When Tom Jones steps into the wrestling ring, he’s not just the star of the show – he’s running it.
The 29-year-old from Fareham, also known as The UK Kid, is an expert star wrestler, teacher, director and sales, publicity and merchandise manager all rolled into one.
He has his own wrestling empire, Varsity Pro Wrestling, which not only puts on regular shows at Portsmouth Guildhall but also includes a school, teaching and training the next generation of wrestlers.
His protégés come up against big name World Wrestling Entertainment superstars such as Bob Hardcore Holly, Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, who Tom flies over to the UK to appear at his Guildhall shows and act as guest trainers at his school.
Meanwhile Tom himself wrestles the world over.
He’s living a dream that many thought would never make it out of the pipe. Let’s face it, when a young boy says he wants to be a wrestler when he grows up, few would expect him to follow it through. It’s not something the schools careers advisers can help with either.
But Tom says he’s wanted to be a wrestler for as long as he can remember. When he was four or five he would watch WWF (now WWE) on Sky TV, wide-eyed at ‘the glitz and glamour, the flashing lights and the showmanship’. He would even draw pictures of himself in his imagined wrestling clothes.
When he was older, he would go to watch wrestling shows in Gosport, but they didn’t match up to his idea of what wrestling should be.
He says: ‘When I was 14, I wrote a letter to the wrestling company saying the guys I saw weren’t very good and explaining that I considered myself an expert because I’d been watching wrestling for so long.
‘They invited me to their training school and the two guys I’d seen beat me up.’
But Tom enjoyed it and he kept going back. He turned professional at the age of 16. However, his appetite still wasn’t satisfied.
‘There was no glitz, no glamour,’ he explains.
‘I would do these small shows and then go home to watch WWE on TV and think “that’s what I want”.’
Then one day, when Tom was watching his favourite wrestler – this year’s WWE Hall of Fame inductee Shawn Michaels – on TV, he glimpsed a number for a wrestling school on Michaels’ T-shirt.
So Tom got his video recorder ready for the late night repeat of the show, recorded it, re-watched it, paused it and wrote down and called the number.
He sent videos of his shows to Michaels, along with a letter explaining what he’d been doing and why wrestling was his dream. Then he waited for an answer.
Eventually he got a postcard back saying simply ‘please send five dollars for a brochure’.
Tom got his brochure and planned his trip to the States to study under Michaels, working two full-time jobs to save the money he needed.
During the day, from 5.30am to 7pm, he worked for his dad’s construction company.
Then at night he would head to the gym to train before working at Fareham bar Prague Junction from 9pm.
‘I would get home at about 3.20am, have an hour or two of sleep and then start all over again,’ remembers Tom.
He did this, six days a week for six months. Then, when he was 18, he moved to San Antonio in Texas to start his wrestling ‘apprenticeship’.
He rented an unfurnished apartment and slept on the floor for the first three months, wearing all his clothes to stay warm.
‘I was there for three years before I got a bed,’ Tom laughs.
‘When you’re really determined and you’ve got a dream and a passion, nothing gets in your way.’
He remembers: ‘The day Shawn Michaels came and shook everyone’s hands, I felt like I’d achieved some of my goals.’
Tom kept climbing, going on to study under the Head WWE trainer Dory Funk Jr in Florida and then he became a trainer himself and moved to California.
For the past four years he’s been back at home in Fareham running Varsity Pro Wrestling.
Tom explains that few wrestlers can make a living out of wrestling alone – ‘it doesn’t keep you busy enough’. Most people have ordinary day jobs as well.
Tom tried his hand at sales for Zurich in Whiteley, but he soon realised that only wrestling could make him happy. He started VPW with small shows at Horndean Technology College.
Now he regularly pulls in audiences in excess of 750 at Portsmouth Guildhall.
His shows feature WWE superstars and students from his own Varsity Pro Wrestling School of Excellence in Fratton, Portsmouth.
He’s one of the best-known and most respected names in wrestling this side of the Atlantic. He’s even in talks with ITV and Channel 4 for a television deal.
But what Tom really wants is to hit the 1,000-mark for ticket sales at his Portsmouth Guildhall shows.
‘People think wrestling shows are in dark and dingy bingo halls, but we’ve got indoor fireworks and Sky Sports personalities,’ he boasts.
Tom is looking forward to VPW’s next show on February 25. He says: ‘The night before, me and a few of the guys will stay up discussing ideas.
‘Then we’re all up very early to go to the gym, speak to the compere and stage manager, get the venue ready and transport the ring and the steel cage there.
‘Then, if there’s time, we’ll have a training session before the show. At 7pm the doors open and the excitement and adrenaline starts going.
‘I’ll be getting changed, warming up and getting into character (you are yourself with the volume turned up).
‘And while I’m doing all that, I’ll be keeping an eye on everything. There are people coming in and out keeping me posted on the progress and telling me what’s going on.
‘There’s so much hard work that people don’t see, but it’s all worth it.
‘It gives me a real sense of achievement when I step into the ring.’