ICW, from Maryhill to ‘Mania: meet the Glasgow wrestling company taking the world by storm
Mark Dallas is not a man who thinks inside the box. When the Maryhill boy found nothing worth watching on TV he decided he wanted to make his own show. Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) was born, and Dallas has not looked back since, taking British wrestling to a level not seen in almost four decades since Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy captivated a TV audience of millions.
In November 2016 over 6000 wrestling fans flocked to the Hydro to see ICW live. With the grappling company set for a second stint at the iconic Hydro on November 19th, Alistair Sargent caught up with Dallas and former ICW world heavyweight champion Chris Renfrew to discuss the company’s meteoric rise.
Glasgow Living: Mark, Chris, thank you for chatting to us.
From shows at an almost empty Maryhill Community Hall to shows at the Hydro: what is the secret of ICW’s success?
Mark Dallas: It’s a mixture of different elements. As well as the in-ring action and stories there’s plenty comedy. We try to have fun with our writing and reflect our personality. I was once hit by a block of cheese on a show; we’ve had someone hit in the baws with a haggis. There was even a dildo that was being used as a weapon that ended up in some guy’s pint! I defy anyone who watches our shows live to not enjoy it.
Chris Renfrew: If it makes us laugh or interested then we find it appeals to other people as well. It’s a good mix of nostalgia, with modern pop culture and Glasgow humour. It’s a big bubbling pot of fun! Not fearing failure is important as well.
MD: Yeah, you have to take a plunge sometimes. Running the Hydro [in 2016] was terrifying but every time we’ve booked a bigger venue it has been terrifying and each time you realise you can do it.
GL: Chris, how did you get in to wrestling?
CR: Someone handed me a leaflet for a local show when I was watching a WWE show at Braehead in about 2004. Before then I had no idea that living in Glasgow there were opportunities to train to be a wrestler. So I went along and gave it a go. If I’d not picked up that flyer things might have turned out really differently. I’ve performed for ICW since 2009.
GL: With ICW being broadcast weekly in over 30 countries, are you conscious of representing Glasgow around the world?
MD: Yeah at times. I think we’re presenting a Glaswegian sense of humour and fun in particular with our shows. Glaswegians have a great sense of humour and the things that we enjoy doing on shows have been well received everywhere, like in Italy, for example, where hundreds of thousands watched ICW weekly on TV.
CR: I’d never thought about that! I’m representing Glasgow around the world, that’s a lot of responsibility!
GL: You’ve just rounded off yet another UK tour with ICW, but what makes performing to crowds in Glasgow so special?
CR: Passion. Other cities like Newcastle and Liverpool can be similar but ICW could only have been born in Glasgow. It’s not just wrestling it crosses over in to music or football as well. Crowds here are famed for being so vocal and passionate. Backstage I’ve been quite nervous before, but when you walk out somewhere like the Hydro and hear the crowd you forget it and get lost in the moment.
GL: As proud Glaswegians, how does it feel walking out to huge audiences at iconic venues like The Barrowland, The SECC or The Hyrdo?
CR: Surreal is always the first thought.
MD: Aside from when my wean was born it is the greatest feeling ever. I’ve never experienced anything else in my life like that. The buzz you get walking out somewhere like the Hydro, seeing a sea of bodies, is incredible.
GL: What is your favourite venue to host ICW in Glasgow?
CR: Barras. 100 per cent for me.
MD: It’s hard to beat the SECC or Hydro. The Barras has a special Glasgow feeling though.
GL: Chris you’re a performer who is famed for witty and passionate microphone work. How hard do you work on that and how much of it comes from the famous Glasgow gift of the gab?
CR: It just kind of comes a bit naturally. I’m a person who gets riled up quite easily so I tend to just take what I think, ramp it up a level and put it out there to a live crowd.
GL: Still Game stars Ford Kiernan, Greg Hemphill and Gavin Mitchell have made cameo appearances on shows, if you could pick any Glasgow personality to appear on a show who would it be?
Both: Billy Connolly!! 100 percent.
GL: Away from wrestling I understand that Mark, you have a soft spot for Partick Thistle. Is there any chance of us seeing Kingsley step between the ropes?
MD: Do you know we actually came close after last year’s show in the Hydro! Kingsley was meant to be on our next show, partying in the ring. But it fell through at the last minute. I’d be very surprised if you didn’t see Kingsley in ICW soon though.
GL: ICW has helped to launch the careers of Drew Galloway/McIntyre, Killian Dain, Noam Dar, Grado and Glasgow’s own Wolfgang and Nikki Cross who have gone on to enjoy great success over in America. How proud are you of that?
MD: Seeing someone come into ICW and evolve to become a more rounded performer and then leave for the perceived big leagues is brilliant. I love the fact that if you work for ICW and you smash it then there is a very real chance you can live out your dreams. Big talent moving on gives others a chance to step up and the floodgates have been opened for talent to shine. It will be a matter of time before other guys follow suit. And in the future it is very likely we’ll see guys return home to the UK as big stars when their run with the WWE has come to an end.
GL: Back in the spring the ICW world heavyweight title was defended at Wrestlemania Axxess, part of the biggest show in the world of wrestling; in the summer the WWE UK title was defended on an ICW card and recently Triple H, one of the WWE’s biggest stars, showed up on your show in Cardiff: that has to be a bit surreal?
MD: To have our title defended as part of a WWE show, from where we came from, that is cool! From doing shows at a tiny community centre it is definitely surreal.
CR: To grow up watching wrestling, then to create your own company and have the guys you watched as a kid wanting you to be a part of their company; that is really cool.
MD: Wrestling is crazy just now. It feels like the landscape has really changed in a way that hasn’t been seen in about 20 years. It’s really exciting and fans really don’t know what is going to happen next.
GL: This Sunday you return to the Hydro for Fear and Loathing X. It looks like a jam-packed night of action is in store?
MD: I personally think this is, on paper, one of the strongest cards we’ve had for a Fear and Loathing show.
We have a card where the performers in every match will want to top what has gone before. There’s the first triple threat women’s steel cage match that I know of anywhere in the world and we’re going back to our roots a bit with a hardcore and violent King of Insanity match.
We have Joe Coffey versus BT Gunn in the main event and they are more than capable of following the absolute insanity that will be Fear and Loathing X.
GL: And the show will also have guest appearances from wrestling legends Kevin Nash, Rey Mysterio and Rob van Dam.
MD: These are guys who I grew up watching so it’s an honour to have them on a show. Kevin Nash was involved in so many of the big moments that made me fall in love with wrestling. And I know that when Rey Mysterio and Rob van Dam see what ICW is all about they’ll go into the ring and you’ll see classic performances from them.
GL: So what’s next for ICW?
MD: The moon!
No seriously, we’ve got some very big things in the works for 2018 that I’m dying to tell people but, literally, am not allowed to speak about. But don’t take your eyes off ICW for a second!
Given the dramatic rise the company has had in the past few years, you just shouldn’t bet against ICW reaching the moon.
Catch the stars of Insane Championship Wrestling and special guests at the SSE Hyrdo on Sunday November 19th. Standing tickets are available to those aged 18 and over with limited numbers of seated tickets, which are available to those aged 16 and over, remaining.
Check out ICW’s website for further information.