Some people will tell you the best stories are true stories. A true story gives you the chance to empathise with the characters, a feeling that if it can happen in their lives, it can happen in yours just as easily. Some will tell you the more outlandish the story the better and that fiction is the best form of storytelling. Escapism. Where we can create other universes, superheroes, aliens, even the lord god himself can exist in the land of fiction. For me, a combination of the two is perfection and that’s why wrestling exists. For people who like their reality to not be all that real…but they want it to be at least a wee bit real at the same time. They want it to feel authentic. They want the two people staring each other down in the middle of that ring to look like they want to murder each other. They want it to be Jackie Polo vs Lionheart.
The first time around I have absolutely no doubt they legitimately hated one and other on a personal level. Hate is a strong word but it’s not used without basis here. There was no mutual respect. No secret friendship. Nothing resembling a relationship of any kind except perhaps co-workers. When Lionheart broke his neck a rivalry based on mutual dislike became a rivalry based on white-hot hatred. Real heat. “Another retirement looms” might seem like three simple, almost innocuous words but the timing of it lit the feud on fire. Pals of Lionheart absolutely fuming with what was deemed to be Jackie Polo making light of something life altering and potentially career ending. Did Polo flinch for a second? Did he fuck. The reason for that is simple. Jackie Polo is the best character in the UK today. When it comes to being absolutely 100% committed to whatever he’s doing in wrestling, there is simply no one better. He knew what he was doing when he tweeted that and didn’t regret it for a second. Why would he? You were supposed to hate him and if you think what he tweeted crossed a line? Good. Use that hate and boo that ears clean off him the next time you see him live. When he’s a villain there’s few who come close to doing it the way he does.
He will ignore you when you ask for a photo outside the venue. He will chuck your autograph book in a puddle and watch as your treasured memories become soggy scribbles. As part of Polo Promotions when they were baddies they were bad, they used dirty tricks, anything it might take to get the job done and when the crowd started to go with them? He chucked himself right in to that as well. If you ever wanted a photo or even an interview (hint, hint) with him, that was your chance. His character was a fan favourite so you got that with all the bells and whistles. The teletubbies dancing, high fiving, ice cream tanning, scooptastic, all singing, all dancing Jackie Polo and when that was over and CAPTAIN JAAAAACK came back, he had to find a way to make them hate him again. Too many were still cheering. Still loyal to the scoop. He had to become something else.
While all that was happening, Lionheart was picking himself off the floor. Stunned by his comeback from a career threatening injury being met with, to tell the absolute truth, indifference. The crowd weren’t with him. As much as I’m sure everyone was happy to see him back doing what he loves doing, it wasn’t enough to get them to throw their backing behind him, and it crushed him. Not Lionheart the wrestler, Adrian McCallum the human being was dumbfounded by it. How could this be? How could they possibly prefer the guy who had based a lot of his career around winding folk up as much as possible? What did he have to do to get them to love him? Break a few limbs as well? Lose an eye? A baw? What would it take. Truth be told nothing he could have overcome to make it to that match would have been enough. Once the audience have made their minds up, there’s little you can do to change that and even if it wasn’t a landslide, Polo had them that night. They wanted him to win and when he did, they revelled in it much like Jackie did himself. It was time for Lionheart to become something else. In wrestling if you can’t adapt, you can’t have a career at this. It’s as simple as that. Things change, opinions change, and when they do? You have to change. They didn’t want to cheer? Ok then. Make them boo as much as possible instead. Make them belligerently thrust the middle fingers in your face like Austin in the late 90s. Make them hate ye. Make them care.
