Damian O’Connor is a veteran of 11 years in the wrestling business, yet for the last 2 of those years he’s been almost unrecognisable to the man he was before. When a wrestler starts out, they have a blank canvas in which to paint the character they want to portray, and the type of wrestler they want to be. Endless possibilities lie ahead. It’s an entirely different matter when a man who’s already been involved in wrestling for a decade decides to re-invent himself. Radical thinking, but it was a decision the big man made, knowing that he had the tools to make it work. A complete image overhaul. Before all that there was sacrifice. Leaving home and moving to Scotland to pursue the dream, but when asked if it was a difficult decision, Damo saw the bigger picture even from a young age. Although the standard of training back then still left a lot to be desired.
“It wasn’t difficult as I was mentally prepared to go. It was hard to be away from friends and family but I was determined to go. The standard of training was awful. They were mostly good people but they had no experience themselves. Maybe only in wrestling for 2 or 3 years and they should have been working on their own careers not trying to nurture others. A few of us wanted to improve but we weren’t going to get far in the climate that we were in. It took us longer to understand why we weren’t very good. It was the likes of Johnny Moss, Paul Tracey and Fergal Devitt who came in and made us realise we weren’t at a high standard at all.”
When reflecting on his debut match, he revealed perhaps a surprising fact. It was in a tag match with the world-famous Dunbar brothers. One of whom has gone on to be someone you might have heard of (him aff the tele n that, pals with Colt Cabana…that guy)…
“I was convinced I was ready but more because the lads already on the shows were awful. Looking back, although I was better than them, I still wasn’t very good. It was about a year and a bit. I debuted against Glen Dunbar and Grant Dunbar (aka Grado) on an SWA show. I was very lean at this point as I was mad into my running. I had a bit of an obsession at the time to be the fittest guy in the school. Which at that point I was by a country mile”
So when did the focus change from fitness to thickness? When did Damo the mortal become Damo the beast?
“My goal to be this size came a lot later but I realised at the end of 2005 I was doing too much cardio and I started winding it down. I was doing 2 hours cardio per day at that point and my body fat was at 11 %. I started getting a bit more educated about weight training and importance of diet. It still took a while but around 2009 I started getting results. I was maybe 15 or 16 stone. Still not close to where i wanted but my strength was getting bigger and I was developing my back and shoulder muscles.
In about 2012 I was around 18 stone maybe 19. My strength was getting through the roof and I’d started different types of lifting. I’d moved into Olympic and strongman and never really looked back. I never had a specific goal. It was always just to look better. I had a bit of misfortune with injuries which are common place in wrestling and at times I’ve been heavier than I wanted to be, but I’ve never stopped training and kept my agility. I still do box jumps as part of my training and can still jump pretty high haha.
With the hair and beard it was always a bit of a fantasy. I have thick hair and it always pissed me off after a while. I shaved it all off April 2013 and noticed it was thinning slightly so if I wanted to have long hair I had to grow it now or never. That was the motivation there really. The beard always itches at a certain level of growth but this one time (September 2013 onward) it didn’t itch. So I let it grow and Billy Kirkwood named me the Beast of Belfast and I loved it so much I kept growing it all. Also meant I didn’t have to shave my body hair anymore which was marvellous”
Perhaps the evolution of Damo was temporarily halted due to selflessness. When the Source Wrestling School losing many of his main trainers, Damo stepped in and sort of stumbled into a role with SWA and Source that saw him wrestle, train and promote shows. A heavy workload for anyone, but not one Damo regrets taking on.
“I think it was 2008 when I started taking classes. A few of the coaches at Area 52 (SWA school) all started leaving for a variety of reasons and they needed someone to take a class. I took one and eventually was taking all the classes as no one else wanted to!
I originally came on board as a promoter with a fellow wrestler Micken who was trying to get After Hours off the ground and carry on Source, which were small scale trainee shows. He had a major job offer abroad and would have been mad not to take it which left me in charge of the two. Almost by proxy I ended up in charge of SWA as well. Which was massive overload as I was also balancing the school and a full time job.
I really should have said no but I had a feeling that it would die if I didn’t. There were a lot of young talents kicking around (Nikki Storm, Joe Coffey, Jackie Polo, Viper, a very young Lewis Girvan and many others) and I genuinely felt I couldn’t let this die.
