By Alex Rhodes
A packed crowd watched as a Leeds based wrestling company put on a performance of a lifetime in Garforth yesterday.
Grapple Wrestling descended on the Miner’s Welfare Hall to showcase the skills of their talented athletes. There were a variety of matches including a mixed tag match and a ‘Commoners Rumble’ where wrestlers attempted to eliminate each other by throwing their competitors over the top rope and out of the ring.
Director of Grapple Wrestling, Paul Clarke, said: “Today’s event went fantastically well. We had a crowded hall full of people of all ages who were well into every match and making plenty of noise throughout the entire two hour show. There were strong performances from all the wrestlers which was why the crowd stayed with it all the way.”
Wrestlers worked quickly to establish themselves as fan favourites or villains in the matches, known respectively as ‘baby faces’ and ‘heels’ in the industry. Paul added: “Crowds enjoy loving and hating the big characters.”
Sixteen-year-old Callum Kerrigan, or Joey Divine as he is known in the ring, talked after the show about the training required to be a wrestler.
He said: “I train in the gym about five times a week and usually do wrestling training three times a week. We do something called ‘bumps’, you do your bumps or your falls every time you train just to get your body used to what it’ll be taking in the ring.”
Wrestling will soon be back in the headlines as the biggest event in the wrestling calendar, WWE’s Wrestlmania, is being held in New Orleans on April 6.
Abby Marwood, 18, whose ring name is Erin Night said watching WWE on television inspired her to get into the sport.
“I Googled everything to do with WWE, from there I spent a couple of years just watching it and being a fan and then I just knew I really wanted to pursue it,” she said.
Wrestling here in the UK was at it’s most popular during the 1970s and 1980s when British wrestling icons like Shirley Crabtree, better known as Big Daddy, battled Giant Haystacks, Martin Ruane, on ITV’s World of Sport. One of Grapple Wrestling’s stars, Tommy Essex ‘the big mouth from down south’, said that wrestling’s popularity is once again growing in the UK.
He said: “There’s lots of promotions that are picking up really big crowds and hopefully when Leeds starts to take off we’ll be part of it as well.”
Paul Clarke said: “Wrestling is definitely growing in popularity throughout the UK and here in Leeds. We find once we perform at one venue, that crowd come back for more and they bring new people along to share the experience. Live event wrestling appeals to people because of the interaction they can have with the wrestlers. I don’t mean 13,000 people in an arena watching WWE, I mean 100-300 fans in a hall.”
Wrestling is not without risk and Tommy and Erin revealed how they have both suffered injuries in the past. Erin said: “I’ve been out six months with a blown out kneecap, the matches may be planned but the moves are real.”
Tommy said: “I got quite badly hurt last year, my family actually wanted me to stop. I clashed heads with someone in the ring and fractured the bone that covers your orbital and your nasal passage. My eye sort of swelled out of its socket.”
Grapple Wrestling runs training sessions every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at Leeds Cage.
WATCH: Wrestlers, Toxic Jack and Joey Divine from Grapple Wrestling give their reactions to criticisms of the sport and what it’s like to be in a match.
LISTEN: 21 year old student, James Ablett, talks about his first time watching a wrestling match and talks about whether he can see the sport becoming more popular in the UK.