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Sport is back: Wrestling training with Aberdeen grappling legend and future star was eye-opening

After my first crash to the floor, every illusion and pre-conceived notion I had about professional wrestling since childhood was shattered.

The throw, the landing and the array of bone-crunching moves that followed all felt very real.

I was taking part in wrestling training at the end of 2019 as I looked into some of the unconventional sports available to try out in the north-east.

The series was knocked on the head when Covid restrictions came into force.

Now, with restrictions easing, the world is seemingly on the road to recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

The same can’t be said for my bruised ego – more than a year on.

But with contact sports allowed from May 17, it seemed fitting that we revisit some of the underrepresented activities you can take part in across the north-east.

I’ll be starting off with a look back at my ill-fated venture into the wild world of pro wrestling.

Wrestling with the truth: this isn’t the sport for me

Both Aberdeen grappling legend, and former councillor, Len Ironside and his protege Leo King have dedicated hundreds of hours to the perfection of their craft.

The duo took the time on a cold afternoon in Kincorth to show me some of the basics.

First on the agenda was learning how to fall and, unlike a cat, I did not land on my feet.

Press and Journal Reporter Daniel Boal, Leo King and Len Ironside at Kincorth Community Centre

Being taught how to land and pick yourself up is a key weapon in a wrestler’s arsenal and, without it, real injuries are nothing short of a guarantee.

It adds credence to the message major American promotion WWE showcases before any televised event, that these are trained performers and the moves shouldn’t be tried at home.

Next was learning how to “lock up”, another key skill that certainly wasn’t in my job description.

The opening move to the dance that is wrestling involves both participants stepping in with the same leg and arm mirroring one another to avoid a collision.

All the while, you make sure your head is protected to avoid headbutting your opponent. This single step took more attempts than I’m proud to admit.

Butting heads with a council leader may be part of the role of a reporter. But not quite in the same way that I went toe to toe with Mr Ironside in that chilly gymnasium.

Now the initial “lock up” is in place, a test of strength ensues before the combatants transition into an almost unlimited selection of holds, throws and lifts.

Sense of competition is greater than I expected

What became increasingly apparent through the bone-jarring performance myself, Len and Leo tried to put on is that everyone involved is trying to outdo the competitor across from them.

This dance is far more intricate and cerebral than you would assume from the outset, and it’s clear that everyone wants to win with style.

Every sequence and every move is just another opportunity to prove you are the superior athlete and performer.

Fast paced and with little room for error, even in this taster session it was immediately evident the people who do it simply love wrestling.

After my fumbling steps through the basic sequences, my tutors showed how it should be done.

Bruising blows were ‘no joke’

Unscripted and unrelenting, the pair grappled their way across the mats, trying to outdo one another at every turn.

From leg locks to shoulder holds, I can now say from personal experience the moves they so casually shook off were no joke.

In the end, the master bested his taller, younger and more physically imposing protege, imparting a subtle lesson that there will always be more to learn.

‘He is like a father figure to me’

Len Ironside and Leo King

After years of tutelage and dreams of making the big time, Sam Wilson – who fights under the name Leo King – packed his bags last year and jetted off to Florida.

Having grown up in Findon, just south of Aberdeen, he performed on local circuits before auditioning for bigger promotions.

He said: “I just needed to take a leap of faith.

“My 10th birthday is where this all started, flicking through channels and I was hooked.

“All my birthdays were about wrestling from there, on my 12th my dad took me to my first live event, it was there I knew I’d do this for a living.”

Spending the rest of his teens obsessed with the form of entertainment, it was at age 17 he met his mentor, Len.

The grappler added: “Len has been there from start to finish, we’d carpool to events, he has taught me so much over the past couple of years.

“Not to mention him getting in contact with a number of coaches on my behalf, he has helped me move my career forward.

“I could not of done any of this without him, I would have made so many more mistakes without him being there.

“He is always going to be a part of my journey.”

Leo King and Len Ironside

Now part of a WWE training programme, the superstar in the making was poised to make his squared circle debut before being halted by the pandemic.

He is now living the dream of millions of children around the world, and the Aberdeenshire grappler imparted a few words of wisdom for aspiring youngsters.

He added: “Just because some says you can’t do it doesn’t make that true, all that means is they don’t believe.

“For a long period everyone told me I would never be a wrestler, then it was ‘well you’ll never get anywhere’ and I continue to prove those people wrong.

“Work hard, keep dreaming and be smart.”

‘I’ve never been so proud of anyone my in my whole life’

Mr Ironside has taken on other proteges and mentored other children in the sport but none have been as committed as Leo King, he said.

He added : “I thought I would give him six weeks, kids come and they find it too hard but he stuck with it and he got better and better.

“There is no limit to what this young man can do, he has been taught by some of the top seven coaches in the world as well as myself.”

For those wanting to try their own hand at grappling, the former council leader added: “If you are in the north-east and you want to learn the sport then there are companies such as Wrestlezone who will take you on.

“Or if you’re a youngster wanting to do Olympic wrestling then there is the Aberdeen Wrestling Club that I run.

“At the minute we aren’t teaching children until we have some more coaches, but as soon as we do lessons will be back.”

The Wrestlezone training sessions are to resume later this month.

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