I was gonnae give this a cheesy title. Something like “The Man Behind The Mogul” or “The Leader Of The New School Of Wrestling” but we’re no NME or suhin. This is just an interview with the guy doing things nae British Wrestling company has ever done.
Mark Dallas isn’t really meant to be here. I don’t mean that like he narrowly missed getting hit by a bus in his early years, or fought off that strain of super Ebola that swept Glasgow last year. I mean that ICW happened because of his unshakeable desire to make it happen. He never had the bare bones of a wrestling company to buy from his father in order to carry out his vision of making it a global brand. He never had a Ted Turner or a Dixie Carters Da bankrolling the company if it fell short. He was just one guy who wanted something to be on TV that he actually fucking liked and was willing to sacrifice a lot to make it happen. Although he says with a slight hint of anguish at the whole situation that now is producing shows that he would love to watch as a fan he cant do it because “I’m too busy making them” I think they call that a self-fulfilling prophecy, although I’ve never been sure what that means or who “they” are to confirm or deny that’s the case, but it sounds awrite. We had an interview lined up for a while and finally found a wee slot in his busy schedule…(sorry i mean OUR busy schedules, cause I’m also pure busy with eh….things) and well, here it is…
The Asylum is fuckin impressive. Just having that as a base is a huge advantage. Everything runs more smoothly. Social media is constantly being updated because there are people doing it full-time. Its good shit. Having two rings up and running and ready to use for the GPWA training school as well. It’s a platform for success. There’s also a wee roll shop next door and when ye ask for a roll and slice, they do not give you a roll and slice, they give you SLICE AND A HAUF. A roll actually brimmin with good slice. Having a space like that is a huge advantage, but it also creates an environment where failure is simply not an option. If the arse fell out of ICW now, it wouldn’t be the house that Dallas built crumbling to the ground, it would be an internationally known wrestling promotion no longer existing. Depriving performers and fans alike of something that has an impact on their lives on a day-to-day basis. Selling out the SECC puts the rubber stamp on it. This is serious. This is no longer just a monthly night out in Glasgow. This is everywhere. I’d been chatting to Dallas for about half an hour until this point. A relaxed chat about all things ICW, but there was a seriousness about his words when it came to the topic of selling out the SECC. He knows fine well what that means and embraces it fully.
“I think that moment we sold out the SECC told everyone….we’re here. We’re not fucking about. We’re not some thing to be marginalised and waved at from afar. We mean business. We’re here to be a wrestling company. We’re where to be on TV. Have computer games. Everything you’d expect a full-time wrestling company to be, we want to be that”
The word “we” was prominent throughout. There’s no “I”. Dallas fully sees this as a team effort and in his eyes he’s not a wrestling promoter. He’s the manager. His key role is building a comradery amongst the troops and having them feel the way he does about ICW. To produce your absolute best for anyone, you have to believe in the same thing they believe in and that’s how the best football managers in the world have had success, and that’s why certain managers continually fail. You can have the best tactics in the world, but if your squad don’t believe in you, the tactics don’t matter. If you can’t motivate each individual the way they need to be motivated they’re not going to give you everything they have.
“Some guys need a kick up the arse. Some guys need an arm put round them. I am not a wrestling promoter, in the sense that I don’t have a set of rules that everyone needs to follow. Yes I do have a couple of them. But there are certain people who need an arm round them. There’s certain people who need coerced. There’s certain people you need to go up to before their match and say “here that last match was brilliant, are you gonnae go out there and better it!” and that motivates them. In that sense it’s exactly like a football team, and it’s like a football team because the guys involved see it that way as well. We are a team, and everyone has a role on that team. Everyone knows their role and for the shows to run smoothly the team have to work together. We are not out there for ourselves and we’re not willing to fuck people over to get ahead. You’ll get ahead on merit. You’ll get ahead on talent and ability. That’s why ICW’s full of characters people connect with and love because we’re not like a big company. We’ll not tell you that you should like this guy or that guy, and we wont hold anyone back. If the crowd are with someone, we don’t hold them back. We’re more inclined to go “Oh ye like this guy aye? Fuck it…we’ll go wae him them”
Joe Coffey is a shining example of that. A guy who got his position in the company by taking every opportunity handed to him and knocking it clean out the park. Similar to football in the sense that if you bring in a big name import, it gets people excited in the short-term. It gets them invested based on the name value of that person alone, but there is nothing a crowd likes better than seeing one of their own make an impact through hard work and dedication. His push literally came from people getting behind him to the point that it made no sense not to give him a push.
