When did you start watching wrestling and was there a moment that got you hooked?
I watched on and off as a kid, thanks to a friend who was obsessed with everything American, but I never really paid much attention until I got cable TV set up in my bedroom as a teenager. By that point it was all about Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. I loved the raw energy compared to the stuff I’d seen before, this over the top bubble of reality. But it was that feud that got me hooked.
I started watching as a novelty to fill my morning, but it was insidious. Without realising it I became obsessed, making sure I was watching Sky 1 every morning as I just wanted to see Michaels get his head kicked in. I can barely remember that era now, so much time has passed that it’s all a blur, but that feud was as addictive as crystal meth for my teenage mind and I’ve been hooked ever since.
What made you decide to start training to be a wrestler and where did you start?
To be completely honest, boredom and curiosity. I never considered wrestling as a possibility and ended up doing a weekend at an old Hammerlock affiliate in Sheffield as a bit of a novelty. I went in thinking it’d be a laugh. And eight hours later I had to be dragged out. From that point onwards my mind was made up; I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
My wallet didn’t agree with the sentiment though, but I found out there were plans in motion to open up a school in Scotland, so myself and a few others impatiently waited until it all began with what eventually became known as SWA’s early training program.
It was a far cry from what’s available now. Complete bare bones, basic simplistic warm ups, half baked lessons, no ring. Looking back, it wasn’t an environment that stimulated me or taught me much of anything. A bunch of us were thrown into the ring as early as four months in and it was a shambles.
The training back then wasn’t nearly as educational as it is now with the Source Wrestling School. I had to re-train to knock out bad habits a few years later and don’t think I got a proper education until I was training for an outside project with Damian O’Conor and then later taking the odd session with Mikey Whiplash.
It’s evolved into a phenomenal environment and I wish I had that 19 year old me had that place as a resource back then.
Who are your biggest influences in professional wrestling?
Straight off the bat, Paul Heyman. Which is a cliché to say these days as he’s been elevated to God status, but it’s true. I always loved the perspective he brought to wrestling and it always encouraged me to look at things sideways instead of wrestling by numbers and to find the reason for things instead of rotating old habits.
You could throw a guy like Raven in there as well. He was my first real window into the Heyman booking. That was a character I connected with a lot when I was younger, and later on, much like Heyman, I gained a lot of insight from. Particularly when it came to developing a persona or character instead of a one-note gimmick. Watching Ravens work was where I realised the potential of a character and through the combination of his work and Heyman’s show, it opened my eyes to the possibilities in developing a truly layered character, to finding an entirety in the performance within yourself and the story telling options available through that.
Through their work, not exclusively theirs but most prominently, I realised the potential to be had in creating a whole world and to have fun with it instead of going through the usual motions of “I don’t like you, lets fight!”
Do you have any favourite matches or opponents that you have worked with?
I’m not very self positive when it comes to wrestling. I’m my own worst enemy in a way as even if I have a good match, I’ll dwell on flaws for days and months afterwards. But one that stands out for me are a singles match with Scott Renwick in Bridgeton as we’ve both got the same ‘kick, punch’ mentality, and he’s so incredibly easy to work with. It was a real joy to get in there and have a laugh. A vicious laugh, I got seven shades kicked out of me, but it was fun.
Another was years ago with Glen Dunbar. I don’t ever want to see the match back as I was in a real low at the time and it’s probably a case of rose tinted glasses on my half. Our trainer at the time was more focused on ridicule and self obsession than support, so we went into it knowing he wasn’t looking. But even then Dunbar was a talented fellow and he made me look good. And I had Darkside and Wolfgang getting involved on my behalf, which made it all kinds of fun.
We had another match a few years later at a fundraiser in Govan organised by Adam Shame, and again, a wonderful experience. Glen Dunbar has always been this silent secret weapon. The guys ridiculously underrated. He could have a good match with a fridge that was bolted to the floor.
I’m also quite fond of wrestling Damian O’Conor. I don’t know why as he’s a powerhouse and I always come out of it feeling like I’ve just been hit by a bus. But we know each other well, and as a trainer he knows how to push the right buttons to get the best out of me.
