Blackpool stars in spotlight as WWE circus hits town
WWE wrestling is coming to Blackpool's Empress Ballroom next month.
Can you match the catchphrase with the wrestler?
Journalist and wrestling fan NEIL DOCKING explains why fans should get ready to rumble!
WWE bringing its new United Kingdom Championship Tournament to the Empress Ballroom is a huge coup for Blackpool.
The American company is a billion-dollar corporation and a global juggernaut, which showcases a product it terms ‘sports entertainment’.
Its shows, featuring wild characters, a unique blend of athleticism and soap opera style story lines, are broadcast in more than 180 countries.
And in the past year alone fans have watched more than 12 billion WWE videos on YouTube - making it the site’s number one ‘sports’ channel.
WWE previously brought the young stars of its developmental division NXT to Blackpool during a UK tour in December 2015.
The rabid fans who packed the Empress Ballroom that night produced an atmosphere which eclipsed anything the talents had ever experienced.
So it’s no surprise the Grade II Listed Building was once again uppermost in the thoughts of the organisation’s top brass this time around.
Triple H - one of the industry’s biggest names and the son-in-law of WWE chairman Vince McMahon - visited London to announce the tournament.
He was joined by Blackpool’s own grappling great William Regal, who is now a talent scout for the company, and also played a hand in the decision.
HHH explained the contest would be held over two nights on Saturday and Sunday, January 14 and 15, and would feature 16 top wrestlers from the UK and Ireland.
He also revealed it would air live on the WWE Network - WWE’s subscription service, which includes all their pay-per-views - at 8pm local time.
The competitors lucky enough to be involved include two local lads from Blackpool who are stalwarts of the North West wrestling scene.
Sam Gradwell and James Drake regularly appear at shows in Wigan, Morecambe, Preston, St Helens, Manchester and Liverpool. Gradwell, aka Ricky J McKenzie, is a a 6ft 1in chiselled high flyer, who was previously the heavyweight champion of Wigan’s Grand Pro Wrestling.
Drake, who held this title for nearly a year, previously working under the name JD Sassoon and was one half of the Blackpool Blonds tag team.
He and his equally well-coiffed partner Axl Rage ruled Manchester’s FutureShock Wrestling, while infuriating fans with their dirty tactics.
They have paid their dues performing in clubs, theatres and sports halls up and down the country, but now have the chance to excel on a global stage. Put simply, this is the biggest opportunity of their careers. The world will be watching and if they impress, they will receive more bookings and could even earn a full-time contract with WWE.
The boost to the local economy is also obvious.
The shows sold out in less than 24 hours and WWE fans will flock to Blackpool from across Europe - booking hotels, visiting shops, restaurants and enjoying all of the famous attractions the town has to offer over the weekend.
It’s an event which could change the lives of the lucky few selected to take part and one that British grappling fans are unlikely to ever forget.
The two-day, 16-competitor, single-elimination tournament will be held at the Empress Ballroom, taking place on Saturday and Sunday, January 14 and 15. Tickets are on-sale now, priced between £15 and £50, and are available from www.livenation.co.uk.