“His push came from hard work and dedication. His push came from putting quality matches on every show. People sometimes get too caught up in how certain people are on the mic or in the ring. It disnae matter if its in the ring, on the mic or anywhere else. As long as you excel in your chosen vocation, you will get a push in ICW.”
Chris Renfrew, who is also Mark Dallas writing partner at ICW as well as being an active wrestler, had a similar take on Joe Coffeys push “He’s on every show now and hes there on merit. Working with Drew had the same impact on him as it did when he worked with me and Damo. We all ended up in better positions after working with Drew, and that’s what your champion should be”
There was undoubtedly a seismic shift in the way ICW do things when Drew Galloway returned at Shugs House Party. The crowds were growing organically and everything was progressing the way it should, but having a figurehead with name value who already had a passion for the company was essential in seeing it grow. That passion was on display long before Drew came back in 2014. Even before he was the chosen one, Drew Galloway and Mark Dallas had a friendship that made a working partnership inevitable. Even if it did take Drew being released by WWE to re-ignite it, the foundations were always there.
“I had Sheamus vs Drew booked for the 4th ICW show. Drew was dropping the belt I was actually one of Drews references for his visa. How the fuck I was a viable reference I don’t know, but we thought it was hilarious. So I’d booked him vs Sheamus. They’d both been signed WWE. The flights were paid for, so it was all set. Its one of those times where the weather was on the news. Drew had wrestled for All Star the night before, right at the bottom of England. Sheamus definitely couldn’t make it. There was no conceivable way, so we knew he couldn’t be there no matter what. It turned out WWE had told Drew he couldn’t work. So he ends up getting 8 different trains. 12 hours of travelling. Ended up 400 quid out-of-pocket and refused to take any money. We ended up having a four-way match to crown a new champion, and Drew comes out and goes “I’ve been told by Vince McMahon that I can’t wrestle tonight, that sounds to me like a rule, and you know what we say in ICW right? Fuck the rules” and he joins the match to make it a 5 way, which Darkside won. At the time ICW was worth nothing to anyone but me, so for him to do that said a lot about how much he believed in the company”
It was true friendship that prevented Dallas being one of the circling sharks when Drew was released. Knowing fine well that every promoter who could viably book Drew in the world would be contacting him, Dallas decided to leave it for a while. One of his best pals had just been told they no longer had their dream job. He had to react more as a friend than a promoter. Little did he know, Drew was sitting in his house chucking lawn darts at a cardboard cutout of Dallas, wondering why his old pal hadn’t phoned him immediately DEMANDING that he comes home to be a part of an ICW that no longer means nothing to anyone but Mark Dallas. An ICW that’s heading to the top
“So I’m going about ASDA and all of a sudden my phone starts vibrating in my pocket. Grado, Renfrew etc. My phones vibrating so much I’m starting to get turned on. I said I’m not phoning. I’m his pal. Little did I know, Drew was sitting in his house raging that I hadn’t phoned him. Assuming I’d be the first one to phone. I text him, and the phone went instantly and he was like “why the fuck have you not phoned me. I’ve got this show on the 27th of July. I know you can’t appear because of your 90 day…..properly hinting, and of course he wanted to be involved. Its one of the last works that’s happened in wrestling that worked legit.”
