Insane Championship Wrestling lays the smack down across the city
Maryhill-born wrestling company Insane Championship Wrestling has garnered a massive cult following in Scotland and beyond, hosting sell-out events across Glasgow.
Most ’90s kids have, at one time, moon-saulted from an armchair onto an unsuspecting sibling, or choke-slammed one of their stuffed animals into the carpet.
In those days Hulk Hogan was a hero, Jake the Snake figurines were collectors' items and staying up late to watch RAW was the highlight of the week.
Pre-adolescent free time was dominated by mastering the sleeper hold, questioning Chyna’s gender and demanding that everyone smell what The Rock was cooking. American wrestling - in all its theatrical, lycra-clad glory, heavily influenced a generation of children and teenagers around the world.
The craze affected some more than most.
Mark Dallas, 27, once a lifeguard at Scotstoun swimming pool, was so inspired and fascinated by wrestling that he created his own wrestling company in his home city of Glasgow.
Frustrated by the censorship that began to limit the violence and thus the freedom of expression in his favourite sport, Mark set out to transform wrestling back into what it once was.
He founded over-18s wrestling company Insane Championship Wrestling in Maryhill Community Central Halls four years ago and has since triggered a nation-wide cult following for Scottish wrestling.
“In the late ‘90s television was different, there was lots of bad language and swearing,” recalled Mark.
“It focussed on shock value, then everything became censored. WWE became a publicly traded company and changed their whole attitude.
“At one stage it used to be cool to watch wrestling, then after awhile if someone came in and you were watching wrestling it was embarrassing.”
Preserving the dramatic side of wrestling is crucial to Mark. As any wrestling fan knows, there is much more to the sport than gratuitous violence and blood-stained spandex.
The heated rivalries, betrayal and passion for vengeance weaved into the fight scenes make the series of events much more like long-running soap operas than isolated matches.
In Insane Championship Wrestling fights, clashes in the ring are supported by tension-fuelled storylines and colourful characters penned by Mark himself.
Amongst Mark’s cast of wrestling characters are the Bucky Boys, a gang of neds who fight in jogging bottoms and caps and are accompanied by a feisty female fighter named Lambrini.
There is also a towering, pirate-like giant Jack Jester and transvestite wrestler Mikey Whiplash, all whipping the crowds into a frenzy in a ring littered with thumb tacks and barbed wire.
In the creation of these fantastical personas, wrestling fanatic Mark sees himself not only as a wrestling manager and promoter but as a modern-day dramatist bringing ground-breaking entertainment to the masses.
“Every other British wrestling company would go from town to town and do a family show with no storylines,” said Mark of ICW's beginnings.
“We would go to the same venue every month, and it was like Eastenders - there would be cliff hangers and storylines and you would have to come back to see what would happen next.
"There's something for everyone in ICW - it's a cavalcade of misfits and different characters. I like to think it's a three-ring circus of professional wrestling, if you don't like the lions you'll like the elephants, if you don't like the elephants you'll like the clowns.
“We will draw you back in and you will come back with a tenner to our next show. It's like Shakespeare - there were riots at his plays when he first released them. It’s a new form of entertainment that old people don't understand.
“Professional wrestling when done correctly is an amazing art form. You can get any emotion out of a fan – there’s fans crying, screaming, cheering. We can still get them with some storyline or angle. We can make them believe."
Although the theatrics in professional wrestling lead many to believe that the violence is faked, Mark assures fans that the wrestlers do really hurt themselves during clashes and that there are very few rules in ICW wrestling.
"The blood in ICW is very real. They do really hurt each other but the goal is for them to be able to walk away the next day and be fine.
"My boys are of the highest calibre of professionals. The end of matches are predetermined, but if you're hitting someone in the head with a kendo stick there’s very few ways you can fake that."
The popularity of Insane Championship Wrestling boomed almost overnight. Maryhill Community Central Halls were soon too small to host the number of fans wishing to attend Mark’s events, and the promoter was approached by night club Apollo 23 to put on matches within their club space.
This was followed by offers from the Garage, Classic Grand and other clubs. ICW were even given their own post-watershed television programme on Sky TV's now-defunct My Channel, and were later the focus of VICE Magazine's documentary The British Wrestler.
This surge of publicity has helped the company's international notoriety and has allowed ICW to go quickly from strength to strength - quickly outgrowing its city like a snug leotard.
"We're always getting bigger. If you think wrestling's cheesy now but you used to love it in the late '90s, you should know that all that stuff you used to love is still going on.
"Tickets for our shows are like gold dust. Everyone’s fallen in love with this thing. The majority of the crowd weren't even fans of wrestling before but came and got sucked in.
"It’s theatre – it's a play. There’s a gambit of emotions if you’re in that crowd. I defy anyone who has come and seen an ICW show to say that there’s any better entertainment for a tenner."
ICW has a huge national and international following of both men and women, hooked on Mark's story lines, the strength of his characters and the fantastic fight scenes performed by its wrestlers.
Mark has been able to leave his day job and pursue wrestling promotion and management full time, following his passion for the sport and nurturing the Scottish wrestling scene.
As the popularity of ICW rapidly escalates, Mark is kept busy arranging events, writing shows and handling press requests from as far afield as the USA and Japan. The events sell out weeks and sometimes months before the fights, with its loyal fan base returning every time to pay their £10 entrance fee and cheer their favourite wrestlers on. There are only 100 tickets left for the ICW fight in December, with the show on November 4 sold out long ago.
"The dream is that my boys – the wrestlers who work for ICW, can make it their full-time living," said Mark of the future.
"That’s the dream. It seemed like such a far-fetched dream several years ago in a community centre, and I was laughed at at first - but no one’s laughing now.
"It’s within reach now. Whatever comes next comes next - we’ve achieved every goal we set out to achieve and now we have a new bunch of goals.
"We want a proper TV show on a proper station, we want to tour the UK and Europe and keep expanding.
"We are the ICW, a completely different product. We want to be the renegade, the outcast, the rebel.
"We’re the underdog - the little engine that could. If you think wrestling is not for you anymore, there's a little oasis in the middle of the desert where real wrestling still exists, and it's called ICW."