While Lionheart was becoming the “fanny” who ruled the Zero-G Division, Polo was happily dominating the tag division alongside his best pal Mark Coffey. After that first match, there was two chances of Jackie Polo and Lionheart ever meeting again. Nane and fuck all. It just wasn’t on the cards. They were happy to do their own thing entirely separate from one and other until things changed again. Suddenly over the course of his feud with Joe Hendry, the crowd started to back Lionheart. Who knows what made it turn, maybe it was a simple as the performances he was putting on in the ring, maybe he was just giving off that energy that wrestling fans cling to. That energy that makes you believe this and this alone is what that wrestler lives for. This company, this title, these fans. He suddenly became the guy who he wanted to be that night at the Barrowlands a few years earlier when he hit rock bottom at the sharp end of Jackie Polo’s boot. You’d think a neck break would be the lowest of the low when it comes to reflecting on your career to date, but to me anyway, that night was even worse for Lionheart. They rejected him and it hurt. He was defeated and it hurt. Then it was suddenly on the cards again. Almost from nowhere. Standing face to face in the middle of the ring during the 2018 Square Go you felt it. This wasn’t just a wee throwback scrap. No nostalgia at play here. This was it. It was on once more. It was only a matter of time until they would meet again.
Polo tried his absolute best to become the bastard he once was and continually resisted the match. Even breaking out a wee fake retirement to kick it all off. They still weren’t having it. Polo Promotions for life. There’s a charisma about the guy that once you really see it, its hard to unsee it and suspend your disbelief to dislike him. Its something I’ve never personally found possible. Even through the never-ending This Is Your Life segment, and the pacing slowly up and down the ring in Edinburgh just to see how long folk would keep reacting to it, and even the Hillsborough reference when ICW debuted in Liverpool, you can’t take your eyes off it when he’s on his game. Once you start appreciating his work you can’t suddenly unappreciate it. A true villain and a master at getting a crowd to care about what he’s involved.. Even if the thing they care about is his untimely death. The sequel came around. Barramania 4. A full 3 years since they first sold out that venue with just their match announced. It was happening again, Polo finally signed on the dotted line and we were finally getting the sequel. This time the crowd were split down the middle I’d say. Lionheart no longer considered the perennial fanny by most, even some Polo fans must have at least had a grudging respect for how he turned it all around and with that we just had a rip roaring screamer of a match. The match of the year so far in ICW but what made it so good was that sense of desperation in Lionheart. He NEEDED that win, whereas Jackie Polo was sure he was getting it no matter what.
On that night self-assurance trumped desperation. Jackie Polo won once again and a crestfallen Lionheart was left considering if he’d made the right decision to get back in the ring with a man who just seems to always get the better of him. His bogey team. A guy who had taken up residence in Lionhearts conscience and was showing nae signs of giving up that lease anytime soon. Lionheart chucked it after that. He was done. Another retirement was less of a looming possibility and more of a certainty until one almighty slap from Sha Samuels woke him up. This wasn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.
When Jackie Polo emerged at The Barrowlands as “Just Justice” Jackie Polo it must have been disorienting. Even a wee bit funny. What was he uptae? What was his game with this patter? His game was simple. Get them to hate ye again. The perfect opportunity popped up at Shoogs Hoose Party a few months later when DCT stunned the world and became the ICW World Champion. An unthinkable rise from being the guy taken under Polo’s wing a few years earlier to join Polo Promotions, to being the first one from that stable to earn the right to call themselves champ. But first on that very same weekender came act three. A generous offer from ICW promoter Mark Dallas had ol Just Justice signing on the dotted line for Lionheart vs Polo 3 and when Lionheart was finally convinced to give overcoming his greatest foe one more shot, the seed was truly planted for what’s to come this Sunday. This time it wasn’t desperation fuelling Lionheart, it was a sense of injustice. A sense that he’d let Jackie Polo win the mind games for too long and on this night he would not be beaten. Even if Jackie pulled a shotgun out his trunks and blew Lionhearts head clean off, he was still getting his hand raised at the end of that match.
It was another blistering encounter and confirmation that despite their deep-seated disdain for each other that they had chemistry in the ring. Neither of them probably wanted to admit that to themselves or each other when they first locked horns, but things change. They probably didn’t hate each other on a personal level quite as much as they did back then (although I sincerely doubt you’ll see them out for a beer together anytime soon) and it was another match that was captivating from the very start. Could Polo do the unthinkable and hand Lionheart a defeat that would be impossible to come back from? The very possibility of it had everyone transfixed. Every near fall. Every time Polo hit a big time move and Lionheart somehow got the shoulder up there was gasps. A growing feeling that this was finally HIS night. Low and behold it was. Even the very move that broke his neck wasn’t enough to put him away that night. When that final frog splash landed and the referee counted the three it was a release. It was redemption. Finally he’d proved that he was at the very least capable of beating Jackie Polo. Something he and many others have doubted at various points in this saga. Did he have it in him to block out that wee voice telling him he cant do it. Did he have in him to block out his opponent telling him he can’t do it? The answer was yes.
