Fight against racism is 'long overdue' in the world of wrestling, says Blackpool's 'Beast from the East'
A Blackpool wrestler who made his name as the Beast from the East said the fight against racism in the industry is “long overdue” as he looked back on the incidents of racially-motivated jabs that marred his stage career.
Shak, 47, from Marton, made a name for himself as a teenager wrestling in shows at the Tower and later the Pleasure Beach.
He later competed in heavyweight competitions representing Pakistan where his parents were born.
He said: “These were my life-long dreams and ambitions. I always wanted to be a professional wrestler and I always wanted to support my parents’ homeland. Some children dream about becoming actors or rock stars, but for me, this was what I always wanted to do.
“It was utterly disappointing and devastating to be subjected to bullying just because of my Pakistani heritage.”
He said, in the early days of his wrestling career, he was called racial slurs and told to “go back to the corner shop” by white wrestlers.
“People knew it was happening, but people wouldn’t say anything because they were scared they’d be written off, because the bosses didn’t want any animosity in the industry,” Shak, who now works as a promoter, said. "And so nothing changed."
He said a conversation about the darker side of the wrestling scene, including racism and sexism, was “long overdue”.
In recent years, black and ethnic minority pro-wrestlers in America have begun to speak out about their own experiences of racism in the industry.
In 2015, former WWF hero Hulk Hogan came under fire after tapes recorded in 2007 revealed a racist rant about his daughter's relationship with a black man, whom he called a racial slur.
Historically, black and ethnic minority wrestlers were expected to play up to racial stereotypes for the sake of showmanship and bigger and better crowds.
Shak said he took pride in his Beast from the East persona, which saw him dressed in traditionally-inspired Pakistani clothing and a turban in the ring.
“Because my parents were from Kashmir, and I was proud of my parents’ heritage, that was the persona that I wanted to wear,” he said. "If you're a promoter and you have a Pakistani wrestler on your team, you're going to want them dressed up in that traditional way. An Asian wrestler brings in a bigger Asian audience. It's all a matter of business.
“The majority of wrestlers I met were great people who I was very privileged to share a ring with and compete against. But the culture meant that the two or three who weren’t were allowed to get away with it.”