Banbury and the surrounding area holds a special place in the history of British wrestling and the New Breed Wrestling Association (NBWA), based in town, want to bring the sport back.
Chris Baxter founded the NBWA three years ago and from its base at the EP Gym in Banbury and it is slowly gaining members, momentum and fans.
Mr Baxter said: “Our ambition really was to bring wrestling back to Banbury because in the late 1950s to the early 1980s, the Winter Gardens used to stage the likes of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and local wrestler Jackie Pallow. Kendo Nagasaki is also local so it is the home of British wrestling.”
The Winter Gardens Dance Hall was opened in 1956 and promoted both boxing and wrestling events which would often attract crowds of 1,400 people to its monthly shows. It closed in 1982 and left a gaping hole which has yet to be filled.
Mr Baxter is hoping to fill this void and create wrestling stars of the future that will one day be remembered with same kind of reverence the stars of the 1970s and 1980s are.
Mr Baxter said: “I am in contact with the family of Big Daddy who are interested in getting back into things. We’re trying to bring a new age to wrestling that the kids will be talking about in 40 years time.”
The popularity of wrestling is seeing an upsurge around the world and the biggest names in the American-based World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) are some of the most recognisable athletes on the planet.
This is being mirrored here in the UK as Mr Baxter explained: “The rise of wrestling and particularly British wrestling over the last five years has just grown dramatically and the likes of the WWE have started looking at the British guys to bring them over.”
Currently the NBWA is run by Mr Baxter and two other trainers, Adi Wright and Becca Milham, who between them have 30 years of experience both coaching and competing within the squared circle.
Mr Baxter himself is no stranger to the ring having wrestled for a number of years but his focus now is expanding the NBWA and bringing through new and exciting British talent
He said: “We’ve opened up a wrestling school in Banbury to generate more wrestlers and except ages from 13 and upwards both male and female.”
He added: “It’s gone from six or seven wrestlers when we started to about 15 now, so it has doubled in three years.”
Anyone who has seen televised wrestling, particularly broadcasts of WWE bouts would be forgiven for thinking that modern wrestling is a unskilled brutish sport where combatants beat each other with chairs and other implements. The NBWA, however, approach coaching and the sport with a different mind set as Mr Baxter explains:”We count ourselves as a family and we teach morals, respect and discipline that you find in a lot of martial arts. We learn to work together.”
The NBWA’s next show is at Banbury United on Saturday June 25 but Mr Baxter has even bigger plans: “Ultimately my final plan is where I can actually bring a permanent venue back to Banbury.
“That’s the ultimate ending but it’s going to take a lot of work.”