“We legit sat and spoke for hours about the type of hoodie he could wear to not get noticed on the plane. He was snuck into the country pretty much. Didn’t even tell his dad he was coming home until he chapped the door and basically went “Da, I’m hame,shoosh.” Two best pals doing runs to get him supplies. 4 days in the house. 5 people in the world knew that it was happening. Me, Renfrew, Duncan Gray my business partner, Drew himself and Drews Da. People in the locker room were already in shock because I didn’t let on about Still Game appearing that night. So they’re sitting getting changed and in walks Jack, Victor and Boaby the Barman. Already reeling from that Drew comes in the back door, and they’re all in shock. Asking what he’s doing there. He tells them “I’m workin! I’m back.” and folk just don’t believe it. It was after the interval so it’s not like there’s going to be anyone out for a fag that might see him. The cool thing about the ABC is that there’s almost like a secret exit that takes you out to a different part of Sauchiehall Street. So the way I brought him in was basically through this underground labyrinth. They lights went out. Me and Renfrew have always been obsessed with the line Bobby Heenan used on commentary talking about Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 8, when he told him he didn’t have any friends left, then all of a sudden Warriors music hits. So Renfrew tells Jester he doesn’t have any friends left, and suddenly its lights out. Drews in the ring. Hood up. Flips the hood up and reveals himself. Everyone thinks thats the end of the show, then there’s ANOTHER twist. Drew turns on Jester and we’re on the road to Fear and Loathing.”
If selling out the SECC solidified ICWs position in wrestling today, selling out the Barrowlands was the precursor for that. A venue that’s seen almost as a historical artefact in Glasgow, ICW wrote their name in its folklore forever by having 1,600 rabid dafties going mental for guys in their pants. Whilst other venues had created special atmospheres and special shows in ICW, the Barrowlands was the first time ICW had stepped into a venue that mirrored the core values of the company itself, and having Jack Jester put his year-long title reign on the line against his former best friend turned sworn enemy Drew Galloway in the main event made it feel like something special. One of those nights you tell the grandweans about. Like Jim Watt stepping between the ropes in the Kelvin Hall for a world title fight. It was more than just a wrestling show that night. If ICW is “a rocketship heading for the moon” selling out the Barras was when that rocketship was given enough fuel to last the course. To get there, ICW progressed through a lot of smaller venues who were nothing but helpful. Many people might see promoting ICW as a dream job, but there is another heart-wrenching side to making ICW the best it can be. When people and places who helped get you where you are today are no longer of the required standard to help sustain the growth.
“Sometimes it’s heartbreaking when you need to leave a venue because they’ve been so good to you and you’ve no choice but to move on. Especially smaller venues, because ICW makes them a lot of money at the bar so if we stop running 2 or 3 shows there a year, it can hurt their business. So you’re depriving them of income that could feed their families but in order for the guys on the roster to one day make a living from this and to be able to feed their families, you need to move to the bigger venue. That’s wrestling. Even guys who were involved with us at the start. Sometimes when the race gets faster, people can’t keep up. Sometimes when the race gets faster, he trips and falls. Sometimes guys have broken their back for you, sometimes guys have gone balls to the wall and to have to turn round and tell them they’re not good enough anymore can be heartbreaking. Even if it is for the greater good of the company. We couldn’t afford to stagnate and die. We cant. The same happened recently in Edinburgh with Studio 24. A venue who were amazing to us and a venue I fuckin’ loved, but it got to a point where we basically had to say “thanks for being amazing to us…..bye!”
The progression to bigger and better venues is just business. The football analogy applies here as well. If a team grows its fan-base to the point that they need to knock down a stand and build one that can hold 5,000 more people, you can’t afford to fret about how the old stand will feel about being turned into a pile of rubble. That stand becomes a fond, increasingly distant memory.
“The ABC seemed like the biggest building in the world to me. I remember being in the small hall in Maryhill when it had 30 people in it and it felt almost cavernous. It felt huge. Yet now I walk into these huge rooms and they seem small. The Barras always seems big, but when I walked into the SECC I thought “This… this is fucked up.” but the place I’m looking at now will make the SECC look small”
At this point Dallas looks right at me and says “Hampden”. For a few seconds it was left to hang there, and I completely believed it. There might not be 50,000 wrestling fans in the U.K right now, but there wasn’t 4-5 thousand wrestling fans you could get buying tickets to one show in Scotland a few years ago either. Somehow it would work. It would be a festival of everything ICW is, with a cracking wrestling show as its centre piece. Whilst he assured me he was joking, the aspiration to one day run a venue that size is a real one.
