You’ve probably heard about it if you’ve been a living breathing human over the past year, but in case you’re a newborn with exceptional early reading skills, the biggest show in British Wrestling’s recent history takes place in under a month’s time; ICW Fear and Loathing 9 at The Hydro. Undoubtedly the stage any British wrestler wants…no…NEEDS to be seen on. There’s probably even household names from further afield side eyeing it a wee bit and wondering if a spot on that show could help further their careers. Lionheart as he admits himself might not even have been on this show if the situation was the same as it was as recently as a year ago. Told he didn’t have a spot at ICW Shug’s House Party 2, and that as it stood he also didn’t have a spot at the 4,000 ticket sellout Fear and Loathing 8 at the SECC, he knew something had to change.
“I was told I wasn’t on the Shugs House Party 2 card, and that’s one of ICWs flagship shows, thats when I knew I was in trouble, and that something needed to change. At the same time I was told there also wasn’t a spot for me on the SECC show, and I thought fuck me, this is bad. My career was very much in limbo. I was stale. I wasn’t engaging with the new audience ICW had created. I wasn’t in a good spot, so as much as I did end up on the SECC card, when The Hydro was announced I really didn’t have any idea what I’d be doing at that point, and thought ‘time to fuckin kick it up a notch here’ To be honest it got to the point where I was really glad to be on the SECC show at all, because I’d have been devastated if I wasn’t.”
He ended up making it on to the The SECC show as the change in his own mentality started to bear fruit almost immediately, he now goes in The Hydro show as ICW Zero-G Champion, defending the title in a 6 man “Stairway To Heaven” match, a match that will be elimination format until the final two competitors have a ladder match to decide who walks out with the title. “I don’t want to put it out there and say it should steal the show because you look at the other stuff on the show and its a spectacular card, but I’m looking forward to it, it should be really good regardless of how it measures up to the rest of the card.”
It’s a spot that Lionheart most likely wouldn’t have found himself in had his mentality, and more importantly character not changed. The slogans no longer connected, Team Believe had cancelled the direct debit for their season tickets and moved on to the next big thing. Essentially it reached a stage where Lionheart could no longer sit back and wait for a spot to come to him, he had to rebuild and take one. Eventually, with some help from a certain chant we’ve all had a fuckin’ brilliant time partaking in at one time or another.
“I think it was a combination of the opportunities I was given and what I was putting out there physically. Things were stale, I had the losing streak, then we done the heel turn with the fake neck break, and that moment was brilliant in itself but even then, for a few months after it, we still kinda floated along. I remember speaking to Dallas and asking him about it. We’d done this big spectacular heel turn and we’re not doing anything with it. Where are we going with it. We created this moment that had people going ‘what the fuck!’ and we’re doing nothing with it. Whats the story? I need an opportunity to do something here and he told me “You need to go out and take it”.
Words that seemingly motivated the one time former Zero-G champion to take any sniff of an opportunity that came his way. Any avenue to create an impression was explored, including a continuing feud with Kenny Williams, and a chant dreamt up by the ICW fans that was made into a song and made famous by Joe Hendry.
