“I haven’t told you about my start yet! Switch it back on!”
It was 9pm when I hauled my phone out to record one last nugget of wisdom from the mouth of Sha Samuels. We were stood outside Walkabout in Glasgow as I got ready to leave, and the act of pulling my phone out caused the earth to move off its axis which resulted in a slight stumble to the left. All of a sudden I realised day had become night, sober had become drunk, and 3pm had become 9pm. We’d been drinking under the guise of an ‘interview’ for 6 hours and there’s not a minute of it that wasn’t completely absorbing. A lot of people are considered to be in the upper tier of British Wrestling because you’re told that’s where they belong. Or someone else tells you how good they are. Sha Samuels is there because he earned it. He’s there because for 15 years he was the absolute best villain in the UK. One of the very best on the globe. It all started with some handy advice from his trainer. Former World Of Sport wrestler “The Cockney Kid” Tony Scarlo.
“I got into wrestling when I was in 6th form in Secondary School. Everyone was a big wrestling fan then. It was 2001/2002. Someone had the brahma bull tatoo, and I went up to him and asked if he liked wrestling and he said he was trained to be a wrestler. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know that was a possibility. So I went to training at Dropkicks Wrestling Academy. I was trained by a 60-year-old fucking….mannn. Tony Scarlo. He wrestled for WoS. Beat up Dynamite Kid. That’s my fuckin trainer, and he taught me how to be a wrestler. Once we were good enough in his eyes, we’d try to come to training on a Sunday and he’d tell us to fuck off. “What the fuck you doin ‘ere? I’ve taught you how to be a wrestler, don’t come here and train, get out there and work! I don’t want your fucking money!”
“He was a black cabbie, and he was around when London was full of arseholes. Villains. Scumbags. I started off working as Sha The Sheikh Hussain right. 9/11 had just happened and I’m going out doing a fucking Sheikh gimmick. Full on. Prayer mat and all that. I embraced being Iranian right. He says to me “What the fuck you doing that for? What’s the matter wiv ‘ya? You’ll get lynched ya cunt…you’re from East fuckin London ya cunt. All you gotta do is speak loud, speak proud and cunts will be afraid of you.”
“I hope hes not watching my matches back now, because he said to me “do me one favour…never go to that fuckin top rope. If it takes 5 seconds to do a move, its fuckin bent. Just knock the shit out the cunt.” Thats how I was taught. I’m so proud of that. I’m proud of how I was taught because no one gives advice like that.”
Its advice Sha has followed to the tee. Even in his current good guy role, the voice still booms. It booms so much at one point during the interview Sha grabbed my phone and started cutting a promo into it which caused the guy behind the bar to come over and tell him off. The “Sorry John, Two Tennents please” retort from Sha fell on deaf ears as he agreed to calm the swearing down but it was one of those moments that articulated a point better than anything else could. Speak loud, speak proud, and cunts will be afraid of you. “I’m gonna have that on my tombstone when I die”
While he reflects positively on the wisdom passed down to him by a WoS alumni, he has no plans on taking that path himself just yet. Tanning pints and tanning folks jaws is just too much fun right now to dedicate any time to teaching others the art of Sha, as he went on to explain.
“I’ll be a coach when I’m like 50 years old. I don’t wanna be a coach now. Because I’m still a wrestler. There’s so much talent in British wrestling right now, I’m really against there being so many training schools out there. People are trying to get their training school over, and I get it right, its business, but there’s so much talent out here, we don’t need to be saturating the scene with lesser talent. We don’t need to be rushing people before they’re ready”
“Sometimes people get rushed into a spot and they don’t do as well as someone more experienced because they’ve not had to work for it. When I was a trainee it took me 2 years to have a match, nowadays these trainees get put on a show and they think stuff should be handed to them. I’ve seen trainees nowadays treat it as a laugh. Not taking it seriously. The wrestling scene here is so good, if we start letting more and more lesser talents creep in, the show quality’s gonna drop off. It’s not bitterness either. Its anger. It angers me because a lot of them don’t realise just how good they’ve go it, compared to how it was before”
“One thing I will say is that some of them are maybe even too committed to their characters. At that stage it should be about grasping the fundamentals first and not getting set as one character, then you’re more able to change it up if something goes wrong”
Sha admitted the ICW Shug’s weekender was actually supposed to be his last in wrestling. He wanted to go out on a match with his best mate, after what he admitted has been a difficult period in the aftermath of the World Of Sport disappointment. ITV announced a 10 week run building on their revival of the legendary show at New Year’s Eve. A show Sha featured prominently on as part of the villainous trio who terrorised Grado throughout. As tough as it was to take, experiencing that disappointment with his best mate added a heartbreaking chapter to their story. A feud that has produced some of the most believable work in British wrestling, while creating a bond that goes far beyond knocking the living fuck out each other in the ring.
“After the World Of Sport deal got canned, this year’s been the worst year for me in wrestling. I’m not gonna lie, it got so bad, Shugs was gonna be my last week as a wrestler. Tag with Noam then wrestle Grado. That would be the perfect way to go out. Its hard to take. Its a sore point. All these guys are getting recognition from WWE and all that aswell, and its almost like because we backed the other thing we’re being ostracised, although it wasn’t a case of us backing that over WWE, its more we didn’t have anything else on at the time and took this huge opportunity. Its a sore point. Its the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Losing that (10 week deal). Its changed my life in the sense that, its changed my outlook. Sometimes I struggle getting out of bed wondering what could have been. Its always lingering. Being told you’re getting 10 weeks on ITV to having to go back to Butcher Shop. People asking me ‘I thought you were on TV!?” and all that. It was heartbreaking.”
Its a heartbreak that seems to have created a bond amongst those who experienced which might be the lasting legacy of the whole thing. A bond that was formed across the two days of filming they were involved in together to create the show that aired on ITV at New Year.
