Aberdeen-based wrestling company Wrestlezone have finally returned to full-contract training and hope to run shows later this year.
It is a welcome return to action for the wrestlers almost 18 months after shows and training were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now the popular organisation are on the lookout for wrestling stars of the future.
The message is clear – if you want to try wrestling, go along to the Wrestlezone Academy where everyone is welcome and an exciting life in the ring could open up for you.
Wrestlezone legend Scotty Swift, aka “The Red Haired Warrior”, is one of a number of experienced wrestlers passing on their knowledge in training sessions at the academy in the city’s York Place.
A multiple Undisputed Wrestlezone Champion, Scotty has been one of the most successful, and popular, figures in the family-friendly company’s history.
He admits it was a tough 18 months away from contact training, but is raring to go and relishing a potential return to live matches.
Scotty said: “After almost 18 months of being unable to get in the ring, tie up with the guys, run the ropes, get a bit of impact, I am delighted we are back to some form of normality.
“Some of the guys we have in for my group on a Monday started during the Covid pandemic.
“They have not had any contact training, which to me is crazy as they have had to do it backwards. For them it is brand new.
“For the guys who have been doing it for a long time, it is a case of getting back on the bike.
“It has been a year and a half of making things work.
“For me there are no problems, only problem solving.”
First show back will be ‘incredible’
Wrestlezone have started contact training in small, strictly-adhered-to Covid bubbles with all safety protocols followed.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there have been no Wrestlezone shows since Live at the Academy on March 7 2020 where Scotty Swift defeated Caleb Valhalla.
Their biggest event of the year, Aberdeen Anarchy, was scheduled for two nights at the city’s Northern Hotel for Friday May 15 and Saturday May 16 last year, but was cancelled as the country was in the grip of Covid-19.
Finally, with the success of the vaccination roll-out and the subsequent easing of restrictions, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Scotty is confident Wrestlezone will produce a show this year, although there is no clarity yet on when.
What is certain insists Scotty is that when they finally wrestle in front of their fans again it will be “incredible”.
Scotty said: “Once the more experienced guys are used to the impact, we can look at getting shows on again.
“When that will be I don’t know, but fingers crossed – soon.
“We don’t have a date yet, but we are hopeful we will get something before the end of the year.
“All I do know is that the first show back is going to be incredible”
Wanted – wrestling stars of the future
The return to contact training is a momentous step forward for Wrestlezone, particularly the rising stars.
Wrestlezone are on the lookout for new applicants aged 14 and over for the training academy as limited spaces are available in their Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday evening training groups with sessions running between 6.30pm and 9pm.
No previous experience is necessary, only the willingness and commitment to improve your fitness and skills as you train.
Scotty said: “Anyone can give this a go.
“I used to watch wrestling on television and think I couldn’t do that, but anything is possible.
“We are quite fortunate that the same core of guys have been at Wrestlezone since 2008.
“That is coming up for 13 years and we aren’t getting any younger.
“Some guys are even older than me, so it is super important that we get the next group of wrestlers to pick up the slack.
“The future is very important, but we are in good hands as there are some real talents coming through.
“Training is for 14 years and upwards and no previous experience is really needed.
“Just be committed and willing to learn.”
‘I owe the fans everything’
Training will focus on the fundamental skills of wrestling, including physical safety, body control, fitness, grappling, rolling, bumping, ring awareness/positioning and rope work, as well as character and verbal skills.
Scotty is renowned for his blazing red hair and beard and has a devoted fanbase.
Fundamental to Wrestlezone is that connection with fans with many following them at every show across the north-east and Moray every weekend before lockdown.
Wrestlezone stars do their utmost to make it a memorable night for fans with wrestlers posing for photos and chatting with the audience in the interval.
The fans love Wrestlezone and the wrestlers love their fans.
Scotty said: “I couldn’t do any of this without the fans’ support.
“Without fans there are no shows.
“Without shows there are no wrestlers – so I owe the fans everything.
“I look a bit different now as I always have the red beard and some Wrestlezone fans would probably get a shock at how I look now.
