‘Wrestling is more real than you would imagine..’

(green) Dragon Emperor and (black) Psyco Philips, Philip Edwards at ''Portsmouth wrestling school where they look to train the next generation of great British wrestlers. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings
(green) Dragon Emperor and (black) Psyco Philips, Philip Edwards at ''Portsmouth wrestling school where they look to train the next generation of great British wrestlers. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings
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Starting with 100 squats, countless press-ups and five minutes of throwing your body on to the mat, I knew that I wasn’t about to witness a normal workout.

The Portsmouth School of Wrestling is not your average gym and has been breaking down walls since opening three years ago, with its open-door policy welcoming all-comers.

The hardest part of getting started as a wrestler is stepping through the door of the training school

Wrestling promoter Andy Quildan

There has always been a stigma surrounding the wrestling industry, with claims that everything is fake and it is all predetermined.

But after being slammed on the canvas I can tell you taking a hit is not in the slightest bit fake.

Just watching these men and women perfect their craft in the ring made me break out in a sweat.

The school welcomes people with all abilities, so being a huge wrestling fan myself I was always going to step into the ring and give it a go.

But after getting slammed to the ground by a man standing 6ft 3in who goes by the name of Psycho Phillips, I sheepishly stepped out and left the hard graft to the professionals.

So what makes a wrestling gym different to any other gym?

Head trainer Andy Simmonz explains that from day one, it doesn’t matter if you are the biggest wrestling fan or a complete novice, you need to learn how to fall correctly.

Taking a ‘bump’ is one of the first wrestling lessons to learn and Mr Simmonz said: ‘If you cannot learn to fall safely than you will struggle with everything else’.

‘When two competitors step into the ring they have total trust in one another’s ability, as one slip could result in a serious injury.

‘I’m not going to pretend that things aren’t premeditated, but if the technique isn’t right then the hits can seriously hurt.’

Just looking around this small warehouse on Rodney Road, Portsmouth, it oozes passion.

Everyone here comes from a different walk of life, some are Portsmouth residents; others have travelled just to be part of this wrestling school.

Two men there when I visited gave up everything in their native Estonia just to come to the school and pursue their dream of becoming professional wrestlers.

The school was set up by wrestling promoter Andy Quildan three years ago and he said he has seen a range of people of all shapes and sizes come to sessions.

He admits: ‘The hardest part of getting started as a wrestler is stepping through the door of the training school.

‘Once you get there and you have the confidence it becomes easier because you just have fun.

‘We welcome anyone of any abilities, all shapes and sizes, male or female it doesn’t matter as long as you have a passion and drive.

‘We want to create a community of like-minded people – everyone spends a lot of time together and you find that people are open-minded to everyone’s walk of life.’

Mr Quildan also runs a wrestling promotion called Revolution Pro Wrestling, which holds events both in the city and in London, and welcomes some of the best wrestlers in the world to face off against his students.

His passion for the industry started when he was only four, watching old wrestling shows that his aunt recorded for him.

He was mesmerised by the lights and the larger-than-life characters and as he grew up wrestling evolved with him.

After getting hooked on the televised product, Mr Quildan wanted to see how he could get involved in the industry.

Going to small independent shows up and down the country, he began to get to know industry insiders, before becoming a referee.

The final progression was to book shows himself and start up the school.

‘People began to recognise me as I was that kid who was always at shows,’ continued Mr Quildan.

‘People said to me “why don’t you give wrestling a go?”, but if I’m honest I never wanted to do it because I didn’t want to get hurt.

‘After being a referee for a few years I wanted to give something back to the industry, so the school was the obvious progression.

‘It has been great being able to see the next generation of potential superstars step through that door.

‘Wrestling is a very accessible business to everyone and that is what we want to try and achieve here at the school.

‘Whether you just want to come down and just check it out, give it a try as a hobby or even push on for a career in the industry we don’t care, we just want to get people involved.’

This is something that the school prides itself on­ – that it welcomes anyone, whether they are a wrestling fan, or just want to use it as a way to get fit or as a career.

Mr Quildan wants to spread the word of the wrestling community.

Trainees will learn how to take a fall properly and safely, learn how to bring a story to life in the ring, and develop their character as well as cut a promo during the sessions at the school.

I asked Mr Quildan what his message would be to people who still say wrestling is fake.

He said: ‘Competitors have told me that every time they take a bump on the canvas it is like being involved in a car crash.

‘It is more real than anyone can imagine – the results may be pre­determined but what happens bell­-to­-bell is the most physical form of theatre you can imagine.

‘For those people who still belittle the wrestling industry I challenge them to come to one of our shows and not be entertained because I don’t think that has ever happened.’

The school runs sessions every Saturday from midday to 3pm, Sunday from 10am to 1pm, and Wednesdays from 7pm to 9.30pm.

You can see the wrestlers show off their skills at their next show where internationally-acclaimed wrestler AJ Styles will headline at Portsmouth Guildhall, on Friday, August 28.

Suzanne Dooley,

28, Fratton

Suzanne has been attending the school for just over two years and said it has really helped her with her confidence.

Suzanne, better known by her in-ring name Zan Phoenix, has suffered back problems and spinal injuries for a couple of years, but said when she steps in the ring she forgets all about it and is able to unleash her wild side.

She said: ‘I have a lot of drive to do well in this business and the school has really helped me come out of my shell.

‘The school is so welcoming and has really helped me and when I was out of action due to my back, they were really supportive saying for me not to rush back and come back when I felt comfortable.’

Suzanne is one of the only women at the school but this does not faze her as she can hold her own with the best.

Luke Patourel,

23, Milton

Luke is one of the school’s originals and has been here since it opened.

He admits he may not be in the best condition compared to some of his fellow wrestlers, but being a lifelong wrestling fan he was never going to pass up the opportunity to give it a try.

Known in the ring as the Big Bad Bull, Luke is a quietly spoken guy until he steps between the ropes.

He said: ‘I was always told the hardest part would be stepping though those doors and stepping into the ring for the first time.

‘Now I’m here I couldn’t think of a better pastime.’

Luke may be a bigger guy than some of the others at the school, but he uses this as his drive to succeed.

‘When it comes to condition I know my limits, but that has pushed me to become a better character,’ he added.

Keio Korbe,

25, Fratton

Keio has only been at the school for a few months, after he and his friend Timo Noot decided to dedicate their lives to pursuing a career in wrestling.

The pair gave up everything in their native Estonia to come to Portsmouth and follow their dream.

Keio said: ‘We just turned up one day and said I want to be a professional wrestler and Andy to us said “OK cool come on in”.

‘I had the opportunity to go into cage fighting, but you can’t develop a character and a persona like you can in wrestling.’

Even though Keio has only been a wrestling professional for a few months he has already developed his skills and believes he is well on his way to his in-ring debut.

‘I have only been here for a month, but I have already learnt so much,’ he said.

Mike Shooter,

27, Portsmouth

Mike has only been at the school for a year, having previously wrestled at another school, but wanted a change in scenery.

Mike, known as Shotgun, decided to take up wrestling after he and his brother-­in-law got sucked in by the wrestling spectacular of Wrestlemania 30.

Mike said: ‘I was always a fan as a kid, I remember watching Wrestlemania 30 and me and my brother-­in-­law thought “why not give it a go?”. I used to go to another wrestling school, but it didn’t really work out so I came down here tried out and been here ever since.’

Mike recently competed in his first match under the revolution Pro brand, gaining the pin fall victory in the main event of the show.

‘All the hard work has paid off – it’s like I have achieved the dream,’ he said.