“At ICW you’re not always necessarily told to do backstage promos and stuff like that, so every single show I started cutting promos. Then they started getting picked up and shown, and that led to the match at the (2016) Square Go with Kenny. I think that was the match where in my own mind I proved I could still go. From a physical perspective, but at the same time I think that was when the crowd heat really stepped up a notch. That was when the Lionheart Is A Fanny stuff really started and Joe Hendry obviously came along and took it to another level, but that was when it kinda started off. The crowd was white-hot that night as well, and I’ll be honest I thought I nailed it that night in terms of the match.So when Joe Hendry done his thing a couple of months later it just snowballed from there. It was easy for me really, because of what he done and at the time I was like ‘Cheers mate’. It gave them something to latch on to and its unique to me. Sometimes crowds can have different chants and can throw some different wrestlers names in there but that “Lionheart is a fanny” is unique to me”
While it has undoubtedly been one of the major factors in the re-emergence of Lionheart as a top performer, you have to wonder how much anyone really likes being called a fanny by anything between 500 and 5000 people at a time, but Lionheart had a light-hearted view on it. After all, a fanny is a thing to be cherished. “It follows me everywhere as well. Everywhere I go, even sometimes on family shows! (laughs) Its one of those ones that you can tell the fans are just having a lot of fun doing it. When I’m out there performing, I make a point to make a lot of eye contact with a lot of fans and you can see they’re having so much fun doing it. So I don’t take it personally, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that people come to shows, particularly shows like ICW and get lost in the moment. We (wrestlers) do the same. Its been great for me and I honestly love it”
As much as he loves it now, he admits in his previous years he might not have seen the funny side, but accepting it for what it is has been part of finding his groove and gaining a bit of maturity as a performer. “Years ago I probably would have taken it more personally. I think everybody at some point in their career takes themselves too seriously before they properly mature. I was very guilty of that back in the day. So yeah, maybe I would have thought back then “I don’t like that” but now I just see it for what it is”
Its plain to see just how much more motivated and engaged in his work Lionheart has been since the start of the year, and that improvement had to come with the admittance that what he was putting out there just wasn’t working. Touching on his retirement from Pro Wrestling in late 2012, he speaks of a feeling of bitterness that led to what sounds like a decision he genuinely regrets and probably regretted a lot sooner than anyone would imagine.
“I think it comes down to the maturity thing again. I’ve been doing this a very long time, and I was always dead set on one goal. WWE. That was it. I pursued TNA through a few different avenues, but the goal was always WWE and I never strayed from that. It got to the point where I’d been doing it for a long time, and I’d done everything the way I thought you were supposed to do it. I went to training, looked after myself, paid my dues, I went to the gym, hardly drunk alcohol, did no drugs and its drilled into you, or at least it was back in the day, that if work hard and pay your dues dreams will come true and the reality is that is not the fucking case. Life does not work like that. And it got to a stage that I’d reached my 30s, it hadn’t happened for me and I was angry. I was bitter, because I believed that I was entitled to this and I wasn’t getting it. So I just became very disengaged and disheartened with wrestling in general and I made the decision to step away, I genuinely thought that was it at that time. I didn’t want to do it anymore. ”
One of those situations we’ve all faced where you immediately realise the decision you’ve made is the wrong one but you’re too far down the road to stop it. Akin to pishing against a strong wind, or starting a conversation with a wrestling fan about proper queuing etiquette. You don’t realise it was a terrible decision until your ears are clogged with nonsense, and your trousers are covered in yer ain pish. “I obviously realised very quickly that was an immature decision and I very quickly wanted to come back, but by the time I did things had changed. When I left, ICW were right about to take that step up to the next level and it’s probably the worst possible time I could have left. I knew pretty much before I stepped away that I’d made a mistake but I’d gone a step too far and there was no turning back.”
“By the time I did come back, the landscape had changed. The audience had changed, and that probably attributed greatly to me falling down the ladder from a creative standpoint. Because I expected to come back, and fuckin’ do the same old shit, sayin the same old shit and I’d be the number one guy in Scotland again and that just wasn’t the case. At all”
The change in the landscape was most prevalent in Lionheart’s heated feud with Jackie Polo. A feud that didn’t reach its conclusion due to Lionheart’s neck break occurring before their scheduled match at Shug’s House Party 1, but was eventually rounded off in his return match with ICW. At the time of the injury, despite having a growing fanbase, the audience still very much saw Polo as the villain of the piece. Yet over the course of his injury, and even through Polo making light of that injury on Twitter, the majority of the crowd seemed to be pulling for Polo. A factor that definitely added a bit of spice to a feud that had been light on mutual respect from the start.
“You’re right, I don’t think there was any mutual respect (between him and Polo) during a good chunk of the feud. I think initially we started out with good intentions, and then I think over time something changed, we should have been working closely together but as the feud went on we seemed to be getting further and further apart. We had no desire to work with the other person, and we were really just going to go out there and do whatever we wanted to do individually.”
The switch in their personal relationship came long after the feud was concluded with a convincing win for Polo followed by a brutal dissection of Lionheart on the mic after the match when the two did eventually clash at Barramania. A sit down conversation took place to clear the air between the two, one that at least I pictured as an official Mafia type thing where there’s a gun taped underneath the table just in case things get a wee bit out of hand.
