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ICW: Return of the Razzmatazz

Insane Championship Wrestling is the new face of the world’s most popular stadium bloodsport. FS investigates...

Watching wrestling evokes a certain childhood nostalgia: staying up past bedtime to see the latest episode of RAW; power-bombing your brother on the sofa; and explaining to your mum why there’s a late-night bill for a PPV channel.

And for all of its contrived theatrics, it was a pretty brutal activity. Owen Hart broke Stone Cold’s neck with a piledriver at Summerslam ’97, and died two years later after falling 78ft during a botched ring entrance. The modern iteration of WWE is much safer and more family-friendly – too much so for some.

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Founded in 2006 the Glasgow-based Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) is the response. “It doesn’t insult your intelligence,” says 31-year-old founder Mark Dallas. “And it’s not something you’re embarrassed to watch as an adult.”

High-tempo action, dramatic storylines and lots of colourful language – think of it as an amalgam of the enthralling plots of the late-’90s WWF and the brain-rattling carnage of ECW. As Dallas puts it, “like Def Jam Vendetta meets Fight Club”.

Dallas says ICW is a reaction to the persistently ‘contrived’ storylines that popular American promotions have created, effectively stripping out the improvised theatrics that superstars such as Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin thrived on. It’s an effort to cater for a UK market that aspired to the same kind of production values as the US.

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“The matches still have to resonate through the old-school fan base as well as a younger one. We need to win their hearts, not just their minds. That’s the way the wrestling should be.

“We brought a lot of the American flavour to this country,” Dallas continues. “No one can ever forget the importance of characters in wrestling.

“It’s all about the razzmatazz – we’ve brought that back. Give me the wrestler who can carry a storyline over one who can do 20 flips, because that’s what it’s all about – the build-up and the drama.

“Back in the day, personalities were their own. We don’t get to see the Rocks or Stone Colds of the sport anymore, so we try to let the wrestlers shine through and be their own stars.”

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With up to 30 wrestlers on the ICW roster at any one time, the promotion has grown from small-hall shows in Glasgow to nationwide exhibitions. Interest has risen so quickly that an online subscription service was launched in 2015, meaning fans are watching its contests as far away as Afghanistan.

The future is bright for ICW, too; a planned show at Glasgow’s SEE Hydro could see 10,000 devoted fans flood through the doors, meaning it would rival some of America’s bigger promotions in terms of people through the door. If it does, Dallas might have to watch out for a hostile takeover, WWE style.

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