I made probably every mistake possible and fell out with plenty of the lads doing so, but I also had some great help from the likes of Jam O’Malley, Glen Dunbar and Scott Renwick. People who were there when I needed them”
Indeed Jam has been there and seen it all when it comes to Damo. The two becoming good pals over the years having met when Damo first came to Scotland to further his wrestling education. Jam now handles a lot of the responsibilities Damo had with SWA as Damo focusses more of his energy on his own career. Jam had kind words for Damo, knowing from the very start that Damo had what it takes to go far in wrestling.
“I met Damo in April of 2004 and I believe he had started training at Area 52 in linwood a week before I started. We always got along well I could tell that of all the guys I was training at the time he was the most determined. He was very competitive and of all the guys training at that point both he and Chris Renfrew showed the most determination they just wanted it more then the lads who where training alongside us at the time. I knew that if given the opportunity Damo could be one of the main guys in Scottish wrestling. However years before Damo could focus on his own career as fate would have it the lad in charge of SWA and the training school at the time had lost interest in wrestling and was moving on to do other things. If it wasn’t for Damo taking it over and starting the Source Wrestling School we might not have some of the great talent that you see today in SWA and ICW and all over uk for that matter. If it wasn’t for Damo there would be no SWA today so I will always be thankful for all he did for both SWA and Source.
Its good Damo getting some of the recognition he deserves these days for his hard work and effort he has put in for himself but also for time and effort he has put in to helping others as well”
Whilst it’s not something Damo seen as a burden, there’s no doubt the extra responsibility was a factor in him putting his own career on the back burner for a while. A fact that Damo acknowledges, detailing how it was words from Fergal Devitt that made him refocus, and began the transformation that has seen him become a sought after talent across the UK.
“I think I accidentally put my own career on the back burner because of the success of the school and shows. A lot of my day was spent on both. I never sent out cvs or approached promoters for work. I largely just let them come to me, which was the wrong attitude.
I opened a new school in Govan, moving on from the old guard from before. I started working with John the Bomb who felt we could do something good in his home town of Motherwell. We were bringing in some big names to the school and the trainees were benefiting massively. The Zero 1 association came together. Joe and Mark got out to Z1 Japan. Nikki went out to JWP in Japan as well.
WWE tryouts started coming in at that time too. The shows started drawing well. The in ring product was starting to come together. It was hard not to get swept away a little bit because I was seeing hard work pay off on that aspect, but there was a part of me that knew this wasn’t what I wanted and certainly wasn’t what I got into wrestling to do.
Devitt had said to me a while beforehand, I think I still have the email, that I needed to worry more about myself. It took me maybe a year to fully appreciate that advice and a further year to implement it.
Then Mikey Whiplash came on board and the school had a phenomenal new coach for the trainees to learn from every week.”
Whilst Damo has at times sacrificed his own progress for the benefit of others, he admits he has not been doing it for nothing. Working hard to carve out a full-time career from wrestling, allowing him to fully commit to his own career when the time came.
“I don’t think it was a personal sacrifice. End of the day I wasn’t doing it for free haha! I’m just happy that I made the right decisions with the guests we brought in and they were able to adopt the methodologies I brought to the table and adapt it to suit them and then go off and get success elsewhere. I couldn’t be prouder of any of them who do that because I can safely say they worked hard for it and earned the success that follows”
Damo taking over at SWA co-incided with Kid Fite opening the PBW Academy, and Damo spoke a bit about the competition between the two school. Both implementing their own methods and producing wrestlers competing for the same spots.
“Absolutely. The competition is probably the reason why both schools were churning out quality talents. I know it certainly encouraged me to bring in more guests and encourage the lads to train more than once a week because I wanted our lads to have an advantage over other talents nationwide. I’m sure having competition helped Ross in a similar way”
A fact that Ross Watson (that’s Kid Fite’s real name btw, accomplished actor, he wis in River City before Grado mate, and Filth anaw) also acknowledges. Telling us how he has been impressed by the impact Damo has made, and detailing some of the challenges that come with having a hand in all areas of the business
“Damo’s transformation over the past two years has been incredible. He now has a look that no other wrestler in Scotland has. I remember going to a tribute show in Coatbridge in my early teens and the one wrestler who stood out to me was the late great Drew McDonald. The reason for that was because he looked like a bad ass. I said to my mate that I would defo go back to a show if he was on it. Damo now has that same appeal. Fans will go home and talk about a show they have just been at, they will have seen 10-15 wrestlers on the night many of whom look the same if these fans aren’t clued up. One guy who will have stood out is the big bad ass from Belfast’
The PBW Academy and Source are the two most established schools in Scotland. Sure back in the day when everyone was hungry for Scottish Wrestling to take off there was an aspect of rivalry and it times snide comments. I can imagine much like two football teams both training in the same city. As time went on everyone realized that we all wanted the same thing, for Scottish Wrestling to become as big as possible. I would say that the relationship is now stronger than ever. Obviously with regards to booking young talent, Damo has to look out for his lads and I have to look out for mine. That doesn’t mean we don’t throw each others lads a chance every now and then. Kenny Williams recently done a few for SWA and I just had Massimo Italiano on my Maybole show over the weekend for example.
