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Tuesday 26 May 2009

Remebering Extreme World Warfare: Part V

How did the premier highflying wrestler, Jody Fleische, get accused of being a female prostitute? Did EWW attempt to invade the fledgling “New British Wrestling” promotion, FWA? Why did EWW get banned from Southsea? These questions are often prompted by subtle hints dropped by Chris (former “Mr Hardcore” now “Extreme Enforcer” and sometimes “Mean Gene”) O’Regan from time to time, but have never really been answered. As I write this next passage in my recollections of my short stint as a pro wrestling promoter I can’t help feel it is confession time.

EWW had thrown the gauntlet down in the smallest subculture of subcultures, British Wrestling. We rightfully stated that we were the first and only truly hardcore promotion in the UK in 1998. We were only the second UK promotion to hold a match in a steel cage and the first in the world to have it as a tournament final. We had also liberally used numerous props including chairs, fireballs and chains throughout the show that were, at best, special additions in other British promotions. Our attitude was aggressive and antagonistic like the American ECW, but our storylines were intended to be even deeper and more original than this now legendary stunt-filled promotion. Nothing in British wrestling had been so adult-based. CCW (Commonwealth Championship Wrestling) had been our springboard and immediately we would eclipse them on the British wrestling scene, but little did we realize others were also being inspired and a new generation of British pro-wrestling promotions was emerging.

It is arguable that the origins for these new promotions had grown from the scattered parts of CCW’s second and highest profile official show “Animal Instincts”. Phil Lowe, whose role in CCW I have never really been able to ascertain, had decided to form his own ill-fated promotion, the British Wrestling Alliance. However, it was the modest lightweight wrestler I had last seen scratching his bollocks on the way to the ring at “Animal Instincts” who would arguably make the biggest immediate impact on the British wrestling scene over the years – or rather it would be the promotion he created.

The Fratton Wrestling Association apparently had been in existence since 1993. Going by what I have since heard, and I may be wrong, it was virtually a prototype for the controversial backyard wrestling that would become popular in 1999 onwards, run by youngsters who had some formal training, but were mainly self-taught. We were first seriously alerted to their presence when an advert was emailed to us picturing Mark Sloan being slammed through a flimsy pasting table. We were young, proud and fired up about our position in pro-wrestling and immediately saw them as jumping on our extreme bandwagon. The stunt seemed like an insult to the stunts we had pulled off and, worse still, the show was using most of the wrestlers we had incorporated into our storylines.

Inspired by Lee Edwards’s Welsh DJ friend, we decided to visit the new promotion to suss the scene out. The outing was organized by Lee’s friend - we’ll call him LY - and there was clearly a mixture of agendas on the card. I felt that LY was after aggravation whereas the rest of us had varying degrees of curiosity and annoyance. Our ensemble included Stu “The Dominator” Allen, Josh Perry (our technical manager and “sleeping” partner), Jay “Pain” McDonald, Chris O’Regan and me. We followed LY’s car into Fratton, Portsmouth, the home of FWA, and out into Southsea...and then almost off the end of peer. My mobile phone rang. It was LY: “I haven’t a fuckin’ clue where I am goin’ mate!”

Eventually after being cruelly taunted by the various other establishments we could have booked rooms in we ended up at a godforsaken £16 per night bed and breakfast. We were greeted – if that was the word – by a landlady that had the measure of us from the start: a bunch of lads with a night of trouble on their agenda. However, we were polite and listened to the house rules carefully. One rule would be tested that night and prove not to be applicable: “If you want anything please use the bell before 11pm”.

“It’s the mystique I love” said Lee as he watched a fully costumed and very nervous Mark Sloan rush out to the front of the house to check the ticket situation. We were expecting a travesty of a show. We anticipated seeing old school British wrestling mixed with the backyard scene in a dismal attempt to replicate the Americans. The poster was an unimaginative affair. Described as “FWA: One” it was a monochrome picture featuring a ladder as the main star. This piece of gossip had already reached us: FWA had bought an official WWF ladder from America for a ladder match. It seemed like a big waste to us. The idea that the whole promotion was pinning its hopes and reputation on this gimmick made us feel less and less intimidated by the competition.