“I cannot describe how magical those two days were. We done a three day tour with ICW, then me, Mark, Joe and Viper are travelling from Bristol 4 hours away to the ITV studios, and they put us in separate cars. It occurred to me why that might be, so I asked them “is this so if one of the cars gets in an accident, not all of us end up dead?” they’re like, not as bad…but sort of on those lines *laughs* . I was like fuck, welcome to show-business. ITV paid for a car which was nice, and we were excited. If British Wrestling goes on to achieve nothing, we will always be that team that put it back on national TV for one night only. those two days were amazing. It was afterwards that was shit. The anxiety about it. Hearing WWE have announced the tournament and contracts are being offered to guys. We’re hearing nothing. We’re thinking we’ve fucked our futures here”
Despite the heartache at how it worked out, no one can ever take that show away from those involved. If they had enough faith in the talent who made the show what it was in the first place, it would be in the middle of a 10 week run on National TV right now. A lack of faith in that and a desire to get involved with an experienced wrestling company is what saw it unravel, much to Sha’s visible frustration
“It aired, and you know what? I loved it. I was proud. My Dad hates that I do wrestling and that was the first time he watched me and said he was proud. So I was on cloud nine. Then we got the 10 weeks, and we’re fucking ecstatic, and then it got canned.”
“Jeff Jarrett was like ’10 weeks is not enough, we need every week’ ….This is not Pop TV you fucking…..10 weeks on ITV is bigger than 4 years on Pop TV. Honestly, if they’d told me it was just the one show, I think I’d have been fine, but after announcing the 10 weeks, and getting us up there for a press conference, it was hard to take. Honestly? I felt I nailed it at that press conference. Then 3 or 4 weeks later it gets snatched away. The thing that hurts the most, is the WWE guys not realising that if we didn’t do World Of Sport, the success they’ve had might not have happened.”
The heartache over the whole ordeal comes with no lingering resentment towards ITV. A TV company who took a gamble reviving the show in the first place but seemed to believe it could be a success, with the admittance that they personally didn’t have a clue how to run it.
“One thing I will say in ITV’s defence. ITV don’t have a clue about wrestling right. They do a bit of research trying to find out who the 2nd biggest company in wrestling is, and they thing lets get in bed with TNA They were adamant they needed someone who knows how to run a wrestling promotion. It was touchy as well, because we got offered it in August and we were told to keep it secret. Nothing in wrestling gets kept a secret, but we all managed to keep that a secret, and it got announced there was a bit of backlash. People were upset we didn’t tell them and all that, but we had to explain its a big deal. We weren’t allowed to say anything. Us taking that deal, although nothing changed, gave some people the perception that we’d got too big for our boots. Which wasn’t the case”
As much of a heartache as the World Of Sport debacle has been, it wasn’t the first realisation that no matter how much you stand out and how hard you work, sometimes they just don’t want you. It was Sha providing the perfect villain that helped Grado shine as the perfect hero on TNA’s British Bootcamp. A show that seems like a lifetime ago now, but at the time was the biggest opportunity British Wrestlers had been given en mass to impress on the global stage.
“That was my first heartbreak in wrestling. They told me the reason we’re not putting you through is because you’ve got a family, you’ve got a business and that’s more important and the whole time I was like ‘what? you dont know my personal life” I thought I was one of the best on that show and I was told no. It hurt me. So much so, my first ICW Scottish booking was the following day, and I told Grado I’m not doing it. What’s the point? He told me “You fucking get on that plane” “
“That was my first realisation in wrestling that it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how hard you work, it means fuck all, its all fixed, its entertainment. If they want that guy on top, they’ll have that guy on top. It was all that stuff that made Grado look like the star he is and Al Snow was definitely watching because their match at The Hydro and our match at The York Hall? Lets just say there’s similarities”
While they were still a wee bit away from becoming the all conquering, pinky raising, shiny jaisket wearing trio we know today, Sha saw British Bootcamp as the first time he really bonded with Noam Dar. Providing a voice of reason to a guy who now shares a locker room with guys like Brock Lesnar, The Big Show and maybe even The Undertaker on the odd occasion. Assuming deid guys actually need to get dressed. I have no idea how the afterlife works.
“Thats how I bonded with Noam as well. TNA British Bootcamp was the first big thing to happen. We’re all paranoid because we don’t want to fuck it up. So you’ve got Noam shitting himself, worried about being made to look like an arsehole and we had a 7 hour conversation in a Premier Inn in Preston. With me just easing his nerves. That’s when we bonded really. I was the one telling him its a job, we’re just all booked, its fixed, its bent, its a TV show. At the end of it he didnt get picked originally, and neither did I and I think that bonded us as well”
“We’ve come back (after being told who makes it through) Samoa Joe was Noam’s hero watching wrestling (thats how young he is). He’s had his hero say to him “You’re amazing, you’re a star” so he started crying. I’m tearing up. We’d bonded over the last few weeks and I see the little Jew across the room crying. We’re just crying over wrestling. Its embarrassing but it gives you a bond. Thats how much we give a shit. Then it turned out Kris Travis couldn’t do the show, so they’re looking for his replacement while I’m travelling down to do ICW and Noam got the shout instead. It all worked out in the end…in fact, FUCK HIM, he’s in WWE now *laughs* so he can fuck off”
Turning face after years of being the best villain was a necessity if “The Pinky Party” was going to happen, but it was being the very best baddie out there that made Sha and Grado’s battles so special and their chemistry in the ring created a bond outside it. Their match at ICW’s second London show “What’s Your Boggle” wasn’t seen by as many folk as it should have been due to the show clashing with the fuckin’ World Cup Final, but it was a show that displayed how natural their dynamic was. A dynamic that helped Grado gain the confidence to see himself as more than just a comedy guy as Sha explained.