“I promise them that when we do get back to shows I will look like the Scotty Swift of old.”
Wrestlezone not only boast some of the best ring talent in Scotland and hottest rising stars, they have also brought world-renowned wrestling legends to the north-east.
They have produced shows with legends such as Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Mick Foley, X-Pac, Rikishi, Billy Gunn, Scotty 2 Hotty, Bull James, Chris Masters, The Hurricane, Melina, Carlito, Tatanka, Hardcore Holly and D’Von Dudley.
It might not look like it from the photos but on this day 6 years ago, myself, @ChrisArcher94 and @LouKingSharpUK beat a team including one of the all time great tag-team wrestlers @TestifyDVon ,thus beginning the greatest streak in sports entertainment history@wrestlezone pic.twitter.com/asmo62rdEi
— Mikkey Vago (@MikkeyVago) May 24, 2021
Recently dethroned WWE champion Drew McIntyre competed on Wrestlezone shows following his release from WWE in 2014.
Competing on Scottish shows such as Wrestlezone was part of his eventual rise back to the top, which culminated in claiming the prestigious WWE Championship last year.
Like the Marvel Universe, fresh characters are always needed
Inside Scotty’s training bubble is former Tri-Counties champion and tag team gold winner Mr P – one of the most charismatic stars on Wrestlezone’s roster.
A fans’ favourite, he is renowned for his “embrace the chaos” catchphrase and wrestles with a saltire painted on his face, in a kilt.
His speed of movement, agility and sharpness of thought in the ring are superb.
Mr P took part in the training session with Scotty, the first contact session at Wrestlezone for almost 18 months.
Mr P reiterated the need for fresh talent, saying: “If you think of any TV show or form of entertainment, it gets very stale if it’s the same characters over and over again doing the same scenario.
“You need a turnstile of new people to come in and jazz it up and make it more entertaining.
“I look at the Marvel universe where Iron Man started it off, but by the end there were so many characters.
“Wrestling is like that and Wrestlezone is very story-orientated where we revolve around characters all the time.
“If we don’t have these youngsters coming through, it will get stale.”
Embrace the chaos – enter Mr P
Now in his forties, Mr P reached that landmark in style by securing the Wrestlezone Tri-Counties title in 2018 by defeating holder Zach Dynamite – on his 40th birthday.
It is clear from watching him during training sessions that he has no intention of slowing down.
He said: “When these youngsters come through, it is also an incentive for me to try that little bit harder.
“I am the old guy who is first out, so I have to make sure my standards are high.
“If they want it they have to come and get it.
“We will have more options and characters in our storylines to make the product more entertaining.”
The rise of academy star Connor Inglis
Proof of the pathway from the training academy to ring action is Connor Inglis, who was the rising sensation of Wrestlezone prior to lockdown.
Newcomer Inglis was an immediate hit and had a bitter feud with Crusher Craib that engrossed fans with twists and turns in the storyline.
The ultimate, and unexpected twist, was when the arch-enemies became friends and won the tag team championship.
Mr P said: “The crowd immediately took to Connor, who was literally plucked from security, from nowhere and he took on Crusher.
“He was the most popular good guy – because the fans had someone new to cheer for and everyone wants to boo Crusher.
Lockdown allowed injuries to heal
Delighted to finally be back where he loves most, in the ring with full-contact action, Mr P is confident Wrestlezone stars will quickly get back up to speed as they have been keeping fit during the lockdown – in anticipation of a return.
For some that unwanted absence from the ring could even have been beneficial as it offered time not previously available for old war wounds and injuries to heal properly.
He said: “Trainin- wise in lockdown we found different ways to keep ourselves fit, so when this day did come we were not falling over ourselves trying to run the ropes.
“We have been waiting for that first day back and planning for it.
“As soon as the gyms opened, a lot of the guys were straight to the gym waiting for this very day so that we could go into the ring and get straight back into it.
“A lot of the wrestlers were hurt, most of us are always hurt somewhere.
“Lockdown was almost like rehab where we could rest and take it easy.