As we walked into the main auditorium we were more than a little surprised. Mark Sloan had created perhaps the best wrestling ring in the country. Modelled on the American design, it had a titanium spring underneath the matted area and knuckle pads in the corners. It would be a joy for all British pro-wrestlers who worked in it and eventually my bane for the Dead Souls routine. Behind the ring stood what I felt at the time was an ostentatious and superfluous video projection screen – or “video wall” as everyone liked to call it. I say superfluous as the point of a video wall with a live feed is to allow an the audience who are too far back to watch the action on the stage in a huge stadium venue. Most people who worked in what was soon to be labelled as the New British Wrestling movement didn’t support my view. My guess is that many saw the inclusion of a video wall as a prop associated with the big promotions in the US rather than as a functional service. On the other hand I was very much in favour of the use of the walls to provide animated graphics, entrance videos, action from outside the venue and as extra dramatic material to advance the storylines.

The show was being professionally filmed by someone I would learn was a partner in the promotion, Elisar Cabrera. Elisar, like me, came from a showbusiness family. His worked in the film industry and even produced some low budget exploitation films before his involvement with the FWA. The way he turned the whole of FWA: One into a promotional video showed great vision and potential. We were all surprised when an “Old School” wrestling match, which we shook our heads at in sad disbelief when we watching the show live, were used very cleverly to show the contrast between the “World of Sport” generation and the New British Wrestling provided by FWA. This contrast was the marketing tactic taken by most of the new promotions, starting with our previous promotion CCW. Seeing the then growing regard and mainstream popularity of US and Japanese wrestling the world over, we felt our number one priority was to show the UK that the new movement was very far removed from the days of Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy.

The audience certainly seemed to be behind the show. Even we, as hostile and biased spectators, had to admit this, if not to each other then to ourselves. Nevertheless, we enjoyed chanting “MFI” in reference to the offending pasting tables instead of the “ECW” chant that wrestling fans would make when a “hardcore” stunt was carried out. Our chagrin at this element eventually resulted in Stu paying LY £20 to “accidentally” fall through one of the tables situated around ringside while he was covering the event for his online show. It didn’t take much for the table to give and the act, although perhaps a little petty in retrospect, was one of the most entertaining moments of the night. LY, despite claiming a “black belt in karate”, was a rather unfortunately shaped individual and the sight of his rotund physique doing a Buster Keaton after leaning on one of the tables will always be up there with the Del Boy fall in “Only Fools and Horses”.

The show culminated in a “Rumble”. This was an American variation on the Battle Royal formula and was a popular annual fixture in the WWF’s calendar. It was around this time that we were beginning to get hot under the collar. Alcohol fused with a tribal protectiveness of our product made Stu and I particularly annoyed by the Gothic characters that seemed to be popping out to wrestle. We were very protective of our Dead Souls product and did not take too kindly to imitation. A wrestler called En?gma arrived on the scene with a black beard and a black Regency style shirt. This immediately irked Stu. In those times of paranoid rivalry it looked like to all of us as a blatant rip-off of Stu’s newly created Dominator character. Little did we realize that En?gma was one of the FWA’s original partners, he took his character role very seriously (perhaps a little too seriously), he would go on to improve his wrestling ability to a standard that would win him praise in the British wrestling press and that he was actually a very nice bloke. A not so amiable character was the far less creative “Crow” copycat who it was alleged was the cause of the problems that would occur later that night. Finally the icing on the cake and perhaps the only excuse Stu, Lee and I were going to need to have serious words with the promotion was the sudden blast of “Malice through Looking Glass” that announced the arrival of previous CCW wrestler, Excalibur. This little known yet anthemic black metal track by Cradle of Filth had been a Dead Souls mainstay since before my time with EWW.

