AF Diary #4
Since last time and the revelations of abuse by David Starr the whole thing has snowballed. There are so many cases it’s hard to know where to begin. Will Cooling wrote an excellent piece on the grooming of Millie McKenzie by Travis Banks for Pro Wrestling Torch and I would recommend you start there. I was devastated to hear how Millie had been treated and how Banks merely saw it as a relationship that went wrong rather than a massive breach of trust. Millie also leveled accusations at Ironfist promoter/top star Kilian Jacobs who took advantage of an even younger Millie.
My first real shock at the perversion of these pro wrestlers was James Davis (James Duckworth) aka Strangler Davis, formerly one half of the London Riots. His cruelty and abuse were exposed a few years ago and he was booted out of Progress Wrestling and effectively black-listed from the business. We all hoped this was, by and large, an isolated incident. I was made aware of a few other names around that time and was also told this in confidence. There was an ongoing police investigation into one (former IPW promoter Daniel Edler) and everything seemed connected. With each new revelation it became apparent that Davis and Edler were not isolated incidents and were merely part of a whole, big systemic problem involving the grooming and abuse of women. Both trainees and fans.
The further accusations against Davis and Edler seem to connect them to a larger circle of abusers who seemed to prey on teenage girls. While they were the worst, Edler’s group extended to others. The lines are a little blurry but the likes of Marty Scurll, Ryan Smile and Jimmy Havoc have all been named. The connection between trainers and trainees and abuse includes Darrell Allen and Jimmy Havoc, as well as Travis Banks. There is a strong pattern of grooming. It usually involves building a level of trust, drawing the youngsters in with fame and then plying them with alcohol before the inevitable sexual assault.
There’s also a worrying trend of wrestlers who cyber-stalk young girls, often persistently and relentlessly. Joe Coffey has been made a prime example but there are many others. Ligero another who followed that type of pattern of behaviour. Targeting young trainees and then persistently messaging them. First with “feedback” and then moving onto sexual advances.
A few years ago a wrestler called Pollyanna was effectively blacklisted after she spoke out about her date rape at the hands of Scott Wainwright, who wrestled frequently as Will Ospreay’s tag team partner and was the third member of the Swords of Essex. Wainwright’s assault was defended by Ospreay, who chose to believe his mate over the victim. He then threatened start-up promotion IWL with getting their venue removed if they booked her.
Josh Bodom has a lousy reputation in British Wrestling due to his anger issues and his assault on an unprepared referee last year caused him to retreat from social media and be removed from Rev Pro’s roster. Josh Bodom has been accused of grooming. In one of the most sickening accusations Bodom allegedly groomed a 12-year-old girl, asking her if she wanted dick pics and complementing a child on their good looks.
There are a staggering number of accusations against American wrestler Joey Ryan. His gimmick was for his opponent to touch his penis. Outside of the ring he has been accused of a litany of abusive and sexually aggressive behaviour. In each case he clearly crossed boundaries and refused to take “no” for an answer.
There are so many accusations against so many different wrestlers that surely they can’t be lying. I believe the victims of these assaults. Wrestling has a systemic, deep-rooted, misogyny driven abuse of young women. The likes of Marty Jones and Brian Dixon leading the way. Dixon is a known pervert. It’s been an open joke in wrestling for years that he’s a dirty old man. Vicky Haskins shared a story where Dixon made a photographer take sly upskirt pictures of her for his private collection. Alex Shane has also been accused of sleeping with young, drunk teenage girls.
This is nothing new in British Wrestling. It’s been going on for years. Under our noses. The abuse is vile, deep-rooted and a systemic problem that needs to be washed away.
How have British Wrestling companies responded? Several have stripped accused wrestlers of their title belts. OTT in Ireland have stripped disgraced champion David Starr, as have TNT. Scotty Davis & Jordan Devlin have been stripped of the Progress tag titles. Other companies have had to go further.
Fight Club: Pro had multiple accusations against key personnel. Martin Zaki has been removed as co-owner after it was revealed he’d been using the company account to send messages to women. He’s also accused of sending dick pics and, in one case, video of himself masturbating to a fan. He will play no part in the future of FCP. The question remains; should there be a future for FCP? The promotion’s after parties are the stuff of legend but while the fans enjoyed the opportunity to share time with wrestlers in an informal setting, were the wrestlers using it as an opportunity to groom potential victims? The grooming of Millie McKenzie by Travis Banks seemed to stem from these social situations.
Progress Wrestling’s response, especially to the failure to apologise to Pollyanna, was a mess. A press release included the heading “The Darkest Timeline” (a poorly timed reference to the title of a Community episode) and Jon Briley released a tweet claiming that he didn’t think Millie had been subject to Travis’s abuse at a Progress weekender. As if that somehow made it better. The overhaul was sudden with Briley stepping aside due to requiring an operation. Glen Joseph (Glen Robinson) has effectively left the company. He was described by one fan as a “creep” who was “persistently in the women’s locker room”. Matt Richards also stepped down from his role in the company but blamed a loss of love for pro wrestling in his reasoning. Stemming from so many people he believed in being accused of horrible behaviour.
The new look Progress team was quickly announced with James Amner taking over the day to day running of the promotion with assistance from Vicky Haskins (wife of Mark Haskins, and accuser of Brian Dixon) along with Michael Oku (The OJMO) and Lucy Cave. The new line-up was immediately hit with controversy when Oku found himself at the heart of accusations of inappropriate homophobic slurs. These were revealed by Darrel Allen in retaliation for Oku’s assistance in outing Allen as an alleged rapist. Obviously one offence is worse than the other although Twitter quickly reminded Oku he had remained in touch with James Davis even though Davis had been outed as a vile abuser of young women.
This is just the British Wrestling situation. I’ve also heard about similar rape, grooming and abusive relationships in Australian wrestling and in American wrestling. We’re not special, or unique as a wrestling scene. It’s something that seems to amplify the evil of men. Men put on pedestals by fans, adored for their larger than life character and big muscles. Egos fed daily by compliments on Twitter and yet this still wasn’t enough for most of them. This isn’t limited to abuse of women as wrestling has a long-standing issue with hazing, bullying and abuse of trainees. Not just in Western wrestling but in Japan and Mexico too. The accusations of bullying by various trainers is starting to mount up too.
Wrestling has a lot to answer for. It’s an arena driven by toxic masculinity. Stories of abuse go back decades in all parts of the world. If you watch shoot interviews the old boys joke about ribs and rats like that’s something fun and enjoyable. The stories get worse as time goes by. WWE employ multiple offenders but have only chosen to rid themselves of Jack Gallagher thus far. AEW have also struggled to deal with accusations against their talent. Merely sending Havoc to rehab to help with his known alcohol abuse problems. Impact Wrestling have so many issues and so many accusations against their roster it’s hard to know where to start. Suffice to say they all seem to have ended up in the same place because no one else would touch them. ROH have an accusation against their booker to worry about but have not yet had time to respond.
It’s not impossible for wrestling to heal these deep wounds but it really does feel like the whole thing should just be burned to the ground at the moment. Only time will tell if there’s something worth saving. For the time being mourn with me.
“It’s always darkest before dawn” – Thomas Fuller