Another facet of British Wrestling that’s really taken me by surprise is just how young everybody is.
(If you need to be knocked down a peg, nothing makes you feel as unaccomplished as watching a 19-year-old Tyler Bate become the youngest ever WWE singles champion at the United Kingdom Championship Tournament last year. Take my word for it.)
With stars like Bate, now 21, and Pete Dunne, 24, as your entry point, you begin to learn that, in Britwres, youth isn’t the exception: it’s the rule.
Back in Canada, it’s extremely rare to see anyone under the age of 18 even training, let alone winning championships or getting a standing ovation from a crowd of die-hard wrestling fans after a killer match.
But as much as it's become familiar, it’s still something that completely blows my mind.
Kid Lykos began wrestling training at the age of 11.
“In England it’s just different,” Lykos tells me when I express my incredulity.
In North America, it’s practically unheard of for someone to begin training younger than 16. At the promotion I used to attend in Edmonton, a trainee would have to wrestle in a mask until they were 18 – if they even made it on shows.
“A lot of schools will have junior trainees. In the UK it’s very much like doing karate, or tae kwon do. You can do it as a club, almost.”
Lykos, now 21, with his mask and ten years of experience, doesn’t really seem that young. The same goes for the moustachioed Tyler Bate, who is known for his feats of strength and taking every opportunity to display his well-honed muscles – which makes it easier to put aside the fact that his finisher, Tyler Driver ’97, is a reference to his birth year.
Maverick Mayhew, on the other hand, well – not so much. When you see him out of the ring, it’s astonishingly easy to mistake him for a young fan, excited at the prospect of breaking curfew for the night.
That’s not to say that he won’t impress you in the ring. Mayhew, freshly 18 with a school-boy smile, has been wrestling for just three years, but is already a roster staple of promotions all around the country – including Progress, where he debuted as a 17-year-old late last year.
“I’ve been dumbfounded by this,” says Mayhew of the success he’s had in his young career. “Really, I’ve only been doing this about three years, and there’s so many people who I’d put before me.
Well, if that’s true, he’s been fooling a lot of people. Mayhew has received a standing ovation nearly every time I’ve seen him, wowing audiences equally with his athletic capabilities and his resilience.
Certainly, though, it’s not lost on Mayhew that his life is very different to that of most kids his age. The day after debuting for Progress at Live at the Dome #1 in November of last year, Mayhew had to go to school.
“They said, ‘why weren’t you in!’” Mayhew says, remembering that morning. “I was like, ‘Well, I was debuting for the biggest company in the UK, sorry. I’ll get the coursework in tomorrow. I’ve got bigger things on my plate at the minute.’”
The balance of school and wrestling also came into play for Lykos. He’s recently finished his degree, but admits he might not have if not for the injury that kept him out of the ring.
“I was ready to drop out, but then got hurt just as my third year was starting up,” says Lykos. “I broke my wrist, so I thought, ‘Okay, we’ll see how this first semester goes.’”
After finding out his shoulder was also torn and that he’d miss another six months, Lykos decided to stick it out.
“It’s one of the positives (of the injury). It gave me motivation to finish my degree – because I went back in third year and didn’t care.”
Despite having finished Uni now, Lykos doesn’t think it’s necessary for a wrestler to have such a solid “backup plan”.
“One of the things a lot of different wrestlers talk about is what to do afterwards,” says Lykos. “But you don’t really have to do something ‘afterward’. You can do something part-time that you build up yourself. A lot of guys talk about t-shirt printing, or graphics, or opening gyms or training schools. You can have a backup plan that still revolves around your passion.”
Mayhew left school near the beginning of Year 13, and has no regrets about the decision.
“A lot of my teachers would belittle me about it and say, ‘You need to get a real job. You need to do something that really means something.’ I thought, well, this means something to me. So why can’t I go and do this?
“I was in a really bad place mentally,” he continues. “I just didn’t want to surround myself with that anymore. I’d done enough, I thought, where I was on a healthy level at the age I’m at, and the level I’m at, to say ‘I can go on and do this.’ It was a tough decision at first, and there was so much stress, and everything that was going on in my head…
“It was just something I needed to do to clear my mind.”
So far, so good. The decision has been paying off for Mayhew and his regular tag partner, 19-year-old Connor Mills, whose team of M&M has been on the rise for the last several months, working their way up and into company after company.
Recently, M&M featured on the debut show of Frontline Wrestling, a company founded by British megastar Will Ospreay – who, coincidentally, interrupts our interview outside of an Anarchy Pro show in Camden to say goodbye.
“See you later mate, good to see you!” says Mayhew with a wide grin. His voice may or may not have risen a full octave.
“This is a big star I’m trying to interview here, if you could…” I say, shooing Ospreay down the road.
“A star?” Ospreay draws Mayhew into faux-menacing handshake. “A star? Are you trying to take my spot?”
“I’d never take your spot!”
After more “pleasantries” are exchanged, with loose plans made to work out together later in the week, I ask Mayhew what it’s like to consider himself friends with someone of Ospreay’s stature.
“Mate,” he says in disbelief. “It’s insane. He went from being the guy that I’d watch on YouTube, in music videos, and idolising – to someone who I can just message and be ask, ‘Can you watch this match?’ or, ‘Do you want to meet up and go to the trampoline park?’
“Stuff like that just blows my mind. That Britwres is so tight-knit I can just message the best wrestler in the world and ask if he wants to go do something?
“It’s insane,” he repeats.
In addition to the amount of shows he appears on, that support from the wrestling community has also expedited Mayhew’s growth.
“There are so many people where I would have a match and come back and they’d sit me down and be like, ‘This was good, this was good, try doing this.’ A lot of people are really supportive, and they’ll give you constructive criticism.
“It’s a big help, having good people behind you to lead you in the right direction.”
To Mayhew, it’s those “good people” who make all the difference. When asked why he thinks British wrestling is so successful right now, he responds with a list of names. Mayhew’s youth may be most evident in this moment – if only because it’s clear how much he looks up to his peers.
“We bring so much to the table, with guys like Will, (Mark) Andrews, Eddie Dennis. We have a lot of variety as well with guys like Drew (Parker) and Jimmy (Havoc) who do death matches, but also put on stellar matches wherever else they go. We have so much talent, we’ve got so much to give. So many people go unnoticed because of how much talent there is.
“Because of the talent, and the variety, and what we can bring to the table in terms of world wrestling – that’s why WWE have started a UK division, that’s why they want to bring in all our guys. Because we’re so good.”
He pauses momentarily before making a quick amendment.
“…Not me! But everyone else is really good.”
He might not make his own list, but I’m certain it won’t be too long before his name is on everybody’s list of stars who got their start here in the UK.