“He had problems up here when he got big. Some people definitely resented him and couldn’t take it. In their eyes it was “How can this fat nobody be so popular?” that blew peoples minds. People couldn’t take it. And after that match (At Whats Your Boggle in London) he said ‘the first time I felt like a wrestler was after that match’ and I thought wow, that’s amazing. People would only ever go to him and say “do this, do your comedy” and I was like “No…you go out and fight…you can fuckin fight” I think working with each other we formed this crazy bond”
“If I didn’t have him, I’d have quit wrestling. If he didn’t have me, he might not have a job in TNA. The whole reason I was on that British Bootcamp thing was to make him look good. We had that match in London, British Bootcamp was coming up, and he put me over to Borash from TNA. I did this thing, where we’re doing ring workouts, and out of nowhere I just start beating him up for real. I threw him out the ring, and he knew since we’d become friends that he should be jumping back in there and fighting back. He came back in and beat me up. We did the whole fight and the producer comes up to us and says ‘That was fucking amazing’ “
Comparisons between that match in 2014 and their match at Shug’s Night Two could be drawn, only with the two pals finding themselves in the opposite roles. It was unquestionably a difficult moment for Sha to put an end to Grado’s ICW career. Especially since he admits he might have quit wrestling as far back as 2012 if he hadn’t seen the Vice documentary that first shot ICW and Grado into mainstream prominence. A journey that has since seen Grado hold the highly prestigious mantle of being Sha Samuels favourite wrestler
“He’s my best mate, but hand on heart…he’s my favourite wrestler. People dont want to admit it, but no ones ever come away from a Grado match not feeling something. Drew vs Grado at the SECC is one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. Originally when we won the belt Noam was gonna come out, and I was gonna run down and it was gonna be like the curtain call. Him winning that belt meant so much to me and Noam, because we knew how much it meant to him, i was a heel at the time so it wouldnt have made any sense, but I wanted to go out there. At that point I’d wrestled ages ago, I’ve had 10 pints, steamin and I’m like “fuck it…im going out there” and Dallas as at the curtain and stops me “Sorry mate, you’re not curtain calling my show…FACES!”and he shouts for all the faces to go out. I’ve got Damo consoling me, Joe Hendry consoling me, my heads gone down as if ive missed a penalty in a champions league final shootout. Deflated. It was a big deal him winning that. A really big deal. It meant so much to him”
Sha Samuels on his relationship with Grado
“If you ask a lot of the boys, they’d say the SECC was a bigger deal than The Hydro. That was the core team. We’d been on tour together, done every garage show. That was the team. I realise the next show, you need your bigger names to draw a bigger crowd, but we drew 4,000 people to that show. Dallas always puts his crew first and he put a lot of faith in us that night. Nothing like that had been done since the 80s. Foley being there meant a lot. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. At the SECC, we got to the venue, he sat by that monitor to watch all of us work.We came through the curtain and the first person there was Foley saying ‘good job’. Most imports when they get to a show want in and out as quick as possible. They hide until its their match. Whatever. He sat there, front and centre and watched the whole show “
The bond formed has become so unspoken that a recent bout between Grado and Sha didn’t even need any discussion beforehand as they faced each other at PWE’s 6th Anniversary Weekender in the more familar role of Grado as the high fiving ray of happiness and Sha as the guy who looks like he brushes his teeth with stanley blades because toothbrushes are for fackin’ mugs
“Its got to the stage now with us it’s just natural. If its me as a bad guy vs him as a good guy we dont even need to talk about it beforehand now. We just go out and do it. He’s one of the best workers in the fucking world. People think its guys like me that make him look good, guys like Whippy and Jester who make him look good. No. Its grado making them look good. I don’t think a lot of people appreciate how good he is. If it wasn’t for him being the perfect opponent I needed I would have quit wrestling in 2012-2013. So I wanna say thank you to him. Honest to fuck, we taught each other so much. If I quit wrestling today, the best thing I ever got from it was the friendship with him. It means the world to me. I hope people appreciate how much of a genius he is at wrestling“
A genius whose reign in ICW Sha was charged with ending. A role that only he could fulfil even if it hurt his heart to do so. That thunderous chairshot and the aftermath of it was heard around the wrestling world as the stage that birthed the Grado character saw him leave it for the last time, for what seems to be at the very least a long time, if not for good.
“The whole loser leaves ICW thing wasn’t planned in advance, the plan was for me and Grado to go on and on and on. That got stopped. So I had to do something, and the thing with Jester came up. That should have been a big moment. That match was a lot of pressure as well. We’ve never wrestled me as a good guy him as a bad guy. I’ll be honest with you he said to me ‘No one believes I’m a hard cunt’ and I said to him ‘You know what, people believe I’m a hard cunt, they do, so just beat me up. Beat the fuck out of me. After the match he came up to me and said ‘Thats the first time I’ve felt like a heel’ which was something I was proud of”
The first seeds of him becoming a villain were planted during the heated feud between Grado and Chris Renfrew. Very little in British Wrestling has ever evoked the emotion their battle did, as they exchanged devastating promos leading to their match for Grado’s ICW Title at the Square Go. A subject Sha spoke on with as much emotion as if the all-absorbing feud was happening again right now.
“That thing between Grado and Renfrew. That was real man. What Renfrew said to Grado was horrible. Me and Noam were at that show, and when he first became something he was so happy and innocent and that…that fuckin changed him.
He was so happy and taken aback by all the success. Doing the Wrestling Road Diaries and all that. Grado’s our biggest draw. He’s at the top. You don’t try and bring that down. He cut this promo and as horrible as it was, it was a good promo right. But who did it benefit? Whats the goal? It doesn’t achieve anything. It just kills momentum. It got too real and stopped being about business. So it got the The Barras and Grado was like “fuck this”. He wasn’t coming out in the singlet, he told me he was wearing trunks. He wasn’t coming out to Like A Prayer. Fuck that. I’m gonna show them how much of a star I am”
“The whole locker room was watching it, and we seen him do that. And we all lost it. That was the moment when everyone became close. Everyone was cliquey to an extent but that moment bonded all the little cliques. Even more so than the tours and all that. Because a lot of seen Grado as our guy. He’s the big draw”
The Black Label wasn’t Sha’s first involvement in a stable although The Black Label’s formation was probably a big part of the reason The 55 fizzled out. Originally supposed to be a three-man unit of Sha, Kid Fite and Martin Stone, Martin Stone’s departure for America left the group scrambling a bit. With none of the replacements really fitting the billing.