Then something happened that changed everyone’s plans. From what I recall, and the facts remain blurred to this day, Jorge Castano flipped over the top rope during his match in the Rumble and accidentally kicked a member of the audience in the face. The woman he kicked turned out to be connected the Crow wrestler in some way. Matters then apparently kicked off. We must have ducked out when this happened because all of a sudden the music was off and the show was stopped with half the wrestlers being held in the changing rooms whilst rumours of a riot via the Crow’s supporters were heating up at in the bar. An empty ring surrounded by puzzled spectators who were being told that their money would be refunded served as the confusing middle to this incident. The next thing we knew EWW were being requested backstage to act as bodyguards for the wrestlers thought to be at risk by the Crow and his supporters. I couldn’t see any sign of the supposed trouble and nothing did happen, but Stu got his £20 back!

Later that night Jonny Storm, Jorge Castano and Jody Fleische and his girlfriend joined us for a meal out. Big Jay got quite wasted and his pranks swung between creating his interpretation of a hedgehog with traffic cones and attempting a strong man act with a car. We invited the guys to stay with us at our bed and breakfast. We knew we would have to smuggle them in, but we didn’t expect the sardine situation that ended our night. Stu did the classic mistake and locked his keys in his room. After spending a long time ringing the bell for our landlady to no availe we decided to crowd everyone into the remaining rooms. I got the better end of the deal with Jody and his girlfriend having to fight over a flannel on my floor. Whereas Big Jay, Stu, Josh and Jonny all piled into one room! Recalling the size of those pigeon coups the landlady called rooms, it’s a wonder there was enough oxygen for that ensemble.

It had gone midnight and most of the EWW brigade was asleep in drunken stupors. The Dominator didn’t sleep though. A mysterious creaking noise disturbed his kingdom of darkness. Then suddenly it was punctuated by an abrupt sound. Bang! This was immediately followed the sound of a small Essex accented curse, “Shit! Missed!” The creaking sounds continued and then another loud bang. This time the creaking noise stopped altogether “Ow!” and the Essex accent turned into a celebratory cackle. It became clear to The Dominator; the creaking noise was the unlikely snoring of Pain and the bangs were Jonny’s two attempts to shut him up by chucking a pair of boots at him.

The next morning breakfast was missed in a desperate attempt to pay the bills and to smuggle the four extra guests out via the outside catwalk. Jody, for some inexplicable reason, hadn’t figured out that he wasn’t down as a registered guest and wondered if he could get in a shower and perhaps some toast before we all left. Meanwhile I was doing my best to cover for his ad his girlfriend's stealthy exit whilst paying for the bill. The landlady was telling me off about the racket we had made the previous night. I was apologizing and explaining that we had asked for help to get into Stu’s room well before her 11pm cut-off time. My protest fell on deaf ears, as she had just clocked Jody and his girlfriend rushing up the stairs. She was in hot pursuit, but was not quite fast enough. Chris O’Regan’s room had the fire exit with a wardrobe conveniently placed in front and quickly aided their escape. This was the exit the more switched on Mr Storm had used as soon as he figured the game was up. Jody and his girlfriend just made it. However, the bizarre thing was the landlady, who arrived in Chris O’Regan’s room after them acted as if she didn’t know there was a fire exit there and began searching Chris’s room. She eventually conceded that the “two black girls” (poor little Jody and his ponytail) were hiding somewhere and would jump out on her later on in the day. There must be something in the water down there.

After paying my bill I was duly threatened with being blacklisted on the Hotel Watch for the whole Southend-on-Sea region. When Stu came to pay his bill after me he was apparently threatened with the middle-aged bodybuilder who was a regular resident at the bed and breakfast. Frankly the landlady was a more intimidating sight!

And thus began 1999 and our relationship with FWA. We had three shows ahead of us, plus a guest match on FWA’s second show and loads of controversy culminating in police involvement and even a spot on the Jerry Springer Show.

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