Zaid 'Picture Perfect' Khan hopes to become Dubai's first wrestling star after trying out under the watchful eyes of William Regal and Sami Zayn.
DUBAI // The music blasts out as thousands of people scream your name.
You stand tall, flexing your muscles, taking it all in before strutting down the catwalk to the ring as fireworks flash.
That has been the dream of many a young wrestling fan in the Middle East, but that dream may soon be a reality for Zaid “Picture Perfect” Khan.
Khan, 26, a British resident of Dubai, has been training for two years to become a pro wrestler, and a few weeks ago tried out with the biggest in the business, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
“I really didn’t think it would happen but my brother kept telling me ‘be ready, they are coming to Dubai’,” he says.
“It wasn’t until I walked in and saw the ring that it actually sunk in. I was about to try out for the WWE.
“[WWE superstars] William Regal and Sami Zayn were here testing us out. It was so surreal.
“The warm-up alone was the most tiring thing ever, and the whole time I was trying not to show that I’m tired. Eight people didn’t make it through the warm-up.”
Khan, who recently completed his MBA, was up against wrestlers from across the region, and India.
“These guys had wrestled on TV in India, they had experience,” he says.
Khan was one of only 14 people to make it through the rigorous tests.
Regal told the aspiring star he was impressed with his performance.
“It has always been a far-fetched dream for me,” Khan says.
“Of all the things I wanted to do growing up, this was the hardest one to achieve.
“The big obstacle was that they are in the US and I’m always in Dubai and the UK. Just getting through the door seemed impossible.
“I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was about 3 thanks to my brother and sister. Even my mum likes to watch it. I used to imitate wrestlers like The Rock, Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart.
“I remember my dad having to take me to the girls’ section of a clothing store to get a pink vest just like Bret Hart’s.”
Khan, who grew up in Essex, England, was an athletics star in school and an amateur boxer for 10 years, winning a few national titles.
“I’m always very focused at what I do,” he says.
“I love to study it and get really into it. But through it all wrestling was always in the back of my mind.”
“Picture Perfect”, a nickname his sister came up with, is his alter-ego in the ring.
“I want to be like the Ultimate Warrior but I don’t have that build, so I’m more like Mr Perfect and Rick Rude,” Khan says.
“Besides, playing a heel is more fun.”
It was a happy coincidence that WWE star Wade Barrett decided to open a wrestling gym a few streets away from Khan’s home in the UK.
“I signed up right away and that Sunday I was doing drills and chain wrestling,” he says.
Khan’s first match was watched by only 10 people but the lack of a crowd did not make it any easier.
“I was very nervous. I was in a tag-team match and trying to stay in character. All I did in the end was tag in, do one slam and tag out again, but it felt amazing.”
Khan has since been in more than 50 matches, from one-on-ones to battles royale.
“My biggest publicity spot came when I joined with Indian wrestlers and we formed Team Perfection, where we were promoting a Middle East and Asian flavour to the sport,” he says.“We got interviewed on TV and BBC Radio, but the biggest thing was when Hulk Hogan tweeted about us and wished us luck. Loads of people started following us on Twitter after that.”
Khan should hear from the WWE in the next few weeks as to whether he can be Dubai’s first wrestling star.
“My dream is to get just one match, just to be part of the company and work with my childhood heroes.”