Behind the spandex: Stories of city wrestlers

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ASSUMING all goes to plan, Dr Daniel Rodgers will balance on a rope several feet off the ground, take a deep breath as he savours the roar of the crowd, then chuck himself bare chest first on to the prostrate body of a large man dressed in very small neon coloured pants.

There may be a slight crunch as bone hits bone – if so, it’ll mean that Dr Daniel may have to employ his impressive skills as an A&E medic, perhaps even on himself.

Dr Dan Rodgers. Picture: Julie Bull

Dr Dan Rodgers. Picture: Julie Bull

Certainly there will be some pretty impressive groaning and much writhing in agony, probably followed by a quick readjustment of the mask which hides his face, before an arm is triumphantly thrust in the air.

That’s the cue for pumping loud music and some major crowd hysteria – depending, of course, on how well the normally soft spoken doc and his crocked opponent have managed to whip up the audience at Southside Community Centre into a frenzy throughout an evening of no holds barred, ever so slightly over-the-top, smackdown wrestling action.

For when the house lights go down, Dr Rodgers sheds his real life medic’s scrubs for eye-wateringly snug spandex wrestling tights and becomes his Mexican high-flying, fearless alter ego El Technico, the master of the “springboard moonsault” move and one of a growing number of quite sensible people who spend their spare time immersed in the unique cross between soap opera and bloodshed that is American World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)-style wrestling.

They include 24-year-old Edinburgh University law graduate Sarah Russell, a very smart brunette with the physical strength of your typical bricklayer, who insists she really didn’t mind at all when her nose was smashed and broken during one particularly full-on bout.

And former city police officer turned IT specialist Rory Shannon from Ravelston, who at 27 is finally fulfilling a childhood dream to command the ring and pulverise his opponents just like his boyhood WWE heroes.

Already on an impressive winning streak in his rookie year, Rory – who fights as Rory Steele – will make his home town debut next Friday in what was once the sanctified surroundings of a church. There, in front of a crowd raised on the slick American heroes of WWE, the less famous but equally dedicated stars of World Wide Wrestling League (W3L for short) will worship the gods of bodyslamming, drop kicking, perhaps even headbutting, all performed, hopefully, with inch perfect precision.

For Daniel, Rory and Sarah, stepping into the ring is the antithesis of the sensible day jobs, a chance to merge the demands of a highly physical contact sport with a dollop of pantomime drama and, for a few hours at least, morph into superheroes.

“That’s what wrestling is partly about,” grins American Wrestling W3L promoter Mike Musgrave, 27, who takes his team of wrestlers on tour to town halls, community centres and caravan parks across the Central Belt. For parents with a few hundred pounds to spare, they’re even available to hire for children’s parties.

“It’s superheroes come to life,” adds Mike, 28, a 6ft 4in, 240lbs grappler who fights under the moniker Mike Musso. “You can’t see the real Superman, but you can see these guys.”

Indeed you will believe a man can fly if Daniel, aka El Technico, 5ft 11in in his Spandex and tipping the scales at around 15 stones of mostly muscle, nails his moves on the night. The flying doctor channels elements of WWE’s masked Mexican Rey Mysterio with flamboyant lucha libre style wrestling, usually sealing his victories with impressive sky dive moves like his signature springboard moonsault.

“That’s where you jump from the second rope and do a backflip then land on your opponent who is lying on the mat,” explains the 28-year-old medic, just before he leaves home in Leith for a locum night shift at a Lanarkshire A&E department.

“They are usually lying there incapacitated by whatever move you’ve just done on them, then I have to land it inch perfect.

“Generally it goes well. Unfortunately a couple of opponents have put their knees up or have moved out of the way at the wrong time. That can be sore.”

He’s broken his nose a couple of times and snapped a bone in his elbow while in the ring – proof that for all its reputation as being a bit scripted and more soap than sport, wrestling is, actually, quite physically demanding.

