The Debate Returns: Is Grado the Best in Scotland?

By Simon Cassidy

A few months ago here at 80,000 Leagues Under the Ring, we asked the question: who is the best in Scotland? The result was unprecedented views on the site, vehement Twitter and Facebook messages and heartfelt, often controversial contributions from some of the top names in UK wrestling at the moment. While there were several candidates offered for consideration, ultimately the only consensus which could be drawn was that this truly is a golden age for Scottish wrestling, as the offering of talent across the board is of an exceptionally high standard.

Since then however, there has been an uprising which cannot be ignored and brings a new spectrum to this debate: namely, Gradomania.

“Fae the tap end o’ Stevenson” Graeme Stevely, with nearly a decade’s experience in the wrestling game, has spent the majority of his in ring career in relative obscurity. A product of the Scottish Wrestling Alliance’s (SWA) original training outlet, better known to its students as Area 52, Graeme found success in the tag team division as one half of The Lowlanders with Glen Dunbar, capturing the SWA tag team titles and defending them around the country. While the team are arguably one of the most successful in the history of the promotion, and provided a platform for each to go on to individual success, Graeme’s career floundered for many years, by his own admission, due to his on again, off again approach to the industry.

In 2011 however, something changed. Following an extended absence from the ring, it was announced that “Grant Dunbar” would be returning to the SWA to take on an old enemy in the form of Adam Shame. Few could have anticipated what came next.

On a five by five inch box below the now famous YouTube logo, we see a screen shot of Graeme in his boxers, head perched daintily on his hands, spread out on his bead. From there, the camera pans around revealing an extreme close up of the man himsel’. After lamenting on the woes of the past year (binge eating since his last encounter with the Shamer), we cut to the bright lights of Ayrshire to witness a 007-esque triumphant rise from the ocean; in the minds of many, the symbolic birth of Grado.

The videos popularity was astonishing and launched a series of similar vignettes to promote his future encounters. What many may be unaware of is that the now infamous “Like a Prayer” Madonna entrance made its first appearance in a workout segment as Grado prepared for Jackie Polo. As the videos continued to go viral (three towns wide, by Grado reckoning) they were eventually brought to the attention of a certain Glasgow wrestling promoter by the name of Mark Dallas, the evil genius behind Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW).

The #GetGradoBooked Campaign was an unexpected success as the comedic “Trials and Tribulations of Grado” YouTube series, featuring Grado’s attempts to endear himself to the ICW roster and his strict trampoline training regime (“I don’t do any tricks, I just jump”), began to catch on with the traditionally violent and hostile, over 18’s ICW fan base. Increasingly, the public were taking to social media in droves, demanding that the former Lowlander became a fixture of the Insane Asylum.

Leaping the guard rail to thunderous applause, Grado debuted for the Glasgow promotion, coming to the rescue of UK legend Drew McDonald and going into battle against the villainous OfCom. Following the incredible reception of the live crowd, Stevely was promptly announced as the number one contender for the ICW Heavyweight Title at Super Smokin Thunder Bowl. In front of the largest crowd in the company’s history (at the time) it seemed that the most unlikely hero in Scottish history had usurped Red Lightning to gain the championship, causing fans to storm the ring in celebration. While as a result of a technicality the match was restarted allowing Red to regain his gold, Grado was seemingly cemented as “the Peoples Champion” and his long term contract with ICW secured.

Since that time the publicity storm surrounding Gradomania has been constant. From his interview with our very own The Shark Tank going to 20 in the iTunes chart, being the focus of an FSM news piece, to debuting for new promotions around the UK the sky seemed the limit for the man with the bum bag. Most recently Grado being the central focus of the Vice documentary The British Wrestler (currently at 200,000 views and counting), the time has come to ask: is Grado the best in Scotland?

To wrestling purists, this is an absolutely shocking suggestion. With all due respect to the YouTube sensation, he is far from the most technically gifted athlete ever to set foot in a wrestling ring. Referring back to some of the candidates mentioned in our previous run of Best in Scotland articles, there can be no doubt that in terms of in ring excellence, skill and physical prowess, Grado has a long way to go to be considered in the upper -echelon of the countries performers.

In essence, this argument comes down to an issue touched on by former SWA Owner, Peter “Conscience” Murphy. In his contribution, he asserted that he would always consider Ric Flair as being superior to Hulk Hogan based on his ability between the ropes. However wrestling is, and always has been, about far more than technical skill; at its core, pro-wrestling is an intense and physical form of entertainment.

It is this aspect of the business which has led to legions of fans all over the world maintaining that the Hulkster is the greatest ever to lace up a pair of boots. While some argue he was little more than a pose, a boot and a leg drop, Hogan achieved phenomenal success through his unique combination of physicality, charisma, character and a connection with the audience his peers simply could not match. It is in this perspective that Grado is worthy of a nomination for the title of Best in Scotland.

While no one would doubt that his opponent at the upcoming ICW: Fear and Loathing event, Mikey Whiplash, is the more experienced, seasoned and proficient competitor, an individual whom many believe is worthy of the very crown we debate, there is always the other perspective to bear in mind. Grado’s exuberance, passion and connection with the crowd cannot be questioned. Who else could perform the same dance to a Madonna classic and illicit the same response from a group of children in one town, and a ravenous, extreme crowd in another?

While there is no doubt that inside the squared circle there are weaknesses in Grado’s game which need work, it cannot be denied that in an age of cynical wrestling fans and over saturated audiences, Grado is one of a very rare breed with the innate ability to entertain and connect with the crowd, illicit a response and genuinely make you care. For that quality alone, we ask the question and open the debate once again: is Grado the best in Scotland?

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