plymouth and stuck with them.
Is that when you lost all your footage?
Oh god, yeah. We lost between 12 and 15 hours of footage, which, in some ways, was super shit, but also kind of a blessing, because it gave us a chance to spend more time with Grado and follow him round a bit more.
Grado, the main guy in the film?
Yeah, exactly. He's this really charming, quite self-effacing guy who's nothing like a US pro-wrestler, or anything like the preconceptions of wrestlers we all had. As the film develops, it kind of becomes about his emotional journey from being a fanboy who'd prank call wrestlers at their homes to fighting for the ICW title. He looks a bit like an old UK wrestler, actually. He lives with his parents and wears a onesie.
Nice. Did making the film change a lot of what you thought you knew about wrestling?
Yeah, I mean, I always thought of it as this very American thing, but then you go to the place in Plymouth and, like I said, it feels like you're in an episode of Phoenix Nights, except you're surrounded by OAPs and very young children watching two guys beat the shit out of each other. Then, up in Scotland, it's just a load of lads getting wasted with, like, goths, neds and nerds, all watching the fight. It's this whole spectrum of interesting folk, but they all find a sense of community in getting drunk and watching people beat each other up.It's like nothing I'd ever seen before.
Watch The British Wrestler when it comes out on VICE.com next Monday and see things you've never seen before.