“It was quite some time after the feud that we had a sit down conversation. It wasn’t a friendly sit down conversation, but it was a situation where you have the chance to get things off your chest. I think that was a good thing for us both to be able to do. We both probably said some things about the other person that maybe highlighted things that neither of us thought were that much of an issue. We both put our points across and realised where we’d both been in the wrong, so I think that helped us a lot. I’d say now we do have a mutual respect for what one and other can do in the ring. He’s never going to be my best mate, but I can happily be around and work alongside him.”
Indeed the improvement in their relationship has seen an unprecedented thing occur. With Polo now a member of the roster at Lionheart’s own promotion, Pro Wrestling Elite. Reports of pigs flying, the pope pledging his allegiance to Sikhism and turkeys voting for Christmas had surfaced on the day of his first appearance for the company so we really should have known something properly mental was in the works. “In terms of PWE, obviously Polo Promotions have been pretty huge in ICW. Arguably the most consistently over act next to Grado. They have a huge amount of charisma and a rapport with each other and I’m a huge fan of Mark Coffey. I was booking him already, so when they had their time away from ICW, I saw an opportunity. So I asked him if he wanted to try it out. I will say as well, he comes to my shows, does as he’s asked, he’s professional, respectful, so I have no issues with Jackie Polo in that respect”
Polo is just one member of a diverse roster as PWE have built up a loyal fanbase in Lionheart’s home town of Ayr. Regularly selling out both the Town Hall and Citadel in the City, and forging a reputation for putting on consistently high quality, family friendly shows. When asked if there could be potential growth, Lionheart insisted the emphasis for now is on his physical involvement in wrestling. “I don’t see there being much growth in the near future, because I don’t have any intention to stop wrestling myself anytime soon. Obviously I’m very busy wrestling and with the school. In years to come, when I wind down being as physically involved in wrestling I might consider running more shows, but for now I’m content running my 4 or 5 shows a year in Ayr. I’ve built a loyal fanbase in Ayr who come out for pretty much every show, so they know the guys and girls, they know the storylines, so its easy for me to market in that respect and I just have fun doing it. Giving guys and girls opportunities they maybe wouldn’t have elsewhere”
While the things that come to mind when considering that are the dream matches involving stars from across the water, he has also brought many stars from down South to Scotland to make their first impressions on a growing scene up here. The likes of the late Kris Travis in particular, along with talents like Joey Hayes, Martin Kirby and Dave Mastiff. Even booking a match like Samoa Joe vs Big Damo at a time where Joe had recently been signed to WWE NXT and Damo was on the radar, and a match that could very well be replicated by them one day. It driving force behind the promotion seems to be a passion for doing it, and creating moments for performers and fans alike. “It was a combination of looking at a lot of other promotions in the UK and straight away thinking ‘I can do better than this’, I know what I’m doing from a wrestling perspective and from a business perspective, and I think I have a good mind for wrestling and I knew this was something I could do well. There was also the desire to give opportunities to people who might not have had them for various reasons. Maybe theres geographical factors in the way, or even financial. So I gave Noam Dar his dream match with AJ Styles. I gave Kay Lee Ray her dream match with Mickie James. I had a genuine bonafide dream match with the NAK versus DX. I enjoy creating those kind of moments, and seeing the appreciation from the guys and girls directly involved in it, along with the appreciation from the fans coming along to see it”
In booking one of those dream matches, he had some dealings with a man who would become synonymous with Lionheart’s whole career. At the time of his match with Noam Dar, AJ Styles was a very different performer and perhaps a very different man as he was when he was part of the unfortunate incident that led to Lionheart’s neck break. It was his conduct in the wake of an incident that Lionheart never blamed his opponent for at all that seemed to cause friction between the pair. Styles aiming particularly scathing comments and speaking dismissively of a man who had once booked him when he was interviewed a short time after it on Chris Jericho’s podcast.
