The two Fylde coast wrestlers involved in the inaugural WWE UK Championship in Blackpool are relishing the prospect of facing off against each other.
James Drake, 23, from St Annes and Sam Gradwell, 25, from Central Drive, are two of the competitors in the 16-man tournament at the Empress Ballroom, featuring wrestlers from all across the UK and Ireland.
The pair have wrestled each other more than 30 times already this year and the friends are now looking forward to locking horns in their home town.
Sam said: “We’ve wrestled up and down the country in front of 30 people, 300 people and a couple of thousand at Butlins. So the prospect of meeting as such a grand stage is pretty mouth-watering.”
Tickets for both days of the event –on January 14 and 15 – sold out within hours of going on sale and the tournament will also be broadcast worldwide on the WWE Network.
James said he is looking forward to sharing what he describes as the ‘biggest UK wrestling event for a long time’ with his friends and family. He said: “It’s really strange for it to be in the Empress Ballroom – if you told me I’d have my WWE debut there, I wouldn’t believe you.
My grandparents, can come see me
“Funnily enough, I’ve wrestled inside that complex many times for All Star Wrestling. It’s like a complete circle if you will and for me and Sam to wrestle in our hometown, it’s perfect. I get to see my family and friends and they can come watch me. My grandparents who aren’t very well, who normally wouldn’t be able to come see me, can come see me.”
Despite both growing up on the Fylde, the pair both started out in different places. James started very early, training in Preston from the age of 12, while Sam waited until he’d left school before he began his training down in Manchester.
One thing that the pair do have in common is that they’re both fans of the wrestler Triple H, the 14-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, who is now the company’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative. It was also Triple H that announced the event in a press conference at London’s O2 Arena.
James suggests that his involvement in the tournament proves just how important it is for the UK wrestling scene.
He said: “For as long as I can remember, wrestling’s been in my blood. Meeting Triple H was surreal. I met him briefly at my try out in Glasgow but at the conference we had a good talk and that was really a big turning point for me.
“He flew in specifically for the event, if that doesn’t say this is a big deal, I don’t know what does.
Sam said the 16 wrestlers taking part were ‘scouted meticulously and individually’ by Triple H and WWE head talent scout William Regal.
“To share that stage with Triple H as he introduced us to the world, that was a massive deal for me,” he added.
“For the first time my work is going to be shown alongside all the heroes I had growing up. It’s really cool and surreal.”