One thing that sets Britwres apart is the sheer amount of shows that take place during any given week.
(In the process of researching this project over a five-week period, I've been able to attend eight shows in the London area alone.)
For context, my home province of Alberta is nearly three times the geographical area of the United Kingdom, but has just four operational promotions. Each of those runs maybe once or twice a month, and none, sadly, with a fraction of the quality you can see on a Thursday somewhere in the UK.
From Belfast to Brighton and everywhere in between, you can see incredible talent put on jaw-dropping matches pretty much any night of the week.
Pretty special, if you ask me. But what does that mean for the talent working five times as often as their North American counterparts?
In the past nine months I’ve visited six promotions in five different cities, adding up to well over a dozen shows.
Of those shows, Chris Brookes has featured on all but one.
(He would have been there, but he was wrestling a few hours away.)
This isn’t a case of only seeking out shows where Brookes is booked, nor is it a coincidence: he just wrestles that much. Despite his skyrocketing notoriety as a key member of the extremely popular Britwres faction CCK, Brookes continues to make a habit of taking all the bookings he can get.
“I’ll still literally do any and every show that I can do,” says Brookes. “Some people would say it’s to a detriment.”
One look at Brookes’ travel schedule and it’s easy to see why people might say that. In the month of June, Brookes wrestled on 15 shows in nine cities across England and Wales, as many as four days in a row.
That travel schedule has made CCK one of the UK’s top factions, but it hasn’t come without a cost.
Brookes’ regular tag team partner, Kid Lykos, has missed the majority of the last year with multiple injuries. He’s recently returned from a shoulder injury that required surgery in December.
“At my heaviest, I was 160 lb.,” says Lykos, explaining what led to his injury woes. “It’s okay for a cruiserweight, but you’re being thrown about by guys twice your size. You’re jumping off the top rope – because you have to, because of your size. All of that plays a factor.
Brookes also points to the schedule as something that hindered CCK in the long-term.
“Myself and Lykos were doing so many shows and – he, more so than me – kept picking up little injuries and then continuing to go as hard on such a hectic schedule,” says Brookes.
“I think that inevitably led to him requiring a much longer period of time out.”
That being said, neither Brookes nor Lykos believe that the schedule alone was to blame.
“I think (the schedule) contributes to everyone’s injuries,” says Lykos, who had an 11mm labrum tear that had been causing his shoulder to pop in and out of its socket. “But I think the fact that, stylistically, we do a lot more – and that we were trying to do as much as possible – was affecting it a lot.”
CCK’s style can be described as intense, frantic, energetic, hard-hitting – and a lot of other adjectives that imply that it might be difficult to keep up four or five times a week.
“One of the big things that faltered me and Chris,” Lykos says, “is that we’d always try and go nuts and like, kill ourselves every match for the sake of trying to prove that we were the best team in the UK.”
“I don’t think it’s realistic – if you have a six-show stretch, across a week – to do the same style you would if you were maybe doing just three shows across that duration of time,” Brookes agrees.
It was during Lykos’ layoff that he and Brookes realised that their style would require some minor concessions if they wanted to continue wrestling as much as their schedule demanded. They still give as much effort as they always have, but without, maybe, doing every move in their arsenal every single time.
“We got smart and adjusted more to the fact that we could still have standout moments on shows, and things that people would talk about after, and things that people would remember without necessarily trying to have a five-star match every night,” says Brookes.
Lykos returned to in-ring action on June 16th and has since been adjusting to their new style.
“I’ve been very careful with how I’ve come back,” he says. “I’ve maybe wrestled a bit too much, too soon, in some respects – I did three shows last weekend. In other ways, I’ve done way less in comparison to how much I used to do in matches – which is good.
“People haven’t hated my matches so far,” he says, only half-joking. “That’s my big worry.”
Brookes and Lykos both have around ten years of experience under their belts, but Brookes doesn’t think that played a factor in their decision to slow down. Rather, the maturity only came once the problem presented itself.
“I don’t think you realise you need to adapt to these things in wrestling until they’re right there in front of you,” he says. “When more shows started happening, we were 100% guilty of just going out and like – I would get swung into a row of chairs by the legs by Dunkzilla (Mark Davis of Aussie Open) on a Tuesday. That was why we – especially Lykos – got physically burnt out.
“It took him getting injured for us to actually take a step back.”
But it isn't just the amount of matches that lead to burnout: the travel requirements of the schedule result in just as much physical exhaustion – if not more.
“When you have a week that’s six days of shows, the travel sometimes can exhaust you more than the actual performing,” says Brookes, who in June will likely have spent over 60 hours travelling between shows from his home in Tipton, a town in the West Midlands.
Just listening to Brookes describe a typical weekend is exhausting.
“You’ll leave your house with three or four hours to get to the show, and you want to be there an hour or two before the show starts. Then you’ll stay for the entirety of the show, and then do the three- or four-hour drive home. Along that way, you’ve got to stop and eat, and you’ve got to drop off to two or three different houses.
“Every night it’s getting back at 1 AM, 2 AM, 3 AM… and then you have to wake up early, go to the gym, go to the show, and then… there’s no room left for anything else.”
Brookes doesn’t drive. Sometimes they take the train, but he’s often relegated to the shotgun seat for Lykos or another wrestler.
“I spend most of my early mornings on weekends sitting shotgun in someone’s car talking absolute gibberish to them, trying to keep them engaged and not fall asleep at the wheel,” says Brookes. “That’s probably the part the tires me out even more than the wrestling.”
It’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t a number of benefits to working a lot, too. As difficult as the schedule is, it keeps him and a lot of other Britwres performers in business.
“It’s financially beneficial,” Brookes says. “The more times you can work in a week, the more wages you’re getting for the job you’re doing. The rise of them in the last year has helped a lot more people make more of a full-time living doing wrestling.”
“I’ve been wrestling for 12 years, and working in offices for 12 years,” says Dunne. “I realised what I love, and what I don’t. Wrestling has always been my dream, and now it’s way more attainable.”
Dunne was formerly in a tag team with current WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne, and seeing his success – as well as the rise of British wrestling as a whole – was a motivating factor.
“Growing up, I never thought wrestling would be a plausible full-time job,” he says, “but with the way British wrestling is now, and seeing all of my friends doing WWE, or even just getting contracts anywhere – it just motivated me into believing that it wasn’t just a pipe dream.
“You can always get a day job,” says Dunne with some finality. “You can’t wrestle forever.”
“We’re wrestling full time,” says Phantasmo. “We’re surviving off wrestling. That’s the only thing we do. We wrestle three times a weekend or more.
“Back home you’d be lucky if you got three shows a month.”
“The UK has so many weekday shows,” says Starr. “Usually when I’m over in the UK, I’m working four, sometimes five or six times a week. My schedule is extremely full. You get extra money that way, because (in the US) you’re used to just the weekends.”
For Brookes, it’s his love of wrestling that makes the schedule worthwhile.
“Any day that I’m not wrestling, I’d rather be wrestling,” says Brookes. “It’s what I still really enjoy doing and I’m really passionate about.
“Even though it’s become a living for me, it doesn’t feel like a job.”