“If I wrestle someone and they get hurt. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was, all that matters is…is that person ok. That wasn’t the case with him. What mattered to him was, defending himself, saying it wasn’t his fault and saying the move’s safe and everything else. I never once insinuated that it was his fault. I held my hands up to it the whole time, I fucked up, I tucked my head, it was my fault, etc. To him, he seemed to feel that I was trying to get a bit of press from it and make a bit of money. Well of course I was, because I was fuckin’ sitting in the house and I couldn’t do anything else. So yeah I brought out a fuckin’ t-shirt and I tried to make a bit of money as a result. Of course. So yeah, I was very disheartened by it, especially since it was on Jericho’s podcast and I’m obviously a huge fan of Jericho. So when I heard his comments, I just thought ‘wow…you are actually a fuckin’ dickhead’. So yeah, I did absolutely hold it against him. Not once did he ever reach out to me, to see how I was doing. The thing that really pissed me off were some of the things he said when it came down to the rematch”
A rematch which you would have never imagined being on the cards after the war of words between the pair, but sometimes in wrestling business is business. Money in yer back pocket is money in yer back pocket, but there was understandably an awkwardness about the whole affair and unlike the resolution to the friction with Jackie Polo, a sit-down chat between the pair only worsened their already frosty relationship (or to put it another way, they fuckin hate each other).
“It was weird, because he turned up late, and he came over, shook my hand and said “Ok, we’ll plan the match, then we’ll have a chat.” so we planned the match and that was…awkward, as you could imagine. Then we sat down and he brought (PCW promoter) Steven Fludder over, so he said to me I felt you were burying the move. So I said “I’ll stop you there, not once did I bury the move, yeah when you dropped maybe…the 5th guy on his head, I said maybe you should stop doing it, but I never buried the move”. I said to him that when it first happened I held my hands up, put no blame on you whatsoever, I sent you a tweet thanking you for the match, and there was no ill-will on my part. You were the one who came out and were disrespectful and at no time did you attempt to make contact with me. His response to that was that he didn’t know how to contact me, and your thinking ‘Fuck off, I’ve booked you, you have my email address. You just wrestled me in a match, so the promoter who booked you in that match would also have my email address. I have twitter. There was no way he didn’t know how to contact me. He said he tried to tweet me once but it went to the wrong account or something. At the end of it, I said I’ve got all the respect in the world on a professional level, and that you’re probably the best in the world right now. But on a personal level, I think you’re a dick. He said fair enough. We had the match, it was ok, it ended on a handshake and I haven’t seen or spoke to him since. It goes without saying that I’m very happy to see his personal success. It’s very encouraging for a lot of smaller Independent guys, and he’s certainly set the bar in recent times so fair play to him”
While his relationship with one half of that dream match has soured, his relationship with the other half of the main event of PWE’s First Anniversary show Noam Dar only went from strength to strength in the years following the match. “He’d only just turned 19 at the time, and I’d always known in my mind from when I first started running shows that when it got to the first anniversary show, I was going to bring in a big name, and he (AJ Styles) was one of the guys that I had in my mind because I’d always been a huge fan of his work and he was a very big name in terms of independent wrestling. I knew it was Noams dream match, so that sort of pushed me to really pursue booking the match. When the match happened, I genuinely think it took Noam Dar to another level. Not just in terms of his name, but at that age, what an experience to have. Noam’s always been beyond his years as wrestler, but for him to have his genuine dream match at that age done absolute wonders for him. I don’t think it resulted in him getting anything he wasn’t going to earn on his own, but it maybe nudged him on a bit quicker. It was an opportunity it felt good to give him, and he knocked it out the park like I knew he would. ”
It was all leading to a poignant moment, as Noam Dar’s final Independent appearance before breaking all of our hearts and leaving us for WWE happened to be in his hometown with Pro Wrestling Elite. Dar, who had recently captured the PWE Title after a tireless journey from the first show the promotion ran to finally earning its top title, was allowed to surrender the title in the ring and enjoy more of a fun final match with the company. A scenario that Lionheart revealed had played out exactly as Noam had wanted it.