“My ultimate goal is to one time run a show in a stadium. Hampden, Celtic Park, somewhere like that. A show in every continent as well. We would be the first company to run a show on every continent. I want an ICW Title match in Antarctica. Drew in a big eskimo suit wrestling somecunt in the North Pole saying “Dallas, I fuckin hate you”
Whilst those long-term goals are the ones that drive ICW, it’s the short-term goals that keep everyone motivated on a day-to-day basis. There’s no sitting about waiting on the next show, ICW want to have a show on a television channel and are doing everything they possibly can to secure that without reneging the creative control that makes ICW special. Whilst the launch of ICW On Demand keeps fans invested in the story as it travels all round the UK. Its a TV deal that will give ICW the opportunity to become a full-time job for everyone involved. The pursuit of that has had its ups and downs. The first dalliance with TV coming with the now infamous MyChannel.
“MyChannel offered us a TV show, but they said weren’t going to give us any money. I thought “we’re recording one anyway, fuck it” and honestly, we must have had the lowest budget show with the highest ratings in UK history. We had a show with a 200 pound weekly budget that regularly pulled in 20,000 viewers. Our show at Tuesday at 9.30 was their highest rated show of the week. Our repeat of the same show at 1am was the second highest rated show of the week n that channel. So they put one of the repeat on at 5 in the morning, and the watershed ends at half 5. The show’s an hour-long, so in the half hour when the show was not in the watershed, apparently a child got up to make some cereal, and saw Mikey Whiplash sucking an upside down crucifix, and also saw BT Gunn covered in blood, getting thrown off the balcony at The Garage while the crowd chanted “cunt” in unison. We had this stable called The Official Community (OfCom). Mike Musso supposedly bankrolling it from his own business. We were going to have it that anything ICW couldn’t do it was their fault. Like Cyrus The Virus in ECW. That sort of thing. We had to cut it short because the real OfCom complained about it and they complained about the repeat being shown at 5AM.”
In the end The Sun were ICWs unlikely saviours. Recognising that MyChannel were trying to pin the blame on ICW for the oversight, they ran a story clearing the company’s name of any wrongdoing.
“The Sun came to our rescue. That black mark would have been the end of us on TV. But we didn’t get thrown off. It was the CHANNEL that were in trouble, and they were trying to shift the blame on to us. The channel was owned by a Brazilian company run by a billionaire who had channels all over the world. The cunt sent his nephew over to run it, who basically just wanted to shag half the burds in London. The Sun phoned them and I shit you not, when the sun phoned up they started speaking Spanish. So The Sun find someone in their office who can speak Spanish, and phone back. Soon as they start speaking spanish, they put the Spanish speaker on the phone. The Sun ran a big article clearing our name of any wrongdoing. Theres an article saying they tried to ruin cult, beloved Scottish wrestling company ICW. I still have it somewhere, but without that we would have been considered scum in the TV world. Pulled off the air by OfCom is a black mark that there’s no coming back from. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always had a good relationship with The Sun.”
Whilst it was undoubtedly a stressful time, it was an experience that Dallas has learned from and ICWs dealings with the world of TV since have been a lot more fruitful. The momentum started with a documentary on VICE about British Wrestling. Originally designed to poke fun at the scene, the producers quickly saw ICW was the real story and saw Grado as the star. Making his pursuit of the ICW Title the centrepiece of the show. That show was my first Scottish wrestling show personally, and I always remember walking out of the show with my pals and telling them how bad I felt for that wee Grado guy. Realising his dream only to see it shattered an hour later when Red Lightning had the match re-started and cracked Grado with the belt plate to retain. A story you could instantly connect with, while The Official Community’s last match against Team ICW had the unusual distinction of seeing Jimmy Havoc get his forehead shaved with a cheese grater whilst Stevie Boy dived off a balcony at the same time. The Grado story and the mental shit that happened in that main event was the reason I decided to go to another show. That’s what ICW does.
