It’s been 30 years since World of Sport ring announcer Kent Walton last unleashed his catchphrase, “Greetings, grapple fans!” By the 1980s, after a long reign at Saturday teatime, British wrestling was on its last legs.
Weighed down by an ageing roster of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and other tubsters able to do little but bump into each other – and dismissed by then head of ITV sport Greg Dyke as personifying “the old English working class sitting around the telly, staring blankly” – it was scrapped just as American wrestling rose to global prominence.
While it has often been on life support since, the British wrestling scene has never died out. Younger, fitter performers have adopted the razzmatazz of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), while the tribalism of British sports fans has given live shows a uniquely gritty atmosphere.
ITV’s antennae twitched, and so World of Sport has been revived for two hours of trash-talking and battles royal, including two women plucked from the female wrestling scene.
“We’ve pushed it on, and now it’s like the punk rock scene used to be,” says World of Sport’s new archvillain, Dave Mastiff. “It’s not been given the attention of the mainstream, but British wrestling is the best in the world.
Stats: Age 25, 9st 12lb, from Beaulieu, Hampshire
Is it true that you trained as a classical singer?
Yes, I started in musical theatre when I was very young. I always wanted to be on stage, and wrestling gave me a new avenue of performance. Maybe I’ll grab a mic in the ring one day…
You also competed nationally in gymnastics. Why didn’t you pursue that?
I got injured when I was a teenager. I’ve picked up the training again now, so I can do moves in the ring that most of the men could never do.
Which would mean the most to you: national gymnastics champion or World of Sport women’s champion?
World of Sport women’s champion – the first ever! My match with Viper was the first women’s singles in WoS history. It was special. Women’s wrestling is on a par with the men’s now.
Do you have any pre-match rituals?
I try to stay as calm as I can and not eat an hour before matches, because you don’t want a post-eating belly in a skimpy outfit.
Stats: Age 25, 14st 13lb, from Ayr
Nickname: The vixen of violence
Who is Viper?
Somebody you can look at and think, if she can go out there, work hard and do what she wants to do, why can’t I? Someone who encourages everybody to pursue their dreams, regardless of age, gender, size, whatever.
Who were your wrestling heroes?
I picked my name because I wanted to be like the Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin – very “smashmouth”, very anti-establishment.
What’s been your worst injury?
I’ve had a few busted noses and bloodied lips, but if I woke up and wasn’t hurting in the morning, I’d think I’d got nerve damage. So it sounds bizarre, but I welcome the pain – you’ve earned the right to hurt!
What do you eat before and after a fight?
My gimmick is about being bigger, so I don’t have to be as meticulous as some. But plenty of protein, rice, veggies, then after the match I get a dirty big pizza.
Have you had any fans’ bad reactions?
Oh yeah. People shout in my face like I’ve cursed their firstborn! But it means I’ve done my job. I’ve had women leaning over the barriers trying to pop me one, and I egg them on, winking at their husbands!