As for having a hand in all aspects of the business. There are lots of things I could talk about. Many times a wrestler will be moaning to me about promoter A being a ‘dick’ to him. I nod, hear them out and try to advise them best I can. Sometime though I just want to say, you are thinking about this from one angle, the angle that would suit you best. I can see both sides of the coin as I know where the promoters coming from as well. Because this wrestler has no experience running shows, not always but on occasion he may lack knowledge on how the business side works. He doesn’t realize that if the promoter books him for his upcoming show he will have to book someone for him to work thus adding another match to the card which may not be needed. This means another two wages, two guys wanting their merch out and more excess. Promoters often get made out to be the bad guys because they simply said no to a wrestler. Wrestlers often hit out with the line ‘I am trying to make a living as this is now my full time job’ Fair enough but perhaps the promoter is trying to make a living as well and that may be his only show that month.
The flip side is as a wrestler I know when a promoter is being straight up with me as I see it from both sides but I can also spot bullshit a lot easier than some of the lads”
Fito went on to detail the difficulties that come with being a promoter with a school. Having to balance prioritising the school’s own trainees who have earned the chance to work on shows, whilst also putting the best product out there that he can. Hinting that perhaps Damo might be making an impact on the PBW roster sooner rather than later. His uniqueness and probable ability to tear you in half being the main factors that set him apart from the rest.
“Another thing that can be hard is when I am at a show as a performer. Some wrestler will ask me about work for PBW or on the camps. I have no problems with them on a personal level and think they are more than capable in the ring but have to explain I have my guys that have been working for me for years. I also have 3 schools with an average of 70 students training every Sunday. If they work hard and do well it is my responsibility to get them their chances on shows. Time and time again I can tell folk take it personal when I explain this to them and I wish they wouldn’t as it’s not. What it all comes down to is there is never going to be enough space to have everyone on a show who asks. It is up to the wrestler to look out the box and think how he can change that and the answer is bring something to the table that isn’t already there. That brings me back to Damo. I have an established roster and 70 plus students but not one guy has that look…”
It’s a look that has led Damo to become coveted on both sides of the border. Now the holder of the Pride Heavyweight Title thanks to a win over Jackie Polo in the belter of a main event at their recent We Aim To Misbehave…Again show, it seems like a matter of time before Damo becomes one of they wrestlers that needs one suitcase for gear and another for all the belts he needs to carry about. Basically a Drew Galloway/Grizzly Bear hybrid. Aiming to become the top guy in promotions across Europe.
“There were companies I wanted to work for. Of course. I have worked for around 50 companies over the course of my career. Some great, some small. In Independent wrestling you need to work for the very best. For me ICW, Rev Pro, Progress and WXW in Germany were top of the list. I like the style of wrestling and felt my style could fit in with these companies. I liked a lot of the talent being used in these companies and I wanted to wrestle against them. My mission was to break bread in these companies. I did exactly that. Now my mission is to be the Heavyweight Champion in each of them”
Recent matches in these promotions have cemented Damo as one of the top performers in the UK at the moment. The three match series with Dave Mastiff in ICW a particular highlight, whilst the heavyweight war with NJPWs Tomohiro Ishii was one of the best matches seen in the UK this year; A thunderous superplex from Ishii on Damo a breathtaking highlight of the contest. Marquee matches like that have given Damo opportunities not afforded to the majority of performers in the country. Opportunities earned by his performance levels when it matters most. Leading to Damo taking his place in some of the biggest matches in the country this year. His upcoming match with Shinsuke Nakamura at Rev Pro will be a defining career moment, whilst the ICW Title match against Drew Galloway placed him at the very thick of it at the top end of the company. Attention that Damo admits will have him on the radar of companies abroad.
“I’ve said this before but realistically I would go and wrestle abroad if it meant a better living than I already have. That is the most important part. However, I’d imagine I’m on the radar worldwide already due to my size/look. But wrestling against the best performers in the world will show everyone how good I am.