“Martin got a job in ICW was because of me anyway. Dallas wanted to book me vs Jester for Shugs One and I couldn’t do it, so I told him Martin’s back in the country. Book him instead. Martin then tells Dallas “me and Sha love teaming together btw!” I’m like “Do we?” *laughs* so they’re like ‘We’re gonna push these two cockney cunts!’ and out of nowhere Martin announces hes going to America, and that was that.
I’ve known Martin for 15 years, and for me what hes doing now isn’t the same. He’s having success with it and fair play, but the thing is, what hes doing now works for 3 or 4 guys, and they made a shitload of money from it, but if everyone goes in that direction it kills everything else”
With the original team dead in the water, the idea still progressed, eventually becoming a straight up tag team with Kid Fite and Sha providing a regular foe for Polo Promotions during their epic first run as ICW Tag Champions. As Sha explained how the group slowly fizzled out.
“It was due to be me, Ross and Martin. Martin’s replacement was Timm Wylie. Lovely, lovely, guy. If I had a sister that was single, I’d want him to marry her. That’s how lovely he is. But it just didn’t work. I suggested a few other people, and they went with Martin Kirby. Martin Kirby just isn’t that guy. He’s a great wrestler but that role just didn’t suit him. I put forward Iestyn Rees for it, just for having that big fucking…suited and booted, silent destroyer type, but they said they didn’t see it I’m thinking this is gonna fizzle out, this’ll be shit, and then they go ‘we’re giving you Bram!’ and we’re like ‘alright now we’re talking’ and then its, we think you need a manager. I was new to ICW, so at that time I accepted it, then Jamie Kennedy comes in with that dollar bill suit. Still, I was new, I didn’t wanna rock the boat, if it was now I’d have been like “fuck off!” but after seeing that I was deflated”
While the group tailed off a bit, it was the tag team Sha and Kid Fite formed that provided the lasting legacy of The 55. They gelled to the point that they slowly became a serious threat to Polo Promotions epic ICW Tag Title reign, eventually usurping them before they maned to reach their ultimate goal of 4-4-2 (442 days as champions). It was a feud that indirectly led to Polo Promotions departure from the company for a while, although that was no fault of team themselves
“Me and Ross are very similar in the sense that we’re utility guys. Any spot you wanna put is in on the show we can do. So it got to stage where Bram was with the Black Label, and all that was left was us, and I begged Dallas to let me and Ross tag together. We bonded. We worked hard for that team. We got in trouble a few times as well, but we wanted to play up the gimmick as much as possible that we were a couple of hard nut pissheads”
“There was a show after we’d won the belts, where we worked Lou King Sharp and Divers. It ended up getting a bit silly. We were a bit…well we’d had a pint, put it that way, but not in a dangerous way at all. Divers wasn’t happy about it, and it all got a bit silly from there. We got in a bit of trouble for that, but the way I seen it was that he didn’t want to work with us that night and at the end of the day, it’s not about you mate. It was about us. We were the tag champs”
“It was tough back then. At that time the talent was so good. Everyone was at the top of their game. There was a lot of pressure on everyone. Our feud was really mostly being told “yeah..just wrestle”. The final straw for them was that they wanted to drop the titles at the Square Go, where it meant something. They ended up having to drop them to us at a Garage show, because we were all told we’d be in the Square Go match, but right after that garage show they announced a re-match.”
Much like anyone with sense, the mixed reaction to Polo Promotions in ICW baffles Sha. The feel good factor from their victory at Shug’s Night Two still didn’t carry over to the most recent Garage taping as the crowd for those shows remains split down the middle Polo Promotions opponents on Night Two were the ICW Tag Team Champions Bird and Boar. A duo, who combined with Iestyn Rees make up “The Marauders”. Sha proved to be pivotal in all three men becoming regular ICW roster members, although by his own admittance the hilariously chaotic way he had a hand in Bird and Boar becoming regulars is one he takes a degree of pride in. More for the sheer feat of human resilience it was for him to even be standing when the bell rang.
“Last time we had the tour bus. We did the London show. Before it I had a few bottles. Bram was looking after us. On another occasion actually I told Bram I was off to be sick, and he gives it “I’ll be sick wiv ya” and he actually threw up just so I wasn’t doing it alone. All these people thing they know all about Bram when in reality he’s one of the sweetest, gentlest guys on the roster. We did the show and nailed it as usual”
“Tour bus was from London to Cardiff. Me, Grado and Dallas stayed up getting on it. We get to Cardiff, Bram and Jester had a hotel so we thought we’d nick to the hotel for a sleep. We head for the hotel not realising the fucking Cardiff marathon was on. Mo Farah was running. The streets are PACKED with people. Me, Grado and Dallas are walking amongst this and we’ve got no idea what hotel we’re in. we got ot every Premier In, every Travelodge. All of them. We finally checked in. See the video of me doing the roly poly? Thats 2pm in the afternoon”
That video was infamous in the days of Vine and until Sha’s revelation it would have been natural to assume it was more of a 2am than a 2pm effort. In Sha’s words that was the life on tour, and as much as Bird and Boar might have been worried that night in Cardiff, the match they produced secured the Welshmen a regular spot in the company.
