“Me and Pete have been friends for like 10 years, thick and thin we’ve been through me and Pete”. These are the words of professional wrestler Ryan Smile, before Saturday night’s Over The Top Wrestling show at the Tivoli theatre in Dublin.
Smile is wrestling in tonight’s main event for the OTT No Limits Championship against his friend and fellow Birmingham native Pete Dunne. As he ascends to the top turnbuckle his words from earlier seem more poignant “thick and thin we’ve been through me and Pete”. He executes a picture perfect frog splash. 1…2…3… The crowd erupt. Ryan Smile is the new OTT No Limits champion.
Make no mistake about it. There is a pro wrestling revolution happening in Britain and Ireland and Dublin’s own Over The Top Wrestling is firmly at the heart of it. Their eclectic mix of entertainment, humour and top quality professional wrestling has led to several sell-out shows as well as attracting the very best independent talent from the UK, Europe and America. Saturday night’s show entitled Martina’s Gaff Party 2 (another sell out for the promotion) was no different
The first match on the card was a women’s bout between the party host herself Martina the Session Moth and Knightsbridge’s most famous daughter Jinny Couture. “I’m probably one of the most ruthless people that will step into the ring male or female” said Jinny before the show. This is not an exaggeration. Much to the chagrin of the Session Moth loving Dublin crowd, Jinny was victorious and continued to viciously beat down her opponent after the bell.
“I don’t like most people in wrestling and the reason is, is because they are at a certain level and I’m above them” Jinny explains. “I’m gonna teach them a lesson that they wont forget.”
Despite her viciousness in the ring Jinny, like most on the British and Irish scene, understands how fantastic a time this is for the industry. “Amazing, it’s wonderful, it’s nice to see that British wrestling and Irish wrestling is getting the credit that it deserves because it produces some of the best talent there is today”
It hasn’t always been like this however, especially in Ireland, as independent standout and current Ring Of Honor World Television The Villain Marty Scurll explains “Many years ago there was no scene here whatsoever, do you know what I mean, so there was pretty much no wrestling scene and only a few guys around like Joey Cabray who runs the shows obviously and Fergal Devitt and Paul Tracey kind of pulled it together so to see how the Irish scene in general was when I first started back in 04 or whenever it was, it’s quite amazing really”
Scurll is not wrong. Before promoter Joe Cabray began the Over The Top Wrestling shows in October 2014 the Irish wrestling scene had almost completely stagnated. There were companies like the once highly popular Irish Whip Wrestling and Main Stage Wrestling however none ever created as much of a buzz in the industry as OTT is now.
“There’s something extra special about OTT and I’m not just saying that because I’m here” says recent WWE UK Tournament participant and Cardiff born high flyer Mark Andrews. “It felt like the fans were so so hungry for it whereas in the UK maybe a few years ago you’d have like, and people were still incredibly loyal and loving of the sport, but they’ve almost gotten used to having their fix of pro wrestling whereas here it felt like they were still at the start of only just getting it you know what I mean, and I’m hoping tonight they’ll be just as hungry as they have been for the last year or two”
It is the hunger and passion of the fans that has allowed OTT to grow “organically” as Andrews put it, and thus in the process helped them attract bigger stars from across the globe, with the Welshman very much being one of them.
On Saturday, Andrews faced off against Englishman Mark Haskins, in what was Haskins first match back after a career threatening neck injury. The two standouts of the British scene put on an expectedly excellent high paced and hard hitting match with Haskins defeating Andrews by submission.
“I always talk about high fives and stages dives and that’s kind of what I wanna offer” Andrews told me before the match. He was recently featured heavily in WWE’s first ever UK Championship tournament, reaching the semi-finals before losing to fellow OTT wrestler Pete Dunne.
“It was the payoff from lots of hard work from multiple generations of wrestlers in the UK” smiled Andrews. “I’m glad that I’m at my age now in the position that I am now in a time where it’s getting so much buzz and so much hype”
The winner of that very tournament and first ever WWE UK champion, Tyler Bate was also a part of Saturday’s show. He and partner Angel Cruz were up against the Social Elite team of Irish veteran Paul Tracey and the universally despised but highly entertaining Charlie Sterling.
Sterling is an experienced performer at Over The Top Wrestling having appeared on over 20 shows for the promotion. “I always feel great being in the Tivoli, it’s always interesting for me personally since when I first came here I thought they were going to like me, turns out they didn’t. They hate my guts. It’s a love hate relationship. I really love them and they really hate me. No to be honest I hate them too”
Despite not picking up the victory for his team Sterling spoke pre match about how much the Irish promotion has done for his career. “Before I came here, I’ll be honest with you, I was just another wrestler on the circuit who wore trunks and boots and as much as this company has changed it’s also changed me as a person as well. I’ve adapted a gimmick, I’ve gotten a character down that really, I think, defines me as a wrestler as well and not only has it been a success here but it’s echoed everywhere else for my career which is unbelievable”
If Charlie Sterling is a OTT veteran, then ex UFC fighter Matt Riddle is very much on the opposite end of the spectrum. Saturday night’s match with Marty Scurll was the American’s debut for the promotion. “I talked to OTT, it took a little bit of time, our schedules couldn’t work out” explained Riddle “but this was the time so I’m excited to come here, I’m excited to be in Ireland, I’m excited to have fun wrestling tonight”
Riddle and Scurll have arguably the match of the night with the Villain’s surprise appearance receiving a raucous reception even by OTT standards. Watching Riddle in the ring makes it hard to believe that he has only been in the business a little over two years. After his release from the UFC, Riddle began training for a career in professional wrestling in 2014. An industry the Pennsylvania native believes he is much more suited to.
“The best part about pro wrestling is there is no real win lose or draw, if you have a great fucking match you’re a winner so in my world in my eyes this is where I should’ve been a long time ago”.
Throughout the show there are Villains, Session Moths and Bruiserweights, but the one constant at an OTT event is the crowd. Whether they are cheering or booing, the 500 or so capacity crowd will always be loud. “OTT has created this mental mental gathering” says Ryan Smile before the show. “OTT is the peak of most people’s month, people are looking forward to just when is the next show and that’s something that they’ve created here really well”
Talk to anyone involved in British and Irish wrestling and they’ll agree. OTT and Joey Cabray have created something truly special here. They are a key contributor in the renaissance of an industry that desperately needed one. A leader in a professional wrestling revolution.
As duelling “Ryan Smile”.. “Bruiserweight” chants echoed around the Tivoli during Saturday night’s main event, it feels as though you are at the epicentre of something huge. Two men who have been a part of Over The Top Wrestling since day one. Two men who have seen this promotion rise at a rate nobody thought possible. Two years four months and six days since they first wrestled in an OTT ring. “Here is your winner and new OTT No Limits Champion, Ryan Smile!”
All images courtesy of @CanvasTheory – canvastheory.com