“That’s exactly it. That sort of thing is what gets people interested. If you’re talking to someone about that the next day, you’re not just saying “did ye see that mad wrestling last night?” Your talking about folk jumping off balconies, fighting in the street. Grado winning the title then dropping it back. That was planned. That happened to make you gain an emotional attachment. Vice were there as well, and they had originally planned on a documentary taking the piss out of British Wrestling, but after seeing us they wanted to switch the focus to ICW, and they wanted to do something with Grado. He debuted on the show before. So I decided fuck it. Give him a title shot. It was such an ICW thing to do. Made nae sense whatsoever, but when you listen to that reaction, it speaks for itself.”
Then came the BBC. Insane Fight Club is seen as one of the vital steps in ICWs progression, yet many people don’t know, the show almost never happened.
“A guy called Ewan Denny done camera work for us at the time. He worked for a production company called IWC and they make a lot of popular mainstream shows. They met us and wanted a taster tape. So we made it, and Channel 4 Scotland loved it. They were meant to send it down south, and they sent it over everyone elses heads to the main producer. Who sits on it for months, then…and this wasnt their exact words, but they might as well have said this “Its too Scottish” Very regional were the words used but that basically translates to “too Scottish”. Somehow BBC1 Scotland got wind of it, and when they were being shown tapes one day, the guy asks about this wrestling tape. The tape is 8 minutes long, and two minutes in he turns and tells the IWC “we’re going to give these guys a one hour special on BBC1 Scotland.
The one problem we did have was that they commented that there was no really story to it. It was too much wrestling. Nothing that normal folk could grab on to. That’s when they filmed the part with me talking about my son Danny. Originally I didn’t want to be in it all that much, but they told me that you’re the story. We’ve got all these wee stories, but you’re the thread that ties it all together. We need to include this in the show. See to be honest? That clip made me. I get people with Autism coming up to me in the street talking to me, and people with Autistic children speaking to me. It done wonders for my self-esteem and I’d probably put it up there as my greatest achievement allowing it to be shown. Even bigger than selling out these venues. That’s how this documentary ended happening after being in danger at the time of being pulled. At that time I knew Grado was gonnae be money. Then Grado takes off. Insane 2 Fight Club 2 happens, and now we’ve sold out the SECC”
Aspirations to have a TV deal seem to be about fulfilling a promise Dallas made to himself. He started ICW so there would be something on TV he was interested in, and the company stands on the precipice of making that a reality. Ironically at a time where Dallas actually can’t step back and enjoy it all because he’s too busy writing it. While he might not be able to enjoy his own show, Dallas did take time to single out WWE NXT for praise. A highly regarded much talked about WWE program that is sometimes seen in a bad light on the indies, but that’s not a viewpoint Dallas shares.
“People are of the attitude they’re trying to ruin the indies. I completely disagree with that. They put us over big and even though they’re running two weeks after us at the Hydro, we’ve sold out and they haven’t yet. So it’s had no effect on our draw. The only people who are moaning about them affecting their draw are people who couldn’t draw in the first place. At the end of the day, they’re drawing attention to independent wrestlers and then these guys are going back out on the indies are drawing crowds. See when you’ve got someone appearing on NXT one night, then the next they’re appearing for me, that’s just good business. That benefits everyone. I’ve got a completely different view of NXT to most. We had Rhyno and Samoa Joe in training the GPWA trainees. He was on NXT while he was working for ICW. It’s a feeder for the main roster. I get that, but they’re also using it as a platform for wrestling to be how it’s supposed to be. They’re exercising creative freedom. I thought we looked dynamite when they used our footage for the Finn Balor documentary. they were a pleasure to deal with. Around 300,000 people would have seen that at least and you have Billy Kirkwood’s commentary in there as well. My first appearence on WWE TV, of course im holding three beers. I marked out for that.”