“We were gonna have a nightcap and the guy refused to serve me. I was pissed off. I said to Grado “Who the fuck does he think he is. I’m not fucked. I’ll prove it. I’ll do some shoulder rolls. Film it”
“55 vs Bird and Boar. They’re nervous, its their first match with ICW, against the tag champs, thinking if we smash it we’ve got a job for life. Ross had a bad shoulder at that time and before I got there he’s telling Bird and Boar, Sha will handle it, Sha will do most of the work, he wont mind. I walk in and collapse dead on the couch backstage. Spread out to fuck on this sofa. Ross just looks at them and goes “….sorry”
“Bird and Boar are shitting themselves. Damo’s like ‘Sha, the show’s starting’ and I’ve turned round giving it “Fuck them! I’m the import here!” *laughs* So at this stage I’ve got one boot on, Joe Coffey’s tied up my other boot, and they’re debating if I’m in good enough nick to go out. Someone goes “where’s your braces!?” and I’ve went “FUCK THE BRACES!…FUCK EM”. watch it back, I’ve not got any braces. Apparently we planned this match. I have no memory of that at all, I was told this after, but im sitting like this *Sha gets up and leans his head against the wall” Music comes on. This is like my legacy in wrestling. Music plays, I turn round and go EASSSSSSSSSSST! and out we went. Apparently the match was so good it got them a job with ICW”
While it wasn’t his most professional moment by his own admittance, it earned Sha special “dae whit ye want” dispensation on the tour. Something he told me with a cheeky laugh. Perhaps that was his plan all along
“There’s a curfew on the tour. Dallas sets a curfew, and you have to stop drinking at a certain time…”except Sha…Sha doesnt do a fuckin curfew” “
Sha’s work in his home town of London is where you realise how much of a commitment he makes to being the bad guy. I counted 5 trips to London on shows Sha was on and not once did anyone in any of those audiences cheer for him. Not a single person. While all the “yanks” of the day come out to rapturous reception, there was no love for the hometown boy. The “East!” chant bellowed out at the York Hall amongst a chorus of boo’s from an audience actually made up of people from that area. Imagine going anywhere else and seeing that? That’s what makes Sha Samuels different from anyone else and that was no more apparent than at Rev Pro, before a recent run as a good guy.
“I’ll do everything I can to get booed if im a heel. I’ll go as low as I can to get heel heat because that’s what it’s about. If I was turning heel tomorrow I’d cut a promo and say whatever I’ve gotta say to get that reaction. People are too worried to do that nowadays. You cant be horrible in case you don’t sell as many t-shirts or whatever. I understand why but everyone’s become a market trader first and a wrestler second and I hate it”
“Rev Pro is a different beast as a promotion.the audience there…they want moves. The reason I’m on those shows is Andy (Quildan) is the guy that put a lot of faith in me years ago. It got to the point where the people didn’t want me on those shows. I’m a character based wrestler. I’m a cunt. My job is to get sympathy for my opponent and I do it well. I was getting a lot of resentment from the crowd and Andy always stuck by me. To the point where it was like “this guy isnt going anywhere so you’re just gonna have to put up with it”
Put up with it they have and then some as they’ve recently seen a side of Sha no one ever really thought they’d see. The infamous moonsault has become one of the most sought after sights in British Wrestling. In fact, fuck it, the wrestling world. The universe. If theres wrestling on Mars, they’d still be impressed by the Sha Samuels moonsault, and he found himself in the totally unfamiliar position of going in to a match with WWE legend Bully Ray as somewhat of a crowd favourite.
“I’m looking forward to it. The whole point in me being in that match is so the crowd are happy to see him. I’m quite prepared to open the floor up to him and let him do whatever match he wants to do. If its shit, I’m still gonna be there next month. I’m smart enough to know, no one there wants to see me in there with Tanahashi. Bubba Ray Dudley? That’s a different kettle of fish”
The matches with Tanahashi and Nakamura could indeed have been them vs Sha Samuels but a difference in thinking in the preparation for it led to Big Damo being in the matches instead. A move that probably worked out for the best but one Sha had a slight hint of regret about when he spoke.
“Damo got the Tanahashi and Nakamura matches but it could have been me. I’m very pro British Wrestling, I believe we shouldn’t be an afterthought. We’re not the fucking mugs of the wrestling world. It got to the Global Wars weekender and Andy tells me I’d be on with them, go research them on youtube, you have to able to bring it. I turned to him and said “Do me a favour, go message Nakamura and Tanahashi now and tell them to research me” “
“They’re coming in to the UK, to one of my home promotions. Don’t fucking insult me like that. Maybe I’m being childish, I don’t know. It kind of worked out in my favour in a way, because I ended up working with Tenzan and Kojima that night and Andy pulled me aside and said New Japan had told him I was the only British guy who was allowed to win against the Japanese guys. Make it a big thing. I told him I’m not gonna make it a big thing, I’m gonna win the match dirty as fuck, because that’s what I do”
“The next day we worked the Bullet Club, Karl and Luke. I get on well with them. Anyone who comes from the wrestling world and understands it I get on well with, so I get on well with them and they told said “Nah, you’re not losing to us, Double DQ” so i come out of the weekend looking good and I got taken round the New Japan office and all that. Nothing happened but it was nice to get that bit of recognition from it”
Another wee nod in his direction happened last week when Sha represented Rev Pro on RoH’s recent tour shows in the UK. A gig that thrust Sha into a spotlight he fully deserves but seldom seeks out. Such is his conviction of the high standard that exists in this country. Although mixing it with a few yanks every now and then does no harm. Except to them.
“I’ve got RoH this weekend and Andy got me that. As much as ICW is my home promotion, I owe Andy Quildan everything. I was a tag team wrestler when i started and when he started Rev Pro he told me im gonna be the champion, and I had two years with it.”
In those two years Sha built a reputation for winning matches “dirty as fuck” culminating in a special night where he dropped the title to Colt Cabana in a match that articulates everything Sha was about as a baddie, as he explained.
“I was very committed to it because it was very work-rate. It was a work-rate place and they all hated me, going over dirty all the time. It was all deliberate. It was all for a reason. I’ve been going over with low blows, belt shots, slapping the ref right. All that. When I dropped the belt to Colt after 2 years, first thing that happens is me slapping the ref Chris Roberts round the face and I leave. The crowd all stand, booing and screaming all sorts. They’re all raging, like he’s got away with it again, and the announcer goes “The referee Chris Roberts has informed me, Sha Samuels has NOT been disqualified” I get back in the ring. 200 peole there, this is the loudest I’ve ever heard a crowd. He rolls me up for a 2. I chuck the ref out. Belt shot. 1,2…crowd are going mental. I then leave to try and lose by count out, and the ref gets to a 7, 8, 9…he’s about to count 10 when Colt stops him and goes “do not stop this match until I kick his ass” and he goes back and drags me out and beats me. The whole point in me having that belt was for that moment. It could have been colt, could have been anyone. That’s what gave me a bit of stock there as well”
The level of commitment required to keep that devilish title run going for 2 years, with the audience’s distaste for your actions multiplying after every match, is something that Sha takes pride in. A level of commitment that he carried into a gimmick for PCW where he went on a streak of winning matches when his opponent let their arm drop three times in a simple sleeper hold. Something the PCW fans hated just as much as the Rev Pro fans hated his title run, but this time Sha almost stumbled upon this gold mine during a match with the now retired Mad Man Manson.
