Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Not quite WWE, no John Cena or The Rock here, but Dubai Pro Wrestling has ‘a real plan’ to make it big

DUBAI // From the waist up, the Abu Dhabi-based schoolteacher might have been mistaken for an exiled Brexiteer with a message to convey. “Keep calm and tap out,” read the message on his blue singlet.

Then factor in the rest of his get up. Blue Lycra shorts, knee-high boots, elbow pads. He has entry music borrowed from Oasis, and the stage presence of a pantomime Dwayne Johnson.

At 1.92m and 114 kgs, Rich ’N’ Famous towered above his opponent, a 22-year-old Emirati with the stage name Cryptid, whose lizard-like signature moves reference the real-life hooded dragon he keeps as a pet, and has at ringside during matches.

Welcome to the surreal world of Dubai Pro Wrestling.

“There is no other feeling like it,” Rich ’N’ Famous said. “Hitting the canvas hurts like hell. In rugby, you might go down but it balances itself out.

“The ring takes out the damage, but it still stings. But anyone who wants to do it should do it. It is like nothing else you will ever do.”

He could not have a much more different alter ego. As a teacher at Yasmina School in the capital, Richard Whitehouse, 33, is responsible for shaping the minds of the next generation.

His Friday nights, by contrast, are pure escapism. He spends them delivering piledrivers and suplexes on fellow members of the UAE’s pro wrestling community, while whipping whatever crowd might assemble beside the ring into a fervour.

And the squared circle does attract plenty of passing traffic at Dubai Sports World. Placed between a badminton court and a cricket net, next to a seven-a-side football pitch in a makeshift sports hall in Dubai World Trade Centre, it is a source of intrigue for the neighbours.

This is some way short of WrestleMania, and the participants are a little less recognisable than John Cena or The Rock.

It is wrestling’s “pro” version, rather than the competitive Olympic sport, which tends to be more about the show than competitive distinction.

Pro does not infer payment. The wrestlers do not earn a fee, as yet. In fact, they are only sustaining it as it is their passion, but there are plans to increase its presence.

“It is really big in Mexico, US and Japan, and it has the potential to be here, too,” said Caleb Hall, Dubai Pro Wrestling’s founder and “hero trainer”.

“There are loads of people here that watch wrestling every week. Everyone knows John Cena, Roman Reigns, The Rock, and these guys. But kids in Egypt or Jordan or Lebanon don’t have wrestlers they can watch every week and say, ‘That’s my guy’.

“When we get our TV show and we are playing in Lebanon, India, Egypt, Pakistan, we’ll have wrestlers from all those places. So kids will be able to say, ‘That’s Raj, he’s my favourite wrestler, I want to be just like him’.”

Having Rich ’N’ Famous on board since his arrival last September will certainly help. He has performed in front of audiences thousands of times in the past, during a 14-year career which started when he was 19.

Whitehouse is happy to be a role model in UAE wrestling, as well as his day job.

“I’ve been involved in so many things back at home where they have promised a lot but delivered very little,” he said.

“With this, there is a real plan moving forward and it is exciting to be a part of.”

He can even share some tips on tailors. His costumes are made by a seamstress in the UK, while a teaching colleague in Abu Dhabi who is a textiles expert has also offered to help out the wrestlers.

“It helps improve the image,” said Whitehouse, who also played rugby to county level in the UK as a tight-head prop.

“It is one thing that helps me stand out – I have got my kit. The other lads have got bits and pieces, but they are still building their image. I’m happy to help them out.”

On Friday nights from 10pm, the collection of wrestlers compete in bouts. At the end of the summer, a Dubai Pro Wrestling World League Championship winner will be crowned.

Rich ’N’ Famous is one win better off after beating Cryptid this weekend, but the vanquished Emirati said he is still living out his ambition.

“It is my dream to wrestle,” said Cryptid, real name Hammad Mohammed, who works in the aviation industry.

“When I was a kid, every morning I would wrestle my pillow. I’d watch wrestling, then wrestle my pillow.

“One day I went to my gym. I heard some screams, I heard a ring rattling. I saw them wrestling and I went to the coach and told him I was joining their next class.

“It felt like one of my dreams becoming a reality and I didn’t want to let this opportunity pass.

“It feels amazing when the people cheer. If we can hear their emotions, it makes us want to do our best for them and put on a show for them. It is all about the people. If they enjoy it, we enjoy our wrestling.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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Updated: June 26, 2016 04:00 AM

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