“I’ve booked Noam in PWE from day one. He’s my best mate, so I just asked him “what do you want to do?” and he just said he wanted a nice match. A match with his mates, and we’ll just go out there and have fun. If he’d have said to me I want to drop the belt, then I would have let him drop the belt, so really it was about him doing what he wanted. He had some matches elsewhere where he went out and done the right thing. Andy Wild at ICW for example, that is honestly one of the most selfless things I’ve ever seen in wrestling. Andy’s great, I’m a huge fan of Andy, he was my first ever champion and he’s a good mate, but Andy would not be on this Hydro show if it wasn’t for Noam doing that. He knows that himself and he appreciates that, which is why its such a positive thing. So I knew he was already doing things like that at other companies, so for me it was a case of thinking he’s been a huge part of this company, he done me good business that night because it was the busiest Town Hall show I’ve ever done, so it was a case of allowing him to do exactly what he wanted to do”
Before his aforementioned disillusion with wrestling reached the stage where he had decided to retire in late 2012, Lionheart had one of his favourite matches with Noam. A match that main evented a show called “Oran War” where celebrity wrestling fans Greg Hemphill of Chewin The Fat and Still Game fame, and Robert Florence of Burnistoun, pitted two teams of Scottish Wrestlers against one and other. Whilst Scottish Wrestling has went from strength to strength due to the hard work of those directly involved, there’s no doubt those shows certainly helped stimulate mainstream interest. Lionheart also had one of his first matches back from that 2012 retirement at the second show the pair ran, the 1,000+ sellout Kelvin Brawl held at the iconic Kelvin Hall (obviously, where the fuck else would a show called “Kelvin Brawl” be)
“I think there was maybe a knock on effect with the publicity that came with it. Timeline’s a bit hazy, so I don’t know if ICW were involved with the BBC already at the time of those shows. but it probably did help yeah. Obviously Robert Florence and Greg Hemphill are two very well-known personalities, and they shone a mainstream light on Scottish Wrestling, through radio, tv, social media and all that. Even the likes of getting Frankie Boyle involved. That was mental to see. Someone like Frankie Boyle even tweeting about a Scottish Wrestling show. So they probably did bring some fresh fans to the scene, because people who went to that maybe would have started going to ICW or other shows as a result. So I think it was a positive influence, I certainly enjoyed being a part of the shows. The Oran War one with Noam is still one of my favourite matches. ”
Undoubtedly friendships with the likes of Noam and Grado would have had a helping hand in re-lighting Lionheart’s fire as a performer, but a combination being a part of the GPWA training school and enjoying hugely entertaining feuds with already established young talents like Lewis Girvan and Kenny Williams has been the biggest motivator in this resurgence. Perhaps a wee bit of an urgency to show the young yins their auld Da isnae finished yet. “It is and it isn’t. I think this comes with the maturity I’ve gained, but in this day and age I am very much geared towards helping the younger guys. There’s a lot of guys who are established and will still go out there and its all about them. All about protecting the spot. I think I’m experienced enough and skilled enough that I can still hold myself up as one of the best, but I still know how to bring people up to that level and I really love that part of my job right now. Especially when it is young guys like Lewis Girvan, like Kenny Williams, who are very passionate about wrestling and want to do well. They want to get better and they always ask for advice. There are other guys who, like me when I was younger, think it should be entitled to them when that’s not the case. It’s about finding that balance. I still need to go out there and show I deserve to be in the position I’m in, but I will happily pair that with making others look as good as they possibly can. We’re here in the training school as well, and I’ve got a big passion for building for the future.”
The immediate future for him is the GPWA. An idea that came about around the same time as Lionheart announcing plans to start an Ayrshire based school under the Elite banner. The GPWA idea proved to be an opportunity too good to pass up, as the combination of his own insight combined with fellow Scottish Wrestling stars Red Lightning, Wolfgang, BT Gunn and Jack Jester along with a unique approach to training wrestlers in general has seen the school make a huge impression on the Scottish scene already. “I think initially, Mark Dallas had the unit space so he had the idea that there could be a training school. He didn’t want it to be an ICW training school, he wanted somebody to generate future stars for ICW. The first guy he spoke to was Barry (Wolfgang), and then he spoke to me and then it kind of happened from there and eventually we were thinking ‘Why don’t we all get in and do this together’ because for me there isn’t a school out there that has that wide range of established stars. I mean if you’re an ICW fan this school is a wet dream for you. We’re all pretty much as different as we can be in terms of what we do and the way we do it, and we all have our weaknesses and strengths, but when you put the five of us together, you start to think ‘This could actually be amazing’ and it went from there really. We never really expected it to be as big and as successful, and long may it continue.”