“People are scared of committing to something. If you really commit to something in wrestling, it gets over. I done something similar in PCW. I worked Mad Man Manson, and I’ve got him in a sleeper hold, he lets his arm drop three times right. Mad Man Manson’s a walking talking rib. He didn’t tell me he was gonna do this. The reaction was so strange, I’m giving it “EAAAAAST!” not really sure what to do and I thought “I’m gonna do that again”. Next match. Arm drops three times. Same reaction. I kept that going for…16 months. I beat everyone with that. Ken Anderson came over once and he asks “so…what’s your finish” and I go “mate…you’re dropping your arm three times in a sleeper hold” and he’s going “What?!” . I’m beating everyone with it and goes from people thinking “what the fuck?!” to it getting heat. We done the PCW/ROH weekender and I worked three yanks. Kenny King, Dalton Castle and Delirious. They were all “what? I tap?” and I’d say “No no, dont tap, let your arm drop three times” Delirious actually got it and loved it but the other two not as much. We built this up, because as soon as someone doesnt let it drop for a third time…you’ve made that person!”
A piece of work Sha took a lot of pride in was being the man to work with Kris Travis on his PCW comeback. At Travis’ own request, as he saw Sha as the only villain out there worthy of being the counter point to what was sure to be the biggest reaction to any return in British Wresting history as he overcome the first bout of cancer before sadly passing away to the illness a year later.
Sha’s transition from being the best bad guy on planet earth to being part of the team who saved ICW at The Hydro was a long and winding one, but it all kicked off with Sha coming out with The Black Label at Shugs House Party last year, only to drop back from the rest of the group while Dallas announced that HE was the mystery man who would join Grado and Noam Dar to take on The Black Label. A moment he still holds dear, despite his initial reluctance.
“Adrian (Lionheart) was out at aswell and he turns round to see me “look at you! you’re buzzing btw!” Originally it was supposed to be Noam and Grado vs Jester and Drew. Wolfgang came up with the idea to make it a 6 man with the logic that if he doesn’t wrestle on the show, everyone’s gonna assume he’s cashing in. Noam at that time had just signed with WWE, and he begged them can we just do this please. Even if it’s just one time or whatever. So they tell me I’m turning face, and I’m not for it. I thought they’re not gonna care”
“There’s this mystery man and Renfrew’s just been fired. Everyone’s gonna assume its Chris Renfrew. Or someone else. No one’s gonna care. I’m not a big deal. They’re not gonna react. I was shitting myself, honestly. I’m not joking. That was a big show as well, with the Polos coming back and everything and the reaction it got when it happened? it meant a lot to me. We got to tag together in another 6 man as well, and it was so much fun, it had me thinking “You cunt Noam! why’d you have to go and get signed!” *laughs* We could have done so much more with it. I remember at that time Grado was thinking no one gave a shit about him as a face, and after that match he went “I’m back!” *laughs*. “
The adjustment from being a perennial baddie to being involved in one of the most popular groups in ICW history wasn’t an easy one for Sha.
“I didn’t like it. Especially up here. The crowds are a lot different now though, as soon as they heard the word London you’d get a big “boooo”. Back when I first came here, it was very patriotic. Now everyone knows theres a lot of English guys on shows. There’s 10 hotel rooms a fuckin show for people coming here *laughs*. Its a world-wide wrestling promotion now, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. Look at Trent Seven. He’s English and he’s just over. “
A big part of people loving Sha so much as a good guy came from his infectious entrance music. A parody of Park Life by Blur, that instantly got the crowd going and introduced any newer fans to this version of Sha.
“When I lost Sha Life, that broke my heart. The funny thing about that how it came about we’re on the tour bus steaming right. I first did it in 2009. We’re steaming, and I’ve gone “Who wants to hear me sing?” and I play it on my phone. Soon as I played it Drews going ‘oh my fucking god! thats amazing, thats fuckin amazing” (Sha done my favourite ever Drew impression here, not the most accurate, but the most ‘surfer duuuude’ version I’ve heard yet) “Sha, thats fucking money” “
“So Drew gets Dallas over and they’ve taken my phone, listened to it about 10 times, and Dallas goes to me…”you’re turning face!”. I’m like “fuck off…whaddya mean” He keeps saying its an ICW entrance. That’s a Bucky Boys entrance. What he originally wanted me to do was be The Sandman. So I could come through the crowd, drinking beers etc. Beat a cunt, then fuck off and drink more beer. All the boys loved it. It was a big pop. I get to a garage show one day and they say I cant use it. “
The transition from baddest baddie doing bad stuff to popularity was a gradual one. The EAST! chants had started long before he became an out and out good guy in ICW, and according to Sha that started when he became an integral part of the ICW roster.
“When I became friends with the guys and one of the locker room leaders of ICW. Dallas putting that faith in me to make me a regular on the roster after that London show was a big deal. That made me feel more a part of it all than an import. Being loud, being fun backstage. It trickles down. Being one of the boys and being on the tours, always having a laugh. A lot of the stuff me, Grado and Noam would do on social media. We always believe wrestling is so big, it’s not all about what happens in the ring. So when they see that friendship blossoming on social media etc, I reckoned they’d pop for it. They see you’re a different person “
One of the liberating things about his current run has been the emergence of the ShaSault or as he calls it “The Fatsault”. A beautiful moonsault, usually from the top rope to the outside. A move that’s always been in his arsenal, but when you’re the baddest man on the planet, moonsaults to the outside aren’t the done thing unless you’re shit at being a bad guy.
