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Inside Glasgow's Insane Fight Club

Wrestling is more intricate than ballet, says Mark Dallas, and don't dare tell him it's fake.

Mark Dallas, founder of Insane Championship Wrestling
Mark Dallas, founder of Insane Championship Wrestling

'You get a bit of razor blade,' he says. 'When the guy hits you, furrow your brow and cut a wee nick. Only a trickle of blood comes out but because it's running down your face it looks like a lot.'

So when we see wrestlers being slammed and battered is it all fake?

Fake! Mark gets weary of people who use that word. 'Do you see Die Hard in the cinema and go 'oh that was fake?' No chance.'

The f-word dismisses the art and effort of his stunts, so he prefers to say the shows are 'pre-determined'.

'If someone writes a play they'll rehearse for months,' says Mark, but his crew of wrestlers have no such luxury. 'I'll write a show. I'll give it to the boys who do it that very day with a million stunts in it. Their first time is in front of a live crowd. They'll just do it. Then the next day I wake up and it all starts again.'

It bothers Mark that his writing and planning - a form of brutal choreography - is regarded as low-brow. 'We're just seen as a carnival act, but wrestling's an art form.'

It's easy to understand his frustration. His team are trained and perfected. One careless move in the ring can lead to a broken neck.

'It's an art form but it looks like chaos,' he says, and that's part of its appeal. Beneath the bravado and swearing and crushing is something 'as intricate as ballet.'

Mark founded Glasgow's Insane Championship Wrestling because of a love of American wrestling which had flourished with superhero characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. They were part of a trend in US TV for cartoon violence, along with shows like Jackass and Southpark.

He put on a few shows in Glasgow but with little success, and kept himself busy working as a haberdasher and lifeguard but then the wrestling environment changed.

The outrageous American wrestling shows were watered down due to corporate pressure. 'Companies like WWF had floated on the stockmarket so had to answer to sponsors. People like Mattell had made them a lot of money and were going to pull their advertising so they had to go back to being aimed at kids.'

This is where Mark saw his chance. There was nowhere for adult fans to go, so he revived ICW in 2009 with the aim of promoting real, crash-bang-wallop adult wrestling. 'I decided to give it a proper bash this time because, by this point, there was nothing for adult fans.'

He hired the Maryhill Community Halls and admits his first shows were quite primitive. 'There was just a ring set up in a hall,' he laughs. 'No lights, no nothing.'

The first show attracted 35 people but, by the third, they were turning crowds away and ICW has been moving upwards ever since, going on to play The Classic Grand, which they sold out on every occasion, then moving on to the larger venues of The Garage and the ABC on Sauchiehall Street.

But Mark is not content with this. He is constantly searching for outrageous ways to promote ICW, with a flash-mob pillow fight in George Square being one of his quieter tactics.

Surely the police take a dim view of these methods? Mark admits he was wary of how the police would react to his demented, barrel-chested wrestlers charging into the streets but they've been co-operative as long as Mark gives them notice of any publicity stunts.

He learned this the hard way, having suggested his team stage a Glasgow Street Fight. He says 'I didn't actually mean go into the street but they did! They went into Cineworld and the security guards ran away. Two riot vans showed up because everyone had piled out in the street to watch.' Thankfully, one of the cops was a wrestling fan and had a quiet word with Mark. 'They've been really good,' he says, 'as long as you give them a heads-up.'

So if his wrestling is good-humoured, does he worry that is has a rough image? 'There's never any fighting at our shows,' says Mark. 'Maybe one person will get chucked out but the bouncers say if one person in a crowd of 700 is thrown out then that's a good night.'

He insists there is a family atmosphere at ICW shows because many of the fans know one another, and their events are structured so that fans can mingle, with pre and after-show parties arranged to help foster this sense of community. 'ICW is a big party, says Mark. 'That's what it's meant to be.'

Although he passionately wants ICW to expand he does worry that, if they go mainstream, this sense being amongst pals might be lost.

And he is certainly intent on seeing the company rise. 'We're expanding. We're branching out to new cities. I want a TV series.' He is forceful, but then stops and smiles. 'And I've got this weird obsession: I want to run our shows in two places. I want the Barrowlands and The Hydro. More than anything in the world, but everyone keeps laughing at me.'

Not me. After an hour with Mark Dallas I know he is deadly serious and that he'll succeed and carry his band of mad, glittery, howling wrestlers right along with him.

ICW are on at Glasgow's ABC with Still Smokin' on March 30th

Insane Fight Club on BBC One Tuesday at 22:35

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