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Walking a Golden Mile
By William Regal
World Wrestling EntertainmentCopyright © 2005 William Regal
All right reserved.
Chapter One: A Wrestler, a Comic or a Clown
I'm not as old as you might think. It's just that I've been wrestling a long time. There's very few on the current World Wrestling Entertainment talent roster with more experience on the job than I have. The fact is I was born Darren Matthews on May 10, 1968 in a little village in the middle of England -- Codsall Wood in Staffordshire. Not a lot goes on in Codsall Wood. My dad Don Matthews is a builder and he built the house I was born in, just fifty yards from my grandfather's house, where my dad himself was born.
Wrestling is one of my earliest memories. Whenever I could, I'd watch it on TV. I also loved that old show The Comedians, all those old gag-a-minute northern stand-up comics, and I loved Slade too, the glam rock band. Wrestling, comedy and showbusiness -- they were always going to play a big part in my life.
I was seven when my mum Paula left us. Mum and Dad had a massive row and my dad took me out in the car to see some of the houses he was building. He said to me: "What would you think if you got home and your mum wasn't there?" I don't remember being too bothered. I'd always looked up to my dad and he was the one I wanted to be around. But it must have affected me, because I took my frustrations out on other kids. They'd tease me in the playground, shouting, "Where's your mum?" For the only time in my life, I turned into a bully. There's nothing I hate worse now than a bully. That or a liberty-taker. I've no time for bullies -- and I met plenty of them when I became a wrestler. I try to live my life without having regrets, but the fact that I bullied other kids all those years ago is something that troubled me for a long time.
I used to be a right naughty lad. But then when I was about fifteen I woke up one day and the thought struck me: "This is not the way to be." I couldn't carry on the way I had been. That was it. Simple as that. I've prided myself on my politeness from that day.
I hated every single minute of school. It's a terrible thing to admit when I know so many kids watch me on TV every week, but it's true. I detested it. My first school was a Catholic school, St Joseph's Convent, even though I'm not a Catholic. Mum leaving when I was so young didn't help matters, but I would never have been able to handle being preached at by those nuns in any case. I never liked being told that I'd go to hell if I didn't do what some nun told me to.
Just about the only highlight I remember from school was being taken on a trip to Chester Zoo when I was eight. My best friend was a lad called Andrew who had this curly thick white hair. He began pulling faces at a gorilla who retaliated by throwing a big pile of shite at him, hitting him square in the face. All you could see of Andrew were his eyes, peering through this steaming mask. The nuns were running around, shouting and screaming. It was like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. If that was the only thing I can remember from school, you can imagine how mind-numbing I found the place.
Then when I was nine I went to the middle school -- and was soon faced with another confusing situation. My mum had run off with this bloke and my dad ended up marrying his wife. It got pretty complicated. I've a half-brother who's my mum and step-dad's kid, and a step-sister.
My dad had custody of me and I'd go to stay with my mum in the school holidays, but I didn't like going. She lived in Bristol, a hundred miles away. When I was there I never saw much of my brother, who was always out with his friends. I didn't really know him, though we do keep in touch today. He's nice enough. But most of the time I didn't want to be there because I wanted to stay at home with my dad, granddad and the close family who lived nearby: my uncles, aunties and cousins -- especially my cousin Graham. He's older than me, but we spent so much time together growing up that he's more like a brother to me than anything else.
But my dad was always the one I looked up to. To this day he's the nicest man I've ever met -- and I'm not just saying that because he is my dad. He is the kindest person. I've never heard him swear or even say a bad word about anybody. He's a real hard worker, too. You never saw my dad without a pair of overalls on. He would come home covered in cement and has always worked hard for his living.
He doesn't need to work these days but he still does. He still gets up early every morning and never stops all day. If he didn't work he wouldn't know what to do with himself. Lately he has had problems both with his leg and with his arm but nothing stops him. I've seen him shovelling stuff with one hand. If he gave it up now he'd have no financial worries but that is who he is -- a grafter. But what it meant for me when I was growing up was that dad was often out at work. That meant I spent a lot of time with his father, my granddad.
Granddad's name was William Matthews, known as Bill, and he was probably the biggest influence in my life. In his younger days he was a bit of a rogue, well known for fighting and drinking. He'd do a bit of wrestling, a bit of boxing, a bit of running -- anything to make a few quid. He'd tell me stories about how he used to wrestle at a place called the Pear Tree pub. Back in the 1920s and 1930s they had a ring up in the beer garden where he used to do his stuff. He packed it in back in 1933, aged just thirty-two, because he came down with pleurisy and pneumonia. He also worked in Blackpool for a while. He was a navvy and there had been a lot of work going there when he was younger, on the sea walls and the like.
