Thousands hail great pretenders

EIGHTY thousand people turned off their satellite televisions yesterday, dressed up as macho beefcakes and headed for Wembley Stadium to see over-sized men with improbable muscles pretend to knock each other senseless.

The event was the Summer Slam of American wrestling, in which such characters as the Undertaker, the Ultimate Warrior and Macho Man mix sport, strength and outrageous theatre to whip audiences to a frenzy.

In two years, the World Wrestling Federation has dragged wrestling from the dog days of such flabby, pallid men as Big Daddy, Jacky Pallo and Giant Haystacks and turned it into Britain's fastest-growing spectator sport, broadcast daily on BSkyB.

The new heroes of wrestling are huge, superfit athletes who make millions by developing a persona that makes them either loved or loathed.

'They're fantastic,' said Craig Monk, eight, of Epsom, Surrey. Like dozens of children around him, Craig was dressed in multi-coloured lycra leggings, wrestling boots, a ribbon-festooned green T-shirt, white cowboy hat and mascara beard - just like his hero, Macho Man.

His brother Andrew, 12, wore black shiny leggings, wrestling boots and a pink T-shirt on which his stepmother, Clair Palmer, had sewn a flying skull motif - just like Bret 'Hitman' Hart.

Wembley was surrounded by thousands of children with painted faces, plastic wrestling outfits and large foam hands emblazoned with the names of their superheroes. Each foam mitt cost pounds 6. All day, queues built up for pounds 18 Undertaker T-shirts, popular among those taken with his habit of stuffing defeated opponents into US Army body bags.

Among the adults, the passion for dressing up like a muscly fighter seemed to be in direct proportion to the size of the beer gut.

'It's all great family fun,' said Neil Davies, an accountant from the Wirral. He had driven from Merseyside with his son Chris, eight, a boy with an astonishing memory for wrestling trivia. When asked the weight of British Bulldog (Davey Smith from Wigan), he replied without hesitation, 256lbs. Correct. 'I think this type of wrestling is popular because it combines sport with colour and glamour, and although it's macho, it's not violent,' said Mr Davies.

Millions of people in 60 countries tune in daily to see the exploits of British Bulldog, Papa Shango or Sensational Queen Sherry. The industry sells pounds 100m worth of merchandise worldwide a year; pounds 20m of WWF videos were sold last year, while costumes, stickers and badges netted a further pounds 34m. Wrestling toys are now the most popular toys among Britain's under-15s.

Steve Planamenta, director of communications for the WWF, said the success of wrestling in Britain had astounded TV executives. 'We hoped it would succeed, but we never expected this,' he said. 'You Brits have rough-and-tumble sports like rugby and soccer, and gentle sports like cricket. We think we have filled a gap in the middle.

'We call this entertainment; it is up to the fans if they want to call it sport or if they want to believe the results aren't planned.'

So who won the big title fight late last night between the British Bulldog and the American Bret Hitman Hart? 'We like to please a crowd,' Mr Planamenta said before the bout. And Wembley was duly pleased when the Bulldog came out on top.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

£450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

Senior Fund Administrator - Edinburgh - £22 p/hr

£20 - £22 per hour + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Fund Administrator, Top Four ...

Nursery Nurse

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a better wo...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Functional Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A Microsoft Dynamics CRM...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on