Wrestling fraternity pinned down by coronavirus pandemic

Continuing our series in which journalism students unearth sports stories across Yorkshire, Aidan Kerr of Leeds Beckett University looks at the sport of wrestling.

Face down: Tommy Taylor, left, from Leeds in action in a wrestling ring.

Whilst competitive sport has been given the green light to return behind closed doors in the UK, the future of the sports entertainment industry remains vulnerable.

With numerous promotional operations in Yorkshire, the region is one of the hotbeds for professional wrestling in the UK. But without the revenue from live events, performers and promoters alike are left without a revenue stream, as the majority operate on a freelance basis.

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Steven Taylor, otherwise known by his ring name Tommy Taylor, 34, is from Leeds but now resides with his family in Florida, after signing a lucrative contract with WWE in 2007. Having begun his wrestling training at a gym in Stanningley in 2002, Taylor got his big break just five years later.

A Classic UK Pro Wrestling show in Leeds

“Back in 2002, I was extremely lucky to have consistent shows to be able to pay my way and eventually make a solid living. I couldn’t imagine how much aspiring wrestlers today are struggling,” said Taylor.

“It takes dedication and opportunity to be successful and without the opportunity, this formula can’t work.

“When I decided to become a wrestler, I knew what it took and understood the sacrifices. It was my responsibility to create opportunities.

“Even during these uncertain times, there will always be a reason to keep fighting.”

Leeds-born Tommy Taylor

Despite being able to make a good living from his passion, Taylor maintains that the British wrestling industry has always been vulnerable, irrespective of a global pandemic.

“The British wrestling scene is absolutely at risk,” said Taylor.

“During normal times, the British professional wrestling industry is such a gamble, for the performers and the promoters. The scene has always experienced uncertain times but there will always be dedicated wrestling fans waiting for that next live event. It will just take time.”

It is this dedication that Taylor believes will ensure wrestling fans still have shows to attend when it is safe to do so.

“As long as the performers and promotions work together, anything is possible. Staying relevant is so important.”

Despite performers like Taylor being pivotal to the independent wrestling scene, countless promotions in Yorkshire are desperately trying to stay afloat in such unprecedented circumstances.

Classic UK Pro Wrestling has been a cornerstone of the scene since being founded by Adam Bowler in 2018.

The promotion regularly operates across Leeds at The New Moorside Club, St Chads Parish Centre and Harehills Working Men’s Club. Bowler estimates that 40 per cent of his performers are from Leeds.

“The whole industry is finding it hard trying to keep their promotion around,” said Bowler. “For most promotions, it’s about making money to survive. It is also about giving the fan entertainment, helping others mentally and integrating teamwork.”

In the meantime, Bowler has been relying simply on DVD sales from previous shows to stay afloat and will soon be releasing a DVD with all profits going to St James University Hospital.

Although admitting that most promotions could be at risk of collapsing as a result of Covid-19, Bowler remains hopeful for the future of the industry locally.

He said: “There will be a boom with everyone wanting to run shows again. Wrestlers want to get in the ring and put on a show.”

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