The early success of the school led to GPWA running their debut show at their base at The Asylum. The show was called “Night At The Asylum” and its success has led to the shows becoming regular. Gaining a following in its own right as friends, family and fans alike can see how talents are progressing as they look to make their mark on the wrestling scene in Scotland and beyond.
“We always knew we would do the odd friends and family show, because its important to give the guys and girls experience of working in front of a live crowd. We done the first one and thought ‘That was good, we’ll do another one’ and the guys and girls we were putting on the show were proving to be some fuckin’ good talent. We thought, we’ve got something thats working, why not keep doing it. We’re at the point now with The Asylum shows, where they’ve become successful to the point that we almost have a key asylum roster, but we’ve got a lot more students that we want to give opportunities to so that’s sort of the idea behind the Proving Ground show, because for us to give someone an opportunity on an Asylum show, as much as they’ll deserve it, we’re going to need to take someone else off, and that’s difficult to do in itself. So we started to look at other things we could do. We’ve got smaller shows we run in a venue in Dennistoun as well. Which allows us to give more people opportunities”
Opportunities that will only be afforded to individuals if they earn it. Whilst the GPWA school is open to all, the initial 8 week period of assessment has proved to be a key factor in establishing the identity of the school, as well as proving to be a useful tool for trainers and trainees alike as they look to decide if pro wrestling is for them.
“We need to cover certain bases. They have to show us that they’re coachable from a safety point of view as we can’t put anyone in a situation where they might hurt themselves or others. There also needs to be an element of some kind of physical fitness there or at least show us there’s a desire to improve that fitness. The other thing they have to ask themselves is “Do you want this?” and are you willing to accept it for what it is because the reality is that wrestling training school is not like the way people imagine it to be. Its a culture shock for a lot of people. So when they come in they’re either very pleasantly surprised or motivated about it, or they go “Nah, this isn’t going to work for me” and those are the guys, as polite as we can be, that need to stay on the other side of the barrier because this is not for them, but if they come in with a desire to learn and keep their ears and their eyes open, I’ll work with someone all day. I think we were the first school in the UK to do anything like it (the 8 week period) and its for the students as well. They might come and we’ll think ‘Oh this person might be good’ and they decide it’s not for them and we’ve had a couple like that which is a shame, but I’d rather they were honest. Some people just prefer to enjoy wrestling from a fans perspective and that’s cool as well. Because sometimes when people come across (to the other side of the barrier) they start to look at wrestling very differently. ”
With all the momentum Lionheart carries going in to The Hydro, having earned a prominent spot on the show, there is one moment that was almost necessary for him to move on from what had happened in the past. Victory in the dying seconds of the Zero-G Scramble Match at Barramania 2 proved to be a cathartic moment for Lionheart, as he sealed his second Zero-G Title, not only capturing the title with seconds to spare, but doing so using the very move that took a year of his career away. A Styles Clash on then champion Davey Blaze.
“It was real. It was just a culmination of everything. It’ll sound cliched, but literally a year ago, in the same venue, my career had just took an absolute dive. I very much resented the ICW fans for not giving me the comeback reception, I believed I deserved. I resented the fans for siding with a man who thought it was appropriate to make a joke about the fact that I’d broken my neck. I resented the fact that I’d broken my neck in the first place and that I lost a year of doing what I love to do. At that point, for me it had come full circle, and me winning the title was a big fuck you to a lot of people, and I stood on the apron and thought ‘I’m back’ . I’m past the bittterness and resentment now and I’m out there enjoying myself, but at that time it was very much a ‘fuck you’ ”
A “fuck you” in all honesty we were probably all due given the fact we’d spent a large part of the 6 months previous calling the man a fanny, but that being said, it was certainly a turning point and an opportunity to leave the past behind. A fresh start, a fresh (lion) heart, and a shiny belt round his waist going in to the biggest show in British Wrestling’s recent history. Not too shabby for a guy who was considered all but done a year ago. Lionheart might be a fanny, but he’s a power fanny who shags YOU. And yer maw. Probably.
Big thank you to David J.Wilson and ICW On Demand for the photos used. Even bigger thank you to Lionheart himself for giving me the time and a fuckin great interview.