Wrestling champion going through ropes for last time

Shak Khan, a world heavyweight champion wrestler from Blackpool.
Shak Khan, a world heavyweight champion wrestler from Blackpool.

A Blackpool wrestling champion with a 20-year winningstreak is stepping into the ring for one last battle royale.

Shak Khan, 43, took up professional wrestling at Blackpool Pleasure Beach when he was just 15 years old, and was crowned heavyweight champion of his homeland, Azad Kashmir, in 1998.

The ‘Beast from the East’, who lives in Marton, has defended his title from up-and-coming young wrestlers for 18 years – but has now announced his plans to step out of the ring for good.

Shak’s retirement match against Austrian champion Micheal Kovac will take place in Birmingham in January next year, and will be broadcast live on Sky TV

He said: “It’s all about commitment and whether you still have the passion for it. As you get older you slow down a little bit and it takes longer to get out of bed on a morning. But with being a wrestler and a champion you represent your nation – you’ve got to keep training every single day.

“You only get out what you put in.”

Shak took up wrestling at the age of 14 after being encouraged by his idol, Blackpool Tower’s ‘Dangerous’ Dave Duran (real name John Palin), who spent his weekends taking on rowdy bachelor parties in the ring at the Pleasure Beach – a £10 prize if you lasted the match, £100 if you struck a knock-out blow.

Shak said: “He was a real tough man. You had to be handy to fight at the Pleasure Beach because you’d get lads on their stag dos who were drinking and wanting a fight. Even the other wrestlers at the Tower didn’t want to go up against him.

“He told me the best thing I could do was to learn judo. About a year after that I went down to the Pleasure Beach and I met Dangerous Dave again and said I would like to get in the ring.

“He absolutely annihilated me.”

Determined to achieve his dream of becoming a world-class wrestler, being beaten black and blue by his hero was the push young Shak needed to develop his skills, and he was quick to return for a rematch the following week.

True to his name, ‘Dangerous’ Dave dished out another bitter defeat for Shak – but, spotting the spark of a future champion in him, stepped forward as his personal wrestling coach. Finally the former Highfield Academy student was given his big break as he began attending professional matches in holiday clubs all over the country, with the help of famous Blackpool Tower promoter Bobby Baron.

Shak said: “I started getting bookings from wrestling clubs all over the UK because I was the only Pakistani professional wrestler in the country. I was in high demand because I was different –the Beast from the East. When they promoted me in towns with a high Muslim population I got a huge following from the community.”

Shak’s passion for wrestling trotted the globe more than 5,000 miles when he headed to Pakistan at the age of 19 with his dad Raja, where he met the country’s current champion Ali Shan. Six years later, it was his turn to bask in the adoration of the crowd, as he was crowned heavyweight champion of Azad Kashmir – a title he has held for 18 years.

Now living back in Blackpool with his wife Karen, Shak has embarked on a vigorous training regime in anticipation of the greatest fight of his life. Shak said: “This is going to be the biggest and most important match of my life because it marks my retirement from the UK scene. I’m training very hard.

“I met Kovac at a championship tournament in Kuwait in 2009 where he challenged me to a match – but because I was set up to fight someone else we never got the chance.

“I’m hoping to make Blackpool proud.”

Shak’s retirement match can be watched live on Sky channel TV 99 on January 8 – time to be announced.

It will also feature a fast and furious King-of-the-Ring 10-man Battle Royale, where 10 wrestlers from all corners of the globe will take to the ring in a bid to be crowned the last man standing.

Shak said: “I’ll probably be hiding behind the other nine!”

Though the match marks the end of an era for ‘the Beast from the East’, Shak vowed that his passion for wrestling would not end with his departure from the ring, as he hopes to set up the very first school for aspiring professional wrestlers in the resort as soon as next year, as well as organising tournaments back in Pakistan. He said: “I would like to thank everybody for their support over the years, and all the people of Blackpool’s community who have sent me their best wishes.”