A wee glance of that image above tells you everything you need to know about where Mark Dallas is now compared to where he started. He now has a job that can involve talking to a sock in front of 700 people and it makes sense. Not only does it make sense, but it sends the whole building into delirium. While it was years of hard work and dedication that led to ICW selling out the SECC, being able to announce a legendary name that seems perfect for ICW in Mick Foley to help bring in the everyday folk who maybe aren’t totally obsessed with ICW gives you a wee insight as to what ICW is now. Mick Foley isn’t just a name and face on a poster to sell tickets. Mick Foley will be an integral part of the show, and he’ll be as blown away as everyone else when he realises what he’s going to be a part of. The biggest show the UK has seen in 34 years. Any attempt to detract from what ICW has achieved is completely nonsensical. ICW is the biggest promotion in Europe right now, and one of the very biggest in the world. Selling out the SECC should put anyone who wasn’t aware of ICW before on notice. If that’s not enough, ICW are currently slap bang in the middle of a UK tour. The third tour of its kind in the space of a year. A move that did draw a bit of backlash from some of the more territorial promoters in the UK.
“I think there’s some amazing companies down south and I think there’s room for us all. The only problem I continue to have is this territories thing. The UK is too small to split up like that. For wrestlers to make money, the UK as a whole as to be utilized. We’re not coming to run your town or takeover you’re territory. When we go on tour, we’re coming in the same way as WWE or TNA would. Where’s the backlash when they come in? Compared to what we got its non-existent. The thing people don’t realise is that ICW touring is a lot more beneficial to their product than any of the big American companies doing it. We’re using guys you use in your local area. We’re using guys who come in and pop your fuckin house. People need to get rid of this mentality that we’re beneath the American companies. ICW has better sound and lighting equipment than ANY American Indie company. There is not an indie out there that can claim they draw better crowds more consistently. Yet because we’ve got Glaswegian accents we’re not seen as being the same as them. Because we’re from the other side of the world we’re seen as some fucking novelty. Sometimes it angers. It pisses me off. And I think that moment we sold out the SECC told everyone….we’re here. We’re not fucking about. We’re not some thing to be marginalised and waved at from afar. We mean business. We’re here to be a wrestling company. We’re where to be on TV. Have computer games. Everything you’d expect a full-time wrestling company to be, we want to be that.”
That’s exactly where it’s heading, and if you’re one of the people who managed to get a ticket for the SECC before it sold out, bring enough supplies with you to see you through an apocalypse, because when ICW storm into the SECC and kill it, the world as we all know it is going to stop dead.
“People keep asking me if they’ll be able to see. Like I’ve not planned ahead for this. We’ll have the 4 screens above the ring just like they have in Madison Square Garden. Big fuckin titantron at the entrance. Trust me. I didn’t just put a wrestling ring in a barn or something, you’ll be able to see.”
Of course you fuckin will, and the thing you’ll see is some seriously good shit. A wrestling show in Glasgow, created by people from Glasgow, put on an international stage. For one night the whole wrestling world will be talking about ICW. A situation that will become a habit sooner rather than later, because make no mistake about it. The SECC is just the start. If you’re one of those people still yearning for a day where you can look about and you know everyone in the crowd, you’re basically dreaming of a day where ICW goes backwards. If ICW is a rocketship heading for the moon, how can it possibly go backwards? If the race gets faster and people fall if they can’t keep up, why do you want the race to stop? ICW is going places, and if Dallas sees his dream of having the title defended on every continent become a reality, the only conceivable step after that is indeed a one way ticket to the moon.
Huge thank you to Mark Dallas for the interview. I’d urge you to follow all his and ICWs social media things at this point, but I think that’s probably redundant in this case, still…follow @RealMarkDallas and @InsaneChampWres on twitter. And like the Mark Dallas and ICW pages on Facebook. Also Instagram, Snapchat, probably Myspace and Bebo. Aw the networks.
If you’re feeling generous give @SnapmareNecks and @smithycfc1 a follow as well.
Huge thank you to David J Wilson for the photos.