You’re also the man behind Pride Wrestling, which boasts some of the most exciting young talent in professional wrestling, please tell us about Pride and how that came about?
It partly came about because of that talent to be honest. The quality of the young guys coming out the school these days is absolutely phenomenal and with that training network in place right now, they’re refined so well that as soon as they’re unleashed on a show, they hit the ground running. The level of passion and commitment they’re showing is unbelievable and in terms of ring work, they’re leaving the school the full package, or damned close to it.
I’ve always believed firmly in placing home talent on the forefront. They put in hard shifts form helping with PR, setting up the stage and doing all kinds of work that needs to be done. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, and I’ve always endeavored to make sure that their efforts as a whole should be rewarded.
That philosophy came from how I booked SWA’s Source shows when I took the book from Conscience. But there was a lot of baggage with SWA, emotionally speaking, and while I was happy to a degree after Conscience left, there was still too much damage left in his wake and we all needed a clean slate. Damo wanted a more puritan direction and to cast a wider net with booking, I wanted to focus on continuing my Source plans with a fresh start. So we sat down, hammered out a deal to share resources, shook hands and put things in motion so we could focus on our own goals and philosophies and give SWA talents the best of both worlds.
With Pride I wanted a chance to showcase and develop emerging talent, to give them a place to experiment, to play, to have fun. I believe the intimate environment is ideal for building character, for experimenting with different ideas and levels of performance as you can better interact with the whole crowd and see what they like and don’t like when you do something new. Plus, smaller crowds are more inhibited, which means you really need to push that audience to get a reaction and if you can do that in a 120 seater, you’ll be well prepared for an SWA tour or the Motherwell Concert Hall when SWA feels the time is right.
For me, my mail goal is all about development, encouragement and building character. And it doesn’t just apply to new guys. We have seasoned talents trying new things and coming in with ideas to have fun with. Street Justice has amazing potential and I’m really eager to see where Renfrew and Sweeney take it.
I could never have done that while staying in SWA’s continuity and I hope to take advantage and offer more spaces to both new and established talent over time and build something unique, matches and characters you can only see in Pride because, well… why be the same as everyone else?
What are your aims for the future, as a wrestler and/or as a promoter?
As a wrestler… there’s been a lot of emotional baggage over the years. With the way I was trained initially, I don’t think I came close to my potential until the wrestling play with Rob Drummond. And once that was done, I still had this niggling voice in the back of my head.
When I walked out at the last Pride show, my head was down, my spirits at an all time low and a voice in the back of my head. My first mentor in wrestling taught by ridicule and put downs and that took it’s toll. Over the next few months, while everyone else fights for a title, I’ll be fighting for something more personal;my confidence, my pride. Not to sound too dramatic, but my redemption.
With Pride as a whole, I’ve got a few plans in motion that I can’t give away just yet. But for the foreseeable future, we’ve decided to focus all our efforts on one venue.
With the concepts behind Pride’s purpose, it makes sense to me to utilise and build on one venue and one audience. Everyone else wants to move around , expand and dominate, and rightly so, but I want to grow what I have in a community that’s important to me. And the Bridgeton locals are wonderful for giving feedback which really helps both me and the roster develop, which is hugely important to me and my goals overall.
Plus, one of the few joys in life for me is telling a story. When I was bouncing around various venues with Source, it was impossible to keep a single thread going when we were in different venues every month. Who in Bridgeton knew what we did the month before in Clydebank? And then we take that to Ardrossan and we have to start all over again.
One of the things I’m most passionate about is building the story and staying put gives me the opportunity to focus on that. I want to see feuds evolve, to see characters take on challenges and build on that.
Thats what made me fall in love with wrestling. That’s what I’m passionate about and that’s what I want from Pride, creatively speaking and if one person, even just one, leaves with Whiplash v Dunbar being the thing that hooked them just as HBK and Hart hooked me, then it’s all been worth it.
Thank you James for taking the time to answer our questions so in depth.
If you want to find out more about James St James, check out his Confessions of a Serial Jobber HERE
Also I highly recommend that you follow Pride Wrestling on Facebook for all the latest. Their next show “We Aim To Misbehave” has an absolute amazing card already.