ITV's celebrity wrestling aims to floor critics

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The Independent Online

It was once a Saturday afternoon staple as overweight hulks spilled out of their leotards, slamming and pinning each other to the canvas in pantomime grapples. Now, fight fans, wrestling is returning to prime-time ITV.

It was once a Saturday afternoon staple as overweight hulks spilled out of their leotards, slamming and pinning each other to the canvas in pantomime grapples. Now, fight fans, wrestling is returning to prime-time ITV.

But gone are the days of Dickie Davies, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki. Waiting instead in the red and blue corners are glamour girls, reality TV relics, ex-sports stars and the ubiquitous James Hewitt.

ITV chiefs are pinning their hopes on Celebrity Wrestling as the latest reality success after flooring the opposition with I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! and Hell's Kitchen. It follows other sporting challenges such as the BBC's boxing competition, The Fight, and Channel 4's The Games, which returns for a third series later this year.

The stars of Celebrity Wrestling, which will be screened in the spring, are already being put through their paces. They have completed a week of boot camp to raise their fitness levels and the pace is taking its toll.

The Swedish model Victoria Silvstedt, Playboy's Playmate of the year 1997, has snapped three nails although she is expected to make a full recovery, while Michelle Heaton, a singer with chart act Liberty X, has twisted an ankle. Under the tutelage of US wrestlers D-Lo Brown and Joe Legend, 12 competitors will take part in real bouts to be named king and queen of the ring.

Also taking part are television presenter Jenny Powell, former tennis professional Annabel Croft, page three girl Leilani Dowding and Big Brother winner Kate Lawler, while the male contingent is made up of ex-EastEnders star Marc Bannerman, show jumper Oliver Skeete, athlete Iwan Thomas, children's TV presenter Mark Speight and Jeff Brazier, the father of Jade Goody's children.

A spokesman for the show said: "They are all taking the series very seriously and are all really fit."

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