EWW had thrown the gauntlet down in that small subculture of subcultures, British Wrestling, claiming that we were the first and only truly hardcore promotion in the UK. We were only the second to hold a match in a steel cage and the first in the world to hold it in a tournament final. We had also liberally used numerous props including chairs, fireballs and chains throughout the show. Our attitude was aggressive like the American ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling), but our storylines were intended to be even deeper and more original than the now legendary stunt-filled promotion. Nothing in British Wrestling had been so adult-based or character driven. CCW (Commonwealth Championship Wrestling) had certainly been our springboard and immediately we would eclipse their relevance to 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 real 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 make the biggest immediate impact on the British Wrestling scene over the years – or rather his promotion would.
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 professional 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.
Encouraged by Lee Edwards’s Welsh DJ friend (we’ll call him LJ) we decided to visit the new promotion to suss the scene out. The outing was organized by LJ, and there was clearly a mixture of agendas on the card. LJ was after aggravation; Lee probably wanted a scrap, whereas the rest of us had varying degrees of curiosity and annoyance on our minds. Our ensemble consisted of Stu “The Dominator” Allen, Josh Perry (our technical manager and “sleeping” partner), Jay “Pain” McDonald, Chris O’Regan and me.
After seeing virtually all of Portsmouth on an unscheduled scenic tour following LJ’s car almost into the sea, my mobile phone rang to hear LJ confessing “I haven’t got a fucking clue where we are going!” When we did get to the accommodation he had arranged for us we thought that the sea might have been preferable. It was a cramped bad smelling bed and breakfast run by a woman who would not have looked out of place teaching Latin in a convent. She informed us that we could call her or her husband any time before 11pm for assistance. All we needed to do was ring the bell. This would prove to be a lie…
“It’s the mystique that I love” sneered Lee upon seeing a fully costumed Mark Sloan walk over to the ticket office to check some last minute details, as the audience shuffled into the Fratton venue. FWA had packed the place out and even arranged for a video wall, although it seemed a bit out of place in the community hall venue, as everyone could clearly see the ring. The audience were certainly going to get their money’s worth, as FWA had booked a huge number of wrestlers and also splashed out on some props, including a ladder they had imported from America. However, the most impressive item of all was the ring that Mark Sloan had built with his father. This ring and others produced by the promotion would become very popular on the New British Wrestling scene. It was bigger than many being used by other British promotions and, unlike ours, was not just a modified boxing ring. It was kitted out very much like the American promotions including, at least for a small period, knuckle pads in the corners. However, the thing that really got the high flyers excited was the titanium spring underneath.
The show was clearly over-booked and even included an out-of-place “old school” match. However, we would later learn that this was all done on purpose. FWA were looking at the bigger picture and using the event to generate film footage for future video promos in order to chase the elusive television deal all British promotions were after at the time. The mission for all New British Wrestling was to get British wrestling back on TV! Sadly it would coincide with the emergence of the multi-channel satellite/cable TV phenomenon, which meant that although many promotions would succeed with this mission none, to date, have been able to equal the success of the World of Sport days. Nevertheless Mark Sloan’s unknown business partner at the time would reveal himself to be a young low budget director/producer/writer of soft core horror sexploitation films called Elisar Cabrera. Elisar appeared to be the promotion’s hidden weapon as he was well-connected in the media world, having been born into it, much like myself, and he certainly knew how to edit together the footage taken from the shows. However, on this occasion we weren’t introduced, so we watched the show with somewhat bemusement and through deeply prejudiced eyes.
The show did not appear to have a big storyline running through it, although there was clearly an attempt at this with John Feltham – the rising wrestling fanzine pioneer of the New British Wrestling movement – and Mark Sloan. Feltham, who had previously been involved in promoting CCW, was playing the corporate heel and Sloan played the home town face. This angle had been made popular ever since the infamous real life altercation between the then World Wrestling Federation’s owner, Vince McMahon, and Bret “The Hitman” Hart, which had further inspired the “Mr McMahon” heel persona that remained popular during the late ‘90s. It later transpired that Sloan was a huge Bret Hart fan and the rest was fairly easy to work out.
