The Ballance Sheet #5 : Grappling In The Granite City

bbLast Saturday, I had the privilege of being part of a terrific show in Aberdeen, Scotland, and wrestling in front of the biggest crowd I’ve ever worked in front of; an astounding 1,103 people packed out the Beach Ballroom, and were loud and lively all evening long, celebrating the fifth anniversary of Wrestlezone.

I’ve done shows in front of big audiences before, but this one felt that little bit more special. Knowing the Wrestlezone crew as I have for the past four years- and the hard work they put into growing their promotion- I was delighted to witness the fruits of their labour for myself, up close and personal, and the phenomenal success of their big night. 

I first worked for Wrestlezone back in 2009, and my relationship with them since then has continued strongly- even in spite of the unreasonable amount of back-rakes I’ve inflicted upon certain members of their roster! I was really pleased, so, to get the chance to share in the celebration of their five year anniversary.

The lads had told me a few years before that one of their goals was to run a show in the Beach Ballroom, so I was quite excited to arrive on Saturday afternoon to see the place decked out and ready to go. Professional lighting, barricades, an entrance way, and every single ticket sold. This was gonna be good…

I haven’t seen this in many other places, but one thing I enjoy a lot about the WZ experience is the fact that they take time to have a quick meeting with everyone beforehand, and run through the plan for the show. Not only does it convey the necessary information concisely to all who need it, but it also acts as a sort-of dressing room “team talk”, like you would get in football or rugby, or what have you. It underscores the fact that we- all of us- are a team, putting on this show together, and that feeling is palpable.

More often than not, over the years, I’ve done shows where teamwork has been lacking. One show in 2011, was especially poor. Lacking any sort of direction from the organisers, everyone did what they wanted, and the show was a disjointed mess. It ran to over three hours in length, as guys massively exceeded their allotted time, and packed their matches with more false finishes than a Rock/Austin WrestleMania match. (The key difference being that people actually cared what happened in the Rock/Austin matches.) With Wrestlezone, the guys ‘get it’, which is hugely refreshing. They know their roles on the card, and what their match is intended to do. That sense of teamwork does make for a better show, in my opinion, and for greater camaraderie.

A meet & greet for VIP ticketholders took place at 5pm, and was nicely attended. It was great to meet the fans, sign stuff, pose for pics (and flog some of my crappy merchandise!). Along with that, it was cool to see the level of demand for the show’s two headlining guests, Billy Gunn and ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan. I was a mere eight years old when ‘Hacksaw’ was a regular feature of WWF programming- as it then was. I’ve met other wrestlers who were active in my childhood- like ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase, Virgil, and Tatanka- and it’s always surreal, no matter how many times it happens- I had action figures of these guys about twenty years ago! ‘Hacksaw’, like the other guys, was an absolute gent, and I got the chance to actually see his match later on the show, and it was extremely fun to watch. The crowd loved it.

Weeks before, when I’d heard what my own match was gonna be, I was really hoping that I’d get the ‘opener’ spot. I was very pleased to learn that that’s exactly what I had, and I’d be opening the show with Stevie Xavier.

Showtime drew nearer, and the nerves kicked in a little bit. How could they not? As comfortable as I am when I get into the ring and kick off a match, I always get butterflies of varying degrees before I go out, and Saturday was no different. Once my music hit, though, it all went away. The forty seconds of intro helped get me psyched up, and by the time the track had built to its fervent, explosive beginning, I was dying to get out there.

The match itself was tremendous fun, in spite of feeling myself sizzling under the spotlights. The heat was incredible, and unbelievably energy-sapping. I had a (very manly) layer of fake tan on- had I not, I’d say I would have been as red as a lobster by the time our fifteen minute match had concluded. I’ve wrestled under lights like this before- and in a sweltering marquee during the height of summer last year- but this was infinitely tougher; particularly since Stevie & I are both high-flyers, both babyfaces, and expectations were high for a fast-paced match between the two of us. Thankfully, we made it through, the match was really enjoyable, all the risky stuff came off without a hitch (or botch), and was received well by the fans in attendance, who were very vocal and responsive. The crowd was fantastic, and it was such an amazing buzz to work in front of an audience of that size. Truly, an unforgettable experience.

I got to the back, afterwards, chatted with Stevie, and went to get some air. I was sweating buckets, and actually steaming. Literally, steam was coming off me! I don’t think I stopped sweating until three matches later on the card (by which point, I resembled some sort of unsightly raisin/human hybrid.) This is the glamorous side of wrestling you never see, folks…

Working the opener allowed me to watch most of the rest of the show, too, which was good fun. Managed to watch the majority of the Hacksaw match and Duggan, Shaun Johnson & Bryan Tucker vs. James Midas, Aspen Faith and Scott Maverick-after my river of sweat had ceased to be a health & safety hazard.

What struck me most about the show was how it had gone beyond the scope of simply being a ‘wrestling event’, and had become a ‘town event.’ The Lord Mayor of Aberdeen was in attendance, City Councillor (and former World of Sport star) Len Ironside- really nice guy- was special enforcer in the main event, Evening Standard reporter- and Aberdonian- Ross McTavish was in a tag match with Scotty Swift and Sterling Oil, and local restaurants had themed burgers named after Billy Gunn and ‘Hacksaw’!

I mentioned the negative stereotypes that wrestling is still associated with in my first article for this site, but this is not the case in Aberdeen. This is a town that has embraced wrestling. In an era where everyone knows the inner workings of ‘the business’, and the lines between shoot, work, and worked shoot are so often and easily blurred, it is refreshing to wrestle for an audience that just allow themselves to sit back, enjoy and invest in the storylines and matches. They care, and the shows affect them. When Bryan Tucker- a beloved underdog who had not won a match in almost two years- captured the Undisputed Championship, people in the audience were actually crying! How often do you get that? How rare is that?

This is one of many, many reasons why I love wrestling in Aberdeen, for Wrestlezone:  what you do actually makes an impact on the audience. They’re invested, they’re engaged and, most importantly, they’re entertained.

Saturday was the culmination of years of hard work by the Wrestlezone crew, and I literally could not be happier with how successful it went for them. It was an outstanding night, and not one that I’m likely to forget, myself, anytime soon.

Gary “Bingo” Ballance

Photograph courtesy of Brianbat Photography.

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