Some of the protagonists at The Cockpit theatre’s monthly wrestling bouts tell their stories

Interviews: Jean-Paul Aubin-Parvu
Images: Orlando Gili

The Journal visited one of The Cockpit theatre’s wrestling bouts to experience first-hand the kinetic thrills of this highly popular monthly event. You can read our reporter’s entertaining take on the evening here, while below some of the key people involved tell their side of the story.

“Wrestling’s more real than you think”—Andy Quildan, promoter and the founder of Revolution Pro Wrestling (pictured above)
I have been a wrestling fan since the age of four. My aunt had satellite TV and used to record the wrestling for the boy who lived next door. I was kicking up a fuss one afternoon, so my aunt stuck on a tape. I was instantly captivated by the characters, the bright lights, the theatrics—just everything. Wrestling is such a sensory form of entertainment.

As I got older, I did everything I could to be around wrestling. I started going to the shows and would hang around afterwards asking if there was anything I could do to help, breaking down rings for example, and just becoming part of the scene. I became a referee, then a booker and eventually a promoter. Then, in 2012, Revolution Pro Wrestling was born, and it’s just grown and grown. We regularly sell out the 1,200 capacity York Hall in Bethnal Green and have just done the Planet Ice Arena in Milton Keynes in front of 3,000 fans.

Zan Phoenix

Zan Phoenix

We run shows monthly at The Cockpit, which is a unique venue. We number each show—tonight is Cockpit 34—and the same group of fans come month in, month out. They range from young families right up to OAPs, but the majority are probably aged between 20 and 35. We always try to make everyone feel happy to be here and feel part of the crowd. There’s a real sense of belonging, very similar to the bond that exists between fans at non-league football clubs. That’s the beauty of independent wrestling.

People always say that wrestling’s fake, but it’s more real than you’d ever think. The wrestlers train extremely hard to be where they are, and when you get hit, it hurts. Sure, they practice how to land safely, but when you’re getting slammed down onto the mat, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained and how much you spread your body weight, it’s still painful. Wrestling is very physical and it’s very real. It’s hard to explain. We always say: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no explanation is good enough.” We just want people to suspend their disbelief and have some fun.

“I come out drained and aching, but still want more”—Zan Phoenix, wrestler
I suffered a back injury playing hockey and thought I’d never be able to wrestle. But then I spoke to a trainer at the wrestling school, who told me to come down and try a few back bumps to see how my back felt. So I did and, touch wood, I’ve never had any problems. Getting back into contact sports was an amazing thing for me.

I am so pleased with how far I’ve come. I was the first woman to wrestle in Rev Pro, so took part in the first inter-gender match and then the first all-female match. Coming onto the Cockpit shows is a massive achievement for me as well.

Gino ‘Mr Juicy’ Gambino

Gino ‘Mr Juicy’ Gambino

I still get quite nervous before a bout. You have all that adrenaline and then your body goes through a lot in the ring, so I am exhausted afterwards. I come out absolutely drained and aching, but wanting more—always wanting more.

“I like challenging ideas about fatter people”—Gino ‘Mr Juicy’ Gambino, wrestler
I’m from Melbourne, and have just done a one-month tour of the UK and Ireland. Wrestling has taken me to some pretty cool places. I’ve been out to Japan, where I did a show in front of 65,000 people at the Tokyo Dome. That was amazing. I remember getting the email late October telling me that I’d be on the bill. I sat on my couch crying. And then I drove to Kmart to buy some underwear and I sat in the car and cried because I was just so happy that I’d achieved something so wonderful. Over there, they treat wrestlers like superstars, just like we would treat Cristiano Ronaldo. I think each country sees wrestlers a bit differently, but the Japanese definitely see us as sportsmen, which is awesome.

I like changing people’s idea of what a heavier person can do. They don’t expect too much. You see a larger, fatter person in public and you’re like: “Oh yeah, you’re just lazy.” And I like to change their minds about what wrestling is and what we do. Training-wise, there’s a lot of lifting. It is pretty much simple lifting. You lift things and you put them back down, none of this lifting a kettle bell with your foot while doing a chin up. One day I will probably have to lose weight just to help me get around, because my hips are shot. But for the time being, I’m enjoying it a lot.

‘The Anarchist’ James Castle

‘The Anarchist’ James Castle

“My name represents what I stand for”—‘The Anarchist’ James Castle, wrestler
I’m a huge comic book nerd and wanted to take a name that would represent what I stand for. There’s a Marvel character called ‘The Punisher’ Frank Castle, who is kind of an antihero—he does what he needs to do to get where he wants to be—so I’ve taken on that format, and The Anarchist leans towards my political ideals. Crass are one of my favourite bands of all time, but I’m also a big fan of Discharge, Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash.

I was a big wrestling fan as a kid. Then during my teens, I fell in with a group of mates and ended up drinking, partying and all the rest of it until it got a little bit out of hand about seven or eight years ago. I stopped drinking, started going to the gym and decided that now would be the perfect time to chase my dream.

I was at an outdoor arena show over in Italy about a year ago when a wrestler who wasn’t meant to be there showed up in all his gear, jumped into the ring and attacked one of the guys in the show. He ended up chasing him around the crowd and then backstage. Apparently, he’d heard that this particular kid has been badmouthing him, so he turned up to fight him. It was all totally genuine, but he showed up in all his wrestling gear! That was a surreal moment.

“The crowd hates me; I love it”—Chris Roberts, match referee
Refereeing eight matches over the course of two and a half hours is a very long, intense evening. There’s a lot of running around, a lot of up and down, and I’m absolutely knackered by the end. My role is to protect the guys and girls in the ring. They are going to get beat up, there’s going to be wear and tear, but my biggest responsibility is making sure that nobody gets seriously injured.

Jamie Hayter

Jamie Hayter

I get abuse from some of the wrestlers and also from the crowd, with endless chants of “Do your job, Roberts”. This crowd hates me, and I even get abuse when I’m coming into the building. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I absolutely love it.

I’ve been hit with chairs, put through tables, punched, kicked, absolutely everything you could possibly imagine. I’ve had more than one wrestler vomit on me in the ring. And once upon a time, many years ago, I had a wrestler soil himself during the match. That’s about as weird as it gets.

“I broke both my elbows on Mother’s Day”—Jamie Hayter, wrestler
As a kid I was obsessed with wrestling and would watch it all the time. I decided that when I grew up, I wanted to be either a stuntwoman or a wrestler. And here I am today.

Wrestling is extremely universal. Long gone are the days where a wrestler had to be a big, steroid-ed guy. There’s a mix of different physiques, sizes and heights. If you have the heart, passion and commitment, anyone can be a wrestler.

I actually broke both of my elbows at the beginning of the year during a match in my home town of Southampton. It happened on Mother’s Day. I couldn’t move my arms and as soon as I got home, I was like: “Mum, I need to go to the hospital.”

The fans are great. We interact with them online and when we’re selling merch after a show they’ll come up for a chat. We’re all here because we love wrestling. It’s a mutual thing that we all have in common.