He used to tell me all these stories about him fighting when he was younger. He was a big, powerful fellow, over six feet tall, and he was a great character. He used to joke around and would teach me all these dirty stories and poems. He'd tell me all these things and whenever I repeated any of them to my mum, I'd get a thick ear for it. I've still got a picture of him in a suit and the older I get, the more I look like him.
He died in 1990, when he was eighty-nine. He loved it when I started wrestling and travelling around the world. Even when I'd moved to Blackpool, I'd come back to see him more than I would most people. Whenever I was passing through the Midlands on the wrestling trips that would take me all over the country, I'd stop over with him.
He drank all his life and smoked a pipe. He'd had every disease you care to name but in the end, the only reason he died was because he had got fed up with living. My gran had died a few years before and he used to tell me there was nothing on TV he wanted to watch any more, nothing he wanted to do. The last time I saw him, he told me: "I'm going to die, son."
"Don't be so soft," I said. I told him I was due to go to South Africa two weeks later to wrestle.
"Don't stay," he said. "Get yourself gone."
He died soon after. I did what he'd told me and went to South Africa. That was the way it was between him and me.
When I got to Codsall High School I had the same trouble as before. It bored the life out of me. Things that I liked, I did okay at, such as woodwork. But something I didn't like -- French for example -- was another matter. I got thrown out of French for being a disruptive little git.
If there is anything I want to learn about I'll do it on my own. I read constantly these days, and have always tried to educate myself. But when they tried to teach me a load of old cobblers it drove me up the wall. I was one of the lads sitting at the back of the class, being sarcastic and messing around all the time. Because I never thought I'd need any of it. I'd always known what I was going to do. I was going to be a wrestler.
I remember one of my last days at Codsall High, when I was sent to see the careers officer. "What are you going to do?" he asked me. "Are you going to get a trade?"
"No," I said. "I'm going to be a wrestler."
He threw me out of the office and told me to come back when I wanted to talk some sense. I expect he's still there today.
Now mine is not a rags to riches tale. I didn't become a wrestler because I wanted to be rich and famous. We weren't badly off. My dad owned his own business and we lived in a lovely village, in a beautiful home, because my dad had built it. I was fortunate. We'd go on good holidays -- Jersey, Guernsey, Spain, Tunisia. We never went without.
But when I became a wrestler, I made myself poor. Some of my friends and family were almost as surprised as the careers officer had been. Everyone expected me to take over the family business from my dad, but I knew I could never work a regular job. Even when I helped my dad out at weekends, I knew I couldn't hack that life. I'm not decrying anyone who can -- good luck to them. My dad's a grafter, and my mum too - she's a nurse. But it wasn't for me.
One reason was the way I saw people treat my dad. He'd do jobs for them and then they wouldn't want to pay him. It used to drive me wild. I was going to be a wrestler and that's all there was to it. A wrestler or a clown or a comedian. I've ended up becoming a mixture of all three.
My dad used to take his young, wrestling-mad son to Wolverhampton Civic Hall every two weeks to see Dale Martin's shows. It was great. I watched all the stars of the day, people who affected me and whose inspiration I still use in my own act now. There was Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy, Kendo Nagasaki, The Royal Brothers, Mick McManus and Cyanide Sid Cooper -- I was always a huge fan of his and use a lot of his material today.
On my eighth birthday I was taken to see Mick McManus at Wolverhampton Civic Hall and it must be the greatest birthday present anyone has ever given me. Around 1975 I saw Dynamite Kid there when he was just sixteen and he was awesome. He was only a little kid and he wasn't flying around like he did later in his career, but you could already tell how good he was going to be. He was full of energy, moved like a sparkplug.
One night he wrestled another guy I liked a lot, Tally Ho Kaye, in a street fight. Tally Ho did a foxhunting gimmick and the idea was for the two of them to fight in their street clothes. Tally Ho had a really posh outfit on, all polished boots and brass buttons, and Dynamite turned up in a sports jacket, tie, jeans and a pair of Doc Martens. Tally Ho used Dynamite's tie to strangle him - it was brilliant stuff. I was intrigued by all this drama and theatre. I didn't care about all those people who said it was bent. I was hooked.
