Blackpool has a long history of wrestling – from Tarzan grappling opponents in the ring at the Tower Circus in the 40s, to the wrestling booths at the Pleasure Beach where members of the public could challenge a fighter in the 80s.
And one man in particular has first-hand experience. Here Shak Khan, aka the Kashmir Kid, shares his memories of being a professional wrestler from back in the 80s – doing 10 seasons at Blackpool’s Horseshoe Bar, competing at the Winter Gardens and all over the world.
Shak moved to Blackpool with family, when he was 12.
“I had an interest in martial arts, Bruce Lee and so on – I used to Watch World of Sport on a Saturday on TV. They used to have wrestling at the Tower in the early 80s. Blackpool has a rich tradition of wrestling, as all the TV stars used to compete in Blackpool in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
“As a schoolboy, I would go and watch live wrestling at the Tower, a local wrestler called Dave Duran (real name John Palin) was top of the bill. A stocky build, broad shoulders and shaven head, with a moustache – looking like an angry Burt Reynolds.
“After watching Dave hammer his opponent, I knew I wanted to be in the ring, controlling the crowd’s emotions by performing certain moves, this was a skilful art.
“One day I saw Dave on his bike on Belmont Avenue, in Blackpool and I told him I wanted to be a wrestler. He told me to enrol at the Commonwealth sporting club and take up judo, as I would learn how to break-fall and learn submission moves and groundwork – all that would come handy in wrestling.
“Within a year, I gained a yellow belt and felt I was ready to start my new career as a wrestler.
“Dave told me to pop down to the Horseshoe Bar at the Pleasure Beach, where local ex-wrestler and Tower wrestling promoter Bobby Baron ran summer seasons – in public challenge bouts, involving his highly-skilled team of masked wrestlers – versus the general public for money prizes. Basically, the wrestlers put a challenge out to the public – if they lasted a round with the wrestler of their choice, they would receive £10 per round, £50 for three rounds and £100 for a knockout. If the wrestlers lost, the money would come out of their wages. That’s why they had to be so fit and strong to face judo, karate, boxers, rugby players etc.
“Bobby would run three shows a day – Saturday and Sunday and on bank holidays. Before the show, Dave invited me into the ring and I thought I would be okay as I was trained in judo.
“I was stretched and yanked and thrown all over the ring, which was solid and really hurt you when you landed. I always thought wrestling was full of dramatics, how wrong I was when I got mauled by John. I barely crawled out of the ring.
“Bobby asked me to come along next week for another session.
“I remember walking home – more like limping, but I was convinced I would not give in. For the next six months, I would be smashed all over the ring by Dave, who took great pleasure in body-slamming me and giving me strong forearm smashes. Bobby told me he was looking out for new guys to join his troupe. I was around 14 to 15 years old and I really had to prove to his team of wrestlers how tough I was, because the crowds could turn nasty when the members of the public would try to fight the wrestlers, so you had to be a good fighter.
“The following year, I spent the whole season, three times per day on weekends, being put into submission moves and basically being hammered by all sizes of wrestlers who were testing me to see how much I wanted it. My opponents got bigger and bigger and I continued to be beaten. One morning I turned up, and Bobby had a gold sequinned jacket he used to wear in his days as a wrestler. He had worn it on a wrestling tour of Pakistan in his early days, and he wanted me to wear it, he said I had shown great courage in not giving up my goal, and I was finally given my big break to join his troupe.
“For the next few years, I travelled all over the UK – wrestling on holiday camps such as Pontins and other caravan parks, wrestling in nightclubs in Blackpool, in Maggie Mays on Central Pier – under my new ring name given to me by Bobby – the Kashmir Kid.
“I would come to the ring dressed in traditional Pakistani headwear of a turban or Asian hat, gold ring jacket, green and white wrestling boots, complete with the Pakistan flag.
“I also wrestled at the Winter Gardens, where locals would flock to see me top of the bill, alongside other wrestlers. I was now wrestling on live shows with the same wrestlers I used to watch at the Tower or on TV.
“I would keep up my fitness by training with weights on a daily basis, eating healthy and sticking to a clean lifestyle. In my early 20s, to loosen off some small minor injuries sustained in the ring, I started working as a conductor/ tram driver/bus driver at a local depot.
“I worked permanent lates – this worked out great, as I would do three shows on a Saturday and three shows on a Sunday, at the Horseshoe show bar – taking on public at the wrestling shows for Bobby Baron, then clock-on at the depot at 5pm til midnight.
“I would be in my wrestling attire in the daytime, grappling with members of the public in fights and then collecting fares from them on an evening on the trams or buses. Tourists would tell me they could have sworn they had seen me putting someone in a Boston crab or body-slamming a drunk. I always told them they had me mistaken!
“On the circuit, many promoters had heard about me coming into the business and having not lost a single bout at the Pleasure Beach against a member of the public, and were showing great interest in booking me for their shows. Wrestlers had been telling them I had a huge following amongst the Pakistani communities in the UK and abroad.
“I always had an ambition of travelling the world as a wrestler doing what I love and being paid for it. So at the age of 25, I was booked for my first of many overseas tours – when I wrestled in Dubai UAE and won the Asian title belt in front of several thousands fans.
“I was appearing on TV, radio, newspapers nationally and abroad. I had left my job on the buses as I was being offered wrestling work from many promoters.
“If I wasn’t wrestling abroad, I would work the halls up and down the country, then on weekends I would be in the crowds for Bobby in Blackpool – jumping into the ring as a warm-up for Dave Duran, who was still the top shoot style wrestler on the team.
“While some of the wrestlers started slowing down at the Pleasure Beach, I was top of my game – in prime condition. I took on any challengers from the crowd, putting them in the same excruciating holds that I was put into. And I never lost a single challenge fight from the members of the public.
“Now I am nearing the end of my colourful career, I am 43, I still train almost every day as I think your body is very important – no matter what lifestyle you lead.”
Shak is planning a big event in his father homeland of Kashmir in Pakistan, in a stadium which holds thousands. He plans to invite Dave Duran to face him in last his bout. He also hopes to set up Blackpool’s first pro-wrestling academy.
“Wrestling has opened many doors and opportunities and I have met some really fantastic people and characters from all walks of life. I have rubbed shoulders with wrestlers such as Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki, Brian Glover, Bomber Pat Roach, the British Bulldog, the Dynamite Kid, boxers Joe Calzaghe and Barry McGuigan, singer Peter Andre, and even Sir Richard Branson. My wife of 20 years, Karen, is my best friend and soul mate, and my family have been great in supporting me.”