“We didn’t have to constantly be, for example, running on a sore ankle as there was now time to let it heal.
“It didn’t affect me personally, but I know for a lot of guys it allowed them that time to heal.”
When the music hits and you break through the curtain
The only questions surrounding future shows is when, not if, they will return.
Mr P hopes to be back wrestling in front of fans at some point this year.
For him that moment of breaking through the curtain to the roar of the crowd and the boom of his entrance music is what he is training for.
He said: “We are hoping for the return of shows this year.
“However, if everything goes to pot and the world collapses again we will just have to do it all again.
“The plan is always to come back – that is the goal.
“When the music hits, you go through the curtain with the crowd cheering on – that is what we are gunning for, that moment of breaking through the curtain.”
Importance of wrestling to young fans
For Mr P, the return of wrestling in front of fans means everything.
He realises how invested they become in the action, the characters and the storyline.
Deprived of that during lockdown, he accepts how much many will have missed that.
He said: “My thing is I punch my face.
“A moment that stands out for me is a little seven-year-old boy running up to me and going AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH – Mr P and started punching his face.
“I said ‘woah, woah stop’, but his dad said it was fine because he watches me do it.
“When a kid sees you in the ring they get invested in that – they love it and embrace it, so it is so important that we come back for them.”
Television star Grado, who features in Scots Squad, Two Doors Down and River City, also regularly performed on Wrestlezone shows prior to lockdwon.
On the first day of contact training since March last year, the small group of wrestlers eased themselves in with criss-crosses between the ropes, where two wrestlers run and rebound off the ropes with their path’s “criss crossing”.
It is an exercise in timing, rhythm, stamina and trust in the other wrestler.
They then did “sleeps” where one wrestler ran the ropes while another rolled in front of his feet, forcing him to step over.
‘Don’t be afraid to give it a shot’
Mr P did those work-outs alongside Rhys Dawkins, who has been training for four years.
Rhys said: “As well as wrestle I do various things such as the commentary for the bigger shows such as Aberdeen Anarchy and Regal Rumble.
“I started to get back into the wrestling in 2016 and saw my first Wrestlemania in a number of years and remembered how much I loved it.
“When I then heard Wrestlezone was coming to my hometown of Ellon, I went along and it was great.
“Then I discovered they also did training and decided to give it a go.
“When the lockdown was full on and we couldn’t come in at all, it was rough.
“We would keep in contact on a group chat, but now that we are opening up again hopefully we will quickly get back into the swing of it.”
After the criss-cross, sleeps and other training regimes, the wrestlers then got down to what they had been waiting so long for – contact training, although it was still not 100% return to normality as contact required the wearing of masks.
Rhys’ advice for anyone considering trying the Wrestlezone Academy: “Don’t be afraid to give it a shot, but don’t be upset if it’s not for you.
“There is no real barrier. You may think you have to be a big, strong guy but you don’t.
“You just have to be willing to put in the effort.
“Sometimes if it is not for you it is not for you, but at least you gave it a go and that is a positive in itself.”
Committed, determined and focused
Academy pupil Sam Van Else is quickly learning the ropes and is delighted to be back training.
Sam said: “I had been wanting to do this for a long time and when I did Covid messed everything up.
“I am committed to this.
“Everyone is really welcoming at Wrestlezone and no-one puts you on the spot or expects you to do anything straight away.
“Scott has been fantastic as a trainer. All the guys here are great.”
From watching these wrestlers train one thing is certain – their impressive level of commitment, work rate, sacrifice and skill are on a par with any sport.
All that hard work and focus is ultimately geared towards starring in the ring.
However, such is the sense of community and camaraderie within Wrestlezone, even if that target does not materialise they are happy to help in any way.
On working towards a first show, Sam said: “That is all down to Scott and has nothing to do with me.
“Maybe I never will, you never know.
“I might end up just taking tickets, but I would be more than happy to do that to help the organisation.”
Want to give it a go?
Anyone interested can start with Wrestlezone Academy’s four-week training induction programme.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to declare your interest.