I used to run round collecting autographs from all the wrestlers. That's why I always give autographs now, as long as I have the time -- I can remember when I was the excited kid with the pen and the notebook. I can't always oblige. If I'm rushing for a plane it can be difficult, but I'll always apologize if I can't. I always used to sign for everyone who asked but these days it is less likely to be a handful and more likely to be hundreds or thousands. Sometimes, if I see 250 kids and I know I'll only be able to do two or three, I'd rather not do any at all and let them think I'm a bit of a dick. I would feel badly for all the people I couldn't do.
My being such a starstruck wrestling fan wasn't so unusual back then. All of Britain was hooked on it. They say that in the 1960s, a couple of matches between Mick McManus and Jackie Pallo, which were put on before the FA Cup final, the biggest sporting event of the British year, drew more viewers than the football -- eleven or twelve million. That's more than one fifth of the population. Even the Queen and Prince Philip were fans. Everyone went to the wrestling at their local town hall or swimming baths; it was a British tradition. And I loved it more than anybody.
When I turned fifteen I started taking the bus into Wolverhampton on my own to go to the wrestling. By this time I had new heroes: Dave "Fit" Finlay and Mark "Rollerball" Rocco. But what I liked most were the villains. It was the way they could control people. It was only natural that I'd end up playing a villain myself. In life as well as wrestling, I've always admired the rogues.
Soon my wrestling education expanded as I travelled further afield to watch my heroes. I'd go to Rhyl town hall in North Wales, where the promoter Oric Williams used to put on shows. Here were all these other guys, ones you never used to see on TV. The independent scene, I suppose you'd call it now -- shows put on by Oric and Brian Dixon.
Oric used to have all these monsters. One guy was called the Wild Man of Borneo. He was a Sikh who used to come out with all his long hair down and hair all over his body. You'd see people like Crusher Mason and Adrian Street, very different from the guys you saw on TV. Giants like Klondyke Bill and Klondyke Jake. And after I'd seen a few of these shows I was even more enthralled. I loved all the over-the-top stuff. The crazy gimmicks and the face-pulling.
It wasn't long before I realized there was a great deal more to this wrestling caper than what you saw on Saturday afternoons on World of Sport. Some were just entertainers. Others were very skilled wrestlers. But the ones who were both, who had the whole package, were the ones to emulate. I began to watch the wrestlers who made me believe that what they were doing in the ring was real. As far as that goes, England has the best wrestlers in the world -- or did in those days, at any rate. I was determined to learn that really serious style. I wanted to be a wrestler whose matches were completely believable.
Looking back, I was lucky to be trying to break in when I did. In the late 1970s and early 1980s there were so many amazing guys in Britain to watch and learn from. There was Rocco, Finlay and Marty Jones - someone who became a big influence in my career later on. There was Satoru Sayama who wrestled as Sammy Lee and later became the original Tiger Mask in Japan, and sometimes the Dynamite Kid.
These people revolutionized the wrestling business in England. They had a style that no one else could do. They wrestled really well. They did flying moves but it was all part of a believable, hard-hitting style -- my favourite. I recently watched a video of Marty Jones wrestling Rocco in 1977 and it still stands up today. It was the first time they ever wrestled each other on TV and you wouldn't know it wasn't a modern match -- in fact, it was better than a lot of what you see today. Incredible wrestling.
But wrestling isn't the easiest thing in the world to get into. You can't just look in the Situations Vacant column and answer the ad that says "Wrestlers wanted". There weren't any textbooks telling you how to get into the business. You had to work it out for yourself.
My uncle Eddie provided my way in. He used to drink in a pub in Wolverhampton with a guy who did a lot of wrestling. He did local shows, carnivals, that kind of thing. So I met this fellow and started putting up the ring with him -- the traditional first job for anyone starting out in the business.
On Tuesday afternoons I would go to Wolverhampton Civic Hall and hang around. I'd watch while they put up the ring and after a while I began to meet a few people involved in the shows. I hung around with them and whenever there was an opportunity, I'd get in the ring and I'd try out different things. I'd done a little bit of judo when I was younger, just enough to know how to fall properly. I didn't know anything else, so I started to figure things out for myself.
There weren't any wrestling clubs in Wolverhampton, so I went to a boxing club to get fit. As a schoolboy I was a fat kid -- when I was ten I weighed ten-and-a-half stone (147 pounds). But I started getting into shape at the boxing club, and all because I wanted to make it as a wrestler. I was determined to find a way in somehow.
Watching these guys in Wolverhampton, I'd figured out all these falls. So I started practising them at home in my dad's back garden. I made a frame of two-by-two wood, put two eight-by-four sheets of plywood on top and a blanket on top of that to make my own improvised ring and I used to throw myself around on that all the time, trying to teach myself how to fall. I'd backdrop myself off walls onto the grass and fly all over the place.
