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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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The wrestling Sellafield worker

HE’S suffered a dislocated elbow, a broken ankle, ligament damage, a broken hand (twice), cracked ribs and five concussions. Try telling John Mossop that wrestling isn’t real!

John, performing under the ring name of Johnny Moss, has been carving out a fearsome reputation for himself in British wrestling circles over the past decade or so.

He’s entertained thousands with his smash-mouth, hard-hitting style in the UK and abroad and even earned himself a try-out with the American big boys of TNA (Total Non-stop Action), rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kurt Angle, the Hardy Boyz and the legendary 16-time world champion Ric Flair along the way.

A far cry, indeed, from his first steps into the professional wrestling world 15 years ago; a gruelling 800-mile regular round trip from West Cumbria to Kent, through the night, to a boot camp that he hoped would put him onto the first rung of the ladder.

“I had been a fan of wrestling since I was 11,” recalls John, of Thornhill, near Egremont. “I used to love watching it on the television – World of Sport with the likes of Big Daddy and Dave ‘Fit’ Finlay who were heroes of mine.

“In 1997, I saw an advert in a magazine for Hammerlock School of Wrestling in Kent, run by Andre ‘Sledgehammer’ Baker and I decided to give it a go for a two-week summer camp.

“You would learn your basics, learning how to wrestling legitimately – in what’s called the ‘shoot’ style – before they introduce you to ‘professional’ wrestling and learning how to fall and how to fight safely without hurting yourself or your opponent.

“I took to it straight away, but the routine killed me. After the summer camp, I would return every couple of months for further training, but it would have to fit around work [at Sellafield as a mechanical fitter, where he still works].

“I would finish work on the Friday, travel overnight to Kent, train all day Saturday and Sunday, travel home overnight to be back at work on the Monday.

“It was arduous but worth it as the quality of training we got was very high.”

John’s first match came after only eight months of training; his opponent was Sheffield-based Alan Johnston on a show in Folkestone.

“I was very nervous beforehand, particularly because I was wearing a dodgy green and white suit. But the match itself was good – we went at it for a good 10 minutes – and it quickly led to a tour with that particular promotion which was intense and a great learning experience.”

And John has never looked back.

Working as an independent talent for various promotions, he has spent the intervening years as a much sought-after commodity, performing everywhere from the UK and Europe to the United States and Canada.

But a highlight came at the end of February this year when he headlined the American Wrestling show at Whitehaven Civic Hall.

“It was great to wrestle in my home town,” said John, 32. “It was sold out and everyone seemed to have a really good night.”

It was particularly special for John as he was able to form a successful tag-team with Adam ‘Tank’ Douglas, from Kells, whom John has been mentoring in the wrestling training school he runs in Seascale. Two of his other mentees – Darren Taylor and Ryan Close – were also on the bill.

“It was great for these lads to get experience in front of a crowd; they all did really well and can go far.”

But John wasn’t home for long. The week after the Whitehaven show, he jetted off to Germany for the prestigious 16-Carat Gold Tournament where he fulfilled a lifetime ambition by wrestling one of his idols, former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and World of Sport veteran, Dave Finlay.

“You can learn so much from wrestling a guy like Finlay; he’s done it all and his no-nonsense style is so intense and rugged and is similar to my own.”

Up until relatively recently, the world of ‘professional’ wrestling – as opposed to the sport of amateur Olympic-style wrestling – was a closely guarded secret.

The ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ would travel separately to shows with the performers staying in character out of the ring to further the illusion of legitimacy. It’s also been known for wrestlers to avoid going out in public to ‘sell’ an injury that they have received on television.

Nowadays, due in no small part to the internet, the wrestling business is more open, with performers publicly accepting that it’s a show rather than a sport.

“We aren’t trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes,” says John. “We wouldn’t insult anyone’s intelligence by saying that it’s real, but rather we allow people to suspend their belief for a few hours and enjoy the show.”

So wrestling may not be ‘real’ in the traditional sense, but it’s certainly not fake. The outcomes and storylines may be predetermined, but to be a successful pro wrestler requires athleticism, charisma, strength and a great deal of skill to be able to pull off the spectacle of a great match... and injuries do happen. Just ask John.

“The worst was when I broke and dislocated my elbow at the same time doing a 450-degree splash from the top rope. That required three surgeries and a year out of the ring. But injuries are part of the day job.”

The names John has encountered on his path reads like a who’s who in the wrestling world.

WrestleMania 28 – WWE’s showcase event – is right around the corner and will be headlined by a world title bout between Sheamus [the first Irish born champion in the company’s history] and Daniel Bryan. John has wrestled them both as they rose through the independent ranks.

He’s also worked with legends Mick Foley, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and Booker T, as well as current WWE stars Wade Barrett and Drew McIntyre along the way.

A major opportunity arose for John in January last year when he got an invite to a TNA live event at London’s Wembley Arena.

In front of TNA’s largest ever crowd, he fought the company’s founder and wrestling icon, Jeff Jarrett, in a try-out match.

He lost – to Jarrett’s trademark guitar shot to the head no less – but officials were impressed by what they saw.

“Jeff is such a top-notch guy and a great performer and I was pleased with the match. As for the guitar shot, I suspected he might use it and I braced myself for it – but it felt pretty real to me!

“It was great to be in a locker room with the likes of Kurt Angle, Matt and Jeff Hardy and then having a drink at the bar with Ric Flair. Quite surreal, really.”

So what does the future hold for John and the wrestling business?

“The business is always pretty strong at this time of year as WrestleMania generates a lot of interest.

“For me, last year was the busiest I have ever had and as long as the promoters keep calling me, I’ll keep doing what I love.”

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