The show had some good matches and it was nice to see Jody, Jonny, Scotty and Jorge work again. However, it was during the show’s rumble match that Stu and I started to become annoyed by what we saw as blatant attempts to rip off our ideas. A new wrestler called En?gma came out wearing a gothic costume resembling Stu’s, another guy modelled himself directly after the James O’Barr/Brandon Lee character “The Crow”, who had been a big influence of mine, and the final straw came when a wrestler entered to “Malice Through the Looking Glass”, the anthem Dead Souls had clearly become associated with throughout the wrestling fraternity. While tempers slowly began to rise, LJ had been walking around at ringside under the guise of a “media correspondent” for his website. It was during one of these rounds that one of us noticed he was rather close to the flimsy pasting tables that were going to be used for the show’s “hardcore” element. I forget who offered LY £20 to “accidentally” fall through one of those tables, but with our then vindictive and spiteful state of mind it could have been any of us. LJ did the deed and we decided to mock the “ECW” chant that used to accompany outrageous hardcore wrestling stunts with the words “MFI! MFI! MFI!” To those who do not know, this is the name of the likely manufacturers of the pasting tables used at the event.
Lee was ready for a fight and the rest of us were not far behind. Any excuse would do. However, another incident during the rumble match would completely shift our mindset and loyalties. From what I recall, and again I may be wrong, Jorge Castano had kicked a member of the public in the face very hard when he went over the ropes. The member of the public turned out to be a relation of our “Crow” friend. The rumble ground to a halt, entrance fees were refunded and the show was aborted as real fighting started to break out during the match. Soon the FWA were holed up in their dressing rooms as the rebel wrestlers seemed poised to start a riot. Then a message was sent round that we had been spotted and our assistance required. Next thing we knew we were being paid to escort Jorge and the rest of the FWA past the prospective rioters!
The night’s excitement was not over yet. Big Jay McDonald had been downing drinks in his usual fashion and was ready for a rampage. We found ourselves talking the big man out of trying to turn over a car. He settled with creating a dubious hedgehog out of a set of traffic cones instead. Jonny Storm, Jody Fleische and his girlfriend ended up dining out with us at a Chinese, and then sneaking into our Bed and Breakfast. All would have been fine if Stu had not locked himself out of his room. We were in at 11pm, but no matter how much we rang the bell we received no assistance. Attempts were made to force the door, but in the end everyone stuffed themselves into the remaining rooms.
I probably did the best out of the deal, as my room had only one tiny bed and Jody and his girlfriend had to fight over a flannel on the floor. Meanwhile Stu and Jonny were stuffed in a room with Big drunken Jay. Jay apparently creaked when he snored. This became the butt of Jonny’s jokes at the beginning of the night – “Mind if I move the side board, dear” - but soon really became an annoyance. Bang! “Shit! Missed” exclaimed Jonny’s disembodied voice. Bang! “Ow!” Jonny’s second flying boot had hit the target: the snoring Jay, who then resumed his strange creaking snoring.
Somehow we all got to sleep, but by morning we really had to move. Our three friends of course had not been paid for, so we had to get them out unnoticed. I was down first, paying for my room and distracting the owner from seeing Jody and his girlfriend being bundled out through the fire exit in Chris O’Regan’s room. My ruse did not work. The owner was already very annoyed about the noise we had caused in the night, despite not being there to help us out with the room at the time she had specified. She spied Jody and his girlfriend hot-tailing it up the stairs before they had reached Chris’s room. Not really understanding the urgency of the situation Jody was actually thinking he could sneak a breakfast from under this woman’s rather sharp nose. She cried out to her husband – a more browbeaten and put-upon-man I have not seen since – to stop “Those two girls!” Poor Jody, with his long hair and thin frame, had been mistaken to be a prostitute and this was the accusation that was then launched at me after the woman had returned puzzled after leaving Chris’s room. Chris had concealed the fire exit, which she apparently knew little about! This seemed amazing, considering there was an outside staircase leading directly from it.
The woman was on a tirade after this episode and Stu was threatened that a “Bodybuilder”, who was staying at the house, would sort him out if there was any trouble. Stu feigned fear at this remark. Meanwhile I was given the immortal statement: “We’ll put you on Hotel Watch, you’ll never stay in Southsea again!” Well, I don’t know whether Hotel Watch did get our details, but the second part of this outraged Guesthouse owner’s words seem to correct, as I have yet to return to this particular coastal resort.
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