“I used to do a moonsault to the outisde for a laugh. It was an ego thing the first time because Trent and Tyler were like ‘you cant do it’ and I was like “you what”. I was meant to do it at Shugs but I did an elbow drop the outside because I bottled it. I can do all that shit though. Moonsaults, Shooting Star Press, 450. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If I start doing all that, everyones gonna expect it all the time. It started as a running gag. This is how I pitched it to Dallas. I wanna be drinking beer. I wanna push my belly out as far as I can. Like Razor Ramon with the toothpick behind his ear, I wanted to have a cigarette behind my ear, and everytime I was in a match at one point I’d go “fag garden!” and hopefully punters would follow me and have a fag”
“Another thing I wanted to do in tag matches or whatever, I’ll be standing on the apron drinking a pint and when I get tagged in, I go “hold my pint” then I go and do something stupid. I think I’m the most un-Indy wrestler in the world right, so the pop would be that I wanna start hitting superkicks. I wanna hit a 450. A shooting star press. The plan was to hit one a show, but shows are so frequent right now they’ll be expecting all of that stuff everywhere. So now its more, keep giving them the moonsault and when I go up they’re thinking “aw he’s going for the moonsault again” . I love doing it more for the crowd than the boys. If i say im gonna go something like that they go “fuck off”. The Canadian Destoryer as well. Never done one in my life before”
A match with Stevie Boy at a recent Garage show was also the scene of a motherfucking backwards Hurricanrana from Sha. A sight I still feel very privileged to have seen and will undoubtedly tell my grandchildren about, but that match came from a burning desire to work with Stevie. Sha counting himself as another in Stevie’s growing fan group.
“Stevie is amazing. I’d work Stevie all the time. I hate all the fear that goes into wrestling. Just let Stevie be Stevie. Let him go out there and do what he does. Because once people see Stevie at his best he’ll be around the fuckin country, up and down Europe. Dallas goes to me “who do you wanna work next?” and right away I go “Stevie…I wanna do a program with Stevie” but he’s doing something else now. I was practically begging Dallas to let me work with him. We had a match and I loved it, but hes so good. He looks vicious as a heel, hes a little shit as well, but he’s also so atheltic and so good. I love him and Kay Lee together too. They are just…scum. Like Bonnie and Clyde. If Stevie and Kay Lee get married that would be a big deal. When I think about it, I got married in a registry office and in hindsight if I was to do it again….I would not let one fuckin wrestler near it. Not one. Not even Grado. Last thing I want is a wrestler at the wedding. Animals”
The importance of “the boys” has never been more apparent than it is now. The group involved with World Of Sport in particular seem to have taken that mindset and made it something hugely significant. Its a mentality also shared by WWE’s Finn Balor. A guy who consistently uses his position in WWE to help others out and encourage the company to look at his talented pals.
“Devitt’s a good mate. Back in 2012 sort of time he’d come over and work a lot of show’s for Andy (Rev Pro). I like this story , when he worked his last show for Rev Pro, he worked Adam Cole and the big gimmick was Josh Bodom and Marty Scurll comes out, big fale makes the save. Impromptu tag match. He pulled Andy aside and told him it was good, but only if Sha’s doing it. He’s always gone to bat for me and I appreciate it but more importantly he’s a pal. Friends are more important in wrestling”
The importance of locker room unity has never been more apparent after the WoS let down and if anything positive comes it, it will be that. A recent issue with WCPW showed just how strong the locker room can be if they are together as one as Sha saw a string of cancelled bookings with the company re-instated thanks to the solidarity shown by the locker room. The attitude that they are better and stronger as a unit had previously been under the “We’re All Pals” warcry, but that has been recently usurped by something new.
“What Culture booked me for a bunch of dates, and a day before the first one they pulled me. This is what people don’t understand when it comes to the boys. When we’re all together, we’re stronger, right. They were being rude, they were being arrogant about me. I work Friday’s so I had to take time off Friday’s and organise travel. I’m missing out on a payday because of them. So I slagged them online, and told the lads ‘milk them’.
“That was a show that had Mark, Kenny, Joe, Euan (Aaron Echo) that to me was more important. Missing out on a show the boys were on. They cancelled 3 or 4 dates and im missing out on a fair bit of money. Everyone just tweeted “#EAST” and they shat themselves. the boys were like fuck this, this is wrong. The arrogance of it is what a annoyed me, they just told me, we’re not gonna have you on the show. So eventually after the boys tweeting about it, they come back and say we’re gonna have you on all the dates. And the PPV as well. Thats when we realised what we had and how powerful we were united. Thats when we realised the boys were important and you know what, that was from ICW. That was from us bonding on all those tours. The boys being together is so important”
“15 years in wrestling, you don’t have a social life outside wrestling. My real pals are my wrestling pals. The nature of the beast is, if I quit wrestling I lose my pals. So you know what, if i got a job in WWE that would be great, but I wrestle for the boys”
One of the “boys” that Sha beamed about was Wolfgang. As we discussed his success in the WWE UK tournament, Sha reflected on Charlie Sterling’s ICW debut against Wolfgang when he held the World Title and the pair tore the house down in Bristol.
“Theres two guys that are my guys. Him and Charlie Sterling. I’ve only ever vouched for two people and its them. Iestyn, because you know what? he looks like a star. A superstar. He needs to believe in that. If he works his match, that plays to his strengths, he’s a fucking superstar every time. I’ve know Iestyn years. I discovered Iestyn. 2004 when I met him, he was the first British Wrestler I’d seen with muscles. I looked at him and went “Fuck….you’re big….jackhammer…spear..thats all you’re doing. NO SHUT UP! Jackhammer, Spear…thats it”
“Charlie Sterling. See all that Will Ospreay stuff right? He does all that and doesn’t get the same reaction. I dunno why. People don’t have faith in muscles! I talked him up to Dallas and he was like “mate, I trust what you’re thinking, he’s in the main event with Wolfy” so he had his debut against the world champ. He got there and he was nervous because no ones ever given him that faith, but he smashed it. It was amazing. Everyone was going fucking mental for it”
“Me and Wolfy bonded because we’ve been doing this the same amount of time and one day I just went to him ‘Its not gonna happen for us is it?’ and he just went ‘Nah, its not’ and now it’s happened for him I’m so happy for him.He deserves it so much. What I love about Wolfy is that he was content to go there and make the young guys look good, and then they realised how good he is.
