When the Mr T-like bling weighs in at 22 carats and the sleek black BMW X5 used to belong to Stevie G, you don’t have to ask whether Blackpool-based world champion wrestler Shak Khan is doing well, thank you.
He is the wrestling champion of Azad Kasmir, the Pakistani flag now added to the World Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight champion belt he’s possessed since winning it in Dubai in 1998, in front of 20,000 spectators.
All-comers welcome, he challenges. Fancy your chances? Squeeze these biceps. That the best you can do? Throw a few punches. Bam, bam, bam. Ow. That’s me, not him.
Amiable Shak’s 37 “but feels 18,” 5ft 8in, and 16 stone of solid muscle. We went to the same judo club, the Keidokwai of old, so he reckons I know some moves. I give it my best shot – then recruit reporter Alex Ross to help Shak demonstrate the headlock, chicken wing and other favourite submissions. Well, it’s hard to take notes with one arm pinned behind your back or head locked between mighty fists. Even a playful punch to the arm on parting, “see ya, champ”, propels me across the car park.
“Tap me when it starts to hurt,” Shak instructs apprentice Alex as our intrepid reporter literally knuckles under. Tap, tap tap, TAP. It sounds like morse code for get me out of here. I step in as referee to break it up. “I tapped when I felt the darkness coming,” Alex later explains.
Shak, not to be confused with Chaka Khan, singer, or Amir Khan, world light-welterweight boxing champion, is larger than life and immensely likeable. He’d have had the old ladies swooning back in the day when his heroes, Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy and Kendo Nagasaki, were big on the box, and we all watched televised wrestling on Saturday afternoons.
He’s challenged boxing champion Amir twice to charity fight fundraisers, first after the Pakistani quake in 2005 and then after last year’s floods. No response but Amir has visited the areas with Oxfam. “He’s done his best,” says wrestler Shak. “But I thought, ‘We’re both Pakistani champs, let’s get a charity fight between a boxer and wrestler, and send the profits home’. A boxer wouldn’t stand a chance, not unless he landed a lucky one. Wrestling’s more physical. Especially here. In America it’s 95 per cent show, five per cent sport, here it’s the other way round.”
Idolised in his family’s native Azad Kashmir as Pakistan’s only champion wrestler, Shak was born in Halifax, but grew up in Blackpool. He’s a marketing consultant, between defending his title, touring internationally as a wrestler, promoter and trainer. He’s feted in the Middle East but civil unrest means his safety is no longer guaranteed outside the ring. He also teaches at a local gym when he can. All details via his website, www.shakkhan.com, designed by his pal Colin Hough.
“I like to teach, give kids something to do with their time instead of drink or do drugs, or hang around,” he says. He once took on two youths who attacked a paramedic responding to a call near his old school, Highfield. When police arrived they found Shak calmly sitting on the pair. As a lad he watched wrestling on the telly and also visited Blackpool Tower to see the real thing with the grandstand grannies.
“I wasn’t violent,” says Shak, “but I used to get into scraps at school. My dad told me my great-grandfather was an amateur wrestler in Pakistan. It’s in the genes.”
He learnt self-restraint the hard way: “That Japanese stranglehold I put on your lad Alex – any more pressure and he’d have been out for 40 minutes. You have to have discipline.”
He’s won a reputation as a clean grappler: no hidden weapons, knuckle dusters, bribes to throw a match, just controlled aggression, winning a fast submission.
He learned in the school of hard knocks, turning up at local wrestler John Palin’s house – aka Dangerous Dave Duran – to seek lessons. He was told to try judo first. So he did, then came back to tackle Dangerous Dave and other professionals at the Pleasure Beach weekend fights, for a fiver a bout. He got thrashed eight times in as many weeks, breaking his nose, before winning their respect, proper lessons and acceptance as the Kashmir Kid. His nose is still stitched today – from his last cage fight.
They, together with Bill Etherington, taught him bare knuckle, cage fighting, full contact, the works. He never beat Dangerous Dave. “We all avoided him. He was true to his name, ruthless. He’s retired now.”
Now dubbed the Beast from the East, Shak is back on the rack, stepping up training, five-mile beach runs daily, for more international circuit work, and whatever pretender to the world title comes along.
He adds: “I’ll be home two days a week if I’m lucky. My missus, Karen, won’t see me fight, or come with me. She doesn’t like blood. She’d rather play bingo. We only got married last year but have been together 15. All these trappings, the bling, the car, even the belt, don’t mean as much as she, and my family, mean to me.”
Famed in Pakistan for his triumphal entry into the ring by “dhol” (drum) beats, Shak steps into what used to be Gerrard’s Beamer, now “pimped” to Shak’s taste, personalised plates, pulsating lights, and pumps up the volume – for some nice country and western. “Bet that caught you off guard,” he quips.