All of this was with just one goal in mind. My dad would encourage me, but I'm sure he thought it was just a passing phase, not something to which I'd stay committed.
Soon I started to get quite tall. Most people today don't realize I'm 6 feet 4 inches. As a villain, I crouch down to look smaller than I am. I want the fans to think they can beat me themselves because they'll hate me all the more when I get away with some in-ring villainy. It's one of the tricks I've picked up along the way.
So I was tall enough to be a wrestler, but there was a problem: I had no athletic ability whatsoever. I'd never done any sports, watched any or cared about them, for that matter. At school I'd get out of them any way I could. So pretty early on I recognized I couldn't be a high-flying wrestler, even if it was my favourite style to watch. I just didn't have the ability for it. When I tried to fly I looked like a very sad sack indeed. I'd never be a performer like Rocco in the past or Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit today.
That's why I decided I had to concentrate on mat wrestling and entertaining. Making my matches look more believable and fluid became my obsession.
Before we go any further I think I should explain a few things. I have a tremendous respect for the wrestling business. It has given me every material possession that I own, allowed me to feed my family and taken me around the world. But I owe it to you to tell the truth and that means telling you things about my chosen occupation that I wouldn't have told you ten years ago.
When I started in the wrestling business it was part of our job to defend the legitimacy of our sport. Nowadays it's very different. In the 1990s, World Wrestling Federation acknowledged that wrestling was entertainment. Nothing that most people didn't already know or at least suspect. Today, people watch wrestling and enjoy it for what it is. They don't feel as though they are having their intelligence insulted. But I personally do not like to overexpose the business -- more on that later.
Throughout this book I will write honestly about my life and the business I am in. I will be explaining certain aspects of what goes on behind the scenes. So I will start by telling you this -- yes, a professional wrestling match is "fixed". But it is not fake. It's fixed because the participants know what the outcome of the match is going to be when they start. It is not fake because the action you see is genuine -- it really does hurt. We are skilful but we are not magicians. No matter what you do, when a man weighing 300 pounds lands on you from a great height, it is going to hurt.
People say we know how to fall, meaning we can fall in a controlled way. Yes we can -- but in a wrestling match, with so many things going on at the same time and so many switches of momentum, too many things are outside your control. You can't help but fall in an uncontrolled way. That's why there will be so many injuries discussed in this book.
Not only was I dead set on becoming a wrestler, I was dead set on being a wrestler in Blackpool. It wasn't that far away from Staffordshire and when I was a little kid we used to go there for days out. Even then I used to say I would live there one day, because it was like wonderland to me.
Blackpool is the biggest holiday resort in Europe and, I believe, the second most-visited destination after the Vatican. There's nothing cultural about the place. It promises cheap and cheerful entertainment for the masses. It boasts a giant amusement park, known as the Pleasure Beach -- one of the biggest in the world.
It's got three big piers, an enormous sandy beach and non-stop entertainment. There's a huge stretch called the Golden Mile -- actually seven miles long -- which is lit up in the winter by the famous Blackpool Illuminations. There's so much to do there -- everything a kid would want. Circuses, amusement parks, arcades full of games and machines. It was a magical place for me when I first set eyes on it and it still is. A lot of people say it's past its heyday now but I don't see that. When I go back there, I still see it as a fairytale place.
Unsurprisingly, one of my first memories of Blackpool revolves around wrestling. We went to the Pleasure Beach one day when I was nine or ten. We walked round the corner of the beautiful old White Tower building there to be confronted by this row of wrestlers. They looked like monsters to a little lad like me. There was a Red Indian, a Viking, a few masked men and some women. They were throwing out challenges to the crowd, daring them to step in the ring.
Years later I'd get to know the truth behind some of these people. Radnor the Viking, for example, was a fellow called Dave from Ellesmere Port in Cheshire. I wrestled him later on. But as a youngster, this was the most impressive sight I'd ever experienced. Scary too. When they were challenging the crowd to a fight, I was convinced they were challenging my dad. As far as I was concerned, my dad was the biggest, strongest fellow in the world; but Radnor the Viking was enormous and had a big axe!
The moment we went in to watch their show, I was hooked. I looked at those men in that ring, with the crowd in the palms of their hands and thought: "I'm going to work here one day. I'm going to be a wrestler at Blackpool Pleasure Beach."
And a few years later, I was.