Another talent Sha spoke passionately about was Lionheart. Affectionately referred to as “Mad Leon” by The East End Butcher thanks to a party animal alter ego that Sha takes most of the credit for bringing out.
“He used to hate me, then I got on to PCW and hes close to Noam and so am I, so we were kinda stuck together. It came to a point where Noam was going on to bigger things and he wasn’t going out after shows, so me and Adrian started to go out. He wont mind me saying this, Adrian is very…wrestling and I went out with him and I was like…calm the fuck down. Just be you. Have fun. He was so serious which is a good thing and what made him one of the best in the country, but he started having some fun. He never used to drink much, but he started going out drinking and having fun. I dunno what happened but as one point he became a party animal”
“It was like he changed into a different person. We started calling him Leon because L the Lion was a wrestler in Scotland and it was funny right. So we went out one night and he absolutely caused it on the dancefloor. Mad Leon. We started calling him that, and everyone started going “Adrian?!!!” Mad Leons a metaphor for Adrian changing. Adrians more like..one of the boys. Hes not so worried about Lionheart, hes worried about everyone. hes the true locker room leader. Cares about everyone. Hes performing on top of his game, and he deserves all the sucess. Even his promos hes killing it “
The recent debut of “The Kinky Party” stole the show at the most recent Garage taping. A tag team between Jack Jester and Sha that exists more like a comedy double act than a wrestling tag team. The hilarity that ensued when they teamed together has given both men a hunger to make it a regular thing.
“The whole point of me is. You cant say stuff without offending people. I’m trying to, not do a homophobic gimmick because I’m not homophobic at all, but act in a way where people go ‘You’re a cunt, You cant say that. The same way I tried to push the envelope with posting a picture with a pigs head recently saying “I’ve quit my job as a butcher” to pursue wrestling. The reason I did that wasn’t to say, I’ve quit my job, I want sympathy, book me. Etc. Feel sorry for me. Praise me. The main reason I posted that picture was to wait and see who’s gonna get offended that I’ve posted a picture of a pig’s head. Wrestling is story, its character, everyone knows its a show, but everyone believes it more now than they ever have. So if I come out with a pig’s head. If I’ve been borderline homophobic with this gimmick with Jester, people are thinking “that’s real”. They’re not realizing…I’m playing a character. I’m trying to push the envelope with that..slightly, and I think I get away with it more because of my accent and where I’m from. cockney, working class, is the gimmick”
“I could get away with saying anything. Maybe not after yesterday (Thatcher Wright) but I could get away with saying I vote Tory because of my accent. I dont by the way. but I think I could get people to love me still even with saying I vote Tory. “
Mad L…I mean Lionheart has gained a bit of a following lately for his stellar form in and out of the ring. Any remaining doubters were well and truly won over when they got to see him Rock Bottom a Tory. Not any old Tory, one who fuckin idolises Maggie Thatcher. Sha almost went one better in 2010 when he went for a council seat that was “bombproof Tory” and managed to come second. A double life of sorts that he explained further..
“I’ve worked for my Dad since I was 10 years old in the butcher, shop, but in 2010, I went ‘fuck this, i need to do something else’ to make my CV look good. So I joined the Labour Party for a quid. It looks good onmy cv right. So he works for the labour, hands out leaflets on the weekends etc. So i get a phonecall, we need youto run for the council seat in Chigwell (where I live) Dont worry, its bombproof Tory, you wont win, but we need a candidate. Whaddyou mean? What if I win? “You won’t win”. I ran for fucking office in 2010 for the Labour Party, and they said you wouldn’t even finish in the top 5, we just need a name. So I was like…”whaddyou mean im not gonna finish top 5? Is that a challenge?”
“The area is quite upper class. My Dad’s Iranian and he gets some looks. My Dad is very succesful in what he does, but he dresses…..shall we say moderately. I thought fuck this, done a bit of campaigning and managed to come second with 12% of the vote, which shows you how bombproof Tory it was, but the fact that my full name is Shaheen Samuel Hoissenpour right. Its a mouthful. Its foreign as fuck. The fact that my name came second, and it was all over the local news, was a moral victory”
It was one of those moments that really only become possible when you do interviews in person. For a lot of the interview, I sat opposite Shaheen Hosseinepour, but in that brief moment when he grabed my phone and started emotively cutting a promo into it, he was Sha Samuels. He was Sha Samuels and he was gonna say what he wanted to say no matter what you or anyone else thinks, and there’s really no more fitting note to round off the interview than that. A promo from Sha Samuels to my burst old Iphone 4.
“See wrestling fans nowadays right. I dont give a fuck, you can tweet me, say whatever. You boo wrestlers, you judge wrestlers, you’re not watching wrestling, you’re watching your fucking phones. You go by reputation. You think you know whats good and whats not, and instead of watching the shows and making your own mind up you just follow what everyone else is following. You’re all fucking sheep. Watch what you wanna watch, cheer who you wanna cheer, boo who you wanna boo, but make your own mind up about it”
“If you just boo people for the sake of booing them because they’ve got a bad reputation online, thats not right. Everyone wants to search their favourite wrestlrs online or whatever and see what everyone else is saying about them. Make your own minds up. You know what? I liked Water World. Kevin Costner. I fucking liked it. I didnt listen to the critics. I made my own fucking mind up and I fucking loved that movie”
“You know what else i fucking loved. I liked Godfather Part 3. I dont give a fuck what you think. Imade my own mind up. If you watch a wrestling martch, dont go by what other people say. Make your own fucking minds up. Watch the fucking show, see whats in front of you and fucking enjoy yourselves”
Never a truer word spoken. A sincere thank you to Sha for his time and company and some hugely encouraging words.
Huge thank you to David J Wilson, Warrior Fight Photography, The Ringside Perspective and anyone elses photos I’ve used.