“It’s not choreographed or a dance routine,” insists Daniel, hooked on the sport since he first tuned in to WWE as a youngster. “It is a show, and people need to be entertained and lose themselves. It’s like going to the theatre. But it is also physically very demanding and you need a lot of skill to do it. People do get hurt and we train really hard for it.”

The pantomime element – almost every bout features a “good guy” and a “bad guy” – simply injects some good natured audience participation to what, he insists, is a sport that not only requires brute force, but lightning reactions and at least some acting ability to make each character “real”.

“Kids love it, they go along, they get to boo the bad guys – or cheer them, it all depends,” he laughs.

Like Dan, ex-cop Rory used to watch WWE legends like The Rock and Hulk Hogan as a child, dreaming of the day when he too might fly across the wrestling ring with his opponent’s head tucked under his oxter.

“I loved it but you get older and drift away from it,” he adds. “I played rugby, but when that stopped I started looking for something else to do. I got Sky Sports and began watching WWE again. It got me thinking if I didn’t try wrestling now, then I’d be too late.”

He tracked down Mike’s wrestling classes in Kirkcaldy last year and before long had morphed into Rory Steele, a “baby face”, wrestling speak for “good guy” – the baddies are “heels”.

“Wrestling is the ultimate soap opera for men,” he explains. “It’s fun to watch when it’s done properly.

“It’s this combination of sport and showmanship and theatre that you have to bring together and form a character that people want to see and enjoy. It’s quite an accomplishment to do all that properly.”

Mike, who’s currently working on plans to open a wrestling academy in Livingston where he’ll train the next breed of W3L superstars, argues many who write off wrestling as mere panto, are missing a trick.

“We’re not actors, we are definitely athletes,” he insists. “People poke fun at these men in spandex, but they just don’t understand what it really is or why it’s so popular. I learned to blank them. It’s larger than life characters, athleticism, the age-old story of good versus evil, a villain and a good guy who represents sportsmanship and fairness.

“And,” he grins, “it’s good fun.”

• World Wide Wrestling League will bring American Wrestling to Southside Community Centre on Friday, April 4. Tickets £12 (£10 conc, £35 for family of four) from www.W3Lwrestling.com, Southside Community Centre Cafe and Ripping Records. For more details, go to www.W3Lwrestling.com, follow @W3Lwrestling on Twitter or like www.facebook.com/w3lwrestling. See the wrestlers in action at www.youtube.com/user/W3Lwrestling.

Serious business when Sara Marie Taylor lays down law

WRESTLING with the complexities of the legal system is all in a day’s work for law graduate Sarah

Russell from Leith.

Once her job as a support administrator with the Children’s Reporter is done, she becomes Sara Marie Taylor, the current W3L women’s champion.

It’s the second time the 24-year-old has held the title, although Edinburgh’s Carmel Jacob will attempt to grapple it from her at Southside Community Centre.

“I’m very proud of my title,” says Sarah, whose soft voice belies the fact that her ultimate ‘finishing move’ is a glam slam – not dissimilar to being hit by a minibus loaded with the contents of Boots make-up counter.

“I was the first Scottish women’s champion – it’s nice to have something that recognises how hard the girls work.”

Indeed, she hits the gym every day for cardio and weight training, then tunes in to watch as much wrestling on television as she can.

“I was a big wrestling fan when I was little. Although it’s very male dominated, there were women on television and I thought it would be good to get involved,” she says. “I was 15 when I started. I was the only woman there, so I really had to up my game to train with the lads.”

According to promoter Mike Musso, the women are every bit as aggressive and determined as the men – sometimes more. “They very much want to be treated as equals, as they should be,” he says. “They are just as serious about it.”

Sarah says it’s the ultimate workout.

“You can get injured, I broke my nose, little things like that but it doesn’t keep me out of the ring.

“The adrenalin kicks in so it doesn’t even hurt,” she adds.

“The crowd is the main reason I do it – the reaction you get when you’re in the ring is amazing.”