An evening at Leeds Grapple Wrestling Club in Leeds can be best described as drama class with bruises.
As the young, eager trainees expertly slam, crash and kick each other around the ring, technique is, of course, a huge part of the sport.
But perhaps the crucial part, as is almost always pointed out by trainers at the club, is a wrestler’s body language; the way they use facial expressions and noises to truly suck the audience in and create a gripping story inside the ring.
The character aspect was, of course, a huge part of trainer and wrestler ‘Simon’s’ breakthrough in the sport, regularly donning a distinctive mask and going by the ring-name ‘El Ligero, the Mexican Sensation’.
However, amongst other members of the club, he is perhaps known more comically as the Mexican from Morley.
“As a kid I was quite plain looking,” says Simon, “so I just wanted something that would make me stand out from everyone else and so I chose the mask which I think added a bit of personality to my character.
“I’ve done a really big mixture of shows over the years, I’ve wrestled in arenas with 11,000 people while also wrestling in working men’s clubs with five people in. There’s also circuses, fields, night clubs, beaches, just a multitude of places I’ve been to wrestle.”
While the Mexican Sensation is certainly one of the sport’s biggest current stars in Britain, the club also boasts a big figure of the sport’s past in former wrestler-turned-trainer Marty Jones. Aside from overseeing all the top, upcoming talent around Leeds, the former British heavyweight champion has trained WWE stars such as former ‘King of the Ring’ William Regal and future ‘Hall of Fame’ inductee British Bulldog, giving Marty more knowledge than most on what it takes to rise to the very top of the professional wrestling tree.
With this huge wealth of knowledge and talent at the club’s helm, it certainly seems like a long time since founder, Paul Clarke, first opened the club on November 5, 2011, due to his regular training club in Sheffield suddenly having to close down.
Despite coming across as an overall friendly and welcoming man, Paul loved playing the role of the ‘bad guy’.
But while he is now as good as retired from the sport, Paul has since turned his hand into booking and promoting wrestling shows hosted around various venues in Yorkshire, including the club’s own training centre in Morley.
With many of the club’s current crop of trainees taking part, Paul has his eye on a few wrestlers who have the potential to go on to great things. And once again, it is not purely in ring ability that has marked them out from the rest.
“You can tell quite quickly which ones have that natural wrestling ability,” says Paul.
“We have one young wrestler called Jack who hasn’t even been wrestling for two years yet, but he just has that natural in-ring ability and puts a lot of commitment to his character.
“His in-ring name is ‘Jack Bandicoot’ (distinguished by the Crash Bandicoot tattoo on the back of his leg) and even when not in the ring he’s always in his character and has his own unique way of doing moves.”
With the club remaining Leeds’ only training centre for wrestlers, mixing some of the very best of the sport’s past, present and future, Grapple Wrestling is an outfit that only seems to be getting stronger.
And while many, admittedly, will find it hard to thrive as a professional wrestler, the sport’s strong mix of sport and entertainment ensures that anyone with a hint of passion and character can find a satisfying role, whether it be as a referee, ring announcer or any other ‘crazy and unique personality’, in the ‘mad world’ of wrestling.