I remembered that first view of Radnor the Viking when I was fifteen and went back to the Pleasure Beach to see the wrestlers again. Again, the same experience -- I walked round the corner, saw the wrestlers and knew more than ever this was what I wanted to do. So I started out like many people do in the wrestling business -- from then on, while I was still at school, I went to the Pleasure Beach every weekend and hung around. The promoter, Bobby Baron, was a lovely man who really looked after me. After a few weeks of hanging around, I plucked up the courage to tell Bobby what was on my mind.
I went up to him and blurted it out: "I want to be a wrestler." Bobby took out the pipe that was permanently clenched in his teeth and said: "Eee," which was how he started all of his sentences. "Eee, I bet you do, kid." "No, I really do," I insisted.
I went up to him and blurted it out: "I want to be a wrestler."
Bobby took out the pipe that was permanently clenched in his teeth and said:
"Eee," which was how he started all of his sentences. "Eee, I bet you do, kid."
"No, I really do," I insisted.
And that led to my first ever match. My opponent was a man called Shaun who later became Colonel Brody. At the time though, he wrestled as a gay character called Magnificent Maurice. He was 6 feet 6 inches, with an impressive handlebar moustache and a big, bald head. Already, in the short time I'd been hanging around the wrestlers, I'd seen him knock several people out. And there was me, a little fifteen-year-old.
Still, I got in the ring with him. "I know what this wrestling's all about," I thought. All that training in the back garden would stand me in good stead now. I started by throwing some weak, fake punches at him. He just glared at me. Then, BAM! He whacked me on the back of my head and I went down. He picked me up and proceeded to throw me all over the ring. Soon after -- though the match felt plenty long enough to me at the time -- he got me in a single-leg Boston crab and I tapped out. Either he'd thought I was just another wannabe from the crowd or Bobby had told him to slap me around a bit to get rid of me. But throughout the beating, there was skill there too. He could have hurt me badly, but he didn't. He humiliated me instead.
I wasn't going to give up after just one match. I went back the next weekend and I kept going back. Within a few weeks, they took pity on me and took me in. They had a lot of guys who never became real wrestlers but just worked as plants in the crowd, and they thought I could be one of them. When I got the chance to, I'd jump in the ring and roll about, teaching myself some moves.
The way it worked was this. The wrestlers lined up outside - just as they had when I'd seen them as a nine-year-old -- while Steve Foster from Wigan, the man on the microphone, would get everyone going. Punters were challenged to get in the ring with the wrestlers. The matches were of three three-minute rounds. Challengers would get £10 for every round they lasted, and £100 if they lasted all three or knocked the wrestler out.
Steve would get on the mic and use the same spiel he always used. "What we're looking for are fighting men. Anybody who can have a fight. We want boxers, wrestlers, judo men, karate men, poofs, queers, perverts, Len Faircloughs, anybody who can fight."
Now Blackpool's a tough place. There'd be gangs of lads who would have been roaming around, drinking all day, and they'd be up for it. First a smaller guy, one of our plants, would step up to accept the challenge. That would get the crowd going. Then Steve would ask: "Is there anybody else?" and a bigger guy would step in. Now the crowd would be on the hook. They'd ooh and aah, thinking the big guy was bound to have a great chance. Then everyone would file in and pay their money to see the matches.
Sometimes the wrestlers would have to go out and do this routine two or three times to fill the place up before the show started. It was a great place to learn about crowd psychology. When the big fellow got in to have a go, you could tell everyone was thinking: "Now here's someone who can win."
The wrestlers who took the challenges usually wore masks. There were a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, it made you look more like a monster when you were standing outside and Steve was getting people in. Secondly, if trouble really kicked off in the shows -- which it did -- or if you had to give someone a really good hiding, you could bugger off when the police came because no one knew what you looked like. The crowds used to be so programmed by TV that they'd shout at the challengers to tear the wrestler's masks off. No good advice, like "Punch his head in!" or "Kick him in the balls!" Just, "Tear his mask off!" That always used to make me laugh.
At the end of that summer season, I had to go back to Codsall to finish my last year in school. Now I had had a taste of this intoxicating new world, school managed the impossible and became even drearier than it had been before. I still went to Wolverhampton when I could to hang around and talk to some of the wrestlers. But I was fixated on getting to the Pleasure Beach. And I wasn't going to stay in school one second longer than I had to.
When I finally took my exams, I just did them and left. Never even looked at the results. My dad has probably got the certificates somewhere but I've never looked at them. It was May 18, 1984. I was a few days past my sixteenth birthday and about to become a professional wrestler.
Copyright & © 2005 by World Wrestlin Entertainment, Inc.
Excerpted from Walking a Golden Mile by William Regal Copyright © 2005 by William Regal. Excerpted by permission.
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