With newfound belief, Lionheart immediately stated that he was coming from the Grand Slam at The Hydro. The ICW Title being the only major title in Scotland he has never held (besides the one in the promotion he promotes himself) and a title he has come within bawhairs of holding on many an occasion, he wasn’t up for settling for a spot in a multi man stramash or a feud against a younger talent where he made them look dynamite as he done often in his Zero-G Title run, he wanted the glory. He wanted that shiny belt and DCT would be the man who he’d have to overcome to finally reach his destiny. Until it all changed….again.
No one was really sure what kind of character Just Justice was at that point. There was humour to his character, and no shortage of patter in that impeccable Southern accent. There was no longer any doubt as to which side of the hero/villain divide he leaned towards that night at The Garage, when DCT’s title defence against Bram descended into chaos, ol Just Justice made his way from his position on commentary that night to seemingly jump to his pal and former stablemate’s aid. Or did he? Instead he tore his pals world apart. Took his trusted mentor and manager Coach Trip and summoned him to stand by his side as he picked his old mucker apart. Leaving us in no doubt as to who would be answering DCT’s open Title challenge at the next show. Jackie Polo smelled blood and not only that, he smelled gold.
In his mind that title was going home with him and its that unwavering self belief that makes you either love or hate Jackie Polo. When he squeezed the life out of DCT with a side headlock to the point that he just couldn’t go on, he had won the companies biggest prize with something so simple it was perfect. Even Jackie Polo diehards didn’t know how to react as he unleashed a merciless beating on DCT after the match before almost dismissing the title and leaving through the crowd. No fanfare. No parties. No hugging his most loyal fans and blowing a kiss to the Mrs. None of that. Outlaws don’t play that shit. Outlaws take what they want and move on to the next one. In the company where the majority of the fans would at one time face the opposite direction whenever he appeared, he was now the man, and he’d cut down one of his most trusted allies to do it. If he’s willing to do that to his pal to take the title, think what he might be willing to do to someone he fucking hates to keep a hold of it, especially when the match takes centre stage at a beautiful big building like The Hydro.
Lionheart’s career is on the line and he finally has the opportunity he’s always wanted against a man he’s always wanted to gain the upper hand over. All the pieces seemed to be falling in to place nicely for him to be crowned the main man, but wrestling is never that simple. “Just Justice” Jackie Polo may have taken a loss to Lionheart at Shoogs Hoose Party but Lionheart had never beaten Jackie Polo. He’s never beaten the man who’d get drunk every night and talk about virility with some old grandmamma decked out like a christmas tree. He’d beaten JJJP, but he’d never beaten “JAAAAAAAAAACKIE POOOOOOOLO!” the most vicious, ruthless, unapologetic bastard on the roster and a guy who could not give a fuck about your reputation or what this means to you, only what it means to HIM and all this means to him is hanging on to that gold and finally putting the Lion down for good. On paper Lionhearts motivation may be seen as greater the Jackie Polo’s. Not only does he win the title he’s always coveted, he keeps his career alive, and technically levels their personal score at 2-2, but when Jackie Polo took the hat and jacket off, dropped the accent, and subsequently dropped Lionheart like a sack of totties at the last Garage show you saw the rebirth of Jackie Polo. You saw someone who couldn’t give anything even resembling a fuck if Lionheart’s career ends this Sunday. The only thing he cares about is leaving a stunned Hydro STILL the ICW World Heavyweight Champion.
That’s what makes this, for my money anyway, the biggest main event in the history of the company. Simply because this feud has meant so much over so many years and even when it wasn’t actively happening you always felt it there. Under the surface. Ready to explode at any time. What better place for it to explode than at the biggest show of the year, in the main event, all eyes on them.
Thanks as always to David J.Wilson for the photos