At the Dubai Wrestling Academy, it is teamwork that makes the dream work
DUBAI // Enter the Champions Club, a modest set-up tucked away at the end of Jumeirah Lake Towers, look past the martial arts enthusiasts pounding pads or pummelling punchbags, and you will discover Lord Socrates hoisting Blue Lightning high into the air before slamming him onto the canvas.
Savage Sam watches ringside, his hulking frame draped across the ropes. Joelle stands nearby, rocking her head side-to-side, waiting impatiently to get a piece of the action. Just out of sight, Kenji Mushero, in black sweatpants and wraparound shades, is a blur of high kicks and roundhouse combinations.
Welcome to the Dubai Pro Wrestling Academy.
“For a long time, I’ve dreamed of giving more guys an opportunity to wrestle, because there’s so much talent out there,” says Caleb Hall, the academy’s American founder, and once so competent in the ring that a career in WWE beckoned. “I wanted to create something where those guys have a chance to show what they can do. Here it is.”
Its popularity is increasing.
ALSO READ: INTRODUCING THE DUBAI WRESTLING ACADEMY
Beginning little more than 12 months ago, the academy has grown to around 20 people – all lifelong wrestling fans - who train twice a week. Lately, they have been perfecting their skills ahead of Friday night’s inaugural show, where for the first time, at the same Champions Club, they will perform before a live audience. The response has far exceeded expectation. Originally slated for around 50 people, mostly comprising friends and family, Hall expects the first event to attract up to six times that.
“It’s been mind-blowing,” he says. “I’ve been getting calls left and right from newspapers, TV stations, everyone who wants to come for the show, others who want to start training. We’ll be turning people away.”
If Hall is ready, so too are his wrestlers. During the week they may answer to Rupert, Mustafa, Brennan or Gheeda. They might be marketing managers, political theory graduates, students in audio engineering or perhaps even still at school. They could come from England, New Zealand, Lebanon or the Philippines.
But step into the ring and they suddenly originate from ‘Parts Unknown’. They don face paint, cloaks and wrestling personas. On Friday, they will even offer put-downs and smack-downs in front of a baying crowd. Nerves are obvious, but wrestling is their passion.
“You’re putting your neck on the line - it shows you’re not afraid to act stupid,” says ‘Lord Socrates’, who grew up watching wrestling with his father. “I’ve been searching six years here for a club and then this came up. It’s Dubai. You’re living the dream, right?”
For a while, Hall was doing exactly that. He joined a wrestling club at 16, then was invited to Calgary, Canada, to train with the revered Hart Family, who sought to introduce a television show for wrestlers under 21. He shared accommodation with people like Tyson Kidd and the British Bulldog’s son.
Keen to share the knowledge, and now working as an estate agent in Dubai, he decided last year to set up the academy.
“People here love wrestling: WWE came just a couple of weeks ago and drew 20,000 in one weekend,” he says. “Wrestling is already big in Japan, Mexico and the United States - it needs to be big in the Middle East. There’s so much potential.”
That much is evident at the Champions Club. ‘Kenji Mushero’ has always loved wrestling, so much so that he practices with his two children, or his sister. It is certainly in the blood.
“My brother used to be my wrestling partner,” he says. “When we were younger, if he hit his head and fell down in pain, I’d just go there and pin him: 1-2-3. Now I’m getting to do it for real.”
Wrestling not only provides a chance to “live like a rock star,” Mushero says, but it allows him to slip into his alter ego, to choke out his inhibitions.
“This character is more me than I am now,” he nods. “I wish I could be more like that: cockier, over-confident, carefree. Kenji’s a second me.”
For ‘Joelle’, it means much more. Aged 17 and close to finishing high school, the Lebanese is so enthused by wrestling that she plans to make it her career. The only female participating Friday, she aims to use the academy as the intitial stepping-stone to the professional circuit.
“It’s what I do best,” Joelle says. “It’s where I feel like I belong. The ring is my second home. Some people are like ‘whatever, ha ha’, but it’s my duty to prove them all wrong.”
Lord Socrates understands the stigma attached - that wrestling is fake and therefore a con - although he prefers to let others judge.
“You either get it or you don’t,” he says.
“If you don’t get it, that’s fine. It’s intangible. You can’t really put your finger on it. I don’t know why I like wrestling.
“I just do.”
Follow us on twitter at @NatSportUAE
Updated: April 2, 2015 04:00 AM