Nakamura is an amazing talent. I could wax lyrical about him all day, he’s known as one of the top in the world but truth be told he’s going to have to be on the top of his game to beat me. I’m not going to roll over because of his reputation, reputation doesn’t win matches.
Dave is an extraordinary talent. When we wrestled in October it was the first time we had ever tangled. I loved that atmosphere because the Birmingham crowd was 99% behind him. By the end they were behind me. They appreciated the war we went through. Dave did not see the Van Damo Nator coming.
I let my guard down in the rematch and he punished me for it. He had me well scouted. His experienced shone through and it was obvious he learned from our first fight.
I was desperate to rectify that in match 3. He was desperate to get the win also. To sweeten the pot the ICW World Heavyweight Number 1 contendership was on the line.
He stopped me hitting the Van Damo Nator. I couldn’t get close after multiple attempts, so I had to get very creative to put him away. I would wrestle him again any time. I respect him. In fact, we would make a hell of a team”
Another match Damo is looking forward to with relish is another match against one of the more unconventional wrestlers of the current generation. Recent WWE signee and former TNA World Champion Samoa Joe. The match at Pro Wrestling Elite’s 4th Anniversary show will see Damo take on a man he has a lot of admiration for, almost as a pioneer for those who might look a wee bit out of the ordinary. “Samoa Joe is a phenomenal athlete. An inspiration because he doesn’t fit into a mould. He created his own and made a huge success of himself. I get to wrestle him at the very top of his game, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to go back to Orlando with a loss…So expect fireworks when he and I collide for PWE”
Aye. Get to that show. It’s this Saturday at the Ayr Citadel.
When asked if he had any regrets about getting into the wrestling business, Damo was philosophical as ever. “I try not to regret anything because it’s all character building and everything I’ve done has got me here. I’ve never been more comfortable on my own skin as I am now. I have goals to fulfill, yeah. But everyday I am closer to reaching them. I’m not stalling anymore, I’m continually growing. I wavered for a while between 2009 and 2013, but now I know what I want and more importantly now I know how to get there.
Goals that will most definitely see a continued pursuit of the ICW Title, after the contentious end to his match with Drew Galloway at Shugs House Party 2. Whilst Damo normally contradicts his intimidating appearance with an affable personality. Damo was in no mood for pleasantries when asked about the ending to the main event of the show at the 02 ABC. An ending which saw him seemingly crowned the new ICW Champion, as he pinned Drew Galloway in the middle of the ring, only for ICW GM Red Lightning to restart the match and Jack Jester to help Drew Galloway retain the gold.
A fact that has left a bitter taste in the Beast From Belfast’s mouth as he gets set to go on the rib shattering revenge trail at ICWs first Fringe show, against none other than the former ICW Champion and recently turned dirty villain Jack Jester.
“The truth of the matter is I pinned Drew Galloway. The count registered by an ICW official. I lifted that Championship in the air and was the ICW World Heavyweight Champion. Red Lightning refuses to accept that however, stripped me of the title and conspired with Drew and Jester. Now what I’ve been saying for months and months about ICW conspiring to protect Drew Galloway couldn’t be more true. Now there will be a lot less talking and a lot more action. That starts with Jack Jester”
There’s no doubt that Big Damo is destined for big things, and one thing that shouldn’t be ignored is how much of a part he has played in the rapid rise in popularity in British Wrestling recently. A unique style in the ring, coupled with a hugely imposing look make him a valuable asset to any promotion, but his genuine passion for his profession is what sets him apart from many. Determined to withstand any and all challenges that may be tossed his way as he fights his way to the top. The dedication to his own career has seen him become the top-level talent you see today, but it was his dedication to improving the standard of training in Scotland that gave the platform for many of the wrestlers currently making their presence felt in the UK and beyond. Damo gets to see the progression of many of them close up when he takes on the likes of Joe Coffey, Mark Coffey, Jackie Polo and Lewis Girvan domestically, and will no doubt continue to look upon their progress with Pride, even if they give him the occasional doing. Whilst he would probably be happy if someone from the Source Wrestling School was to one day wrestle that ICW Title from Drew Galloway, there’s no doubt that The Beast From Belfast feels he is the rightful champ, and he’ll stop at nothing to finally have that belt for keeps. If it takes dropkicking a million chairs into a million dafties faces. Thats just what’ll have to take.
Huge thank you to Damo for his time and cracking insights in to his career. Also huge thank you to David J.Wilson for the wonderful photos throughout the years, and Warrior Fight Photography for the cracking portrait shot at the top of the page.