IT sounds impressive – but the World Association of Wrestling doesn’t have the glamour of the billion-dollar behemoth WWE.
The ring room of this Norfolk gym is freezing cold, the canvas striped with gaffer tape.
But here, a short walk from Norwich Cathedral, is where it all began for Saraya-Jade Bevis, who grappled her way to the top of the profession by the age of 21.
Her story is told in new comedy movie Fighting With My Family, which has won rave reviews since debuting at the Sundance Festival in the US.
Directed by The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant, it tells how the Norfolk girl from a troubled family became the youngest-ever WWE “Divas” champion under the ring name of Paige.
Saraya-Jade, 26, was born into the business. Her wrestler mum “Sweet Saraya” even fought while pregnant with her.
Paige’s story is told in new comedy movie Fighting With My Family[/caption]
She made her debut on the canvas at 13 as a last-minute stand-in.
But she was a natural in the ring and her rise was rapid.
Saraya-Jade battled her way to become British and European champion, and in 2011 a Channel 4 documentary team followed her bid to join the ranks of the WWE stars along with her brother Zak.
Wrestling legend and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saw the documentary while in London and later became her mentor.
Paige says ‘I had an amazing career but took some wrong paths’[/caption]
Now, in yet another unlikely twist, The Rock is playing himself in a movie about Saraya-Jade’s story.
He said: “Their crazy family reminded me of my own crazy wrestling family and I felt movie audiences would really enjoy the story.”
As he battled to get funding for the movie, Saraya-Jade’s career took off in the US. She signed a contract with the WWE and left her family behind to move to Florida — but felt isolated at first.
She said: “I would be crying every day. Dad would be pretty tough on me. He’d say, ‘Don’t call me crying’. But he wanted the best for me.”
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson stars as himself in the film[/caption]
She stuck it out and progressed through the company’s developmental ranks to make her Divas debut in April 2014 — beating AJ Lee to claim the title. But the spotlight was just as big a test as those early days.
Saraya-Jade says: “I grew up really fast when I joined WWE. I was only 18 when I went over, leaving my family behind. I’d never had friends before and I mixed with the wrong ones.” Two years after becoming champ, she was handed a 60-day ban after testing positive for an illegal substance.
She told The Sun: “I’d hit rock bottom. I was very depressed. I took a couple of wrong paths.
“I hung around with the wrong people. I tried to cover it up, saying they were prescription drugs. But they were recreational. I own up to that mistake.”
Paige’s family (from L-R): dad Ricky, brother Roy, mum Saraya and brother Zak[/caption]
Worse was to follow. In 2017, a hacker released a sex tape featuring Saraya-Jade with an ex-boyfriend.
She says: “I wouldn’t wish that global humiliation on anyone. I felt so embarrassed. I was 19 when I made the tape and I did it for one person. Never record anything, that’s my message.” Then, in
December 2017, she suffered a terrifying injury during a bout, suffering “full-body paralysis for a couple of minutes”.
She says: “I knew right away my career was over. A doctor told me that if I wrestled any more, I could be paralysed by it. WWE take these things seriously and after I retired they offered me a job as a general manager. But I had an amazing career, being Divas champion.”
The management role has now ended and Saraya-Jade must decide what she does next. She earned a fortune from the sport and has her own fashion line.
In Fighting With My Family, Saraya-Jade is played by Florence Pugh, star of BBC1’s Little Drummer Girl.
Lena Headey and Nick Frost play Paige’s parents in the comedy film which has rave reviews[/caption]
Saraya-Jade says of her mentor and film star The Rock: “He completely changed my life.”
Her wrestling-mad brother Zak, 27, is still plugging away with the World Association of Wrestling (WAW), which the family run.
Zak says of his sister’s success: “I still remember the feelings — being proud, then sad and angry, then happy.
“My sister did it — she worked hard. But she didn’t want to be a professional wrestler until she was 13 and she rocketed straight away.
“Then there’s me, a wrestling fanatic who could tell you the name of every wrestler just from the colour of their boots.”
The WAW was started by Ricky Knight, 66, real name Patrick Bevis, and his wife “Sweet” Saraya Knight, real name Julia Hamer-Bevis, 47. They met in 1990 at Pontins in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
Ricky, played in the new movie by Hot Fuzz star Nick Frost, had spent eight years in jail by the time he was 25 for various violent offences.
From his low-key office, sat next to a portable heater, he says: “I started off as a football hooligan, then I ran bouncing agencies. I worked my way up to helping out the top villain. I was an enforcer. ‘Saraya’ made it plain that’s not what she wanted.”
Florence Pugh stars as WWE superstar in Fighting With My Family[/caption]
Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden in a scene from Fighting with My Family[/caption]
“Sweet” Saraya, played by Game Of Thrones star Lena Headey, said: “I had a crappy childhood. Mine was abuse. I ran away, lived on the streets.
“When I met Ricky at 18, he put my faith back in people. I was suicidal at that point. I don’t think I’d be here without him. We love each other unconditionally.”
With a gappy smile, he agrees: “I’d have been doing time or been murdered if I hadn’t met her. We haven’t looked back.” Along with Roy, 38, Ricky’s son from a previous relationship who was once WAW world heavyweight champ, they toured small venues, often wrestling for small crowds and little pay.
Roy has also been in trouble with the law, receiving a three-year jail sentence in 2006 for an assault outside a nightclub. He was also banned from football for attacking a referee.
Hollywood star Vince Vaughn also makes an appearance in the film about Paige’s life[/caption]
But he says, like his dad, he is a reformed character thanks to his love of wrestling.
Ricky, who has grappled British wrestling legends Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy, said: “I’ve given a lot back since those days. We take kids off the streets of Norwich and train them up. We take autistic kids, I’ve adopted kids, fostered kids.” Zak still hopes to reach the WWE and currently wrestles with half-brother Roy in a tag-team called the UK Hooligans.
He says: “People have been taken into WWE in their thirties. My dream is to be the biggest and best wrestler I can be.”
In June, the family will fight before 5,000 people at Norwich City’s Carrow Road football ground. Former Premier League star Grant Holt is also on the bill as a wrestler.
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And Ricky, who no longer pulls on the spandex himself, hopes to bring home-grown grappling back to our TVs.
He says: “We have been pushing for British wrestling to be shown on television again. That’s my dream.”
- Fighting With My Family (12A) hits cinemas today.
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